World ‘needs climate watchdog’ to keep eye on govts
Pledges for action outlined in the Glasgow Climate Pact will be meaningless without accountability and transparency measures, says Camila Isabel Zepeda Lizama, a 36-year-old economist who led Mexico’s negotiation team at the COP26 climate summit.
In the closing plenary, Zepeda was one of several country delegates who criticised last-minute changes to the final text, which left parties agreeing to “phase down” rather than “phase out” unabated coal power. For Zepeda, the final agreement side-lined climate issues that are critical to developing countries, such as references to human rights and the need for free, prior and informed consent from indigenous peoples for any carbon market activities.
In the wake of one of the most tumultuous climate meetings in recent years, Zepeda tells SciDev.Net what governments need to do now to meet their obligations to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
An exclusionary conference
Zepeda’s delegation arrived at the Glasgow climate negotiations with four priorities: to insist that the sustainable use of resources was non-negotiable; to advocate for greater support for adaptation; to demand greater climate finance for developing countries; and to include human rights, gender equality, and Indigenous rights in all climate actions.
But from the first days, Zepeda and her team realised that participating in negotiations was going to be a challenge.
“This particular COP was very exclusionary. Observers were not allowed into many of the rooms because of COVID-19 measures. They were told to watch through the virtual platform. But the virtual platform was not working.”
The presence of observers is important because they can push for goals to be more ambitious and recognise the demands of civil society, Zepeda says.
“But not only the observers were left out: the parties were also left out of several rooms. When the maximum capacity was reached, we were not allowed in.”
Zepeda says this had a direct impact on negotiations. She says that the discussion on climate empowerment actions, as part of the agenda negotiations, “took place in a room with less than 20 parties, no observers, and they [members of other delegations] pressured our youth delegate who was advocating for human rights references to be included”.
An exclusionary agreement
Zepeda says the exclusion of developing countries from the core negotiations became “blatant” by the final day of proceedings, as draft texts for the ‘cover decisions’ – which became the Glasgow Climate Pact – underwent major changes.
“We had already accepted that process, even though it had been quite obscure, and it turns out that they [India and China decided to] make last-minute changes and present it to us as a final agreement, as ‘take it or leave it,’ without it having been discussed or negotiated.”
Zepeda says the result was a negotiation between very few parties. “The final texts were only negotiated between the parties that have geopolitical interests and are more dominant.”
Still, Mexico’s delegation signed on to the Glasgow Climate Pact. “The media pressure, political pressure, was very great. There were a lot of things worth saving,” Zepeda says. “And we were already in a situation where, if we opposed it, then there was nothing, there was no consensus, it was going to be lose-lose. No country wanted to take that burden of saying: ‘we oppose it and we are left with nothing.`”
During COP26, two types of announcements were made: political pledges, mainly made during the first week, and the final binding agreement that was signed by the 197 parties to the climate change convention.
The major political pledges attracted the global media spotlight and were announced with great fanfare. These included the deforestation declaration and the methane reduction pledge , which both gained more than 100 country signatories.
But, says Zepeda: “these kinds of political pledges have no follow-up mechanism and we run the risk of them remaining empty words.”
Zepeda compares this to what happened in 2019, with the UN Climate Action Summit, where world leaders were asked to present concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020 and to net zero emissions by 2050. Countries made several promises, but no reporting or follow-up mechanisms were included.
“No one from the United Nations has asked what happened to all that stuff they signed. Nothing has happened. So, for these kinds of political pledges the only recourse left is for civil society to demand that governments stick to their word.”
The final texts that came from official UN negotiations, however, are easier to keep an eye on, says Zepeda. These commitments will go on to form the basis of national laws, while others will become official United Nations mechanisms or frameworks. And it was there, says Zepeda, that the few successes of COP26 can be found.
“After six years, since the Paris Agreement was signed, we finalised the ‘Paris Rulebook’, which says how the carbon markets are going to work, how the rules are going to be to account for the certificates that are issued from the new mechanism,” she says.
The achievement, relating to Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, is significant because it will lead to clear rules on common reports and deadlines to ensure that emissions are reported and recorded in a uniform way across all countries, Zepeda says.
“After COP26, governments will be accountable to the Conference of the Parties and to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Now, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) should be updated every five years and report in common tabular reports, for example emissions inventory or financial flows,” she says.
Zepeda also recognises that the developing country blocs made great strides in some crucial areas. She says that issues that were previously ignored or barely acknowledged by wealthy countries are now firmly on the negotiating table – issues like the irreversible impacts of climate change, known as loss and damage, and financing for adaptation.
But perhaps what gives Zepeda the most hope is that she was part of one of the few delegations that had young women leading the negotiations. While in other delegations women were assistants or observers, in her delegation it was women who took the lead on behalf of Mexico.
“This combination of being a woman and a young person is a very powerful voice for climate action. It’s a voice that needs to be heard by the generations that are now in power,” says Zepeda.
“Young people will have to live this new climate reality,” says Zepeda. “Older generations [won’t be alive] to see these exacerbated impacts. If people don’t see that these things affect their interests, it is more difficult for them to change their consumption patterns or their production models.”
Photo: Camila Isabel Zepeda Lizama. Source: IISD.
• Climate change
• Environment (Sustainable)
• Project management
• Public policies
• Public programs and budgets
• UN system