Four key takeaways from this year’s climate talks

Climate Communities Forests Investments Nov 22, 2021
The Forest Trends Team

1. Five years out from the Paris Agreement, what we were looking for was more ambition from countries. We saw that. Updated Nationally Determined Contributions are stronger than previous iterations. We had a new agreement on methane. The US and China have signaled willingness to work together. Importantly, the Glasgow Declaration on Forests brought 137 countries together in committing to end deforestation by 2030. Negotiators finally reached agreement on Article 6, which governs international markets and cooperation to cut emissions. Countries’ plans are still not enough to hold warming to safe levels. But with each round of talks, the idea is to “ratchet” ambition ever-higher – and we saw that happen this year.2. Indigenous peoples and local communities –especially women and youth leaders – were a much more visible part of the COP than in the past. As well they should be: indigenous and traditional communities manage as much of half of the Earth’s land (though they hold legal title only to about 10%), one-fifth of its forest carbon, and 80% of its biodiversity. We will not meet Paris goals without their contributions. As Solange Bandiaky-Badji, President of Rights and Resources Group pointed out, this year, indigenous and community representatives came armed with evidence and compelling calls to action: They wanted decisions at Glasgow to include respect for human rights and indigenous rights in the text. They wanted Article 6 to require that they participate in the design and implementation of carbon market mechanisms. And they want a fairer share of climate finance, and for funds to directly reach communities.

We saw exactly those kinds of financing mechanisms and platforms launched at COP26, including Mesoamerican Territorial Fund and the Peoples Forests Partnership. But there is still much more to be done to respond to the calls we heard from our planet’s most effective guardians this year.

3. But the real energy was outside the negotiating rooms. Business and finance are making real commitments – net zero has, in just a few short years, become “the law of the land,” as Mehn, Partner at Generation Investment Management, put it. He also noted the importance of the announcement of the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. But while some initiatives – like the Science Based Targets Initiative – are clearly aligned with Paris goals and show willingness to be validated by outside parties, other commitments are harder to evaluate or track. That is cause for concern. Protestors at Glasgow frequently expressed a lack of trust that companies’ commitments are credible, and a lack of faith in the COP process. They have a point; pledges similar to those at Glasgow have been made – and broken – in the past. We need not only more ambition, but also more accountability and transparency.

4. The weakest outcomes at Glasgow, according to our panel? Developing countries still need more help dealing with the effects of climate change. Rich countries have still not fulfilled their promise of $100 billion in adaptation funding for developing countries. A proposed financing facility for losses and damages from climate change didn’t materialize this year either. This is a major gap to close in 2022; rich countries’ history of emissions created the problem of climate change, but developing countries today are the most vulnerable to its negative effects.

And while the cover text for the first time recognized the role of nature, an explicit reference to “nature-based solutions” was dropped, although panelist Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, Climate Chief of WWF and President of COP20, observed that this was probably more an issue of semantics concerns (raised by Bolivian negotiators) than a real disagreement over the importance of nature. And of course, we are still not on track for 1.5 degrees. But we are heading in the right direction after years of uncertainty and lost time.

COP27 meets next year in Egypt. However international negotiations are far from the only place that progress is made. As Pulgar-Vidal pointed out, the real energy is to be found among non-state actors. And as we saw in Glasgow, governments and companies step up when the pressure is on. We hope everyone reading this makes a commitment, right now, to themselves to keep up this pressure.

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