Those with political power are removed from the sense of community, indigenous wisdom and action required to protect the people and the planet. They set sights only on short-term targets within political boundaries, without any global sense of responsibility for the impact of their actions.
This assertion comes from having witnessed from within the Blue Zone of COP26, as one of the Scottish Ecological Design Association (SEDA, a long-established group that engages academic and construction professionals in sustainable design) delegates, and yet grassroots organisations that I am also part of, like Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN), were excluded from the main arena. Even before the conference began, one cannot help but be disappointed at the lack of political will to involve grassroots in discussions, despite their equal standing in the profession and importance in climate justice.
Even before the conference began, one cannot help but be disappointed at the lack of political will to involve grassroots in discussions, despite their equal standing in the profession and importance in climate justice.
The aims of COP26 were clear, to make the global transition to meet Paris goals, for that we require leadership from every country to work together 1) to step up in governance and regulatory changes, 2) to support the people and communities, 3) to manage the retirement and repurposing of coal mines and fossil fuel assets, 4) to scale up clean power to deliver sustainable energy for all. What I witnessed begs the question of how the leaders are working together, and especially how the second point is to be achieved, given the lack of true engagement even at COP itself (Fig. 1).
Politicians from the Global North announce with pride how well “we”, meaning their country, are doing - a gross misstatement when the “we” should always be a global “we” - until that happens, there is nothing to proclaim.
Politicians from the Global North announce with pride during the Plenary sessions, how well “we”, meaning their country, are doing - a gross misstatement when the “we” should always be a global “we” - until that happens, there is nothing to proclaim. At COP26 it was refreshing to hear interventions from representatives of countries with completely different starting points and challenges.
Norway, for instance, proudly announced that all their electricity load is carbon-free with hydropower and they will have halved their GHG emissions from industries by 2030. There was no mention of the oil and gas industry in their speeches or discussions. In stark contrast, Bangladesh is at risk of going under from sea level rise, while needing to meet the electricity needs of a population greater than Switzerland and Finland combined. The scarcity of land and other practical challenges mean that they cannot use solar or wind power to meet the baseload. Aim is high by that count, to increase the share of clean energy to 41% by 2041.
It struck me that the energy equation is also fundamentally a land resource one. Could the countries bordering Bangladesh help with building cross-border infrastructure to supply clean energy to them? Some countries have no hope of making the transition in time if we do not look across political borders. Perhaps countries that are “doing well” could look to balance the deficit in other parts of the world by going the extra mile to be regenerative and going beyond zero? Currently, each country’s targets are so myopic and set only to go to zero within their own boundaries. Did the speakers even listen to the other person’s speeches and think, how could we help each other?
It struck me that the energy equation is also fundamentally a land resource one.
Two different countries on opposite sides of the world (Indonesia and Peru) reported that indigenous people defending their land and forests from deforestation, technically for the world and not just themselves, are being killed by agricultural developers or government officials (Fig. 2). This sets the dark backdrop for the WWF report on nature-based solutions for land and oceans, and the IPCC reports on biodiversity and land use, both reinforcing mutually supporting goals of equitable solutions that are of benefit to people and tackle nature crisis at the same time.
Protecting the largest rainforest on the planet is an emergency measure for our survival. There are true indigenous solutions, proposals and skills to manage the Amazon but are ignored by governments.
Protecting the largest rainforest on the planet is an emergency measure for our survival. There are true indigenous solutions, proposals and skills to manage the Amazon but are ignored by governments. Peruvians presented to an almost empty auditorium and in their traditional dresses a series of valuable solutions such as using the Amazon River as a goods transportation corridor rather than building multi-lane highways tearing down large sections of the forest (Fig. 3). Where were the political delegates who needed to hear these indigenous solutions? Being given a stage to speak at COP26 does not mean that you were heard.
Fig. 3 - Peruvian seminar with the audience that consisted of mostly their friends and family in the front rows, and the remaining empty auditorium.
On the surface, many countries around the world backed the idea of working with indigenous people, yet delegates from Peru presented the reality where native communities (of PIACI territories), who have transboundary territorial spaces, are confronted daily by different legal figures that allow increased destruction of forests by harmful industrial activities, inappropriate government policies and displacement measures. Cross-political boundary coordination, political will and financial support to manage our forests and oceans as global assets are crucial.
The Global North, while putting out financial packages on the table, is really drawing red lines of what they are not willing to compromise on under the same table. The Global South, instead, is facing important challenges from a much-disadvantaged starting point, and is trying the hardest. They are even struggling to find out what “Just Transition” means while the world has so far been unjust to them, and what their way out could be while lives are literally on their hands?
Cross-political boundary coordination, political will and financial support to manage our forests and oceans as global assets are crucial.
What is lacking is the acknowledgement that countries that have benefitted from industrialisation with a cumulative carbon footprint far exceeding the sum of the least developed countries (LDCs) need to do more than purely meet a target of zero within their own political boundaries. The most generous financial offer is from Canada, giving 20% of their climate fund towards LDCs. If instead, each developed country had offered 80% of their climate funds and still met its own targets that would perhaps be more equitable?
Less than 1% of a global financial pledge gets to each country of need when split amongst the many, of which only 16% reaches the community and people on the ground. How can enough money get distributed to where it is really needed? Even though money alone cannot resolve everything, more is needed for these communities that are helping the world, the people who are giving their lives to do so.
The final wording in conclusion of COP26 is disappointingly “watered down”, because the red lines drawn by the Global North’s reluctance to reduce consumption in demand to create room for the Global South and market economics.
The final wording in conclusion of COP26 is disappointingly “watered down”, because the red lines drawn by the Global North’s reluctance to reduce consumption in demand to create room for the Global South and market economics. This consumption, which includes a far greater proportion of waste and a great deal of greed, is perhaps the root cause of this disappointing outcome.
Finally, we can only manage what we can measure - monitoring and traceability are important - to that end Microsoft and Google Earth developed product supply chains, land use and planetary health satellite and geospatial tracking systems with AI deep learning techniques to extract information and analyse, enabling early warning systems for disasters such as forest fires. Warnings are only useful if they are listened to. Measurements are only useful if the results are acted upon. Communities willing to help and do their best can only do so if they were heard by governments. Humanity can only survive if governments would work across boundaries together. So, heed this warning from the creators of Google Earth Outreach, Rebecca Moore: “We do not want to be writing the obituary of the planet in higher resolution.”
Read the entire "A Grassroots Organization at COP" column by ACAN (Architects Climate Action Network)
Gloria Lo is an architect with 20 years of experience in Conservation and Sustainable design, in line with her passion to be a good temporary custodian of both the built heritage and the planet.Certified Passive House Designer, BREEAM Accredited Professional amongst other certifications.Currently undertaking research in hygroscopic building materials at Strathclyde University. She lectures at the University of Edinburgh (ESALA) and is a visiting tutor, critic and lecturer at several other Universities on climate literacy, technical skills in building physics and material specification.She is an examiner for APEAS Part 3 architects’ qualification. She is the director of Scottish Ecological Design Association (SEDA), volunteers with RIAS Education committee and Architects Climate Action Network (ACAN).
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