Should the 2021 Climate Summit in Glasgow Still Take Place?

Currently, the Climate Summit in Glasgow—COP26—is slated for 1-12 November 2021. But will even this later date work for many participants?

Currently, the Climate Summit in Glasgow—COP26—is slated for 1-12 November 2021. But will even this later date work for many participants?

By Felix Dodds, Michael Strauss, and Chris Spence
NEW YORK, Apr 1 2021 – Among the COVID-19 pandemic’s many damaging impacts, could a halt to international progress on environmental issues be added to the list?

A year ago, the Glasgow Climate Summit—originally scheduled for late 2020—was postponed to 2021, along with its preparatory meetings. This wasn’t the only critical intergovernmental process impacted. For instance, the Convention on Biological Diversity and the U.N. treaty on the high seas were also moved.

With uncertainty over travel and safety continuing into 2021, the postponement of meetings has continued, with the United Nations Environment Assembly and the Convention on Biological Diversity conference both being moved back many months.

The idea that negotiations could be held virtually has been largely ruled out. While it has worked for some processes on a limited basis, most experts acknowledge climate negotiations are too complex, sensitive, and high-stakes to be conducted over Zoom or WhatsApp

Currently, the Climate Summit in Glasgow—COP26—is slated for 1-12 November 2021. But will even this later date work for many participants?

Even though there is increased optimism in the US and Europe that they may get their populations mostly vaccinated by July or August 2021, that will not be true for many other regions. The varied pace in vaccine distribution is another example, if we needed it, of the disparities faced by developed and developing countries.

In an opinion piece by IMF Chief Kristalina Georgieva for CNN Business Perspectives on 7 March, she said:

“Even in the best-case scenario, most developing economies are expected to reach widespread vaccine coverage only by the end of 2022 or beyond.”

 

Why COP26 Needs to be In-Person and Inclusive

What does this mean for COP26? The idea that negotiations could be held virtually has been largely ruled out. While it has worked for some processes on a limited basis, most experts acknowledge climate negotiations are too complex, sensitive, and high-stakes to be conducted over Zoom or WhatsApp. They require face-to-face discussions to have any chance of meaningful success.

Furthermore, our experience in the past has told us that climate talks need to be inclusive and engage as many governments and stakeholders as possible, both in the lead-up to the conference and at the “main event” itself.

For instance, previous conferences in Cancun (2010) and Paris (2015) are remembered for their inclusivity and painstaking preparations, while less successful meetings such as those in Copenhagen (2009) or The Hague (2000) were unable to achieve this. If virtual negotiations are not a realistic option, then, it’s clear vaccines will need to be made available for government negotiators to attend and negotiate.

What about stakeholder groups who want to be there in person to lobby or put pressure on their governments? Will they be allowed to attend? If so, under what conditions? These are key questions that will need to be answered soon if COP26 is to have any chance of delivering what so many people want it to do.

 

Timing is Everything: The Case for Postponement

Already rescheduled once, COP26 is now timetabled for 1-12 November. Furthermore, the two preparatory meetings originally scheduled for 2020 were postponed to 2021, meaning there is still much to be done.

The first preparatory meeting is currently due to happen from 31 May to 10 June. This is now in doubt and a decision will be taken in the next few weeks on whether to proceed.

With such uncertainty, it could be argued that COP26 should be postponed again. Surely this would be better than trying to undertake preparatory meetings virtually, or holding a COP26 that is so diminished by travel restrictions that the meeting is but a shadow of its usual size and scope.

We hope those making these decisions take into consideration both arguments of inclusivity and the need for careful, thorough preparations as they continue to review this matter.

 

A Roadmap for a November COP

Should COP26 be held in November as currently planned, there are, however, some ways to improve its chances of success.

First, concerted efforts should be made to coordinate and strengthen the outcomes from President Biden’s planned Washington Climate Summit on 22 April, the G7 meeting in June (to be hosted by the UK) and the G20 Meetings in October (to be hosted by Italy).

Together, these could generate useful momentum and begin to refocus high-level political discussion on the climate crisis.

Secondly, the UNFCCC process could review its pre-COP26 scheduling to provide more time for in-person discussions in the lead-up to Glasgow. For instance, there is already agreement that a UNFCCC meeting will be held in Milan from 30 September to 2 October.

What if this already-scheduled event was to be expanded to at least 10 October? If this event continued through the month of October, it could have an even greater impact, allowing key negotiators ample time to prepare in person for Glasgow.

One challenge may be the timing of the Convention on Biological Diversity’s conference, now rescheduled for 11-24 October. Decision-makers will need to figure out whether the UNFCCC could meet concurrently with the CBD.

If it is not thought possible to run the two events at the same time, there are still some creative ways forward. For instance, the CBD could play an important role in accelerating discussions on nature-based solutions for climate change.

This is one of the key issues both the UK and Italy have identified for COP26. Informal negotiations could continue during the CBD meeting and the UNFCCC could reconvene formally on 25 October to see if agreement on any informal decisions could be progressed before the G20 on 30 and 31 October. In fact, the G20 meeting in Rome dovetails nicely into COP26, and could provide a welcome final impetus for it.

If preparatory meetings did take place through much of October in Italy or elsewhere, it would set up an almost continuous negotiating forum through to the start of November for national governments’ experts, diplomats and political leaders—as well as concerned scientists, business leaders, labor groups and NGOs—to meet in-person.

If planned carefully, it would mean only two or three geographically-proximate locations in Italy and the UK would be involved, which should help greatly in terms of dealing with the complexities of travel involving vaccinations, Covid testing, and so on.

In effect, it could create a climate negotiating ‘bubble’ where safe pandemic protocols would be possible and the necessary actors would have time to interact extensively and negotiate both broad agreements and details.

The G20 would also be an excellent end-point for intensifying pressure on countries to increase their National Determined Contributions as they head north for the Glasgow meeting just a short flight away.

 

What Key Issues Need Resolving at COP26?

At the most recent UN Climate Summit—COP25 in Madrid in 2019—several controversial issues remained unresolved.

In some cases, the negotiating gaps are wide. Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director of Greenpeace International, told journalists, “in the 25 years that I have been at every COP, I have never seen the gap bigger between the inside and the outside.”

Some of these issues are quite technical. For instance, reporting guidelines on annual inventories for developed countries need to be reviewed. Governments will have to agree common metrics to calculate the carbon dioxide equivalence of greenhouse gases and address the emissions from international aviation and maritime transport.

There are also outstanding issues relating to land use, land-use change and forestry, as well as market and non-market mechanisms under the Convention.

These aren’t the issues you generally find in the mainstream media, which tends to focus on where we are on National Determined Contributions (country targets) and the contributions to the Green Climate Fund, which should have reached US$100 billion a year by 2020.

Of course, the question of NDC ambition and the Green Climate Fund are absolutely essential, and progress will be key at COP26. However, the more technical issues are also critical if we are to be sure we are measuring progress consistently and fairly.

The Green Climate Fund may prove politically sensitive at COP26. For instance, the host country last year indicated a shift from an ODA contribution of 0.7% to 0.5% of GNI.

The timing is problematic, to say the least, and has been challenged in a letter by over 3000 global health experts warning that the cut will hit “some of the world’s most complex and challenging global health problems”. If you add to that the damage it will do to climate finance, are we moving to a perfect storm instead of a path to a more sustainable planet to live on?

 

Felix Dodds is a sustainable development advocate and writer. His new book Tomorrow’s People and New Technologies: Changing the way we live, travel, entertain and socialize will be out in September. He is the coeditor of Climate and Energy Insecurity: The Challenge of Peace, Security and Development with Andrew Higham and Richard Sherman.

Michael Strauss is Executive Director of Earth Media, a political and media consultancy that advises UN agencies, NGOs and governments on international environmental, development, and social issues. He served as the UN’s Media Coordinator for NGOs, Trade Unions, and Business organizations at the UN Summits on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg (2002) and Rio de Janeiro (2012). He is co-author of ‘Only One Earth: The Long Road via Rio to Sustainable Development’ (Earthscan, Taylor & Francis), with Felix Dodds and Maurice F. Strong.

Chris Spence is an environmental consultant, writer and author of the book, Global Warming: Personal Solutions for a Healthy Planet. He is a veteran of many COPs and other UNFCCC negotiations over the past three decades.

 

Conserving Tigers, Elephants and Bison, One LPG Stove at a Time

Two elephants cross a stream in Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. Thanks to a number of conservation projects run by various government agencies, non-government organisations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the wildlife population is thriving again. The forest is now home to an estimated 500 elephants and several other big game animals, including bison and tigers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

Two elephants cross a stream in Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. Thanks to a number of conservation projects run by various government agencies, non-government organisations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the wildlife population is thriving again. The forest is now home to an estimated 500 elephants and several other big game animals, including bison and tigers. Credit: Stella Paul/IPS

By Stella Paul
HYDERABAD, India, Apr 1 2021 – As the sun sets over the canopy of Albizia amara trees, a thin blanket of fog begins to descend over the forests of the Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary, which lies roughly 150 km south of the Indian city of Bangalore.

Not so long ago, plumes of smoke would rise from the hamlets dotting the forests as women busily cooked dinner for their families over wood stoves. But tonight, dinner will be a smokeless affair in dozens of villages as communities have opted for the use of liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), a clean burning fuel that has given a boost to the health and safety of both the forest and its people thanks to a unique conservation project.

Spread over an area of 906 sq. km – slightly bigger than the German capital Berlin — and nestled along the border of two states, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in southern India, Malai Mahadeshwara Hills (MM Hills) was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 2013.

An estimated 2,000 elephants and 150 people, mostly police and security officers, had been killed here in the past because of rampant poaching by an infamous bandit.

But thanks to a number of conservation projects run by various government agencies, non-government organisations and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the wildlife population is thriving again. The forest is now home to an estimated 500 elephants and several other big game animals, including bison and tigers.

Besides animals, the forest landscape also includes over 50 villages of indigenous peoples. And in a dramatic shift towards sustainability, thousands of forest dwellers have moved to a forest-friendly fuel to save the habitat of these wild animals thanks to a project spearheaded by Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF), a local NGO, in partnership with IUCN.

Conserving the natural habitat of elephants

Funded under IUCN’s Integrated Tiger Habitat Conservation Programme (ITHCP), the project aims to minimise human-wildlife conflict and promote a sustainable living among the forest peoples.

Dr.Sanjay Gubbi, Senior Scientist at NCF, describes the early years when his team first began work in MM Hills.

Almost every village community in MM Hills practices farming, but they were also dependent on forest resources, including using firewood for fuel.

And the destruction of one particular tree, the Albizia amara — also called the Oilcake Tree in many parts of the world — was of significance to the wildlife population.

“We conducted a survey and found that 53 percent of the firewood used by the community came from the Albizia amara tree. Elephants feed on the barks of these trees, so because of the firewood consumption, elephants were directly affected. So, we decided to begin by addressing this firewood problem, especially along the elephant corridors (forest patches used by elephants to move from one part of the forest to another),” Gubbi tells IPS.

Forest women receive LPG stove and cylinder in the Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. In a dramatic shift towards sustainability, thousands of forest dwellers have moved to a forest-friendly fuel to save the habitat of the sanctuary’s wild animals thanks to a project spearheaded by Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and IUCN. Courtesy: Sanjay Gubbi/NCF

Forest women receive LPG stove and cylinder in the Malai Mahadeshwara Hills Wildlife Sanctuary. In a dramatic shift towards sustainability, thousands of forest dwellers have moved to a forest-friendly fuel to save the habitat of the sanctuary’s wild animals thanks to a project spearheaded by Nature Conservation Foundation (NCF) and IUCN. Courtesy: Sanjay Gubbi/NCF

A solution with numerous benefits

The team focused on introducing an alternative fuel source that would be non-polluting, accessible and affordable to the community. Moreover, it had to be something that would help the forest dwellers adopt a more sustainable way of living — one of the core conservation principles practiced by IUCN.

NCF provided each family with a free LPG subscription, which came with a stove, a cylinder and accessories, and cost about 5,300 rupees ($71). In addition, they trained the community to use the stove and connected them with a nearby LPG distributor, so they could re-fill their gas supply independently.

Changing the community’s source of fuel wasn’t easy. The villagers, most of whom had never seen an LPG stove before, were scared of taking one home. Their worries ranged from beliefs that food cooked over a gas stove could cause gastric pain, to the fear that the cylinders would burst and kill them. Every day, NCF field workers travelled to the villages, facing volleys of questions from the community.

And so the team came up with a unique solution to tackle the twin challenges of breaking the taboo and convincing the villagers to embrace LPG: producing a short film in which all the actors were from the community itself.

The 16-minute film answers the questions of community members, allays their fear and informs them about the use of LPG. The film also explains the co-benefits of using LPG instead of firewood; women will spend less time searching for and collecting firewood, leaving them with more time to do other things, improved lung health and reducing their risks of facing elephants while collecting wood.

“The film was a big hit and a great communication tool,” Gubbi tells IPS. 

One of the villages where a large number of people have switched to using LPG is Lokkanahalli. The village is of geographical significance as it is located along the Doddasampige-Yediyaralli corridor, one of the paths the elephants take to Biligirirangana Ranganathaswamy Hills, an adjacent wildlife sanctuary.

“I was scared (at first) of using LPG because it might be harmful for our health. I also thought that it would mean an extra cost for our family (to refill the LPG cylinder) and we might not be able to afford it,” 28-year-old Pushpa Vadanagahalli, one of the women from Lokanahalli village, tells IPS.

The refill costs about $8.

“But after I received the first cylinder and cooked with it, I realised there was nothing to be afraid of. Actually, I feel it’s much safer than going to the forest daily and collecting firewood, so we don’t mind spending on the refill,” Vadanagahalli says.

Forty-year-old Seethamma had been braving elephants and other animals in the forest for several years as she collected firewood.

“Cutting trees and carrying them home is not easy, I used to get back pain. We also must watch out for big animals, especially elephants. It would also take so much time every day. Now, I no longer have to do that, so I am very relieved,” she tells IPS of her choice to switch to LPG. 

A case study for a global discussion on managing landscapes for nature and people

According to Gubbi, over the past four years nearly two thousand families from 44 villages in MM Hills and its adjoining forest Cauvery Wildlife Sanctuary have given up using firewood as a source of fuel.

Consumption of firewood has reduced by 65 percent among these villagers.

However, the community still continues to use firewood to heat water, but for this they collect agricultural residue or dry, dead branches and twigs that have fallen onto the forest floor. We now need to address the issue of providing an alternative for heating water.

It is a harmonious managing of the landscape for both nature and the people who live there. This is in fact one of the themes of theIUCN World Conservation Congress, which will be held from Sept. 3 to 11 in Marseille. The Congress will be a milestone event for conservation, providing a platform for conservation experts and custodians, government and business, indigenous peoples, scientists, and other stakeholders.

The success of the MM Hills and Cauvery project proves that a balance between “ecological integrity for natural landscapes, a shared prosperity, and justice for custodians on working landscapes within the limits that nature can sustain” — one of the discussion points for the Congress — is possible.

Understanding how to “deliver climate-resilient and economically-viable development, while at the same time conserving nature and recognising its rights” is one of the questions around the theme ‘managing landscapes for nature and people’ that will be discussed at the IUCN World Conservation Congress

From Poaching to Protection

Another question is how to heed the voices of environmental custodians, especially those that are often marginalised such as indigenous peoples and women.

Perhaps the MM Hills project provides an answer to this. NCF has found a unique way to include the indigenous people of the area in their conservation efforts. And they have found that women are overwhelmingly taking the lead in these efforts.

With each LPG subscription provided by NCF, a written commitment to agree not to cut or destroy wild trees and to not engage in illegal hunting activities is required. The signatories are part of the community committee – a community-based group focused on the conservation and protection of the forest. Currently, 27 villages have a forest protection group, comprising over 80 percent of women.

Towards a sustainable future

The conservation efforts in MM Hills and Cauvery continue. Seven years after it became a protected forest, MM Hills is now home to 12 to 15 tigers and will soon become a tiger reserve. Early this year, the government of Karnataka and the federal government gave their approval and a formal announcement is expected to be made soon.

The formal status of a tiger reserve is expected to bring more funding, which could further help mitigate the human-wildlife conflict and help convert communities there to a more sustainable way of life.

 


!function(d,s,id){var js,fjs=d.getElementsByTagName(s)[0],p=/^http:/.test(d.location)?’http’:’https’;if(!d.getElementById(id)){js=d.createElement(s);js.id=id;js.src=p+’://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js’;fjs.parentNode.insertBefore(js,fjs);}}(document, ‘script’, ‘twitter-wjs’);