New episode of “Accelerating Climate Solutions” turns a critical eye to global COP convenings

In just a few weeks I’ll be packing my bags and heading to Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, for the annual climate change conference of the United Nations conference of parties, also known as COP27. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food will be co-organizing a number of side events where we will be promoting the insights from a new paper Untapped Opportunities: Climate Financing for Food Systems Transformation.

Those looking for a primer for COP27 will be interested in the latest episode of Accelerating Climate Solutions, a podcast co-hosted by the Global Alliance and Foundations Platform F20

Ruth Richardson, former executive director of the Global Alliance, and Stefan Schurig spoke with Dr. Saleelmul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change based in Dhaka, Bangladesh. 

There’s no better person to break down, in plain language, what’s been promised at past COP events and what needs to come next for meaningful climate action. Dr. Huq has attended every COP session since COP1 in 1995 and teaches students about climate change and development at the Independent University, Bangladesh. 

Cycling through crisis after crisis, we don’t always have the time to step back and ask if what we’re doing is actually working. This episode was a fascinating discussion about whether annual COP meetings are the best way to advance climate action on a global scale. Here are a few of my key takeaways from the conversation.

  • We’re in a new era of climate change. Past COP convenings have focused on climate change through the lens of mitigation (reducing emissions) and adaptation (preparing to deal with its impacts). Dr. Huq referenced the latest report published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and how it’s clear that action and climate finance to support these two measures are no longer enough.

    From flooding in Pakistan to Hurricane Ian in Florida, people around the world are experiencing the effects of climate change. Securing additional commitments from higher income, polluting countries to finance the climate-related “losses and damages” we’ve already witnessed will be central to the discussion at COP27. This will not be easy. According to Dr. Huq, there is a “great reluctance from rich countries [to direct finance towards losses and damages] because it opens them up to liability and compensation, which are taboo words.”

    But getting higher-income countries to pay for losses and damage is critical, especially for people and nations that are most vulnerable to climate change and who face climate injustice.
  • Today, COP convenings are less about decision-making and more about evaluation and implementation. Dr. Huq reminded us about the two commitments that were made in the Paris Agreement in 2015: that greenhouse gas emissions be reduced to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius, and that higher-income countries deliver $100 billion annually to help lower-income countries with climate change mitigation and adaptation.

    With the Paris Agreement in place, he said COP has become more of an opportunity to monitor progress and hold governments to account. For example, wealthy countries have failed to deliver their $100 billion annual promise. This will be on the table at COP27, as will discussions about finance to support losses and damages.
  • The COP format is not perfect, but it’s the best platform we’ve got for climate change advocates to come together from diverse geographies and sectors. While there is justifiable criticism of the COP platform, Dr. Huq pointed out it’s the only format we really have to make global decisions about a global problem. More importantly, it’s the only opportunity for the most vulnerable, poor countries to have a seat at the table alongside wealthy, more powerful nations. This doesn’t “level the playing field” by any means, but it does give the countries most impacted by climate change the opportunity to come together to demand, in a united voice, accountability and financial support from those contributing most to global pollution.

    The power asymmetries at COP are not only apparent among the countries at the negotiating table, but also among the non-governmental advocates who have the means and access to be present at the annual gathering. COP27 is the first time a COP will be hosted on the African continent, and is an opportunity to bring more diverse voices to the table to share their stories and communicate their demands.

    To that end, the Global Alliance is sponsoring the travel of more than 30 representatives from the Global South to COP27 – individuals whose voices have traditionally been underrepresented and historically marginalized. Thanks to the financial support of our philanthropic network, these people will be speaking on various panels at the gathering. It’s an important first step in the Global Alliance’s commitment to link local voices with global audiences.
  • Planetary citizenship is a way to address the scale and scope of this global challenge. This was a really striking point. Tackling the climate crisis demands big-picture, long-term thinking from individuals and governments alike. Dr. Huq emphasized the need to move past national interests to take global responsibility: “Unless we do this, we cannot do justice to tackle this global problem, because it’s bigger than any crisis we have ever faced. We haven’t seen anything yet, and we’re certainly not prepared.” He also said that implementing the Paris Agreement is in all of our hands, and that we can all find ways, big and small, to take climate action. This is key, as we cannot always depend on government leaders to do the right thing.

Overall, this was a comprehensive and fascinating discussion. To combat climate grief during the COP discussions and during the rest of the year, Dr. Huq urged us to look to the global Fridays for the Future climate movement. There is so much inspiration to be drawn from the actions of young people today and lessons we can learn from how they approach the world as global citizens.

You can listen to the full episode of Accelerating Climate Solutions here. Have feedback on this episode or others? We’d love to pick up the conversation on Twitter or LinkedIn!

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