Oxfam was proud to be part of a global movement demanding climate justice at COP26. Oxfam GB CEO Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah reflects on what we can take away from the summit – and three priorities for next year’s COP27 in Egypt
Oxfam’s COP26 verdict? The deal does not go far enough. It is heart-breaking to see how, once again, diplomatic efforts have failed to match the scale of the climate crisis already devastating the lives and livelihoods of the world’s poorest communities. Yet alongside the disappointment, I was given hope by the passion and determination of people and organisations from across the globe campaigning tirelessly for climate justice. Here are three elements that stood out for me, which I hope that we can build on in the coming months.
We need a participation revolution on climate action
Time and again delegates from the Global South described the brutal reality of climate change. My colleague Juliet explained that summer temperatures in her home region in Malawi now regularly go above 40°C, wreaking havoc on farming and even just the ability of children to play outside. The leader of the Pacific Islands Forum described how coastal communities are having to leave ancestral homes. Margaret Masudio, a smallholder farmer from Uganda who was part of Oxfam’s delegation in Glasgow, described how unpredictable weather is causing hunger and malnutrition in her community, and urged decision makers to act.
It’s vital that communities who are dealing daily with the impacts of climate change are involved in decisions about climate action. That the voices of marginalised groups and of younger generations are listened to. That’s not just the right thing to do; including more diverse perspectives will lead to better decisions, and help embed more durable solutions in which everyone feels they have a part to play. This message came through loud and clear in the Glasgow Climate Dialogues, an initiative to boost participation by Global South advocates in the negotiations. While some attempts have been made to increase representation and diversity at COPs, this is still nowhere near as meaningful as it should be. We need nothing short of a participation revolution. If we get it wrong on participation, we will get it wrong on action.
We need to tackle the climate and inequality crises together
It is impossible to get away from the fact that the world’s richest countries and wealthiest people have done the most to cause the climate crisis. Oxfam’s recent study, with the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Institute for European Environmental Policy, found that the outsized carbon footprint of the world’s richest people is jeopardising the critical goal of keeping temperature rise within 1.5°C. Carbon Inequality in 2030 found that the world’s richest 1% are heading for per-capita consumption emissions in 2030 that will be at least 30 times the level compatible with the 1.5C goal of the Paris climate agreement, while someone in the richest 10% is set to emit nine times more carbon than their fair share by 2030.
The Glasgow Climate Pact included an important request to strengthen 2030 emission reduction targets by next year. But emissions are rising and we’re dangerously close to losing this race against time. All countries need to align their targets with a 1.5-degree pathway to give us the best possible chance of limiting the climate crisis, and these targets need to ensure that the biggest emitters make the most radical cuts. That includes governments introducing measures to curb luxury carbon consumption like mega yachts, private jets and space travel. The world’s richest citizens have the potential to fast-track this process, both by leading greener lifestyles and by directing their political influence and investments to help our world shift to a low-carbon economy.
Climate justice means richer nations stepping up on climate finance
A cornerstone of climate justice is who pays for the devastation wrought by extreme weather linked to climate change, and for the work needed to adapt to the changing climate. While rich nations fall short of providing the $100 billion a year promised 12 years ago, countries with the least resources are left footing the bill for a crisis they did least to cause. After years of talks, the goal for adaptation finance agreed at COP26 was progress. This commitment to double funding by 2025 is below what developing countries asked for and need, but if realised it will significantly increase the money available to adapt to the changing climate. This finance can support communities to undertake adaptation activities such as altering their farming techniques to better deal with unpredictable weather patterns.
The big disappointment was on finance for “loss and damage”, where communities already experiencing climate impacts are asking for support in recognition of lost lives, ruined homes and land that has become unfarmable due to climate change.
Scotland became the first high-income country to allocate funds for loss and damage; yet other rich countries blocked a loss and damage finance facility that developing countries called for to help them recover from devastating climate impacts. These climate impacts can be both slow-onset, such as sea level rise which threatens low-lying island nations, or in the form of extreme weather events, like tropical Cyclone Winston, which caused damage equivalent to a third of Fiji’s GDP. This proposal was watered down to a two-year ‘dialogue’ process to discuss funding arrangements for loss and damage. This derisory outcome is tone deaf to the suffering of millions of people. As Julius Ng’oma, from Malawi’s climate change network, said at the end of COP26: “People are becoming homeless and hungry. What we want to see prioritised is the issue of adaption and loss and damage. The slowness of the process frustrates me.” (Read more about what Malawians make of the COP deal in this powerful blog by the Oxfam colleague I mentioned above, climate advisor Juliet Suliwa Kasito.)
These three elements – action to raise lesser-heard voices, to target the biggest emitters, and to provide adequate funding for communities to cope and adapt – will continue to be at the heart of Oxfam’s work tackling climate change. For all those pushing for climate justice, ensuring that loss and damage tops the agenda will be a crucial challenge in the approach to COP27.
Want more on preparation for COP27? Watch this recording of a recent webinar, chaired by Dhananjayan, where advocates from climate-vulnerable countries talked about their priorities for the next COP. And Oxfam GB has kicked off its post-Glasgow climate campaigning by calling on the UK Government to get to work in the first 100 days after COP26.