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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.

Back to Reality After COP27

Now that some time has passed since my experience at COP27, it has given me the opportunity to fully (or at least somewhat) process everything. It has been especially interesting to read all the news stories surrounding this COP and get to talk to my classmates who went in Week 2 about their experience. Because many of the big announcements and the final texts are approved and released during week 2, I did not get to experience that in person, but was definitely following closely through the news and my classmates. I really enjoyed getting to have different perspectives, both literally living the negotiations and events, and also reading about them in a more objective way.

Something that struck me when reading the news and talking to people who didn’t attend COP, however, was how much criticism was surrounding the event. Because climate change is a such a contentious and urgent matter that concerns the global community, there are a lot of strong opinions surrounding events like the COP. I did hear and read a lot of criticism regarding the carbon footprint of the event itself, and the fact that Coca Cola was the official sponsor; in that sense, the event was being accused of greenwashing. Along those lines, some people questioned the presence of big (and therefore emitting) companies in the side event, stating they should not be invited because they are simply pushing their agenda. On the other hand, there was a lot of commentary regarding the negotiations and progress made towards mitigation, adaptation, and loss & damage, with the obvious win being the new Loss and Damage Fund. Being so immersed in the experience, I tended to focus on the positive and be overwhelmed by all the flurry of action I saw around me; it made me feel part of a global community of people, organizations and governments really trying to make a difference. Coming back to these more “objective” news and conversations made me question my perspective to some degree and made me reconsider whether I had fallen into the “greenwashing” as well. I am still unsure about what to make of this, but I do consider it is important to bring as many actors as possible to the table and develop solutions together. I am an advocate for involving the private sector, exactly because they are big polluters and we should be bringing their perspectives and needs into consideration when designing a green transition, otherwise it will fail. On the other hand, I was somewhat disappointed in most side events I attended because there wasn’t as much depth as I was expecting – I found they often talked about how important taking action was but did not propose anything tangible and rather presented how their company or government was “concerned” and “committed to the cause”.

Looking back at the whole experience, I am shocked by how much was accomplished considering the magnitude of the issue and the logistical challenges of bringing everyone together to agree on international treaties. While it is still not enough to completely tackle the mitigation, adaptation, and loss & damage issues of climate change, I still think it is remarkable we are moving forward as a global community. And while it was not a “dramatic” COP with many important announcements and eye-catching conflicts in negotiations, I realized that was actually a good thing; this meant countries are working on operationalizing the agreements and, while that can be very detail-heavy and slow, it is extremely important to actually get to the implementation stage and take action. Overall, I am extremely grateful to have been able to have that experience and not only attend insightful events, but also meet incredibly interesting people and feel motivated to continue doing climate work.

Unpopular opinion: the call for climate action should be more than just noise

Dealing with climate change is a complex, global issue. It is undeniable that we have to drastically reduce our emissions in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C, but how we actually get there is far from simple. More than just the environment, climate change intertwines with social, economic, and technological factors. Every community, industry, and country must therefore collectively work together in order to achieve our one true target. In addition, we also have to deal with the consequences that are already happening now. Thus, the first step to dealing with climate change is recognizing that there are a lot of moving parts, and there is no magic solution that will fix all of the problems. We need to balance the interests of the people so that the costs and benefits are distributed evenly, and more importantly, ensure that no one gets left behind.

COP 27 made a breakthrough by announcing the agreement on the establishment of the first-ever Loss and Damage fund. Considering loss and damage has been a subject of conversation for several decades now, actually making progress is a huge deal. This doesn’t mean that the process that lies ahead will be any less gruesome. Dhruv Jhaveri, our student mentor for the UNFCCC class, pointed out that you cannot critique the process when you don’t know how it works in the place. We cannot ignore how difficult it is to set aside the conflicting interests of more than 190 nations to prioritize, let alone agree on, a singular issue. With that, I consider this a win.

We demand solutions from global leaders, but we often forget that we too can be part of the solution. My experience in COP 27 has made me realize that the negotiations isn’t the only place where we can make progress happen. The pavilions feature side events highlighting the progress of countries, organizations, industries, and people with their initiatives to push forward a greener world. Having the opportunity to attend these events myself and network with industry leaders, I am cognizant of the structural change that is actualizing right in this venue here. Despite several comments on how COP has evolved into a tradeshow, and how companies have been using COP as a platform to “greenwash,” I feel hopeful. Isn’t doing something, whatever the intention behind it, better than doing nothing at all? As a pragmatist, I believe that actions are more impactful than blind commitments.

The subject of the article aside, I do appreciate the noise. In order to raise climate awareness and ambition, we need to be loud in advocating aggressive actions and put pressure on companies and governments to prioritize the environment. But equally as important, we have to engage in insightful conversations and take action ourselves. Think about what we can learn from this. How can we do better? For some nations, energy access and poverty reduction have been understandably prioritized over environmental policies. For others, adapting to climate change is more time-pressing than mitigating actions. Needless to say, there is no cookie-cutter solution. Dealing with climate change just isn’t black and white. We need to develop our understanding of the complex and conflicting issues surrounding climate justice and come up with solutions that take every life into account.

COP27: A Highlight of My Time at Duke

It has been insightful to look back on my experience at week 2 of the COP after some time away and to appreciate both the international scale of accomplishments and the areas to continue negotiating. There were definitely moments throughout the week where you could sense the frustration from negotiators in the room and the critiques from Blue Zone attendees seemed overwhelming. There were questions as to how effective and impactful, particularly for climate-vulnerable communities, this process actually is. I felt myself sharing in that frustration that many of the moving and eye-opening conversations happening at the pavilions, particularly the Climate Justice Pavilion and the Resilience Hub, weren’t being heard by all of the negotiators. I wanted people’s stories and experiences to factor into more of the negotiations. It was striking that two pavilions, like the Climate Justice Pavilion and the We Mean Business Pavilion, could spend COP27 right next to each other but each serve seemingly entirely different demographics. People could go the entire conference never interacting with a subject matter that was the sole reason for someone else being there and never engaging with each other’s stories. 

Despite divisiveness in the negotiations and the Blue Zone setup, I continue to be in awe of the magnitude of the COPs representing 192 countries and yearning for a safer and more just future. As we’ve discussed in our class, we have come so far as an international community since greenhouse gases were first discovered. COP27 marked an important two weeks of progress since that time period, one that ultimately gave me great hope. I had the opportunity to bear witness to incredible moments like the operationalization of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, the press conference on the Global Methane Pledge with a surprise visit from China’s special climate envoy, and the series of talks that I attended with speakers including Saleemul Huq, Farhana Yamin, Libby Schaaf, and Brenda Mallory. I found it similarly fascinating to analyze the decision texts on Loss and Damage that were released very early Sunday morning after the official end date of the conference. After following this topic and the negotiations so closely for the past months, knowing the outcome of COP27 for Loss and Damage was particularly exciting. There is still much left to do and I’m looking forward to engaging in this work after graduation. But the successes of this COP should not go underappreciated. 

I want to conclude the semester by expressing my gratitude. This class, its community, and the opportunity to attend COP27 truly were among the highlights of my academic career at Duke and have inspired me immensely. I am unbelievably grateful to have been in this class with such wonderful TAs and faculty and engaged classmates. As Dhruv has emphasized, you have to understand the UNFCCC process to be able to critique the process and I credit this class for affording me the opportunity to do both of these things. Thank you! 

COP27 Week1: A Laggard in Loss and Damage

What is Loss and Damage? 

Loss and damage is not a new topic at the Conference of Parties (COP), yet it is the first time to be an agenda item at COP. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report, loss and damage refer to the destructive impacts of climate change that can not be prevented by adaptation efforts. The concept of loss and damage was first proposed in 2007, and it was not until the 2014  Warsaw International Mechanism that the issue became prominent. The slow progress on loss and damage was mainly because many developed countries feared that the ideas of compensation and liability underlying loss and damage could set off a wave of lawsuits by developing countries.

Why is Financial Mechanism for Loss and Damage Needed?

Climate-vulnerable countries express the need to establish an independent loss and damage fund since the existing mechanisms do not provide adequate financial support. The existing mechanisms for loss and damage, such as Warsaw International Mechanism and Santiago Network, mainly provide non-financial support, such as risk management and technical support. Even though Glasgow Dialogue requires parties to discuss the financial arrangements for loss and damage every two years, no financial mechanisms have been developed yet. 

Currently, the funds for loss and damage mainly come from developed countries’ donations. For example, Scotland, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, and Germany, have committed to providing over a total of 195 million euros to the loss and damage fund. However, there is a huge gap in the funding arrangements. Assuming the temperature rises to 2.5°C and 3.4°C by the end of this century respectively, the loss in developing countries is estimated to fall in the range of 290 to 580 billion in 2030, and the amount of loss will reach up to 1.1 to 1.7 trillion in 2050 (Markandya et al., 2019).

During the Negotiation: What Has been Made, What Has been Blocked?

Most countries have agreed that the funding source of loss and damage should be predictable, adequate, accessible, and transparent. However, little progress was made on the funding structure for loss and damage during week one. Divergences revolve around the following few points. 

First, some countries, including the European Union, stated that the loss and damage fund should be independent of current climate finance mechanisms. Countries that support an independent loss and damage fund are worried that loss and damage funds may be crowded out by other funds if the funds are under current financial facilities. However, some countries, including the United Kingdom, Canada, and Norway, disagree with the argument. Those countries argue that current financial mechanisms have supported some projects for addressing loss and damage; thus, setting a new mechanism will spend more time and administration costs on discussing the operation of the new funding facility.

Second, developing countries, such as Ecuador and the Philippines, stated that the form of the funds should be grant-based finance. Developing countries are worried that more loans will let them fall into a quagmire of the debt crisis. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimates, around 60% of low-income countries will be facing debt difficulties in 2021. However, developed countries, such as the United States and Switzerland, argue that the form to be in-kind donation, bilateral, or multilateral aid. 

Third, developed countries, such as the United States and European Union, argue that developing countries should quantify the needs and elaborate on the use of the fund. However, measuring non-economic loss is challenging and time-consuming. Loss and damage can result from short-term extreme weather events, such as floods or hurricanes, or long-term climate change, such as rising sea levels. Before counting the loss, economists will need to specify the time frame and the value of the goods. For the loss caused by long-term climate change, it is hard to specify when the starting point was. In addition, the values of the loss of non-economic goods, such as the loss of traditional culture, loss of biodiversity, and mental health, are subjective and difficult to generalize the methodology. Thus, even though each developing country has the capacity to do the evaluation, it might take years to finish the assessment. 

Personally, I hope progress could be made in the second-week negotiations.


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