COP26: Five Takeaways from Glasgow

By Alberto Parise, MCCJ

For the first time, VIVAT International participated in the event of a Conference of Parties to the climate agreements (Rio, Kyoto, Paris). It has been a terrific learning experience for the team that represented VIVAT at COP26. The following are five takeaways from this experience in Glasgow.

  1. Multilateralism and the need to belong

The dynamics of participation at COP are based on multilateralism. Both Parties and CSOs are called to operate through groupings for obvious reasons (time, elaboration of common positions, practicability of negotiations).

Especially in Glasgow, where there was a strict limitation of access to halls due to COVID restrictions, belonging to an NGO Constituency was essential because the 9 Constituencies of civil society were, for example, granted 2 or 3 tickets for each negotiation room. Then, in the daily meetings of the Constituencies, there was supposedly the opportunity of knowing what was going on and discern how to respond to that. Unfortunately, that did not work for us. The ENGO Constituency was precluded to us because VIVAT International is not a member of the Climate Action Network (CAN). Maybe VIVAT could consider joining the network. Participation in the COP is a continuous exercise, and that takes place through networking and collaboration with the Constituencies.

In Glasgow, we contacted the FBOs group, which is not yet a Constituency, but a group recognized by the Presidency. By the way, in the final document that the group submitted to the Presidency, they have asked to be further recognized as a Constituency. The group conducts the so-called Talanoa dialogues, which articulate an interfaith perspective on the themes of the COP: I would recommend that VIVAT links up and participate in the activities of this group.

As for the Catholic organizations, there was a contact among themselves, but basically, they all went along their way. We missed a convening initiative to have the possibility of sharing experiences, concerns, insights, and shared interests. We noticed that no other Catholic organization linked up with the FBOs group.

  1. Parallel worlds that hardly meet

There were so many events running concurrently in Glasgow, and we tried to participate in those that appeared most engaging from our perspective. I have realized, however, that – except for a few thematic events organized by the Presidency and the Plenaries – at such events, participants seem to come from just like-minded organizations. In other words, they all seem to talk just to themselves. I am wondering whether that makes sense. The result is the impression of having parallel worlds that do not meet nor dialogue. The challenge is to build up a dialogical space where there is a chance to encounter differences and constructively interact.

  1. The pivotal role of the Presidency

The Presidency of COP is responsible for setting the agenda, setting up the conditions of participation, listening to all parties, synthesizing different positions, engaging in bilateral and multilateral negotiations, proposing drafts for approval that strike a balance of different needs and wants.

The first week in Glasgow was very frustrating for everyone, lamenting unacceptable participation limitations. However, from what I could observe, the Presidency considered some of the concerns and suggestions expressed by civil society. The challenge is that the process is based on diplomacy, aiming at a consensus. Therefore, there may be inconsistencies in the outcomes since Parties may have different or competing interests.

Civil society, at any rate, had a vital role in that it allowed the Presidency to include human rights concerns and climate justice into the cover decisions, which may not have to be heeded without their pressures. Once again, Constituencies are crucial and need to work closely with the Presidency to have their voice heard. On the other hand, the Presidency needs pressure from CSOs to convince Parties to accept the inclusion of human rights and climate justice concerns.

  1. The need to put pressure on national governments

The thrashing judgment on COP’s results, especially from the youth, is that it produces just empty words, or – as it has often been quoted in Glasgow – “Blah blah blah.” Despite falling short of expectations, Governments have at least agreed on implementing several decisions. The challenge now is to keep on the pressure to deliver fully. There are no sanctions nor international mechanisms to oblige Governments to actualize their commitments. But their citizens can hold them accountable, at least in democratic countries. Therefore, this is where our JPIC ministry must make a difference. And again, this is not possible if we work alone; we need to participate in popular movements which share this very same agenda.

  1. The key point is the development model

After coming back from Glasgow, I have encountered many people asking me whether COP26 has been a success or a failure. Let’s listen to the evaluation of the Presidency of COP. We gather that the overarching goal of containing global warming within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels is still alive, though the pulse is weak. This notwithstanding, they claim that there are some breakthroughs on which it is possible to build to accelerate the transition to Net-Zero GHG emissions in time. This perspective is based on a pragmatic outlook, which tries to maximize gains to accelerate the transition to Net-Zero, assuming the current economic and financial systems as the only option we have. That means harnessing all market forces, mobilizing private capital, building technological innovations to find solutions, and scaling these up for impact.

However, another narrative is that the same system that has caused the climate crisis cannot solve the problem. And this is because it is a system that presupposes endless growth to sustain itself. Once there is an enabling environment and become commercially viable, technological innovations create excitement because they promise new markets and business opportunities, for example, in green energy. However, critics point out that generally, these are false solutions, which simply shift the problem somewhere else rather than solving it.

Therefore, there is a need for a more holistic perspective, human rights, and ecosystems-based. Civil society is aware that we won’t solve the climate crisis unless we land on a different model or paradigm of development. This is the message that indigenous peoples, youth and women organizations, environmental organizations, and FBOs share and promote in their advocacy work.