Inclusion drives ambition – SB58 process highlights need for diverse insights & enhanced cooperation
Earth Diplomacy Leadership Initiative report from Week 1 of the SB58 round of United Nations Climate Change negotiations.
Looking forward to increased ambition
Ahead of the SB58 round of United Nations Climate Change negotiations, we held three Earth Diplomacy Leadership workshops, in collaboration with The Fletcher School at Tufts University.
Session 1 covered The Process—including key areas of work for raising ambition and accelerating action, like Action for Climate Empowerment and Article 6.8 non-market approaches.
Session 2 highlighted high-stakes areas of work—Global Stocktake, Mitigation, Adaptation, Food and Health, Accountability, and Finance, and noted international finance reforms, including the unprecedented debt-for-nature swap, which will reduce Ecuador's debt by $1 billion, and support conservation of Galápagos Islands ecosystems.
Session 3 focused on work toward transformational outcomes, including the Transitional Committee on Loss and Damage, the ongoing effort to build a Co-Investment Platform for Food Systems Transformation, and three critical mindsets for high-ambition climate diplomacy:
Connect beyond networking, at the human level.
Embrace complexity; frame problems in a multidimensional way.
Be mindful of the emerging paradigm, recognizing that the optimal solution comes when everyone gets involved.
We looked ahead to the dynamics of the Bonn negotiations, citing emerging insights from each of the sessions. Below, we condense the full list of 36 to just 2 highlights from each of the sessions:
Plan to learn from others—no matter your level of experience, there will always be more information moving through the process than you can possibly master; this is a sign of wider climate transformation, and those involved can make you smarter.
Go beyond agencies to Agency—public participation is critical, but consultation on intended plans is not enough; the most effective participatory processes involve stakeholders and communities in design and implementation of climate solutions.
Climate disruption and related impacts are compounding and accelerating: many nations are already caught in a spiral of worsening destruction and rising debt.
Integrated and holistic climate policy planning creates efficiencies that allow for higher ambition, more productive international cooperation, and faster timelines of implementation.
Food systems are not only highly vulnerable to climate disruption; they are everyday levers of action for restoring nature, supporting human health, building resilience, and optimizing the flow of capital.
The process can achieve higher ambition when there are stronger human connections between participants, including between powerful leaders and marginal stakeholders.
Assessing the mood in Bonn
On Friday, June 9, we held an intimate in-person discussion with Carlos Alvarado, 48th President of the Republic of Costa Rica, now a Professor of Practice at The Fletcher School. The informal debrief from Week 1 covered a wide range of subjects, and surfaced both skepticism about the pace of proceedings, and some good signs of widespread interest in working across instruments (as outlined in Article 6.8(c) of the Paris Agreement, and across Conventions.
Just transition discussions have evolved, and there is recognition of the need to consider a wide variety of scenarios, in which communities, industries, countries, and the wider landscape of stakeholders in evolving market dynamics, enjoy some safeguards against transition risk. Radical collaboration around concrete improvements to living conditions was suggested as a needed innovation, so international policy aligns more closely with how cities, business, and communities work.
President Alvarado noted that the SBs have grown from small technical meetings into a massive international conference, with thousands of participants and daunting complexity. That, he said, is a sign of real progress, expanding the space for negotiation and inviting new ways of working to implement the Convention and the Paris Agreement.
A shift toward systemic conversations and planning is happening, and it should be welcomed. Energy transition is not an abstract question; countries rely on carbon emitting fuels for revenues, as leverage in trade negotiations, and they do so in response to global incentives they do not have the power to control or reset. Systemic conversations can help Parties make room for new ways of working that meet local, national, and shared international needs.
Economies need to diversify: Diversification and transition are not necessarily the same. Diversification means new kinds of opportunity, for more people, and economies that have more systemic resilience and agility. These qualities are part of what countries seek when they look for new resources and pathways to safety—both from climate shocks and from transition risk.
People, culture, land, and the human impact of policy decisions. Traditional, local, and indigenous knowledge arises from experience, over long periods of time facing both adverse and favorable conditions in a particular place or context. That understanding helps to make sure we are asking the question whether our systems and pathways are designed to function long-term. There is science embedded in the moral standards for how we treat nature, and each other.
The breaking down of institutions was raised as a conditioning factor: It isn't just one country, or one type of political system, that is experiencing this. Worsening inequality and increasing geophysical insecurity are leading to disruptions that test the relevance and fitness of institutions. Key players in the process are noting that the world has changed a lot in the 8 years since the Paris Agreement was formalized.
National policy, regional dynamics, and geopolitics are fluid, and have been moreso recently than usual. The US, for instance, went from pro-Paris to backing out to the biggest investment in climate action in history. That fluidity of political and geopolitical trends is part of the climate challenge and is relevant to how we shape the climate crisis response.
The conversation turned to incentives. A senior negotiator with decades of experience in the process cited Convention language upholding open market economies as an engine for development, but noted that in 1759 Adam Smith wrote that the invisible hand of the market works only when all actors are acting morally. That incentives can be practical and conducive to economic expansion, while also being moral and reciprocal, could be the core insight that allows for a rapid upgrading of climate ambition.
The mosaic of possibilities
The negotiations opened on Monday with tension over the agenda and with principled pleas for ambition, inclusion, and creative, collaborative problem-solving. There were calls for:
A mosaic approach to loss and damage funding;
formal recognition that vulnerable countries and communities are suffering escalating costs now;
a trust fund and work program on just transition;
a decision-making roadmap toward an upgraded multilateralism to accelerate climate crisis response;
a full, fair fossil fuel phaseout, sometimes described as a managed phase down or cooperative decarbonization framework.
Matters relating to the Adaptation Fund were pushed to the next round of negotiations, at the COP28 in Dubai, and there are concerns that the awareness of urgently needed expanded finance is not matching up with the level of new commitments. There are also concerns about loose ends getting lost—areas of complexity being left aside, as negotiators try to wrestle major innovations into consensus positions.
Efforts to narrow the scope of discussion and planning, with the aim of accelerating real-world transformation, may be losing ground to the rising interest in diversification and multidimensional work. Some see this as risky, but there is a sense it is the only appropriate way to as much as is needed as quickly as needed, and to mainstream climate-resilient development for everyone.
In the opening of the 3rd Technical Dialogue for the 1st Global Stocktake (TD1.3), several Parties called for policies and activities that allow climate solutions to address biodiversity, nature, and ecosystem needs. The Global Biodiversity Framework was cited, as was the new BBNJ Agreement (protecting biodiversity on the high seas, beyond national jurisdiction). Parties and stakeholders noted, as we have before, that without achieving success on nature and biodiversity, we will lose our chance for successful climate-resilient development.
The Sharm el-Sheikh joint work on implementation of climate action on agriculture and food security is moving from discussion to implementation, with the planning of intersessional workshops and an online portal for sharing agriculture-related information. Metrics and data are a point of contention: Should scientific observations not submitted by a given country but reflecting on that country be shared?
How shared information can translate into climate action, with what support from whom, was a recurring question:
It was noted that national agencies and regional organizations may not have sufficient resources to produce comprehensive information.
It was noted that information shared, to be relevant, needs to be current, which means regular updating of online resources.
The question of finance—both for gathering and sharing of agriculture-related insights and for activating local, national, and multilateral arrangements—was also raised.
In our own briefing notes on Article 6.8 non-market approaches and on finance, we have cited the effort to establish a global Co-Investment Platform for Food Systems Transformation as a relevant cooperative arrangement to support upgrading of knowledge production and translating insight into action. Such cross-cutting activities, which may arise outside of the UNFCCC process, are gaining recognition as levers for joint voluntary action.
Work continues toward development of a framework for facilitating cooperative efforts through which countries advance mitigation and adaptation, without emissions trading. These non-market approaches can be diverse, multidimensional and complex. That examples of active and emerging NMAs that fit these characteristics were discussed in Contact Group and Spinoff Group meetings, and in Friday's in-session workshop points to progress.
There are at least two tracks on which NMAs are moving forward:
The Glasgow track, focusing on sharing of needs, examples, and experiences, and facilitated development of NMAs;
The Paris track, where in line with the language of Article 6.8, countries voluntarily engage in bilateral and multilateral arrangements without working through the UNFCCC process.
Both tracks are needed, because:
Capabilities are distributed; countries that don't engage in climate-smart cooperation with others will find themselves falling behind.
Mainstreaming climate action in any industry, nation, or region, will require relevant inputs from elsewhere.
Ultimately, all trade, industry, and finance, will need to be aligned with successful climate crisis response.
There are signs that the Global Stocktake will greatly increase the amount of detailed information available to the public about national and global progress. That will enhance transparency and jumpstart an expansion of reporting, engagement, and evidence-based ideas for raising ambition.
The frequency of reference to the value (both moral and technical) of acknowledging and integrating transitional and indigenous knowledge is also encouraging.
People who have lived successfully in harmony with specific ecosystems, for centuries or millennia, have more ways of describing what is happening, and how change can be managed, than outside experts without relevant cultural and local experience.
Words spoken in Bonn don't solve all problems, but the COP28 looks better positioned now to recognize that evidence-based climate policy needs to be informed by traditional, indigenous, and local knowledge.
There has been a push for including a review of pre-2020 ambition and implementation in the Global Stocktake. That would include 4 years after the Paris Agreement was agreed. It would also allow for historical understanding of how countries acted according to capability. Others argue that nationally determined contributions should aim to be the most ambitious, most effective and efficient, inclusive and mutually beneficial, they can be, regardless of other countries' historic behavior.
Changing the game
In the Global Stocktake Technical Dialogue:
There have been consistent though diverse calls for inclusion, for work across instruments and agreements, for ongoing stakeholder engagement and public participation, and for working toward a new paradigm for cooperative sustainable development.
New NDCs should, many said, meet the high standards of the Paris Agreement—human rights, intergenerational equity, aligning with the SDGs.
The full phase out of fossil fuels has also been cited as a necessary step toward raising ambition, aligning with science, and meeting agreed standards of mutual responsibility to protect the rights and sovereignty of other peoples and nations.
There is deep frustration, both among Parties and among stakeholders and observers, about the distance between the scale of need and the pace of progress.
While Nova Scotia is devastated by unprecedented fires, and other parts of the region suffer their all-time-worst air pollution as a result—and countries around the world face worsening floods and storms, and deepening droughts, and debt pressures—negotiations feel to many like they are focused on talking about how to talk about it.
On the other hand, there are unprecedented levels of alignment among Parties with diverse views that cross-cutting, cooperative, and participatory activities need to be leveraged to mainstream climate-resilient development and mobilize whole-of-society implementation strategies.
Ultimately, what is under debate are questions of trust, and of mutual support and shared progress. The SB58 still has potential to set the community of nations on course for COP28 outcomes that deliver:
recognition of the need for urgently upgraded ambition;
cooperative mobilization of resources with unprecedented scale and speed;
integration of human development rights and needs into financial and trade arrangements;
acceleration through work across instruments, sectors, and conventions.
To have that credibility and legitimacy, every person in the process, especially the most senior leaders, must align with the highest possible climate ambition. Due to the late hour and the clear signal from scientific observation, that must mean a coordinated full phase out of fossil fuels and inclusive transition to climate-resilient sustainable development that benefits all.
Read deep-dive briefing notes at cciblue.com
Follow the Earth Diplomacy Leadership Initiative workshops and reporting back at Earthdiplo.org
Livestream select sessions directly from the UNFCCC website: https://unfccc.int/SB58/schedule
Dig into daily reports from ENB: https://enb.iisd.org/bonn-climate-change-conference-sbi58-sbsta58