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OPINION: COP22 – “COP of communications and accountability”


The 22nd Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (COP22) has been dubbed the “COP of action” but CDKN’s Mairi Dupar says that when it comes to discussing countries’ domestic progress in delivering the Paris Agreement, this is the “COP of communications and accountability”.

My colleague Connie Espinosa wrote last week that COP22 is the “COP of action”  – a theme that echoes around the venue at Bab Ighli in Marrakech.  I want to give it a different label, and call this the “COP for communication and accountability” – because these are the stand-out themes as decision-makers and development practitioners discuss their preoccupations in taking forward the Paris Agreement at national level.

Countries need better national level communication and dialogue on climate challenges

Over the weekend at ‘Development and Climate Days’ – a 14 year institution for hot debate on development and climate action – I heard delegates stress the importance of governments’ communicating openly with society about climate change and solutions.  Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, a spoken-word artist from the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said: “There is a language problem – how can national level decisions be translated to local language so people can be involved” in carrying forward the commitments from the Paris Agreement?

The following day, members of Kenya’s government and its development partners celebrated how far their country has already come in raising awareness of climate issues in the popular consciousness. They achieved this through extended public consultation on Kenya’s climate action plan and Climate Change Bill (passed as an Act of Parliament in May 2016). It was a kind of “big conversation” at county level.

I’m in agreement with many of the researchers and practitioners I’ve heard in the past few days, who report that local people – especially in developing countries – already perceive changes in the weather and the climate and often, they are already taking action to adapt. So, it would be completely wrong to consider local people uninformed about climate change – many developing country communities, in particular, are on the frontlines and are dealing with it.

Rather, the process of implementing the Paris Agreement is about scientists and policy-makers, businesses large and small, community institutions, households and individuals forging a new understanding around: “What’s happening here? And, what will our societal response be at a large scale?”

Colin O’Hehir, an Irish climate negotiator, remarked of his country’s recent experience in passing a climate law and beginning its implementation: “Many of the things we were already doing, such as putting in place increased flood defences, were a response to climate change anyway, but perhaps the climate objective was third or fourth on the list of all the goals that programmes were trying to achieve. There has been a value into pulling those threads together and identifying them as a coherent climate change response.”

Accountability relations matter – in climate planning and climate finance

As countries turn their national commitments for climate action into specific, tangible and costed plans, national conversations are emerging about governments’ accountability to their citizens. This huge issue has many dimensions, so I only touch on a few here. Countries’ existing laws create existing legal obligations on governments that must be respected as climate plans are detailed and delivered: Winfred Lichuma, the Chair of Kenya’s National Gender and Equality Commission, said that Kenya’s national gender equality, human rights and land ownership laws would provide an essential accountability framework for climate policies and programmes. If Kenyans felt that any of these rights were infringed, they would have further redress through Kenya’s environmental court and ultimately the African Court.

There is also a great deal of debate among delegates about climate finance: where to get it, how to spend it. Climate finance is a “magnetic” topic in this year’s COP, guaranteed to draw delegates to a side event room.

I find that accountability is a powerful undercurrent in the climate finance discussions: who provides climate finance, under what conditions, and what accountability relations are created as a result.  In the fast moving arena of climate finance, “who is paying” is relatively well studied although not without its pitfalls [see, for instance, Climate Finance Update and the recently published UNFCCC Biennial Assessment].   The question of “under what conditions” is monitored and evaluated: whether national governments, public donors or private sector actors are paying for adaptation, mitigation, or loss and damage (see the same sources).

The question of how climate finance flows change accountability relations between actors, and what are the social, economic, political and environmental results is an entirely under-analysed phenomenon: an important issue bubbling below the surface, which isn’t called out explicitly enough.  The point was best made by a Senegalese speaker at Development and Climate Days who described his country’s need for external financing to meet Senegalese adaptation ambitions, but the fact that international donors had funded adaptation action in only one sector. “This funding stream has created silos within government – that department gets on and does its own thing and reports to the donor,” he said.

This story suggests a serious burden lies with the international donors who are expected to deliver a catalytic portion of the finance to enable developing country climate action:

  • Donors must address their task with humility, maintaining fiscal and management standards to satisfy accountability to taxpayers and shareholders at home but ensuring that partner governments are empowered to drive a ‘whole of government’ approach which is more fully accountable to their citizens and the cross-cutting needs of their societies;
  • Donors must coordinate even better at country level to identify and avoid gaps and overlaps in climate finance and technical support plans. Again, they must do this with humility, and with the needs of the ultimate developing country beneficiaries as paramount.

 

 

Image: courtesy Well Bred Kannan, flickr.com

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