By Dr Deepa Pullanikkatil, Sustainable Futures Global Network Co-Director

Deemed the “world’s best last chance” to combat climate change and meet the effort to prevent the Earth’s temperature from rising above 1.5°C, COP 26 started on a “high”, with the World Leaders Summit, major announcements including a long list of commitments from public and private sector actors to combat climate change, curb biodiversity destruction and hunger, and to protect indigenous peoples’ rights. As the negotiations carried on, countries negotiated in “blocs”, where groups of countries came together for presenting their specific interests. It was my first time to attend a Conference of Parties (COP) and I was excited to be back in one of my favorite cities; Glasgow, for attending COP 26 as part of Eswatini’s delegation. I coordinate Eswatini’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) and I was keenly looking forward to learning and creating new networks to help with Eswatini’s NDC implementation. I was also excited that I would meet Mia Perry and Priscilla Akchapa from the Sustainable Futures (SF) network, a family of like-minded people who believe in ethical partnerships, interdisciplinary work and undertook research and collaboration across global North and South. I have always felt privileged to be part of the warm SF network, which gave its members tremendous intellectual stimulation over the past six years since the network was formed.

At COP 26, the climate negotiations were well attended and after extending for an extra day, nearly 200 countries adopted the Glasgow Climate Pact. There were some successes that could be reported including that the Glasgow Climate Pact called on countries to report their progress towards more climate ambition next year, at COP27, set to take place in Egypt. The Paris Agreement “rulebook” came to a successful close, including regulations around carbon markets and regular reporting of climate data by all countries. The pact enshrined commitment to double the funding for developing countries on adaptation by 2025 to around US $40 billion and urged countries to fully deliver on an outstanding promise to deliver US$100 billion per year for five years to developing countries vulnerable to climate damage.

There were some disappointments however, with not enough ambition on reducing fossil fuels and failure to secure the establishment of a dedicated loss and damage fund for vulnerable countries.  However, the pact did agree to fund the Santiago Network, a body that aims to build technical expertise on dealing with loss and damage. Technically, the 1.5℃ limit is still within reach, though, more ambitious emissions cuts will be needed, with countries required by the Glasgow pact to come back with stronger plans by the end of 2022.

Although at the start of the conference the mood was quite upbeat with a flurry of pledges, with major countries pledging to reach the 1.5 degrees Celsius goal, several countries coming together to pledge to cut methane emissions by 30% between 2020-2030, some major countries coming up with net zero targets and some new funds announced for climate action, the mood changed towards the culmination. Towards the end of COP 26, the estimate was that in the best-case scenario, considering all the pledges and NDC commitments, the planet would be on track to reach 1.8 degrees Celsius which is not 1.5 degrees Celsius but it is certainly better than 2.7 degrees Celsius where we were a week before COP meeting began. There is still a lot of work ahead and what I realized is that SF’s work is now more pertinent than ever.

Sustainability needs to be in the heart of everything we do. SF network brings together researchers, practitioners and communities of practice that acknowledge the complex nature of sustainability. The SF builds understanding, research, and practice in socio-ecological sustainability and who believed in the possibility of a different approach to international and sustainable development practice. We challenged the long-standing systems, practices, and assumptions of research and development that tended to favour those already privileged and extract from those considered “in need”. The climate crisis is exposing the inequalities of this world, and this was what Mia, Priscilla and I discussed when we met up one night during COP 26. We need to deeply think about the future of the planet and as SF has grown from five countries in Africa to a global network covering nine countries, we now have a larger team who believes in the possibility of a different approach to international and sustainable development practice. To address the global challenge of climate change, there is a lot to be done, including system reforms, forging new partnerships, decarbonizing technology, lifestyle changes, mindset changes and much more to put us on the pathway to net zero. That night we agreed that the status quo needs to be disrupted and building on our experience and learnings over the past six years, the SF network needs to forge a pathway for the coming five years, addressing emerging needs and global challenges including climate change. We believe there is a way forward and we believe in a sustainable future; our vision of SF is not utopian anymore, but something that is urgently needed. Let’s get to work!