A COP 27 panel discussion on accountability for climate action revealed an ongoing disconnect between developed and developing worlds, with the former urging faith in a complex-but-sincere process and the latter expressing significant mistrust and frustration.
“I was told 40,000 people are here at COP 27,” said Ani Dasgupta, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute. “Seven billion are not. And they must trust that the process matters.”
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Keynote speaker Abigael Kiprono Kima, a youth climate activist from Kenya who opened the session, echoed Dasgupta’s focus on the urgent need for accountability. “Having this platform is a privilege,” she said, and with this privilege “comes the responsibility to be honest and real.”
Briefly sketching the circumstances that led her to commit to her work as a climate activist, Kima pointed to her drought-stricken homeland in northern Kenya, and how two years without rain are devastating pastoral communities. Women and children are particularly affected, forced to spend hours every day on a desperate hunt for water.
“Severe stress and lack of water have left women more exposed to domestic violence,” she said. “Rape is rampant, and malnutrition is everywhere,” she added. “The climate crisis has pushed many of these communities beyond their capacity to adapt.” Many people have no other option but to migrate, “but to where, who knows?”
Kima said she has seen the challenges people in her homeland are facing with her own eyes, and knows they are real. But “here at the COP, this place of smoke and mirrors, I find myself wondering who is honest and what is real.”
An immediate source of confusion at Sharm El-Sheikh, she added, was her discovery that only 20% of corporate participants in the UN-led Race to Zero report their emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project (CDP), and “only 25% of international mitigation initiatives launched in 2021 have monetary arrangements in place.”
“Smoke and mirrors betray the women without water,” Kima concluded. “Betray the children without food. Those whose lives have become unlivable. Please, I ask you to be honest. I ask you to be real.”
Responding to Kima’s plea—“let me riff off the gauntlet you have thrown down,” was how he put it—UN High Level Climate Champion Nigel Topping suggested her immediate doubts about the Race to Zero report owed to a lack of “deep understanding of what lies beyond the data.” He said voluntary initiatives like Race to Zero must give their participants time to get the ball rolling.
Topping cited the Pivot Point Report and up-to-the-minute COP 27 progress towards establishing the Net-Zero Data Public Utility (NZDPU), as well as the breaking news of CDP’s move to incorporate a new climate-related standard into its global environmental disclosure platform, as evidence of a sincere drive to ensure the transparency that underlies accountability. He also stressed the imperative to regulate, noting that voluntary measures “will not be enough.”
“This is what this is all about,” he told Kima. “Addressing this deep skepticism. And we are in a good place to do it, but only with a lot more collaboration and a lot more transparency will we get there.”
Speaking on behalf of the Glasgow Declaration on Forests and Land Use, Tom Clements, strategic policy advisor to the UK environment, food and rural affairs secretary, agreed that collaboration would be essential to make good on the declaration’s pledge to “halt and reverse forest loss and land degradation by 2030.”
Even when pressed by the moderator, however, he did not directly address how the declaration ensures accountability.
Asked to elaborate on the obstacles the Global Methane Pledge may encounter as it works to makes good on its promise to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, Claire Wang, senior policy advisor to U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, identified a lack of climate finance as the number one international barrier to progress.
Like Clements, Wang did not comment on how the Global Methane Pledge would hold signatories to their voluntary pledge.
Chip Cunliffe, program and risk director for the Ocean Risk and Resilience Action Alliance (ORRAA), also invoked a scarcity of dollars—partly because many of the projects now being pursued by the alliance are very small. “Banks are looking for big investments,” Cunliffe said, so other needs are more likely to be fulfilled by a “more nimble” private sector.
Unlike other panelists, Cunliffe did engage with the issue of accountability—most clearly when prompted to do so by a question from a delegate from Mexico.
Identifying his home country as the most dangerous for environmental defenders—according to a Global Witness report, of the 200 defenders murdered around the world last year, 54 were in Mexico—the delegate asked the panelists to comment on any efforts by their organizations to prevent such violence.
Citing ORRAA’s efforts to establish “quality blue carbon credits” using mangrove forests, Cunliffe agreed that “it could be a bit of a wild west,” especially for coastal communities, and that “guardrails” were critically needed to ensure that communities “derive benefit.”
A second panel began with a presentation on the Zero Emissions Vehicles Transition Council (ZEVTEC) by Kate Hughes of the UK Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. She said the council has organized itself around annual plans that tackle key issues, like ensuring equitable charging infrastructure globally. “Issues of equity are huge” for the council, she said, pointing to a policy focus on “international coordinated action and international assistance to help developing countries.”
Speaking on behalf of Cities Race to Resilience, David Jacome-Polit of ICLEI pointed to the need for more and better data collection and sharing, adding that political will is a fragile thing. “Local governments have a lot on their hands to handle every day. If we ask to much of them, we risk them disengaging,” he said.
Sihle Zikalala, a member of the Executive Council for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs speaking on behalf of the Under2 Coalition affirmed that “the ambition is there; the means are not adequate.” She said accountability begins with understanding that it isn’t “one size fits all,” adding that “we can’t talk EVs when we don’t have electricity.”