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!

The importance of natural wetlands in a changing climate!

By Anthony Kadoma, PhD Student, University of Glasgow

I am writing this when the Conference of Parties commonly known as COP 26 is taking place in the United Kingdom in Glasgow. Having spent a better part of 2021 in Uganda conducting field research activities on a topic very close to my heart and passion – conservation of wetlands in Wakiso district, Uganda I have come to appreciate how vital natural wetlands are. I will use the analogy of natural wetlands as human kidneys to write about something that we are all very familiar with. The human body has four major internal organs including the heart, the lungs, the liver and the kidneys. These are known as sensitive organs and are thus protected by the skeletal system.  If any of the four is not safe, it will be difficult or impossible for one to live a normal and healthy life.

Back to the kidneys, if you don’t take good care of them, they will get sick and you will be warned to stop or reduce what is causing the problem to them.  If you do not listen, your kidneys will continue getting sick and one of the kidneys may be removed, and you will continue surviving and in worst-case scenario, you may need a total kidney transplant where all the two may be replaced. To get a transplant you have two options either to get a willing donor or to buy both options are not cheap leave alone the process of transplanting and as a matter of fact not afforded by the majority. Also, the chances of success are 50/50. That is how bad the situation can be!

Relating the above to our physical world, we have four key sensitive and fragile ecosystems as Lakes, Rivers, Wetlands and Forests. These four support life on earth for fauna and flora. I will focus on the wetlands which serve as the kidneys in our bodies. Our wetlands play many key roles including absorption of carbon dioxide, collecting and storing flood and muddy water and releasing it fresh for our consumption and acting as breeding places for the fish which the majority of us do enjoy.

Sadly, our wetlands are under serious attack from encroachers and degraders and the warning signs are clear to us but we are proving to be adamant and not listening or observing the signs. Hence, slowly and steadily we are heading to the kidney transplant level. Considering the fact that Uganda is one of the fast-growing country population-wise, it is also a country with a fast-changing climate which has resulted into many hazards such as flooding, long dry spells and food insecurities causing loss of lives and properties. Indeed, wetlands in the country are degraded 70 times more than they are conserved. The country loses wetlands three times more than forests yet we don’t have the capacity to afford the cost of creating artificial wetlands.

Preaching adaptation and mitigation to climate alone is not the only solution as rightly observed by one of the young Ugandan climate change activist – Vanessa Nakate who noted that, “You cannot adapt to a lost culture, you cannot adapt to a lost tradition, a lost history and starvation or extinction”. It is time now for all concerned stakeholders to focus on the care of the vulnerable individuals and communities through making every effort to conserve the remaining natural wetlands, deliberately come up with a communication strategy that will send a clear message to all the citizens in a language that they understand and through a mode that is accessible to them be it televisions, radios, social media platforms, use of billboards, word of mouth as well as traditional institutions to pass on the wetland conservation and restoration message. All our educational institutions should incorporate the element of environment conservation because without it we will all be challenged to live healthy lives. It should also be our responsibility as citizens to resist and discourage all wetland degraders at all cost because their actions directly affect our lives as well as that of our children and their children.

Can Glasgow serve as a springboard to jump from Code Red to Code Green?

By John Baaki, Deputy Executive Director, Women Environmental Programme

Prior to the 26th Session of the Conference of Parties (COP26) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November 2021, in Glasgow, Scotland, two important reports were released: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC)  Climate Change 2021 Report and NDC Synthesis Report.

The two reports reveal concerns regarding efforts to cut down greenhouse gases emissions. According to IPCC, despite over two decades of efforts by countries to cut down emission of greenhouse gases, their “…concentrations have continued to increase in the atmosphere, reaching annual averages of 410 parts per million (ppm) for carbon dioxide (CO2), 1866 parts per billion (ppb) for methane (CH4), and 332 ppb for nitrous oxide (N2O) in 2019.”  The report also reveals that the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is the highest it has been in 2 million years; sea level rise is at its fastest in 3000 years; and artic sea ice is at its lowest levels in at least 1000 years. The concentration of these gases, which are believed to be driven by human activities, has caused warming that is unprecedented in at least the last 2000 years, resulting to increased flooding, drought, and other extreme climatic events.

The latest report by the IPCC seems to suggest, that efforts claimed to have been made by different countries over two decades were grossly insufficient to halt global warming, not to talk about reversing it.  This does not show the impact of billions of Dollars of investments from the different climate funding mechanisms of the UNFCCC, the multilateral climate funds, and other climate funds. Should we say that these investments were not judiciously utilized, or the atmosphere stubbornly resists any effort that will cause reduction in the concentration of greenhouse gases. Maybe, pledges to climate funds not redeemed by developed countrieshas caused little actions to be taken to change the climate state.

What may have worried the UN Secretary General more about the IPCC Report, to have declared that it is “a Code Red for humanity”  is the warning that if nothing is done urgently, the world will move from “frying pan to fire,”  with global average temperature far above 1.5 Degrees Celsius, a limit set by the Paris Agreement.

To add salt to injury, the NDC Synthesis Report released after the IPCC Report, confirms that emission reduction efforts by countries as analyzed from the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) they submitted to UNFCCC is not capable of meeting the target of the Paris Agreement.

According to the UN Secretary General, “The alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable:  greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel burning and deforestation are choking our planet and putting billions of people at immediate risk.”

The IPCC report, the UN Secretary General said, “…must sound a death knell for coal and fossil fuels, before they destroy our planet… Countries should also end all new fossil fuel exploration and production, and shift fossil fuel subsidies into renewable energy.  By 2030, solar and wind capacity should quadruple, and renewable energy investments should triple to maintain a net zero trajectory by mid-century.” This statement from the UN Secretary General set the tone for COP26.

At the opening ceremony of the climate change conference in Glasgow, many countries renewed their commitments to achieve net zero emissions at different timeframes, including Nigeria that pledged to achieve net zero emissions by 2060. The pledge by President Buhari brings hope to climate activists in Nigeria, as it is a sign that the President will speedily assent to the Climate Change Bill that has been passed by the National Assembly and is before him, waiting for assent.

To achieve the net zero emission pledges, countries such as Poland, Vietnam, Egypt, Chile, and Morocco, among others have announced commitments to phase out coal power and invest more in clean energy.

The big question is, with commitments to act more on the climate crisis been received from different countries, is it likely that the rising global temperatures will be lowered soon?  The likelihood of global temperatures lowering, is whether these commitments are kept to. It is however difficult to tell if these promises will be kept as more beautiful promises in the past by different countries were broken, resulting to the climate state we are in – A Code Red!

This has made many climate activists like Greta Thunberg to lose trust in the world leaders as she describes COP26 as a failure and a “PR event.” According to Greta, “The leaders are not doing nothing, they are actively creating loopholes and shaping frameworks to benefit themselves and to continue profiting from this destructive system.”

As week one of the conference winds down, and negotiations set to enter week two, discussions continue on finalizing the Paris Rule Book that outlines the strategies of turning ambitions into actions.

Whether the state of our climate will remain at Code Red or change to Code Green, is dependent on how much the ambitions and commitments at COP26 translate into actions.

System Change not Climate Change

By Dr Mia Perry, Sustainable Futures Global Network Co-Director

These were the words held high on banners and posters, stickers and signs, and shouted in call and response by thousands of people, young and old, at last week’s Fridays for Future Youth Climate March in Glasgow.

After four hours with my three children, watching them shout, pump fists, answer journalists’ questions, eagerly connecting with strangers with common goals; after four hours of being affected and deeply moved by the swells of human energy, the colours, the voices, languages, performances; four hours of interpreting and explaining to my youngest the meanings and motivations behind hundreds of slogans and statements by climate protesters: “What is Trident?” “What is ecocide?” “What is kettling peaceful protesters mum?” And the exhausted crumpled troubled pile of me that evening.

The next day arrives, and what next? What now? I’m an academic, my online profile will tell you that I co-lead a large international research network; that I co-lead a Masters degree in Education for Sustainable Futures; that I co-lead an international development theme within an Advanced Research Centre at the University of Glasgow. And all these things have been made possible in part because of a deeply problematic system of the academy, within systems of capitalism and neo-colonialism. The very systems that that enabled and advanced the injustices and damages that have brought us to the social and ecological crisis that we are in today.

Within this multi-faced set of systems, I have incredible colleagues, friendships, common understandings and treasured differences; I share trust and courage in our collective intentions and initiatives. Almost all of this revolves around the Sustainable Futures Global Network that has emerged from the collective energies of people who seek alternative pathways within the research sector.

What next? After the contentious, inconclusive, but provocative COP26 in Glasgow — I am determined that I don’t oil the cogs of the systems that are so destructive to so many. I am determined, with the Sustainable Futures Global Network, to build spaces, systems, and possibilities that resist the short-sighted comforts, the short-term rewards, and the individual benefits that are bestowed by the current systems to those who feed it. We can’t correct the injustices and damages of our world within the very systems (economic, political, educational, academic) that created them.

Even with our network, we don’t have all the answers that a new system needs, we don’t have it all figured out. I am convinced of the need for new research practices, responsive education, and ethical innovation in a quickly changing world. But is it possible to design a new way forward with international sustainability research, whilst being allied with and employed by a research system that has contributed so substantially to a global crisis? Is it possible to maintain the support systems that we have built for the Sustainable Futures partnerships, our research, and development work, without feeding back into the capitalist systems that supported them?

I don’t know. I know that the months ahead will see many new decisions, risks, and experiments as we try to forge new ways of working together, across countries and cultures, across values and knowledges. We’re sure to get some things wrong. But that is so much better than not trying.

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.