My COP 26 reflections

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!

COP 26: Effective Negotiations could help us reach a consensus

Dr. Deepa Pullanikkatil, SFA Co-Director, NDC Coordinator, Eswatini

I am currently in transit to attend the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow and found these interesting messages on sachets of sugar at the airport cafe that inspired a bit of self-reflective writing.

Nelson Mandela’s quotes were:

What happens when differences arise? We address them, discuss issues on merit, persuade one another and reach a consensus.”

Negotiation and discussion are the greatest weapons we have for promoting peace and development“.

These words could not be more relevant than now, as the COP 26 begins. The coming two weeks would show that NEGOTIATION would be the most important tool in the process occurring through the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its related agreements to bring about international cooperation on stabilizing atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent catastrophic climate change impacts. Negotiations could make or break the world’s smooth course for reaching net-zero emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5degC.

Ahead of COP, a video created by UNDP went viral on social media where a dinosaur was asking us to avoid choosing extinction. “This COP 26 could be the last best hope for the world to keep 1.5degC in reach”, said COP President Alok Sharma at the opening session today in Glasgow. The awareness, excitement, expectations, and interest in COP 26 are high and we cannot afford to reach a deadlock. There is too much at stake.

What would make COP 26 successful is effective negotiations and consensus amongst all countries on the way forward. Lets have a look at what issues will be negotiated at this COP:

  1. Finalizing the Rules of the Paris Agreement

There are three areas which need negotiation and consensus under the Paris Rulebook. The first one is setting common timeframes for National Climate Commitments (NDCs)[1]. This means the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) that countries submitted in 2015 and later updated in 2020/2021, would need a “common timeframe”, say 5 years or 10 years and countries would need to agree on coming up with the same NDC end date for every country.

The second item is Strengthening Transparency Requirements (Article 13 of Paris Agreement). The Paris Agreement’s enhanced transparency framework, which aims to hold countries accountable for their climate commitments, needs to be finalised including deciding upon common tabular formats to track and report greenhouse gas emissions, climate action and support.

The third item is determining how Carbon Markets (Article 6) will work. Negotiators will need to decide how to avoid double-counting (ensure that emissions reductions used in carbon transfers are not counted twice); how to ensure overall mitigation of global emissions (so that Article 6 is not just an offsetting tool but rather leads to emissions reductions); how a levy on trades can fund adaptation efforts; and how to clarify whether pre-2020 credits generated under the Kyoto Protocol could continue to apply to emissions targets under the Paris Agreement.

The fourth item is on Building Resilience and Addressing Loss and Damage (Article 8). Negotiators will be discussing the “climate justice” issue of how to build resilience and protect lives of vulnerable communities, particularly those countries affected by sea level rise and extreme climatic impacts.

In addition to the above a number of other items will also be discussed including Technology Framework (Article 10.4) addressing innovation, implementation, enabling environment and capacity-building, collaboration and stakeholder engagement and support.

  1. Setting an Adaptation Goal.

There will be negotiations on approaches, information, defining the metrics and methodologies for assessing progress in enhancing adaptive capacity, strengthening resilience, and reducing vulnerability to climate change through adaptation. Hopefully a measurable adaptation goal will be agreed upon.

  1. Loss and Damage.

The term Loss and Damage is used within the UNFCCC process to refer to the harms caused by anthropogenic climate change. Establishing liability and compensation for loss and damage has been a long-standing goal for vulnerable and developing countries including small island states. Currently the loss and damage mechanism focuses on research and dialogue rather than liability or compensation. At COP 26, negotiators will be discussing about whether a dedicated funding stream or mechanism should be established to address loss and damage or whether existing funds and mechanisms within and outside the UNFCCC would be better placed to provide the needed support.

  1. Financing Climate Action

Developed countries had not yet fulfilled the promise of mobilizing $100 billion a year in climate finance for developing countries (which was to start in 2020). At this COP, hopefully the target will be raised, and more funding will be committed. The UK COP presidency announced that the mobilisation of finance would be one of the key goals for COP26.

The UN negotiations are consensus-based, and reaching agreement will depend on leaving no issue behind and making sure everyone’s voice is heard. Therefore, national Negotiators have a crucial role to play during this coming week and next in Glasgow. They will be working together aligned as “blocs” to negotiate. Teamwork and trust will be important, so could moving away from a  ‘win-lose’ mindset towards a more positive framing of ‘win-win’ perspectives combining climate action with green growth and economic prosperity, which may motivate countries to reach consensus.

Nelson Mandela’s  quote printed on the sugar sachet encouraged me. He was a leader that inspired many with his vision of change and his wisdom will endure through the ages. Let’s make this COP26 negotiations inspirational, memorable, and one that brought countries together in agreement  despite their differences, towards the greater goal of saving humanity and the planet. Wishing all the negotiators the very best at COP26 in Glasgow!

[1] NDC stands for a Nationally Determined Contribution. For the Paris Agreement goals to be achieved, every country needs to play its part. Because countries have different circumstances, resources and abilities, the agreement was designed so each country defines their own pledges, in terms of targets and contributions to the universal agreement. These country pledges are the NDCs.