Our planet depends on democracy support and climate action practitioners joining forces


Our planet depends on democracy support and climate action practitioners joining forces

The rapid and deep system transformation can be disruptive for some people, so we need to focus on inclusion and equity to increase ambition rather than resistance to change.
People walking through brown flood waters

In November, at COP28, Parties to the Paris Agreement are due to take stock of global climate action since the first round of climate pledges (or Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs)) were submitted. An important report that will inform these discussions was published a few days ago: the synthesis report on the technical dialogue of the first global stocktake. Its chief message (that we are not on track) was expected and depressing.

We already knew that we were well off track from keeping global warming below the safer threshold of +1.5C because the level of committed ambition from different countries has been insufficient. UN Environment’s Emission Gap 2022 report noted that, although countries had signed up to the Glasgow Climate Pact in 2021 calling for all nations to strengthen their NDCs, new and updated NDCs submitted since COP26 do not go far enough. UN Environment also noted that though implementation of those commitments could limit the global temperature rise to 1.8°C, they did not believe that would happen because it was already clear that countries were not delivering on their commitments.

Now it is official: we have a global ambition gap and a global implementation gap. Climate negotiators in poor and middle-income countries would point at a third gap: richer countries are also lagging far behind their commitments to provide funding for action to stop and adapt to climate change.

This finding probably resonates with anyone who keeps an eye on news about climate action. The publication of the report triggered a wave of pointed, sombre remarks from climate leaders. Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris Agreement, said: “If everybody is serious we will come with stronger outcomes at COP. If we are not, it will be a moment where society has to turn to governments and clearly state –‘you are all failing us’”.

Restoring lost faith in democracy

The risk of citizens losing faith in democracy for failing to deliver for the common good is looming ever closer and it needs addressing. At the same time, this week we were tragically reminded that autocracy makes you more vulnerable: At least 11,300 people in Derna, Libya lost their lives in the flood caused by Storm Daniel and a further 10,000 are missing. The state of the dams, that collapsed under rainfall 400 times heavier than September’s average, had been reported, but the government  had other priorities. Libya is ranked 126 out of 185 countries in the ND-Gain Index of resilience to climate change. Poor governance makes you more vulnerable and it means that not enough action is taken to mitigate risks and prepare for the worst effects of climate change.

We need much more accountability in global climate governance, and it is coming soon: under Article 13 of the Paris Agreement, from 2024 onwards countries need to submit Biennial Transparency Reports (BTRs) on the actions they have taken. Many climate experts consider this to be the central mechanism to catalyse the implementation of climate pledges.

The need for more inclusive and accountable democracy

And yet, other parts of the report are very encouraging for advocates of environmental democracy. The report says that:

  • “systems transformations open up many opportunities, but rapid change can be disruptive. A focus on inclusion and equity can increase ambition in climate action and support” 
  • “just transitions can support more robust and equitable mitigation outcomes”
  • “when adaptation is informed and driven by local contexts, populations and priorities, both the adequacy and the effectiveness of adaptation action and support are enhanced, and this can also promote transformational adaptation”
  • “capacity limitations present barriers across all dimensions of climate policy … To be effective, capacity-building needs to be systemic by investing in the existing underlying social and economic systems. Capacities, including skilled human and institutional capacities, need to be retained over time. Strategic capacity-building support to developing countries needs to be scaled up”
  • “making international cooperation on capacity-building more effective and impactful is key. Greater coherence and coordination of support … will help to ensure that needs are being met and will enhance effectiveness.” 

Experience shows that often the adoption of more inclusive, innovative practices represents a capacity challenge for democratic institutions. Key Finding 17 of the report says: “The fundamental challenges presented by climate change require the capacity to act to be strengthened in all countries, particularly in developing countries where the underlying institutional and foundational capacities are less developed and the risks and vulnerabilities can be much greater.” 

It stresses that “Developed countries need to increase the level of support provided for strategic capacity-building to developing countries to address locally determined needs.” Critically, it emphasises that capacity building through local actors would increase institutional capacity at the same time as shoring up climate action. A win for democracy and a win for the planet.

The rapid and deep system transformation can be disruptive for some people, so we need to focus on inclusion and equity to increase ambition rather than resistance to change.

Accountable, transparent actions are needed. Access to information must be at the base of action on mitigation and adaptation. Climate justice is an enabler of more robust outcomes. Governance matters. Inclusion matters. Adaptation planning requires bottom-up participation mechanisms. Capacity, including institutional capacity, is a massive bottleneck. We need to invest in the existing systems, institutions, and actors to make them more effective. Greater coherence and coordination of support will help ensure effectiveness.

All this resonates with WFD’s approach to environmental democracy programming.

In the first Global Stocktake countries are being put to collective shame and told that serious action to transform the political economy around climate action in every country is becoming inevitable. In democratic countries, this requires a deepening and opening of climate action; a robust list of measures that countries can put in place to this end was identified in the Glasgow Work Programme on Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) at COP26. Hopefully countries will reflect on these findings and recommendations their next NDCs and in their upcoming Official Development Assistance reviews. Climate donors have been told that they need to enhance capacity, which means finally addressing the governance bottlenecks that block climate action.

The call for democracy support and climate action practitioners to join forces and work together is louder than ever.