COP27 – Systems Change for Climate Action

On day 2 of the COP27, session 3: High-level Session on Systems Change and Climate and Sustainability Innovations examined the deep paradigm shift needed for effective climate action. There was one key overarching message that I took from this session that also resonated with my own work: we need a radical rethink of our economic systems, social justice, and the way we approach natural resources.

There were two issues that panelists argued need addressing in terms of innovation if we are to address climate change effectively and timely: 1) decoupling human wellbeing from the use of natural resources; 2) power, or rather the decentralization of power. Both issues are addressed in a Buen Vivir framework, which is one reason why I focus on the concept, not only for social wellbeing but ecological wellbeing too. It ties into yesterday’s discussion on empowering local communities for climate action.

Janez Potocnik, Co-Chair of UN International Resource Panel hit the nail on the head when he argued that we need to move from an economy that sees humans as external to nature, to one which understands humans are a part of nature. He also stated that we need to remove the causes which lead to negative impacts, of which extractivism is a core function because it is a driver of human needs, but it is also the cause of great inequalities.

Janez argued that to live sustainably, we must move to provisioning for human needs, rather than servicing existing paradigms. I argue further that in that, we must also provision for environmental needs. Without taking into consideration the needs natural resources, ecosystems and biodiversity have to continue to function and thrive, we risk destroying them to the detriment of society.

Dr Andres Steer, President of Bezos Earth Fund brought up the critical issue of power and control – that in the absence of empowering local communities to take action on the ground, any advances in innovation (whether that be technological, knowledge, economic, or otherwise) are void. This is perhaps one of the greatest challenges to effective climate action, the ability for decision and policy-makers, and others who hold the balance of power to cede some of that power to local communities to identify and implement solutions.

We see this with the concept of neoliberal development, under which the idea of sustainable development – and multilateral policymaking forums – sit. The overarching paradigm sees one set of values as dominant and therefore urges everyone to take the same approach, without having any idea about local challenges and the context on the ground. Dr Steer urged the UN to consider this transformative climate action, pleading, “as we think about changing the system, let’s not forget that on Monday morning we need to address real problems on the ground.” In other words, high-level aspirational commitments are nice, “and make for good dinner party conversation”, but are not always conducive to feeding effective solutions in real-time.

In closing this session, the facilitator summarised that “we have called for radical rethink. We have called for accepting that we will have to act in crisis. We are not going to be dealing with a world that is not in crisis.”

On that note, it is reassuring to hear the acknowledgment that frameworks and concepts like Buen Vivir, Donut Economics, Degrowth, Circular Society, and others that were once considered too ‘radical’ and pie-in-the-sky, could bring the kinds of holistic empowerment solutions the world needs in times of urgent climate crisis. Now it is about taking these from idea to action.

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.