In search of climate action
This was written by Nameerah Hameed, Climate Outreach’s Engagement Advisor and Amiera Sawas, Climate Outreach’s Director of Programmes and Research.
If one thing is clear at the Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27) talks in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, it is the power of a well-crafted message. United Nations Secretary General António Gutteres set the tone with his words: “we are on a highway to climate hell with our foot still on the accelerator”. The Pakistan Pavilion carries the message: “what goes on in Pakistan, will not stay in Pakistan.”
However, we know all too well that strong words have not always led to matching actions. This is a reality that countries like Pakistan are dealing with every day while trying to adapt to the dangerously changing climate.
Egypt’s vision for successfully negotiated outcomes at COP 27 includes “ensuring that no country or group is left behind through building mutual trust and understanding.”
Developing countries, who contribute very little to climate change, are often the most affected. They argue that they should receive compensation for the losses and damages that are impacting them.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group II report made it clear that our current emissions pathway means there will be unavoidable climate-driven ‘losses and damages’ – both economic and non-economic – that countries and communities are likely to face. Some examples are the impacts of extreme weather events like flash floods and heatwaves, but also many slow onset events, including sea level rise, ocean acidification, glacial retreat, water salinisation, land degradation, biodiversity loss and desertification.
Pakistan is a key example: Prime Minister Shahbaz Sharif told the COP27 this week that Pakistan has suffered up to $30 billion in loss and damages due to the recent catastrophic floods. “Pakistan needs additional funding, not debts, to rebuild a resilient and adaptive infrastructure in the face of climate change. Climate change-induced catastrophic flooding in Pakistan has impacted 33 million people — the size of three European countries — more than half of them women and children. The floods destroyed over 8,000 kilometers of highways, damaged more than 3,000 kilometers of railway tracks, and washed away crops over four million acres. The post-disaster needs assessment estimates over $30 billion in loss and damage. Pakistan suffered the manmade disaster despite less than one percent contribution to the carbon footprint. Amid these disastrous conditions, a flood-hit Pakistan has to import wheat, palm oil and very expensive oil and gas spending around $32 billion. The COP might have a real chance to find common ground towards achieving the objectives of the Convention and the Paris Agreement. It is now or never. For us, there is indeed no Planet B.”
Similar losses are being suffered by countries all over the world as we write this – deadly floods in Nigeria, drought in Somalia and the worst floods for a century in Bangladesh and parts of India – have wrought havoc and destruction to lives and livelihoods.
The ‘loss and damage’ issue made it into the Paris Agreement on Climate Change at COP21 but there has been a lack of political will and consensus amongst countries on what it means in terms of funding. The issue of financial compensation to countries most affected, officially known as “loss and damage finance”, has been intensely debated. Small island states and developing countries have been pushing for such funds since 1991 when Vanuatu ambitiously introduced a plan for high-emitting industrialised countries to channel funds towards those facing sea level rise.
Pakistan as chair of the Group of 77 (G77) has been instrumental in placing ‘loss and damage’ on the official agenda of COP27. Key negotiating blocs like the G77 and China, the least developed countries bloc, as well as organisations like Climate Action Network (CAN), who represent thousands of civil society organisations across the world, have been behind the lobbying efforts.
This call for funding is in addition to existing climate finance aimed to help countries adapt to climate change and transition to clean energy. Not to forget that the finance to the Global South is not the only finance that is needed. The industrialised countries also need to put finance into their own clean energy transitions.
Sitting in on the informal negotiations on loss and damage finance at COP27, the tense exchange between party delegates is palpably visible – each side pushing for its own agenda. For many, whether the COP is seen as a success will depend on the progress on developing a loss and damage finance facility. António Guterres recently said: “Delivering on loss and damage at COP27 will be an important litmus test for rebuilding trust between developed and developing countries.”
So far only five European countries – Scotland, Belgium, Austria, Denmark and Germany – have committed to addressing loss and damage. Often states who are being asked to ‘pay up’ their ‘fair share’ will lament about a lack of public support in their countries on loss and damage finance.
Contrary to this, we find in recent research that this is not necessarily the case. For example, in Climate Outreach’s research across Europe, 58 percent of young people supported the idea of compensation for countries most affected. Public openness to matters of climate justice is shifting – and policymakers are not keeping up. Even amidst a cost of living crisis, climate concern is not taking a backseat. Just this week, research from the CAST centre shows that people in the UK remain deeply concerned about climate change – it is not an either/ or for them, even if that is what policymakers may believe.
Meaningful public engagement can push ambitious agendas like loss and damage forward. And yet the framework for engaging public on climate change under the UNFCCC – ‘Action For Climate Empowerment’ (ACE) – continues to get too little attention from states. Why is it that engaging narratives are only reserved for politicians? Powerful words, whether they are from the UN secretary general, or the prime minister of Pakistan, mean very little if the wider public is not engaged. In the UK, for example, at least 62 percent of the national climate goal of Net Zero depends on some form of individual action. Similarly, Pakistan’s resilience and adaptation to a green economy will fundamentally depend on the engagement of its millions of people.
The six interconnected elements of ACE provide foundational tools for ambitious and just climate action. These include climate change education, training, public awareness, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation – to be able to involve citizens in meaningful action. How are Pakistan’s communities to be prepared for the climate impacts on the way without education and support to adapt and build their resilience? How can there be a just transition to a low-carbon economy without ensuring people have access to green opportunities and skills? How are citizens of historically responsible countries to hold their decision makers to account on ambitious climate finance if they do not know or have access to the mechanisms?
States are bound by the Paris Agreement – and the Glasgow Work Programme – emerging out of last year’s conference – to develop ACE National Strategies. A handful of countries have taken this very seriously and have hit the ground running. For example, Scotland developed a public engagement strategy and a series of ambitious goals to get everyone acting on climate in the country. Ghana has also developed a comprehensive ACE strategy which has a range of activities at multiple scales including making climate fully integrated into school curricula. States need to invest in a public engagement infrastructure that puts people at the heart of climate action. There is a strong evidence base on how to do this, championed by organisations like Climate Outreach and others.
Minister for Climate Change Sherry Rehman has made impressive strides in the global climate space. She is credited with building a greater momentum on loss and damage, bringing Pakistan’s case powerfully to the fore. She has spoken eloquently about the role of women and men in the fight against climate change. But what happens when the delegation gets home, after COP27? Will public engagement be put at the heart of Pakistan’s climate ambition?
This article was first published in The News, 13 November 2022.
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