SB56 Reflections: ACE challenges and systemic changes

The feeling after SB56 is one of emptiness amid the hollow self-congratulations by the Parties just for showing up and doing the job they are paid to do.

The sentiment “keep the spirit up for sharm” was echoed across the conference by the UN secretariat and Parties (countries signed on to the Paris Agreement) after leaders completed the bare minimum during the final session of Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) negotiations on Wednesday. This culminated in the action to redline human rights in the ACE work plan text, by Gambia on behalf of Africa, including rights for education, public participation, and for access to information.

What does this mean for the future? The bridge of communication connecting civil society to government leaders is lacking and state leaders refuse to acknowledge that these collaborative efforts would help them build capacity for climate change solutions. Ironically, state leaders are asking for access to information, education, and tools to better design their ACE national strategies — yet they don’t acknowledge that most non-Party stakeholders have a greater understanding of what ACE is and how it can be strategically implemented into policy to benefit all of society. When they decide not to include rights for education or access to information, they are also restricting their own rights for training in ACE that is so blatantly required. The irony in this made me laugh several times in sessions.

Need a refresher on ACE? Read about Climate Generation’s work with Power Climate Action.

Another issue that came up during the conference is the equitable financing of ACE national strategies in order to facilitate the work proposed by all countries. This itself is a “chicken or the egg” situation, because in order to gain funding for a program, ACE must be legitimized to be reportable and monitored in governmental Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).

However, if there is no coherent definition of ACE with measurable metrics outlined by an ACE national strategy then it can’t be reported on — so funding is less likely to be achievable. This was brought up by Liberia several times and I was looking around the room at the discomfort on the faces of Focal Points from developed countries who knew they were able to fund national strategies, yet were doing absolutely nothing about it — such as the United Kingdom, France, and Iceland. In fact, in a casual conversation I had with the ACE Focal Point from the UK, she mentioned she was not clear on what ACE was yet and was given this portfolio recently in her job as senior manager of environmental protection.

Although there was a lot of banging-head-against–the-wall activity going on, SB56 offered many opportunities to learn from Indigenous community leaders and civil society actors who are still doing the work in the world without much, or any, support from government leaders.

In the ACE Observatory Workshop, I met a Saami youth who was speaking about the issues he was having with how climate change was impacting reindeer herding, causing their landscape to shrink and affecting their food stocks. This became an even greater issue with the amount of large companies that are trying to buy out Saami land. Due to this issue, many of his Indigenous friends were in law school in order to understand and implement policy to block actions by state and larger companies trying to build on their territory.

When asked how he wanted ACE implemented in the world, his response was a no brainer in reconciliation; he wanted more capacity building for government officials on Indigenous peoples rights. This sentiment was echoed in every Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples (LCIPP) workshop and panel that I attended throughout the SB56 and was the basis for the LCIPP FWG sessions that occured in the week before the conference. The LCIPP was set up to inform policy on behalf of local communities and Indigenous peoples, but has yet to be streamlined across Parties.

One systemic change that the UN secretariat could do to exceed expectations on this would be to make Indigenous representation mandatory in Party delegations. There are also many intersections between the access to rights outlined by the LCIPP and by observers during ACE negotiations. Another way to create coherency and build capacity on these issues would be to connect the LCIPP with the ACE Unit to support the inclusion of human rights within ACE policy and finally show that ACE really is about justice and empowerment.

With all this said, if leaders want to “keep the spirit up for sharm,” I really hope this spirit includes many systemic changes to UNFCCC processes to accelerate climate action in a just and equitable way.

Chris CameronChris Cameron is a life sciences researcher, published writer, community organizer, filmmaker and radio programmer. She focuses on working in relationality with community to collaboratively design solutions that act to dismantle environmental racism perpetuated by ongoing white supremacy and capitalism. Chris co-facilitated a workshop series on Climate Storytelling with the UNFCCC’s Paris Committee of Capacity Building (PCCB) Network last year and continues to incorporate storytelling in her climate justice work. She also coordinates a community designed radio project called Sound Ecology – incorporating artists’ climate oriented philosophies and cultural experiences presented as sonic toolkits to survive the changing world.

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