COP27 – Time to Highlight Local Climate Action

Placards, Climate Change demonstration by Julian Osley is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

COP27 kicked off yesterday in Egypt, with a rockier than expected start. This climate conference has been called the “implementation COP” because of the expectation to negotiate on decisions made at Glasgow (COP26). Yet, there has already been no end of obstructions to progress.

Criticisms began with backlash against Egypt as host country because of a multitude of political scandals, including the fact that it holds approximately 60,000 political prisoners. Before the conference even started there was disappointment as civil society representatives from different African countries struggled to get passes to the events – both undermining the conference’s position as an ‘African COP’, and highlighting the eternal struggles of those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change to be included in key climate decision-making processes.

COP27 started in a less than desirable position as participating countries have failed to act on progress made at Glasgow. Only 24 countries have since updated their pledges, with Australia making the greatest strides – but that has only elevated us from ‘highly unacceptable’ to ‘unacceptable’. Just confirmed is Australia’s bid to host COP31 in 2026, but that brings up the question of legitimacy amidst a renewed focus on new fossil fuel projects.

To make matters worse, the start of the conference was delayed as delegates failed to agree on the agenda for the fortnight. One sticky point has been the inclusion of reparations for loss and damage due to climate change for the most vulnerable. One can see why, nonetheless it is crucial that those in power are held to account.

There have been calls to include a greater emphasis on adaptation in the negotiations. Given the scale of climate-related events globally over the last few years, it would be wise to strengthen community resilience and capacity to adapt.

Given all of these obstacles, there sems that there is little hope to be had in global diplomacy. This predicament powerfully emphasizes the importance of prioritising locally-led climate action and sustainability solutions. Local communities are the best placed to identify the challenges that climate change brings to them, so considering the lack of transformative capacity for global climate diplomacy to respond to the urgency of the situation, greater priority must be paid to empowering locally-identified and led solutions to the climate crisis – both adaptation and mitigation.

Community-managed projects for the conservation of biodiversity and local ecosystems, for example empowers communities to become invested in the local environments, but it also utilises vital local knowledge. Communities that are more socially invested in their environment, are more inclined to look after it and better placed to identify appropriate solutions, albeit with considerable technical and political cooperation. There are multiple substantial benefits. Not only does local climate action lead to better context-specific programs and projects, but they are also generally more equitable and lead to higher social, environmental and economic returns for a community. Locally-led solutions are usually more holistic, with fewer trade-offs between society and nature.

Grassroots projects also raise the bar of optimism on climate, which in turn leads to greater involvement and action. Given the pessimism around the expected outcomes of COP27, I will be encouraging positivity for future climate action. Every Monday I’ll be posting positive local climate news on my socials, as I firmly believe in the power of positivity to bourgeon change.

While COP27 has been led by a rocky start, it still opens up discussion and debate about what is needed at all levels as we head into this dangerous new phase of climate change. And that is cause for hope in my opinion.

Optimism, Hope and Respect in a Changing Climate

Photo by Akil Mazumder on Pexels.com

It is no secret that the term climate change is the source of a great deal of anxiety in people of all ages these days – even more so amongst those who are starting to feel its effects. The term ‘eco-anxiety’ has been coined by psychologists to deal with this relatively new phenomenon.

Climate change is indeed having direct and indirect effects on our health, including our mental health. Many young people are facing feelings of “existential dread” about what their future holds. Despite the rise is climate pessimism, there are reasons to be (cautiously) optimistic. The Climate Reality Project discusses 9 of them here.

To ride that momentum, in this post I’d like to reframe the discussion today and talk about ‘hope’, ‘optimism’ and, most of all, ‘respect’.

Let’s start with this idea of the ‘environment’. The term can be argued as being contested. It means different things to different cultures. Unfortunately, in the West we separate human life from the natural environment, but not without consequence.

To many Indigenous cultures around the world the environment is not a separate entity, it is an all-encompassing connection to a personified ‘Mother Earth’. It demands respect. Regardless of your spiritual beliefs, by personifying the natural environment, or even just seeing it as something other than an inanimate resource to exploit – a holder of rights – than we automatically begin to pay more respect to it and the richness it provides human life. After all, most people would hardly disrespect, abuse and exploit their own mother! It is a question of paying full respect to that which sustains life.

When we reframe the natural environment in such a way, it is less daunting to approach a changing climate with a sense of reality.

Nonetheless, it is easy to be pessimistic about climate change when we see the scientific data and understand the current planetary trajectory. A certain amount of fear is necessary to emphasize the urgency of the situation. The problem is, climate pessimism often leads to feelings of hopelessness, sometimes denial, and ultimately inaction. But, what happens when we start looking at things a little differently, and open our eyes to the pockets of good things that are happening globally to combat climate change – in our communities, cities, private enterprise, associations, research, policy, technology? We only have to look at the way the environment is embraced by other cultures around the world to restore some optimism in humanity.

A shift in mindset sows seeds of cautious optimism that can spur on lasting and effective climate action where we can all contribute to these pockets of good things, until climate action is no longer revolutionary, but the norm. To change our mindsets though, we need a certain dose of hope.

So, let us talk about hope for a moment. What is the opposite of hope? It is despair. Often despair leads to feelings of guilt. As Paul Goodman once said, “No good has ever come from feeling guilty, neither intelligence, policy, nor compassion. The guilty do not pay attention to the object but only to themselves, and not even to their own interests, which might make sense, but to their anxieties.” Hence the rise in eco-anxiety.

I have just started reading Jonathan Porritt’s ‘Hope in Hell: a decade to confront the climate emergency’. As a mother of two children, working on climate, sustainability and wellbeing from a social and policy perspective, I need to entertain feelings of hope, otherwise what am I doing? So, the title of this book drew me in immediately. I have read too little of this book to give a review, but this focus on reality mixed with hope and optimism is the angle we all should be taking right now.

Porritt opens his book with a quote from Rebecca Solnit, fitting for climate action

“Hope is an embrace of the unknown and unknowable, an alternative to the certainty of both optimists and pessimists.”

To a certain degree, the precautionary principle in international environmental law is caught up in a force of hope. Solnit continues,

“It’s the belief that what we do matters, even though how and when it may matter, who and what it may impact, are not things we can know beforehand.”

Rebecca Solnit

We can no longer take a gamble with decisions and behaviours, all precaution is needed. Even if we don’t know why beforehand. In fact, precaution doesn’t go far enough. But hope does. Hope inspires people to understand that what they do matters. The actions they take in their personal, professional and political lives can contribute to real transformative change.

A sustainable future needs hope in transformative change, with a dose of optimism to believe that action can lead to change. Add an understanding of reality, and respect for the natural environment. As Greta Thunberg says “Act like your house is on fire. Because it is!” Only, guard hope that not all is lost.

Much attention is paid to the inaction of policymakers to enact effective climate policies. We must not forget though, the burden of climate passivists, those who believe that someone else will take care of things. Both “shiny optimists” as Porritt calls them, and pessimists can fall into that camp. Much lasting change is achieved from the bottom. Social movements and behavioural change has achieved great things in the past century.

So, let’s guard some hope, regard good climate action in all corners of society with a healthy sense of optimism, and embrace nature not as a resource to exploit exponentially, but with full respect for way it sustains life on earth.