Blogs, Environment

Creating a more equitable COP: Lessons from a pilot project to bring more diverse voices to COP27

This is part two in our series “Creating a more equitable COP.” If you missed part one where we discuss the barriers facing civil society and Global South presence at COP, you can read it here.

I’ve tracked climate COP events for the better part of two decades, but COP27 was a personal highlight. For the first time, the Global Alliance organized a cohort of community food systems leaders and sponsored their travel to the COP in Egypt.

The cohort brought together 30 diverse delegates from more than a dozen countries. There was Johannes, a young farmer and entrepreneur from Benin who spoke about his experience with agroecology. Veronica, a community campaigner from the Philippines, advocated for food and climate justice as oil spills affect their farming land and waters. Monica, from the Indigenous Women and Girls Initiative in Kenya, shared her commitment to the empowerment of women and girls in pastoralist communities. 

I could go on. Each of these exceptional leaders carried with them the voices and experiences of farmers, fishers, Indigenous peoples, youth, women, and food and climate justice advocates whose voices often go unheard due to the structural and logistical barriers that my colleague Vivian outlined in part one of this series. 

Needless to say, we learned a lot from the experience of assembling this first COP cohort. Here are seven highlights:

  • Underrepresented groups come from everywhere. There’s the need to be mindful of this and broaden one’s definition accordingly. While the Global South is disproportionately disadvantaged, there are also delegates from the Global North who would benefit from support to attend COP events. For example, several delegates from the Global Alliance cohort represented Indigenous communities from the United States. We would have missed out on their important stories if we had focused solely on leaders from the Global South or “developing” countries. 
  • Smaller civil society groups represent the public good and diverse perspectives. Traditionally, it’s been big environmental NGOs or large CSOs that have had the resources to attend COP. But real impactful change needs to start with diverse grassroots perspectives, especially when it comes to talking about the principles of sustainability, health, equity, and climate justice. 
  • Consider sponsoring the participation of supporting team members. When able to overcome the immense barriers faced by grassroots groups in attending COP, organizations will often only have one person from their team present. By having even one other person from their team in attendance, some delegates shared they were able to have a more ambitious, coordinated plan for the COP. This important piece of feedback will help inform our selection of cohort delegates for future climate summits.
  • Cultivating a community for knowledge sharing is of immense value. Our 30 leaders had similar interests but diverse experiences and geographical contexts. There was a lot of experiential exchange: how can my organization work more effectively with youth? How can I scale and access new markets? Cohort delegates really stepped up with answers and were generous in speaking about their own experiences. There’s an opportunity to formalize this knowledge exchange in the future.
  • The COP schedule is extremely busy and delegates need to be strategic about how they spend their time. COP27 had over 97 pavilions, each with more than 100 events. Many of the sponsored delegates, especially those who were attending their first COP, struggled to effectively engage. We found that on-the-ground coordination via a WhatsApp group chat and in-person briefings were vital to prioritize engagement opportunities. We also hosted an informal welcome event where first-time grassroots delegates were introduced to COP climate veterans. This event was an opportunity to set delegates up for success, and we shared with them what to expect, key events, and topics to track. When possible, it’s also helpful for delegates to stay at the same hotel to encourage cohort cohesion and more easily hold group briefing sessions.
  • Delegates represent critically important local perspectives. Support from a coordinating group can help them most effectively engage in the global conversation. Grassroots food systems leaders brought a richness of stories and experiences to COP27. Gathering feedback after the event, the cohort expressed that a coordinating group is well-positioned to share information about the context of what is being discussed and support delegates to develop clear messaging that will resonate with different audiences. 
  • The COP is just one opportunity to engage underrepresented food systems groups in climate talks. Influencing country negotiation positions begins well in advance of the COP. One way to engage civil society organizations after an event has ended is to support these leaders to influence the agenda ahead of subsequent COPs. Going forward, the Global Alliance plans to host quarterly calls with interested cohort delegates to continue sharing knowledge, experiences, and opportunities in preparation for upcoming global events.

Bringing together this COP27 cohort was a new experience for all involved. Ultimately, including more diverse voices in climate-food discussions is a long-term process. As more and more sectors and groups want to access COP discussions, it’s critical that the philanthropic community continues to champion food systems transformation and uplift the people who best represent that change. 

In the third and final installment of this series, we’ll share some of the experiences and victories from the Global Alliance cohort and how we will be integrating our learning into supporting new cohorts at COP28 and beyond.

– Ends

Patty Fong
Program Director: Climate and Health & Well-being