Author: Arfa Waheed

Climate Governance, Cities and Sector-wise Climate Action

The COP27, now known for its agreement on ‘Loss and Damage’, was a success for some and a grave disappointment for others. It was an amalgamation of various views and approaches to climate change, including perspectives from different governance tiers. From the international organizations to the national ones and down to the State and local governments, the connection is apparently people and communities, but it is also the environment. The Kigali amendment to the Montreal Protocol and the increased focus on carbon intensive industries makes one wonder if climate negotiations are slowly venturing into a sector-wise approach. If this approach is indeed proving successful at some level, the question then arises, which sector to focus on first. There were a lot of panels and discussions during COP27 on green hydrogen, steel & cement industry but there were also a few on Cities and urban settlements.

Cities, which appear to be leading the effort to adapt best to climate change related disasters and impacts, are still potentially an untapped sector in terms of climate action. Not only do cities and their governments have the pulse of the local communities but also act as the first responders in a climate crisis. Empowering cities and knowledge sharing across cities, accordingly, was an important theme at this COP but was somehow obscured by the bigger agenda of climate negotiations. This obscurity, however, may be helpful in working towards decarbonizing a sector which is densely populated and highly vulnerable to climate change. The missing factor may be the absence of political will and empowerment of city governments within different countries. This gap can be overcome with the help of private organizations and international organizations successfully, if backed by a concerted effort. The C40 cities initiative previously, and the SURGe (Sustainable Urban Resilience for the next Generation) initiative during this COP, have provided some momentum to this effort.

Introduction of multiple cross cutting themes can provide the impetus for advocating urban decarbonization. The inclusion of marginalized communities, women and especially youth is also necessary to understand and frame policies within this sector to counter disproportionate impacts of climate disasters. The youth pavilion in COP27 was the most happening and visible pavilion. The younger generation are environmentally more conscious and responsible, with greater potential to advocate for climate issues in the global arena. The inclusion of youth and marginalized sections within cities and communities is one approach in mobilizing support for sustainable cities. Capturing this momentum might help the global community in achieving climate goals that might not be loud and obvious but may have wider impacts.

The Paris agreement provided a workable and globally acceptable framework for countries to negotiate and work towards their individual climate goals. It also has the elasticity to incorporate new approaches and greater collaboration to achieve common goals. The ‘phase out of fossil fuels’ might not have made its way into the COP27 agreement, but until it does, demand-side options for climate action may provide greater relief than anticipated.


As difficult it is to summarize the experience of attending the 27th Conference of Parties (COP27) on Climate Change, it is harder still to decipher the various layers of events and negotiations happening in the conference initially. These layers, however, ultimately offer insights and knowledge on almost all aspects of climate change and provide an opportunity to interact with climate leaders and activists making a difference in their domains. While following the official stance of Pakistan at this year’s COP, especially in context of climate adaptation, it became apparent quite early that this year’s COP would be focused on ‘Loss and Damage’ after its successful inclusion in the agenda. It was understandable that loss and damage would be at the forefront of discussions, as G77 and China is being led by Pakistan this year and especially in wake of the climate change induced floods that affected 33 million people. Besides focusing on adaptation and loss and damage, there were several interesting events on diverse issues such as solid waste management, energy politics, multi-level action, and the capacity building of the redundant workforce, that proved insightful and informative.  

Assimilating all this new information led me to a few understandings. Firstly, the focus from the plenary level down to the civil society level within this COP seemed to be on private investment and mobilizing finances through global financial institutions. There is debate around the efficacy of going down this path as the UNFCCC primarily serves as a forum for bringing all the nations together to address climate change. But on the other hand, the developed world so far is falling short on its pledges and expectations in terms of the adaptation fund and now on loss and damage fund as well so far. The nexus of the public and private institutions does offer more transparency and hope in terms of finances, but is mired by restricting laws, structural and capacity issues, re-training redundant workforces and energy disparities between the global North and South.   

Secondly, in one of the side events, a Climate Expert panel on loss and damage explained how the priorities in addressing climate change need to be reversed. The first and foremost focus was proposed to be on loss and damage through rehabilitation and then on adaptation to enhance resilience and reducing damage/loss and lastly on mitigation to phase out fossil fuels. They explained that due to delays in mitigating global warming, new facets of climate change are emerging and taking precedence. Linking these exponential costs to the latest exploration in private climate finance sheds some light on the scale of the climate change issue and the inadequacies or lack of political support in multilateral approaches.  

Thirdly, for the first time in the COP, a Ministerial meeting on urbanization and climate change is to be held on the last day of the conference. This event is planned under the initiative by the Egypt Presidency know as Sustainable Urban Resilience for the next Generation (SURGe). Multilevel governance and local climate action in urban areas is an emerging theme in addressing issues of climate change, as cities not only contribute to climate change but can also be centers and models for sustainable development. With cities acting as hubs of technological and infrastructural innovation, the role of local governments and locally led adaptation and mitigation is becoming increasingly relevant. After the bottom-up approach of the Paris agreement, it is important to foster horizontal extensions with cities acting as focal points of climate action.  

 At COP27 it was exciting to witness the negotiations in person and understand the varying stances of different groups and countries. The African group led by South Africa appeared to be the most persistent and compelling negotiator in terms of informal negotiations on the adaptation fund. However, a very clear divide was also apparent in approaching the issues in terms of adaptation and loss and damage between the Global North and the Global South. The promotion of the global shield and the empowerment of the Santiago Network by different groups is one example of such disparity in approaches. As the COP27 is approaching its end this week, there is still hope for achieving some meaningful commitments and resolutions in support of those fighting a battle for survival in face of climate change. Witnessing and being a part of these conferences wherein decisions on the future of this planet and its inhabitants are made, does not only open new avenues of knowledge and insights personally but is an exercise in gratitude and humility as well. 

Renewed hopes and aspirations before COP27

There are renewed hopes and aspirations associated with every Conference of Parties for Climate Change. But for COP 27, the hopes are pinned on to Loss and Damage more than mitigation or adaptation this year. On the learning curve of Climate Change, one experiences the significance of all focus areas one after the other. Sometimes its mitigation which seems and definitely is crucial for global survival, but then there are adaptation and resilience as well. Finally loss and damage upstages every other field of climate change due to its speed and devastation. But as soon as you focus on one area of climate change and become passionate about it, you feel as if you are leaving behind other important aspects. It becomes increasingly difficult to work exclusively on one field alone without connecting to or impacting some other aspect of it. Advocacy for different fields of climate change is also linked with the Global North and the Global South debate. There has been a divide along mitigation and adaptation prioritization during many global climate negotiations. This divide permeates the political arena as well and appears to be widening the gaps instead of bridging it. The realization, that all of these facets of climate change are equally important and intricately linked to the other, comes much later. It may not entirely require a linear approach but instead urges us to slow down and re-orient ourselves as a global community. It becomes difficult to find common ground with such complex issues and diverse implications in the climate change dialogue and action. But there is one commonality in all of this: the local communities. The common citizens across all the nations who simply want a healthier environment to shape their lives in and a threat free natural environment. Identifying the voice and hopes of these local communities in the COP27 therefore, may have the potential to make any treaty more meaningful and effective. But how do we approach these communities may also be equally important. Do we focus on global emissions hotspots and densely populated centers to begin with? Or do we approach all communities as one with the same approach and tools?

These are the questions I will try to find the answers to in this COP. The answer beyond mitigation, adaptation and loss & damage, for the person who is mourning his submerged house, cattle and crop after the floods in Pakistan, and the one facing displacement and disease in Kenya from successive drought and floods. What and how does the COP27 bring them relief? And how soon is the result visible for these communities. Besides these burning issues, the COPs are an attractive platform and may be unprecedented in bringing together not only national leaders but civil society groups, scientist, private organizations. The diversity of these ideas, experiences and thoughts cannot be valued enough. The in-person connections that this platform provides, reveals insights that remain veiled even with all the knowledge and access to research in the field. As I head to the latest COP in Egypt, I see the national and regional priorities taking precedence over addressing the gravity and enormity of climate change related issues. But hope is still carried through all the leaders and representatives of the global citizens and local communities, to the forum of the UNFCCC. Just before the start of the official COP27 tomorrow, the loss and damage issue appear to be under discussion for inclusion as an official agenda, keeping the hope of many alive.

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