We Are Not Defeated, And We Will Never Be Defeated: The People’s Plenary.

By: Olivia Fey ’23 (she/her) & Anna Considine ’23 (she/her)

People raising their fists in solidarity in the UN Plenary room.

For the past couple of years, the UN has officially sanctioned an event called the People’s Plenary: a moment for civil society groups to take the main stage at COP and make their voices heard. Despite its importance, this crucial event was nowhere to be found on the official schedule for COP27. By complete accident, Professor Ayse Kaya walked into the Plenary on Thursday. On stage were representatives of Indigenous peoples, trade unions, environmental NGOs, the women and gender constituency, the disability rights movement, and youth. She sent our delegation a text, and we all immediately rushed off to witness this powerful moment.

The People’s Plenary, and the ensuing protest, was by far the most impactful moment of our time at COP so far, moving all of us to the brink of tears. The speeches at the People’s Plenary highlighted the lack of hope and real solutions found in UN deliberation halls. The representatives instead called for real climate solutions that resist colonial, capitalist, patriarchal and ableist structures. Each representative ended their speech by saying the same powerful words of solidarity and strength: “we are not yet defeated and we will never be defeated.”

Jacob Crane of the Tsuut’ina Nation, displaying the flag of his people.
“Reconnecting to your culture is climate action and climate justice.” ~ Jacob Crane

During the speeches, fists rose in the air and people stood up and sang in the otherwise formal, sterile halls of the UN. These moments were made especially powerful in the context of the suppression of activism at COP27. A letter was read out during the People’s Plenary from the mother of the Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, whose imprisonment and hunger strike made headlines at the start of COP. The plenary called for his, and all political prisoners’ release.

While protests at COP27 are meant to be restrained to officially sanctioned events of about a dozen people confined to small platforms, at the end of the session, the crowd marched through the halls of the UN calling for climate justice now. Unified in song with people around the world, we could feel the power, the energy, and the hope that had been lacking throughout the rest of our experience at COP. The protest culminated in a powerful reading of the People’s Declaration for Climate Justice. We ask that you read through this document built out of solidarity between peoples around the world. More importantly, as the representative of the frontline for gender justice asks, “don’t just read our declaration… take action.”

After the Plenary, the crowd took to the area outside of the conference hall, in peaceful protest.

Overwhelmingly, we are left with the feeling that the People’s Plenary is what a plenary at the largest global conference on climate change SHOULD FEEL LIKE. We are currently awaiting the release of the agreements reached at COP27, but we wish to make clear that the real fight, the real solutions, and the place where we must derive our hope comes from the work of the people, not the halls of COP.  

We want to use this blog post to share some of the words of the incredible activists that assertively and bravely took the world stage. Their words speak of extreme disappointment with the progress of the UN negotiations, the violences of the climate crisis already affecting their communities, and their belief in the power of people. We would love to share the link so you all can watch it yourself; however, in-keeping with a running theme of lack of access or transparency at COP27, we cannot find a recording of the event so far.

A flag at the protest, reading “APMDD: Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.”

These are the messages of the people: 

From All:

We are not defeated, and we will never be defeated.

From the Representative of Indigenous Peoples:

“Without [Indigenous] leadership, even a nature-based solution becomes another false solution.”

“We demand direct access to resources that uplift our solutions, distinct life ways, worldviews, and Indigenous sciences. Our battles do not begin or end here at COP. When we return to our respective homes, we will continue the real work on the ground. We must pick up the work where states fall short. Supporting the self-determination of Indigenous peoples is the best for all peoples and [the] planet.”

“There is no climate justice without the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Indigenous Peoples:

“Carbon offsets, net zero, and nature based solutions are a new form of colonization that further threaten our communities. These are false solutions.”

“It will be Indigenous and frontline communities that will bring forth the solutions that are needed.”

From the Representative of the Women & Gender Constituency:

“They may have drawn imaginary borders to divide us [and] color to segregate us, but they will not be able to break the collective power of our voices.”

“The chains of oppression must be broken.”

“We will not support your predatory economic system for greed and opulence.”

“We will rise like the water. We will stand strong as mountains. Our voices will be lifted by the wind. Our collective power will burn as brightly as fire.”

From the Representative of the Frontline for Gender Justice:

“We may sound loud in this room, yet we are not a part of any decision making.”

“Despite all these beautiful speeches on gender on gender day, gender is still not on the agenda. We are still not a priority.”

“When we ask for climate justice, do you think we are beggars asking for pity? Do you think that we want more loans and debt? Do you think that local communities do not have local solutions?”

From the Representative of Trade Union NGOs:

“[We] are paying a high price for lack of decisive leadership on climate action. […] We demand more.”

“We say no more. We urgently need a just transition. We ask for mitigation and adaptation, loss and damage mechanisms, all debts paid in the Global South. Just transition needs workers at the table. Others should not decide about our future. Labor rights are human rights.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Workers’ Rights:

“We want to […] be independent, to be able to move forward as the working class of Africa, the Global South. We are not victims or beggars. We are demanding what is ours.”

“This is a class on whose back renewable technologies and the future for a green life are being based on. This is a class that may never have access to renewable energy, a class that will never have dignified work and will continue to be under the dark mines of Africa. […] As trade unions, we are here to warn and to caution that we must not repeat the history of the mining sector of our continent.”

“We demand to participate in a formal social engagement framework.”

From the Representative(s) of Environmental NGOs:

Speaker 1:

“We endorse this declaration. We do so because our people are suffering across the world. Their suffering and their vulnerability to climate change is caused by the structural injustices of economic and political systems.”

Speaker 2:

“We should not be surprised that for two weeks, those leaders of rich countries have been saying they believe in science, saying they believe in [the] 1.5[°C global warming limit], that they care. We are absolutely sick of their empty words – hypocritical words – and outright lies.”

“We have always known one truth: that this fight will never be won in the negotiating halls. It will only be won by the power of our movement […]. They treat the lives of our sisters and brothers as disposable. For us, they are non-negotiable.”

“We stand in defense of the 1.5 [limit], beyond which will be a death warrant for millions of people across the world. We believe as people we need to stand in solidarity to build a future of peace and justice. We believe it is only through the power of people that we can build a better world for all. We are unstoppable.”


From the Representative of the Struggle for Youth Justice:

“How do we find hope when our current and future world is on fire? […] We practice hope every day because we don’t have an alternative.”

“Every thought and action has a collective impact. Collective drops create rivers, and rivers carve canyons. We can change the world.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Climate Justice:

“We cannot continue going forth without looking at what brought us here today. We blame [climate change] on colonialism, on patriarchy. These systems must be changed […] before we can start talking about climate change.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Environmental & Racial Justice:

“We have to repair our ecology and we have to repair our relationships with each other. We have to love each other.”

“We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

From the Representative of the Disabled Rights Movement:

“I will be brief in my statement, but not as brief as [the mention of] disabled people in the Paris Agreement.”

“Like climate change, disabled people have been left behind.”

“No human rights without disability rights. There is no climate justice without disability justice. Nothing about us, without us.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Disability Rights:

“When I left the safety of home, I realized my colonization had affected my ability to recognize that I was not the problem, but the systems were.”

From the Family of Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah:

“Show us every day what courage and determination look like.”

“[There is a] shared pain of those who believe in a better world.”

“You told us we are your family; our pain is your pain. You made no empty promises. You simply told us that we stand with you.”

“Everyday, we survive. We matter, just like every tenth of a degree matters.”

“Together we can break the walls of fear. Our horizon is freedom for all.”

Chants Filling the Plenary:

“The people, united, will never be defeated!” / “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido!”

“Free Alaa; free them all.”

“Solidarity forever.”

“Power to the people.”

“When the world that we know is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

“We are the people / The mighty, mighty people / Fighting for justice / And for liberation / Everywhere we go / The people ought to know / Who we are / Who we are / So, we tell them / …” (repeat)

Thank you enormously for taking the time to read the voice of the people.

Signing off,

Olivia & Anna <3

Banner at the protest, reading “our sky, water, soil & forests are not for sale.”

Please note: we transcribed these quotes during the Plenary to the best of our ability, but they may not be perfect as a result. In any case, we hope to have accurately captured the sentiments of these powerful activists.

Additional resources:

Memorable Moments for Week 2

By Hannah Ulloa (she/her), Swarthmore Climate Action Manager

Today is the last scheduled day of COP 27 and though negotiations are ongoing, it’s a great opportunity to take note of the most memorable experiences for our Swarthmore delegation so far.

What we are seeing:

An expansive conference location that is bustling with activity every moment of the day.

Gathering spaces and negotiation rooms where world leaders are discussing and debating global climate agreements.

Individuals and communities from all over the world coming together to raise a common call for urgent climate action.

Who we are learning from:

Environmental Justice pioneers, like Dr. Robert Bullard.

Indigenous leaders, environmentalists and advocates.

Scientists and policy-makers for a range of climate issues including climate resilience and finance.

Where we are exploring:

The cultural context in the surrounding city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

The experiential art and sustainability interventions in the “Green Zone” area of COP 27.

To be clear, it’s difficult to identify a moment that is NOT memorable, but I’ve captured some of the highlights and given you a window into the COP27 experience. Stay tuned for more in-depth updates from our Swarthmore delegation this week!

Hold On… What Even is the UNFCCC COP27?

By Anna Considine ’23 (she/her) & Olivia Fey ’23 (she/her)

The Week 2 delegation has officially arrived at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt! After receiving our official observer badges, learning to navigate the maze inside the conference center, and taking in the whirl of events and negotiations to attend, we have successfully made it through our first two days. Before diving into our reflections and takeaways of our experience, we want to sloooowwww doowwwnnnn for a second and talk about what exactly is this conference that we’re attending?

Your week 2 student delegates, Olivia Fey ’23 (left) & Anna Considine ’23 (right)

What is the UNFCCC?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that binds its signatories to cooperate in limiting global temperature increases and address the adverse effects of climate change that have not been successfully avoided. Adopted in 1992, there are currently 197 signatories: 196 individual countries and the European Union (EU), which ratified the convention as a bloc. 

“The ultimate objective of this Convention … is to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” ~ Article 2, UNFCCC

So… what is a COP?

All parties to the UNFCCC meet annually for a Conference of the Parties (COP) to agree on actions to implement commitments. The COP is the supreme decision making body of the UNFCCC. The two most commonly highlighted agreements you may have heard of that have risen out of COPs are: 


Adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, the Kyoto Protocol is a treaty that commits developed country parties (those historically responsible for high atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations) to reduce their emissions by a certain percentage over various commitment periods. 


Adopted in 2015, the Paris Agreement aims to:

a. Hold the increase in global average temperature well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

b. Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.

c. Make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. 

Today, parties that are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement meet annually to review progress and amend the documentation. 

A Disclaimer…

Before continuing, it is important to note that there are many differing viewpoints on the successes and failures, efficiencies and inefficiencies of COP. We are approaching COP from a more critical viewpoint… does its structure allow for the adequate representation of historically and currently marginalized voices? Are developing nations really able to have the same footing in climate negotiations as the high-polluting, control-heavy developed nations? Are non-state actors and activists able to have an influential role in the COP process? These issues have been brought up since the beginning of COPs.

But enough with the history… what’s actually going on right now?

… and what’s COP27?

COP27 is this year’s COP, taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The official COP27 website broadly states the mission of this year:

“To accelerate global climate action through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts and enhanced flows of appropriate finance. We recognize that ‘just transition’ remains a priority for developing countries worldwide” (COP27). 

In our experience, this COP definitely feels like an “implementation” COP. From past years, agreements have been made and goals have been set, but negotiations this year seem focused on ironing out the details of how to actually implement those decisions. 

For example, during COP26 in Glasgow, there were crucial debates over the topic of loss and damages, wherein developing countries were pushing for the recognition that adaptation is not enough when places around the world are experiencing the violences of climate change right now. These discussions are definitely ongoing at COP27; however, focus has shifted to how to actually distribute and reduce barriers to accessing finance. Currently, small communities are struggling to access even the finance that is available, and determining who is most in need of finance is still a contentious issue. Pakistan especially has been asserting their voice at COP this year in the wake of devastating floods through 2022. Despite their vulnerability to climate change, however, they are definitely not at the top of any financing lists as Adnan Khan, a youth delegate from Pakistan made clear at a panel in the Climate Justice Pavilion.

Adnan Khan (second from the right) at the Climate Justice Pavillion Event, Environmental Racism, Local Community Resilience, and the Humanitarian Imperative (USAID).

A further example comes from Dr. Ma Laurice Jamero from the Phillipines who described how her island was devastated by Supertyphoon Rai. While some funding was provided by the World Bank, it was far from sufficient. When they requested more funding, they were instead greeted with instructions on how to create a project proposal. 

 Dr. Ma Laurice Jamero, third from the left, at the Ocean Pavilion event, What’s at Risk: Defining Resiliency in a Rising Sea

How are we here?

Swarthmore College was granted NGO observer status to the UNFCCC COP in 2013. Since then, delegations of students, faculty, and staff have been sent to observe the negotiations that are attempting to combat the climate crisis. While the success of these agreements is questionable and COP itself is flawed in many ways, observing the attempts at international collaboration is an incredible opportunity.

Who else is here?

SO many people, to put it bluntly. COP is packed with 200+ national delegations of country representatives, leaders in international businesses, intergovernmental organizations, observers like us trying to absorb as much information as possible, and tons of media personnel. This year was anticipated to be the largest COP in terms of attendees, with ~35,000 people all in all in Sharm El-Sheikh over the two-week span of the conference. Although the pavilions and plenaries of COP are in reality quite spacious, the sheer number of people creates a chaotic environment, with people hustling and bustling between back-to-back meetings, panels, speeches, and other events. 

A courtyard at the conference center, filled with people rushing between events and stopping for frequent cups of coffee

What are these other (arguably more important) people doing here?

There are many different types of events at COP, several of which happen at the same time, making it absolutely impossible for anyone to attend everything. Simultaneously, with negotiations between delegations, private meetings between representatives, side events hosted by non-government organizations (NGOs), activist gatherings, etc, there are an extraordinary number of simultaneous events occurring at any given time throughout the conference days. Here is a brief rundown of the different kinds of events that go down at COP:


  • Plenary meetings: these are open to all attendees. Each national delegation has to meet in plenary in order to adopt agendas, agree on other procedural matters, and adopt decisions or conclusions. 
  • Contact groups: these are open to all parties, but not necessarily to observers (like us). The COP may decide that certain agenda items merit further discussion because they are likely to lead to or play a big role in the overarching COP decision, and so smaller discussions known as contact groups are set up. 
  • Note: there are several other event types including bilaterals, drafting groups, informal consultations or spin-off groups, stocktaking meetings, etc.
Above: Example of a negotiation – delivery of national statements in the plenary. Observers are more physically distanced from the speakers, which are country representatives.

Events alongside the negotiations:

  • Side events: opportunities for parties and observers to share their views and work at the meeting venue. Observer organizations also hold ‘unofficial’ side events outside the COP venue to open the discussion to people who do not have UNFCCC accreditation (these occur in the Green Zone, rather than the Blue Zone, which is where the negotiations between national delegations occur).
  • Workshops: These events are not a space for negotiations but are meant to support the negotiation process. They may be set up as a way to share experiences, gain clarity on an issue from technical experts, and/or brainstorm about an issue with a view to inform or advance negotiations.
  • Press conferences: used to raise the profile of a particular issue in the talks (these are oftentimes webcast and can be found online if you are interested!)
Above: Side Event: Indigenous Knowledge in Global Climate Science, Policy, and Action. Observers are positioned closer to the speaker, unlike in many negotiation events.

Now that we’ve laid out what exactly COP27 is all about, we’re excited to bring you our reflections, insights, and updates through the week. Stay tuned for more content to come. Thank you so much for taking the time to read.

Signing off,

Olivia & Anna

Anna Considine (Left) and Olivia Fey (Right), your week 2 student delegates

Source for UNFCCC COP history and logistics: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Becoming a UNFCCC delegate: what you need to know. October 2016. 

Nothing for Us, Without Us

by Chris Stone ’23 (he/they)

Let me start off by following up on a few of the things I was looking for in my last blog post:

  1. Yes, I did find a handful of other peers from Myanmar.
  2. Yes, I did find a better understanding of why it matters that I attended this conference.

The two are closely tied. After panels, there’s often space made for the audience to pose questions to the panelists or contribute comments based on the topics raised. Through these opportunities, I spoke about issues concerning Myanmar and it’s people, both within the country and outside of it. It was a chance to bring to light that even if we aren’t being brought to the table, our voices should still be heard. I’m reminded of the slogan that across the Pakistan Pavilion.

The slogan, “What goes on in Pakistan won’t stay in Pakistan”.

The mentality by those in positions of power that the issues they’ve caused within the sacrifice zones, ones they benefit from, won’t have any negative repercussions disregards the ways we are inextricably linked. The climate catastrophes in the Global South and reconstructions of the Global South won’t stay there either. As to the campaign led by the Climate Action Network International (CAN-I) on Friday: The Flood Is Coming, and that means to everywhere.

Similar to the pavilions themselves, sharing my voice publicly at the conference drew others toward me. At first, those people included high schoolers to professionals interested in what I was sharing about heritage, (climate) refugees, and food systems. Until finally, after one event, I met several friends from Myanmar at once working on issues from indigenous advocacy to climate finance. I was overjoyed, even while we had to jump between English and Burmese to keep up the conversation, to meet others also conscious of how often topics around climate change are quick to brush over the needs of people in Myanmar. It gave me clarity that the direction I have been heading in hasn’t been for nothing after all.

Having lunch with my new friends from Point Myanmar, an advocacy group for indigenous peoples in Myanmar. I had the chance to have some homemade lahpet thoke!

It also became clear to me how my platform can be used to share information that those who remain in the country may not be able to speak up about without risking their livelihoods. This was a harder thing to face, both that as diaspora I had the power to address a particular leverage point at the seams of systems of oppression, and that it might mean all the longer that I am unable to go back.

I think back to how I felt when I first learned the term transgender. Joy: the past fourteen years of my life finally made sense. Fear: the rest of my life will be spent facing discrimination.

Joy: I have a whole community and history of trans folx to stand alongside.

It may be a long time till I return to Myanmar… but as I eat lunch alongside the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, where uncles and aunties have brought back food they cooked back in the places they’re staying, I know that home is here too.

A mix of goodies including: Laphet Thoke from Myanmar, a “Filipino dish made with Malaysian ingredients that tastes Nepali”, and both white and purple rice.

The networks that others had been connecting me to while I had been searching for others from Myanmar were not for nothing either. Through them, I found opportunities to participate in some of the demonstrations happening around the conference. In these messages, I learned that the venue had designated action zones and that these actions had received approval from the UNFCCC, though I’m not sure how many action zones there are, where they all are, or how many actions actually receive approval.

At the Asian Pacific Youth meet up!

The majority of demonstrations I saw took place at “Action Zone 1”, right by the entrance, though I saw demonstrations at two other locations. Primarily led by BIPOC folx, they were for the purposes of demanding loss and damage finance or climate reparations or for demanding an end to fossil fuels. The two I participated in were organized around youth and Asian identities.

Asian People’s Movement Loss and Damage Demonstration

As soon as we showed up, signs were handed out to us, so we could jump right in. One person would take point on the mic, explaining the purpose of this demonstration, sharing chants with the rest of the rally, and passing off the mic to others to share their stories. Stories that showcased how the people experiencing the very worst of climate change are the least responsible for it. Sometimes people would jump in to share chants from their own related movements, and I don’t just mean in terms of campaigns, but also cultural songs and dance of political resistance.

The People!


Will Never Be Defeated!

During the demonstrations, I had men touch and move my body without my consent. There were men who would repeatedly move me out of the way to get a closer shot of someone else, or raise a camera directly into my face, or grab the sign I held beyond my reach, only to hand it back to me once their colleague was done taking a photo of them. Even while feeling empowered to be in solidarity, I marveled in the ways our actions seemed to be interpreted as a photo op.

Despite being surrounded by cameras, I heard some organizers reflect that they themselves were unable to take any photos because reporters and passersby were blocking organizers from getting to each other. They would just have to hope that they’d get photos later. As someone without mainstream social media personally, I still found pictures of me online.

No more blahblahblah

Loss and Damage Finance Now!

At one panel, an executive from a Big Tech company expressed:

Maybe it’s a good thing that the conference is taking place in countries like Egypt, and should continue to do so. It forces global leaders to see what it’s like on the ground and it will motivate them to actually take action.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but disagree. The Global North already takes their chances to travel to the Global South as an opportunity to engage in the tourism economy (or even the more philanthropic “voluntourism”) that perpetuates the commodification of cultures and is not doing anyone favors. As we see this conference stress test the capacity of Egypt to respond to the high expectations of leaders and delegates from the luxuries of “developed” countries in the Global North, I would be pained to see this repeated again and again across the Global South. Frankly, people from the Global South and reconstructions of the Global South in the Global North have been stating clearly for decades what the circumstances are like as a consequence of climate change. Instead of coming into our homes and gawking, listen to us. These people do not exist to perform as trauma porn just so that the Global North will take us seriously.

Pay Up!

Pay Up!

Pay Up for Loss and Damage!

It’s true that developed countries are the most responsible for climate change, that’s why they’ve been given the responsibility to take leadership in reducing their impact. However, so long as they remain accountable to themselves, the conversations will keep centering their issues foremost conference after conference. I believe that if instead, the so-called “developing” countries, countries treated as “poor” when we are rich in our own ways, were centered in leadership, then there would be no COP27. We might have resolved this all a long time ago.

A loss and damage demonstration on the way from the pavilions to the plenary rooms.

You giant carbon emitters, you owe us this money!… Let’s not go to COP28 with the same conversations! For how long are we going to talk about climate finance? Every COP, every COP we get and have conversations, same conversations! Can we get done with climate finance on COP27, please? Next year, COP28, let’s have other conversations! We can’t keep talking about the same. We are wasting time, resources, money, everything, we are wasting a lot of time. It’s overdue. This money will help a lot of countries that have a lot of loss and damage. Please pay up today! Thank you.

Transcription from the demonstration

Also, make sure to check out the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Key Takeaways on Climate Finance:

Climate change will not be solved by financial mechanisms – they are a cause of it. Real solutions foreground Indigenous Peoples and Mother Earth, not financial institutions.

COP 27 and Climate Finance:

Multilateral Development Banks and Climate Finance: More Words Than Action

Originally published on the SDG Knowledge Hub, a project by the International Institute for Sustainable Development. Shared here with permission from author.

Money on wall
Photo by Geronimo Giqueaux on Unsplash

By Dr. Ayse Kaya, Professor, Swarthmore College; Adjunct Professor, The Wharton School

Multilateral development banks (MDBs) dispense concessional and non-concessional funding for development to low- and middle-income countries. A growing obstacle in the way of development and poverty-reduction is climate change’s adverse impacts. In this context, the World Bank and its peer regional institutions, such as the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the African Development Bank (AfDB), have an increasingly important role to play in channeling their financial resources for climate-related projects in member countries. Yet, they are lagging behind in the provision of multilateral climate finance and need to become more transparent and rigorous in their extant approaches.

Like other forms of climate finance, multilateral financial flows can help developing countries undertake low-carbon growth paths and reduce their emissions, while advancing their ability to resist the current impacts of climate change, namely facilitating adaptation and resilience. The World Bank, for instance, mentions the desire to deliver clean energy – where electricity is currently lagging – to facilitate green growth. Adaptation takes on different forms, but often requires expensive interventions, such as the building of new, more climate-resistant infrastructure. Thus, there is a great need for money, especially for the most vulnerable communities within the most impacted but poor pockets of countries.

MDBs possess great potential to lead in climate finance: they have capital at their disposal and can raise additional money through international markets. For example, the main lending arms of the World Bank, the International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) and the International Development Association (IDA), had committed a total of over 40 billion USD in fiscal year 2021 (as of July 2022). Aware of their own role in climate finance, MDBs have released joint reports on their climate finance flows since 2011. They have additionally published a joint assessment framework for complying with the 2015 Paris Agreement, in which they have sketched out project activities regarded as “Paris-aligned” versus non-aligned. Many MDB reports also contain numerous references to the SDGs.

More Data, More Money

Alas, this combination of capacity-to-lead and self-professed desire to do so, have not translated into adequate action. MDBs’ efforts to fulfill their potential in climate finance are plagued by a lack of transparently tracked, detailed data and lagging financial commitments.

The MDBs’ joint reports include aggregate numbers on what each bank committed (in the past) as climate finance. However, there is no project-level dataset available to accompany these reports. Such a dataset is essential for others to hold these institutions accountable – without knowing how their flows for climate change are precisely being accounted for, we have to take the MDBs for their word. In national contexts where external financing can easily be diverted to new ends or wasted through corruption, this transparency is doubly important for both national actors and international observers.  

Even when we take the joint reports at their face value, however, the pattern that emerges suggests that MDBs have significant room to ratchet up their ambition in disbursing climate finance. The rich countries’ original promise at the 2009 Copenhagen climate summit (UNFCCC COP15) was for “USD 30 billion for the period 2010-2012 with balanced allocation between adaptation and mitigation” and then USD 100 billion annually by 2020 (emphasis added). The increase in MDBs’ finance from 2013 to 2020 has been unimpressive and bumpy: MDB climate finance only rose to USD 40 billion in 2018 and has since fallen to USD 35 billion in 2020. Further, in the same period, MDBs’ total climate finance remained less than one-third of total MDB operations.

This is particularly true for money for adaptation; most of the world’s poor live in areas most affected by climate change, and their lives remain dependent on activities that are disproportionately influenced by environmental shocks and degradation. Adaptation remains severely unfunded relative to mitigation, with MDBs generally committing close to two-thirds of the climate funds to mitigation and only one-third to adaptation. This asymmetric allocation toward mitigation should be rectified. Further, the concessional share of these multilateral flows remains relatively low: it has been consistently below 50% of total climate financing. This raises questions about multilateral climate finance adding to the debt burden, thereby defeating the purpose of bolstering capacity particularly for adaptation in the developing world.

What does increased ambition on the part of MDBs look like? For example, the World Bank should formally commit a significant share of its lending to climate-related activities and publicly announce a rigorous metric for designating the contribution of projects to this end. Additionally, the temptation to provide mitigation finance to the small emitters should be tamed: mitigation monies are praised for their contribution to global public goods, but save for the large emerging economies, the “adding the drops in the bucket” approach of many small mitigation projects in poor countries will fail to effectively reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. To be sure, the existing governance structures of MDBs may hamper their ability to boost multilateral climate finance. These banks tend to be top shareholder-driven, which means the key players need to converge on amping up MDBs’ climate finance.

New Oversight Committee for Climate Finance

These considerations also suggest that there could be a role for an MDB Climate Finance Oversight Committee, whose members could include technical experts and national and international representatives. While it is still incumbent on MDBs themselves to ramp up ambition in climate finance, such a committee could provide valuable guidance and support MDBs in:

  • Making sure only strictly climate and environment-related funds are counted as climate finance. For example, MDBs’ general support for economic development, such as in strengthening education, should not count toward their climate finance goals;
  • Overseeing that these flows do not add to the debt burden; and
  • Reaching the most vulnerable populations within most vulnerable countries.
  • Publishing an open database of detailed project-level data on climate- and environment-related projects pursued by the MDBs.

Since taking development seriously requires taking climate change seriously, by increasing their role in multilateral climate finance, MDBs can demonstrate the necessary institutional adaptation to fulfill their mandates.

This article was written for a Perry World House workshop on Global Climate Finance, held on 3 October 2022 in partnership with the Climate Center of the Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) Initiative at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. This workshop was made possible in part by a generous grant from the Carnegie Corporation of New York. The views expressed in this article are solely the author’s and do not reflect those of Perry World House, Wharton School, the University of Pennsylvania, or the Carnegie Corporation of New York.

The author acknowledges Swarthmore’s Joel Dean fund and thanks her students, Sky Park and Kendall Praitis Hill, for their excellent research assistance.

Climate Reparations Now

by Chris Stone ’23 (he/they)

On the bus from the airport to my hotel, my first sunset in Sharm el-Sheikh.

Where are you from?

I’m from the US.

Okay, but where are you really from?

It’s a question I’ve often been asked at the COP 27 conference.

It’s a question that usually makes me cringe, as an Asian American and one of the few in my family to be born in the US. It’s a question that comes tinged with a sense that somehow every Asian is a new pervasive immigrant despite several hundreds of years of Asians in America (see: The Making of Asian America by Erika Lee, 2015). With it goes the myth of the American Dream, of being a “model minority” who can achieve being “American” if we just pick ourselves up by the bootstraps.

However, here at COP 27, it’s a question I am, for once, excited to answer:

I’m Burmese Chinese, and my parents immigrated from Myanmar.

And after some chatting, we get to the point where I clarify that Myanmar is not at this conference.

Neither were they last year, after the return of the military coup in February 2021, striking violence across the country in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. I remember that day, feeling my face getting heated, my throat closing up, and my eyes starting to water. I remember the unbearable frustration I shared with the few other peers with ethnic heritage from Myanmar I had, seeping out and spilling over. Just as we had grown up struggling to search for legitimate streams of information about what was going on in the country outside what we knew from those we were directly connected to—some of us furthermore illiterate in our native languages—our calls to action for international support made far from the headlines, or the headlines that did were riddled with disinformation.

Yet, as the country is a member of the UN, I still found this sign in the overflow room for the plenary.

A sign that says Myanmar on a table in a room with many other tables in front facing rows.

I’m excited to share my ethnic heritage with people in the hopes I might find someone else out there from an ethnic group of Myanmar. To have a connection with more than a plastic sign here. Even with my complex feelings about the notion of a “national identity” around “Myanmar”, I knew the exclusion of the country would be one of the largest defining factors in my ability to find other members of the diaspora. I knew it would mean the global conversations around climate change would move on without acknowledging the people in that country, my friends and family, who have been undergoing floods at unprecedented scales across the recent years, putting a global biodiversity hot spot at risk. It’s my fourth day here, and I have been thankful to the many people who have tried to connect me to groups that might be able to help… but I still haven’t succeeded.

This will not stop my search.

On the other hand, what I did find were other youth who shared similar sentiments:

Oh, I am/We are also from a community that is not represented at this conference, attending through other means.

These peers too understood the experience of being of communities that are silenced from the international political dialogue, one that has been structurally designed to erase us. We sit as observers in negotiation rooms as jargon flies by, we sit as the pressure of what all these conversations are supposed to mean to us creeps in. We ask each other:

So… why we even here?

And is that enough?

Am I doing enough, to carry the burden of all my ancestors before me who worked hard so I could be here now?

It’s hard to watch, as people move in groups all around me, connected by one thing or the other, while feeling so incredibly aware of how, if not for colonialism, imperialism, you name it… there would be others like me too. It’s certainly not a new feeling, but it is one that hits different each time it comes up again.

Suddenly, I feel so small.

Though, having someone that understands makes me feel, a little less small, and a little more of a sense of belonging.

I am reminded of a quote that too, re-emerges just as often:

There’s really no such thing as the ‘voiceless’. There are only the deliberately silenced, or the preferably unheard.

Arundhati Roy

Marginalized peoples, whether acknowledged by international political powers or not, have never been “voiceless”. We have been fighting for hundreds of years. Our voices continue to ring on.

There have been many references to the centerpiece of this COP:

This is the year that COP 27 actually moves towards acting on implementation.

This is the year that COP 27 actually centers food systems.

This is the year that COP 27 actually supports youth participation.

This is the year that COP 27 actually addresses loss and damage.

Well, I can tell you for a fact that this is the year that COP 27 has a Climate justice Pavilion in the Blue Zone, in spite of representing people that would otherwise be in the Green Zone, one-off events to check off the “diversity” requirement of their programming, or not present at all. I am thankful to have had the invitation to volunteer with them during my time in the conference through one of the main organizers WeACT for Environmental Justice. One of WeACT’s top community priorities is energy security and I connected with them through Young Professionals in Energy-NYC’s mentorship program.

I am continuously starstruck to meet environmental justice leaders whose works I’ve read in class or podcasts I’ve listened to while on the subway or online webinars I attended from my bedroom, and to be actively part of the work to support them. I could only describe this as a fraction of the amount of gratitude I have. Their work has pushed me to further dive into decolonizing my own identity, and working for and with community.

Dr. Beverly Wright introducing the first panelists and opening of the pavilion

As the first event “Global Afro Descendant Climate Justice Collaborative” unfolded, the energy could be felt in the room:

One chants: What do we want?

All join in: Climate Justice!

One: When do we want it?

All: Now!

Now. Now!

Now is and always has been and always will be, across every moment in the movement for social justice, the time for those responsible for the climate chaos we are experiencing to compensate those from which they have extracted from and disproportionately sacrificed, from Black and brown communities in the Global South and the reconstructions of Global South within the Global North.

There is no climate justice without social justice. Until then, none of us are free.

The panelists made it explicit: racism is baked into COP27 proceedings. Climate reparations must be in dialogue, must be paid up, and must be noted as only a piece to addressing a history of systemic injustice.

Having voices from climate justice communities be represented for the “good optics” is not enough. They need to be centered, and actions must be taken to implement the solutions that will genuinely address the needs for/with/by those at the frontlines. An example of an approach to this is what Dr. Robert Bullard would refer to as “community-based participatory research”.

My hand holding a copy of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse

A member of Climate Justice Alliance stopped by to hand off copies of the latest edition of Hoodwinked in the Hothouse: Resist False Solutions to Climate Change. I recognized it right away. After all, one of the contributing organizations, Energy Justice Network, collaborate along with Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living (CRCQL) to engage Swarthmore College students in the Environmental Justice courses and Campus Coalition Concerning Chester (C4) in the fight against the nation’s largest incinerator for “waste to energy” (a common false solution) located in the city of Chester.

Chester, less than 4 miles away from our campus, is a predominantly low-income African American community faced with generations of health conditions due to the toxins they were being forced to live with in the air. Air that travels along to even our seemingly unaffected predominately white institution located on an arboretum designed on stolen land. CRCQL has been in this fight for over 20 years, and they have been told before that if did not take the trash coming in from all across the US, then it would be sold to be shipped and dumped to another country in Africa—perpetuating the global waste trade (see: Resisting Global Toxics: Transnational Movements for Environmental Justice by David Pellow, 2007).

If you don’t think you live in an environmental justice community, then you’re living next to one.

Zulene Mayfield, while visiting our class last year

After the second event of the day at the pavilion, “Climate Litigation in South Africa: Vulnerable communities resisting fossil fuels and protecting their right to participation (Earthjustice)”, members from the audience joined in to share their experiences, their fights, their wins, and their strategies, from Liberia to Zimbabwe to Puerto Rico, picking up between each other while sharing their truths. Local revolutions collectively all part of one big revolution, reminding me of The Next American Revolution: Sustainable Activism for the Twenty-First Century by Grace Lee Boggs, 2011.

The Blue Zone’s dominant operating narratives put global climate justice stakeholders at a dissonance from one another. Climate Justice Pavilion is not just a site of resistance to dismantle these narratives, it is a site of healing and grounding. The Climate Justice Pavilion structurally configures itself subversively, building power and kinship in solidarity for a just climate transition across cultures, faiths, and generations.

The founders of the three main organizations leading the Climate Justice Pavilion on stage for the Keynote Panel

#AfricaCOP27: The Whole World is Watching

By Prof. James Padilioni, Jr.

The proceedings at this year’s COP27 are now well underway. Delegates from every corner of the globe have converged at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, to participate in critical negotiations, discussions, and networking opportunities — all in the name of securing full implementation of the climate goals adopted in the Paris Agreement of 2015 and the recommitments made in last year’s Glasgow Climate Pact. However, according to the UN, “since COP26 in Glasgow, only 29 out of 194 countries came forward with tightened national plans” to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 45% prior to 2030, in order to hold global temperature warming to 1.5 degrees celsius and eventually achieve “net-zero” emissions by 2050.

Adding yet more urgency to these negotiations is this year’s theme, #AfricaCOP27, a rallying cry for African nations — and Black-majority Caribbean nations — to take the ethical lead on climate action through the development of sustainable green technologies. While many African nations contain the creativity, social cooperation, and political will to implement sustainable development, they do not have the capital necessary to catalyze the process. Of course, this situation is not a mere coincidence of history, but rather its consequence, as centuries of the Transatlantic Slave Trade followed by European colonization of the African continent intentionally extracted wealth and natural resources from African societies, leaving them economically impoverished. What’s more, these same processes of extraction and exploitation created the very Industrial Revolution itself, the prime generator of both Global Northern wealth and the excessive fossil fuel emissions underlying the conditions of climate chaos we face today.

photo of the Niger Pavilion
The Niger Pavilion at COP27

At the opening plenary session on Monday, Senegalese President and current Chairman of the African Union, Macky Sall, declared it was time for Africa to “make history (faire histoire),” as opposed to being the “victim” of the history made for Africa by Europe and the United States. Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley powerfully followed Sall’s charge, as she called for the dismantling of the Bretton Woods monetary system structure that created the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank, and blasted rich nations for maintaining debt financing obligations vis-à-vis nations of the Global South. Motley also excoriated private capital, asking, “how do companies make $200 billion dollars in profits in the last three months and not expect to contribute at least 10 cents in every dollar of profit to a loss and damage fund? This is what our people expect.”

While the centering of Black leadership and frontline communities is an important and long-overdue corrective to global political economy, this alone will not guarantee a successful conference. Will the negotiations at COP27 bring forth a new framework for climate reparations, ushering in a future of flourishing for Africa and the entire planet? With global temperatures continuing to rise and 2030 fast approaching, the stakes of such questioning could never be higher. Stay tuned to this blog for updates from our student delegates as they track these dynamics over the next two weeks.

India’s 2070 net zero goals: A tale of hope?

By Matthew Neils’ 22 and Ghazi Randhawa ‘22

Hi Everyone, COP26 ended today on a historic note. In spite of its shortcomings, COP26 should go down in history as a breakthrough COP as a lot of countries have shifted their stances and offered compromises for the sake of avoiding a dystopian future. In this flurry of shifting media cycles on every big and small announcement from COP26, we decided to write about an important net-zero pledge made by a very important developing country that has frequently expressed reluctance on climate commitments: India’s pledge for net-zero GEG emissions by 2070.

The recent report by Climate Action Tracker (CAT) shows that the world will likely miss its target to restrict the global average temperature to well below 2℃, let alone the 1.5 degree Celsius by 2050. With the new pledges in the previous week of the COP26, CAT found that the world would rise to be about 2.4 degree Celsius by the middle of this century. Moreover, the current plans against climate change have been criticized for setting very short term goals which would not prevent increases in temperatures above 1.5 degree Celsius.

While developed countries have been rightfully criticized for pushing our shared world to this brink of collapse and low-income, developing, and island countries have been highlighted as the primary victims of the crisis, the rapidly emerging economic giants of BRICs have had an evolving and contentious role in international negotiations surrounding climate action. Their sheer economic growth and rising greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the need to lift their population out of poverty. This need for growth is coupled with their vulnerability to climate change. China and India present an exacerbated version of issues that arise in climate action by emerging economies: a huge growing population, rapid economic growth at the expense of environmental concerns, and extreme vulnerability to climate change induced alterations in the functioning of their earth systems. Their share of the total greenhouse gas emissions has been steadily increasing since the start of 1990s. Yet, their per-capita emissions of GEGs are still quite low in comparison to developed countries that have markedly higher GEG emissions per capita.

Developed countries have long stressed the trade-off between climate action and development opportunities. This stance is contentious and has led to failure of previous climate action agreements like the Kyoto protocol’s ratification in the US. In view of the evolving science and economics behind climate change, there is a growing consensus that economic development in these countries should not follow the Kuznets curve perspective. The Kuznets curve implies that countries’ tolerance for levels of environmental degradation has a trade-off with development that eventually reaches a peak. After that point, the country’s preference for environmental degradation goes down even as further economic growth occurs and this leads to environmental cleanup. Many countries have shown development and environmental patterns on lines of the Kuznets curve with the most recent example being China. However, with the burgeoning scientific literature on climate change, experience with development strategies, and breakthrough scientific developments, there has been a growing recognition for the dispelling these cycles of development economics and a call for sustainable low-carbon development pathways.

Historically, India has been part of the G77 group in global climate negotiations. Since the first UNFCCC conference in 1992, India’s economy has grown rapidly along with its aggregate carbon emissions and per capita emissions. If corrective action is not taken, India is expected to join the club of countries who single-handedly contribute the most to fueling the climate crisis. Of the four largest emitters (China, the United States, the European Union, and India), India was previously the only emerging economy not to have made a net-zero commitment. As recently as a month before the COP26, India shirked its responsibility for climate action. India’s (coupled with China’s) earlier reluctance for climate action has led to breakdown in negotiations at earlier climate conferences. While India has agreed to the principle of Common But Differentiated Responsibility, it has been reluctant to make a net-zero pledge for many reasons.

Firstly, India has been a vocal advocate for the right of developing countries to pursue their development plans. India has instead laid the onus of climate action on developed countries who caused the problem. It has repeatedly pointed to the fact that its per-capita emissions are lower than many developed countries who have caused the problem of climate change. India is a rapidly developing huge country which is not expected to reach its peak population and economy for a long time. India has relied on fast and massive economic growth rates to pull swathes of its population out of poverty. To summarize, India has long believed that it has a lot to lose from climate action which it believes would hinder its economic development strategy. However, new breakthroughs in science about climate change have led to serious concerns about the short term and long term sustainability of any carbon based development in any country. India is no exception to this insight and its vulnerability to climate change has impacted its view on climate change.

Secondly, India has frequently objected to the ‘net-zero’ framing of climate action. Net-zero commitments are often criticized for being hollow pledges in that they do not commit to decreasing carbon emissions. India has instead been more active in pledging better carbon intensity targets for its economy. Carbon-intensity targets aim to increase the efficiency of carbon emissions for running the economy. Carbon-intensity targets are touted by India as a more pragmatic measure of climate action than net-zero pledges. Net-zero emissions have also been recently criticized for being too long-term and not doing enough to prevent extreme climate change in the short term(more than 1.5 degree Celsius by middle of the century). Moreover, the number of countries making net-zero pledges has grown vastly over the past few years and India has been facing pressure to join the club. Moreover, we think that the goals of net-zero and carbon intensity should go hand in hand in development policies. Just committing to increased carbon intensity or net-zero pledges alone would not ameliorate the problem of aggregate emissions of India.

Thirdly, India has been reluctant to cooperate in view of unfulfilled pledges for climate finance. It is a known fact that developed countries largely failed to fulfill their pledges for immediate and long term climate finance they agreed to in the Paris agreement of 2016. This pattern of repeated failure by developed countries in provision of climate finance has caused a trust vacuum. Why should developing countries keep giving leeway and ratchet up their commitments to climate action when developed countries keep on failing to deliver on their promised action? COP26 saw increased activity and relatively more solid commitments and pledges over climate finance. Moreover, we think that climate finance is a thorny issue and its best possible resolution would still be far from the perfect version that many developing countries would want. It should not hold back India in driving up its ambition in climate action and emissions pledges because there is no other option around climate change.

Last Monday, India joined the other major emitters in a neutrality commitment with Prime Minister Modi’s announcement of new climate goals. This announcement represents a major break from the country’s reluctance to make a net-zero goal. Less than a week before the beginning of COP26, India’s minister of the environment expressed skepticism over the value of neutrality commitments. In light of this reluctance, The new ambitions have three main pillars:

The headline goal is for net-zero emissions by 2070. This date is 10 years behind China’s goal of 2060, and 20 years behind the American and European goals of 2050. It also falls behind global calls for net-zero emissions by 2050 in order to keep warming under 1.5 ℃. Although 2070 falls behind this goal, policymakers have indicated that later deadlines among low and middle income countries can be consistent with remaining below 1.5 ℃ of warming if wealthy countries achieve neutrality before 2050. Indeed, increased pressure on wealthy countries is part of India’s climate strategy. Their minister of the environment has highlighted the importance not only of when a country reaches neutrality, but how much they emit before they reach that point, calling attention to the major contributions of wealthy nations and China to global emissions before they reach net zero.

Additionally, Modi made a number of promises concerning the energy sector: an increase in non-fossil fuel generated energy, achieving half renewable energy generation by 2030. There is doubt about whether India can successfully fulfill these commitments given its history with similar goals. For example, the country had a previously-stated goal of 175 GW of renewable energy generation by 2022, but its capacity currently stands at roughly 100 GW and the country is not on track to reach its goal. The new commitment is for 500 GW of capacity by 2030, an even more ambitious increase. Additionally, coal is an important part of both India’s power generation and its economy more generally, with coal mining and coal energy generation accounting for roughly 10% of the country’s Index of Industrial Production. This reliance makes a shift to renewable energy especially politically and economically challenging. India’s attempts to remove language supporting a phase-out of coal from today’s COP26 deal further reinforce this concern.

Finally, the country aims to cut its carbon dioxide emissions by 1 billion tons (compared to business as usual emissions) by 2030 and has raised its carbon intensity reduction goal from 35% to 45%. While these new goals are among the most ambitious announcements to come out of COP26, and the new climate aspirations are an encouraging sign, they may not be enough. In light of the Climate Action Tracker report, India, like other large economies, needs even more ambitious climate goals in order to keep warming below desired thresholds. Climate Action Tracker rates the new plan “Insufficient” (up from a previous rating of “Highly Insufficient”) due to the lack of concrete policy details and the fact that the enhanced pledge still does not place India on track to keep warming under 2 ℃.

Even with these doubts and limitations, India’s commitment is certainly ambitious, and is a noted improvement on previous climate goals and projections. At the very least, the plan represents a major ratcheting up of climate ambition when compared to India’s previous reluctance, and may provide an impetus for similar aspirations in other countries and sectors. If successful, India would achieve a major energy transition in a country currently reliant on coal and oil that could provide both motivation and practical guidance for other low and middle income countries seeking to make similar transitions. The announcement from a previously reluctant party also places political pressure on other large countries such as the United States, Brazil, and China to enhance their mitigation efforts and may have spurred some of the later commitments from these parties at COP26.

As highlighted by Modi and the Indian delegation, much of the success of the plan is incumbent on the delivery of appropriate levels of climate finance. Even with opportunities for technology transfer and leapfrogging that could allow for low-income pathways to neutrality, such a transition is expensive, and requires major up-front investments that can be difficult to finance. Additionally, climate finance is an important area to support environmental equity. While India is a major net emitter, its per-capita emissions remain far below those of wealthier countries. Therefore, expectations of major emissions reductions without proper support from these countries are both financially unfeasible and do not properly align with climate liability and responsibility.

India’s net-zero goals thematically align well with much of the other news coming out of COP26. They are a definite improvement over previous business-as-usual attitudes, but there are serious concerns about implementation and they remain insufficient to meet more ambitious climate goals. The way that they will be most effective is if pressure is put on other countries such as the United States not only to support low and middle income climate transitions, but to similarly ratchet up ambitions for domestic energy transitions. As climate-conscious citizens it is important to promote the messaging that commitments such as India’s are not an end-solution to the climate crisis, but rather a positive acceleration of climate ambitions that must continue in order to avoid the most harmful outcomes.

Day 3: First Summary Draft (and Boris Johnson!)

Professor Ayse Kaya, Kyra Hall ’22, and Olivia Stoetzer ’23 in the plenary

Judging by the official COP26 calendar,* Wednesday, November 10th looked to be an uneventful day with no large plenaries on the schedule, nor were there many side events. This took us by surprise, as no other day looked this light. But, Wednesday did not disappoint.  The release of the first summary draft of COP26 sent a jolt through the halls of the Blue Zone of COP26. As we gathered outside of the plenary rooms waiting to hear the first informal consultations on this draft, a protest was taking place in the same spot: Fridays for Future‘s young activists gathered the attention of everyone, ranging from the media to Parties to observers. 

Friday for the Future activists

As the doors to the plenary room opened, parties and observers flooded into the massive space in a constant flow. By the time COP President Alok Sharma shared his opening remarks and the go-round between the ministers commenced, the room was packed, with every seat occupied. Teams of ministers — one from a developing country and one from a developed country — took turns to report on their various thematic responsibilities, such as climate finance and the Enhanced Transparency Framework Agreement of the Paris Agreement, a mechanism for countries to report data on emissions, NDC progress, and climate change impacts. The representative from Switzerland proudly spoke up first, reporting that parties had agreed that an end date for producing NDCs was a necessary result of COP26. The representative from Maldives, on behalf of the adaptation committee, reported that they agreed on the need for a 2-year work program and that work must start immediately. Luxembourg and Jamaica, on behalf of Loss and Damage, called for new and additional funding, as they highlighted that linkages between loss and damage and climate finance have far too long been overlooked. Denmark and Grenada stressed 1.5 degrees C of warming as the only option (as compared to the consideration of 2 degrees in the Paris Agreement). Several parties spoke after, reflecting the substantive work they had done while also emphasizing a call for more action and ambition. 

After this go-round, the COP President summarized from his view the achievements of the week, along with necessary steps forward. President Sharma will be meeting with parties Wednesday night to finalize draft resolutions ahead of tomorrow’s morning meeting. He urged parties to “come armed with the currency of compromise” as we head into the last two days of COP26 in Glasgow. Sharma closed by emphasizing that “what we agree on in Glasgow will set the future for our children and grandchildren.” 

After these remarks, the EU representative minister asked for the ground and applauded the inclusion of gender and indigenous rights in the draft text.  The representative emphasized the importance of adaptation, defining the EU’s “leadership role” in this issue area, and clear and immediate action on adaptation and all aspects of climate change. “The EU is here.” was his message. The Guinean representative, on behalf of G77 and China, followed these remarks and expressed disappointment in the lack of progress on climate finance, especially the “lack of appetite” on devising a common definition of multilateral climate finance. His remarks also emphasized the importance of Loss and Damage. Gabon’s representative, on behalf of the African Group, and Bhutan’s minister, speaking for the LDCs (least developed countries), echoed many of the Guinean representative’s points. Bolivia’s representative pushed even further, stating that the common position of the draft did not represent the views of all countries and was actually a narrative working to shift responsibility to developing countries. 

Soon after the conclusion of this meeting, Day 3 witnessed the arrival of the UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. We happened to be right there as he walked by and someone from the crowd shouted:  “Is it too late to save the summit, Prime Minister?”  Is it?

Boris Johnson, UK Prime Minister

*The calendar was updated midday, but it originally showed very few events, which was confusing to non-insiders.

Climate Finance and Article 6

Day 1 at the Action Zone

After two very full days of COP, I am starting to see strong themes and linkages across events, speeches, and negotiations. The majority of the events I attended were related to climate finance and Article 6 – the market-based mechanism of the Paris Agreement. These themes relate to two of the overarching goals of the conference: to mobilize climate finance and to establish the rules and regulations for the Paris Agreement carbon market. It was interesting to hear perspectives on these issues from both government officials and panelists that were from various organizations and communities all over the world. I want to emphasize that there was a general dissidence on the outcomes of the conference between these panelists, making up civil society and observers, and the government officials, sometimes behind closed doors, in the negotiation rooms. 

Climate Finance

At COP15 in Copenhagen, developed countries made the pledge to channel $100 billion a year to developing nations by 2020 for mitigation and adaptation. Countries still have yet to hit that mark in 2021. There is also a clear disconnect between where donors and receivers want the funds to go. Developed countries want the funds to go to mitigation, because it would help everyone in the long run. Developing countries want the funds to go to adaptation, which would have far more local, community impacts. The majority of climate finance has gone to mitigation efforts, leaving adaptation largely underfunded. 

Yesterday, Professor Kaya and I observed the Adaptation Fund Contributor Dialogue and Reflections, where ministers from all over the world each shared their reflections on the importance of the Adaptation Fund, along with what their country is doing to contribute. Because Professor Kaya went into the nitty gritty in a past post, I will only share that I was surprised by how low the pledges were, especially for those contributing for the first time and with the expectation of an annual fund of $100 billion. Many countries were donating around $10-30 million, with John Kerry announcing in person the United States’ pledge of $50 million, upon Congress’ approval. All funds to the Adaptation Fund are purely grants, thus it makes sense that these numbers are a lot smaller. Still, I came away thinking that some countries were being stingy. 

At this morning’s negotiations for mobilizing long-term finance, there were striking disagreements, largely falling between developing and developed country lines. Though the negotiations largely focused on editing a draft text, it was interesting to see how every word was scrutinized. In a paragraph talking the need to fund adaptation that specifically used the phrase “doubling adaptation finance,” countries debated for quite a while on the need to use “double” as a metric. The European Union recognized that there would be a large increase in support for climate finance anyway, thus there should not be a target, especially because there is no baseline to begin with. Bangladesh argued that “doubling” should be replaced with “quadrupling.” Ecuador pushed even farther, calling for parity between adaptation and mitigation funds – a very bold ask! 

I am looking forward to following these drafts along with the climate finance pledges, which, if interested, can be tracked here. 

John Kerry speaking at the Adaptation Fund Contributor Dialogue and Reflections. Canada’s Minister of the Environment was also present and sat next to Kerry. (If you zoom in, he is in the corner!)

Article 6

Article 6 of the Paris Agreement established a market-based mechanism to allow countries to achieve their Nationally Determined Contributions through carbon trading facilitated by the United Nations. A similar mechanism was created through the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, known as the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). In theory, CDM was supposed to allow developed countries to fund mitigation efforts that work on sustainable development in developing countries. It was a flexibility mechanism that allowed developed countries to reach their mandated emissions reductions through carbon offsets. However, according to the Carbon Market Watch, more than 85% of CDM projects were unlikely to have generated real emissions reductions. From many points of view, this market-based approach is seen as a way for developed countries to pay off their emissions rather than to actually invest in mitigation.

Yesterday, I attended a panel event called “Net Zero smoke and mirrors, a story of betrayal: making the case against carbon market offsetting.” Several different speakers shared their experiences and views on the market, echoing the failure of CDM and the need to hold corporations and governments accountable by ensuring there is no access to a carbon market. At the end a question was asked that really contributed to the way I approached the climate finance negotiations today. The speaker talked about how market-based mechanisms are an opportunity for developing countries to receive reliable finance, therefore they take part in it. The negotiations today stressed the need for reliable, accessible, and sustainable finance, and though carbon markets can have consequences on countries, they agree to the system to get access to these funds. The speaker asked how countries can receive funding if there is no Article 6. This brings us back to the motivations for funding climate change mitigation and adaptation and the role various actors play in the climate governance regime. 

In class early this semester, we talked about whether the Paris Agreement was the best possible climate treaty, or was it just a compromise by developing nations to get developed nations on board. As I have observed the concessions and debate, but also the political moves, I truly wonder if the nation states at this conference have the ability to move forward with this agreement to make it more than just a compromise, but an effective treaty that can truly save humanity. I am excited to see what is in store in the last three days.