An opportunity for Rotary impact.


COP 26: Week 1

By: Karen D. Kendrick-Hands

Within the Blue Zone of COP26, the first week’s results included commitments on:

  • methane reduction
  • stopping deforestation
  • increasing private philanthropy for green energy projects
  • managing the world’s capital with an eye to emphasizing and accelerating investment in climate-smart and decarbonizing projects
  • getting money directly to the community for the LDCs (Least Developed Countries), and
  • investing in climate-smart agriculture.

Developed countries need to keep their promises: Still, HRH Princess Esmeralda of Belgium noted in a speech at the Bangladesh Pavilion on Nov. 5 that two concepts are missing at the COP26:

  • a sense of emergency, and
  • climate justice.

She noted grimly that delegates fight over a comma, but 1.5 degrees is a matter of survival. She lamented that developed nations have failed to meet their commitments at the 2015 Paris Climate Conference to provide developing nations a Green Climate Fund of $100 billion a year. Bangladesh alone will need $5 billion to adapt. She mused that the climate disruption now being endured throughout the northern hemisphere will help the developed world understand we are all affected. I do note a hopeful sign that US president Joe Biden did commit the US to a US$13 billion contribution to the Green Climate Fund.

The vital role of mangroves as carbon sinks

Bangladeshi Rotarian Kazi Amdadul Hoque, a founding board member of ESRAG, spoke about his work on a Friendship NGO project in Bangladesh that has planted 100 hectares with 300,000 mangrove seedlings raised in their own nursery. Kazi serves as the D3281 Environmental Chair. Funding came from the Benelux nations (including Belgium)

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is finally receiving well-deserved attention thanks to the Article 6 (AR6) Working Group 1 (WG1) Report. Methane comes from three primary sources:

  • oil and gas industry leaks, and intentional releases and flaring;
  • animal agriculture from belching, flatulence and manure management, and
  • solid waste landfill emissions.

The new methane reduction commitments are mostly commonsense good housekeeping which is long overdue. The newest agreement ignores the contributions from landfills and animal agriculture – something the vegan community is pushing hard to be included in crafting solutions. It’s notable that Russia made no commitment to cut methane emissions, though satellite tracking shows that nation is a major source of methane emissions.

Deforestation, ongoing crisis

COP26 is producing a renewed commitment to ending deforestation – similar to promises made in 2014, but not kept. We hope that follow-through on this year’s commitment includes more monitoring and more financing. The developing countries that host most of the forest reserves are making a more unified, better-articulated call to action: If you value the eco-system services that our forests and green areas provide, you must invest in our economies and pay us to maintain them. Local communities need jobs and income. “Whack ‘em and stack ‘em” is not the preferred income model: it has been a last resort.

Climate-smart agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture: In the US Pavilion, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack announced a cooperative initiative with the United Arab Emirates and industrial players to harness technology and research to build more resilience through climate-smart agriculture. All agreed that climate change makes production for “food, feed, fiber and fuel,” more challenging. The slick intro film to this session included a shameless infomercial from Ralph Lauren about resolving to make growing cotton “green.” Cotton is a water- and pesticide-intense fiber to grow. Why the world has abandoned the older natural fiber known to humankind: linen? Ralph Lauren should put linen back on the runway – the ultimate in ‘slow fashion.’ I wonder how long it will take the benefits of high-tech investment in satellite mapping and AI to trickle down to the subsistence farmers in LDCs like Malawi.

Capital and philanthropy

The Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero [GFANZ] accounts for the management and investment of US$130 trillion in private capital: 40% of the world’s total. GFANZ has promised that its members’ investment decision-making will consider climate, and direct investments into decarbonizing strategies. For fact checking see this article. To be clear – that’s not an investment of $US130 trillion – but a promise to choose the greener path for investing the funds they control. But, after decades of prioritizing quick profit over climate stability, they admit that they lack the data they need for proper vetting through a climate-friendly, decarbonizing lens.

Private philanthropy is taking action with an initial launch commitment of US$10 billion. The Global Energy Alliance for People and Planet (GEAPP) aims to deliver clean renewable energy to one billion people by 2030, avert 4 billion tons of greenhouse gases and create 150 million green jobs.

I see this commitment as possibly creating an opportunity for Rotary through ESRAG: to assist with the development of a solar energy technician training programs that can be delivered remotely to women and girls so that they will be able to participate in the green jobs economy.

The GEAPP consortium includes several key philanthropic, financial, and public sector stakeholders. Its “anchor” philanthropic organizations are The Rockefeller Foundation, IKEA Foundation, and Bezos Earth Fund and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Its investment partners are the African Development Bank Group, Asian Development Bank, European Investment Bank, Inter-American Development Bank, International Finance Corporation, the UK’s CDC Group, US International Development Finance Corporation, and the World Bank. The GEAPP country partners are Italy and the UK, co-hosts of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), and Denmark.

Business Unusual an opportunity for Rotary impact

Meanwhile, led by Malawi and Uganda, the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) seek a model of ‘Business Unusual’ through LIFE-AR (Least Developed Countries Initiative For Effective Adaptation and Resilience). The LDCs, “out of compelling need and desperation”, have worked to create funding that will reach their communities in ways that allow local leaders to set the agenda. They are tired of waiting for a meager trickle down from big banks and consultants – the business-as-usual climate financing model. These countries most impacted by the changing climate are focused on adaptation and resilience; they are done with mitigating a problem they did not cause.

I witnessed John Kerry and a development official from Norway sign on as funding partners to LIFE-AR, originally financed by the UK and Ireland. The commitment of US$10 million is a pittance when considered in the context that the global economy’s total worth. I see an opportunity for Rotary to apply its community-based project model to help fill the local funding gap with LDCs, where a small project investment can make a HUGE difference.

The challenge of limiting and monitoring warming

At the beginning of COP26, we all knew that there were not enough commitments in place to hold warming to 2.0º C warming, which was the rallying cry of the COP21 in Paris. Since 2015, the science has shown that the weather and ecosystems on which life as we know it depends will not tolerate warming past 1.5º C. This was stated in the 1.5º Report from 2018 – and underscored by AR 6: climate change’s temperature rise is unequivocally human-caused, and must be stopped at 1.5ºC.

The optimistic measures discussed above will not be enough, and because data gathering and reporting is so variable and inadequate, we STILL don’t have an accurate read on how close we are to a goal that keeps moving. Many developing countries lack the capacity to monitor and measure their baseline emission inventories and quantify ongoing reductions. Some willfully understate emissions from land use changes and overstate the amounts of CO2 being sequestered by Nature-based solutions.

Alas, I have no updates on the happenings outside the Blue Zone: the Rotary International delegation committed to bypass the demonstrations and focus on building connections within the official COP26 event. The demonstrations have been well covered by other sources, and you should look to them for updates.

In conclusion

There have not been enough promises to reduce, not enough promises kept, not enough data, inaccurate data, not enough progress in finding climate funding, and the funding committed isn’t getting applied where it’s needed with the speed the crisis demands.

This post reflects the world’s growing impatience with the deliberate, lumbering process inside the COP Blue Zone. In 2018, when I attended COP24 in Katowice, Poland, Greta Thunberg was highly visible everywhere as part of the negotiations. In 2021, she has not been visible in the Blue Zone – she has been rallying tens of thousands in the streets.