I was working as a member of the environment team at the National Council for Voluntary Organisations in 1992, when the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was signed in Rio. At the time we were full of optimism and hope that the global community could come together to address the defining issue of our age. It was with some trepidation that I travelled to Katowice with colleagues to hear about the progress had been made in the time since the Convention was ratified in 1994.
The Foundation’s delegation was joined by more than 33,000 delegates including heads of state, ministers, officials, businesses, the scientific community, and the widest range of civic voices. We converged on the city’s vast conference centre, which symbolises the transition Katowice is making from a coal dependent town to one that increasingly looks to the service sector for its jobs. Perhaps this was why the conference strap line read ‘Changing Together.’
‘Will governments grasp this opportunity to convene and coordinate the multi-stakeholder approaches that are required? Will they put the “together” in changing together?’
This was the 24th time that the Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention had met and this year the focus was on getting agreement on the rule book that should govern the way that countries go about achieving agreed targets. Small states – many of them Commonwealth members called for more ambitious targets when the parties met at COP23 last year. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was asked to provide scientific evidence that might support these more stringent limits on global warming. That report (Global Warming 1.5˚C) provided the backdrop to COP24. Its message was that more needed to be done and quicker. The science is clear.
Governments found it difficult to agree how the report should be received and what the rulebook should say. This only served to highlight the importance of multilateral spaces. The majority of national governments, municipalities, businesses and civil society organisations signalled their intent to accelerate efforts. Thinking about how should these coalitions of the willing operate focuses attention on implementing national adaptation plans and delivering nationally determined contributions (NDCs). NDCs are statements on how each country will reduce national emissions and adapt to climate change impacts. Those NDCs have to be more ambitious and are due to be shared internationally by 2020. The Fijian government as President of COP 23, last year introduced the concept of Talanoa, a Pacific process of storytelling that enables agreement and action. The Talanoa Dialogue was introduced as a means of helping countries to upgrade and act on their NDCs.
— Vijay Krishnarayan (@vkrishnarayan) December 13, 2018
— Commonwealth Fdn (@commonwealthorg) December 12, 2018
Will governments grasp this opportunity to convene and coordinate the multi-stakeholder approaches that are required? Will they put the ‘together’ in changing together? I heard many government representatives – particularly those from the Caribbean and the Pacific commit to working in this way. This is an area of keen interest for the Commonwealth Foundation. As the Commonwealth’s agency for civil society, the Foundation is focused on supporting those that are less heard. We amplify civic voices as they engage with the institutions that shape people’s lives – UNFCCC is one such institution.
The COP23 gender action plan was an acknowledgement that some voices have not been heard. Earlier this year in partnership with UNDP GEF in Barbados we called together civic voices from the Commonwealth Caribbean to explore the intersections between gender and climate change. We have committed to continuing that conversation.
‘If “changing together” is to mean anything, that ambition cannot be limited to the scale and pace of action needed. It must also apply to the inclusion of the widest range of affected peoples.’
We convened civil society at this year’s Commonwealth summit. In their dialogue with Foreign Ministers, civic voices highlighted the unjust burden, loss and damage imposed on small states. They critiqued a preoccupation with adaptation which places an inequitable burden on communities at the margins where climate change impacts continue to be catastrophic. Speaking at this year’s Commonwealth People’s Forum, civic voices from Oceania remind us that politics and history matter too, particularly when considering relocation for already marginalised peoples.
The clear message from Katowice is that this is the time for ambition and action. If ‘changing together’ is to mean anything, that ambition cannot be limited to the scale and pace of action needed. It must also apply to the inclusion of the widest range of affected peoples. As implied by the Talanoa Dialogue, fairer, more inclusive and participatory governance are central to climate justice.
Vijay Krishnarayan is Director-General at the Commonwealth Foundation. Image credit: UN Climate Change Flickr