Some of the participants of COP25 posing for a group photo after the conference in Madrid in December 2019

A stock-take of COP25: What is in it for poor countries like Uganda

“It is not climate change it is climate emergency, we are in a climate crisis”. IPCC 1.5°C special report- shows greater temperature rise and impacts accelerating. The Sahara is increasing its size by 10%, small island states are at the verge of disappearing because of the rising sea levels, 40% of the Antarctica ice is melting, increased heat waves, bush fires, cyclones, tsunamis, torrential rains and prolonged droughts are all on the increase in many parts of the world. The impacts of this climate crisis unfortunately are felt more by countries and communities that have contributed less to this crisis. For instance, in the past couple of months, EA has faced heavy floods affecting over 3million people. The climate crisis has contributed to low agriculture production and productivity for countries like Uganda whose Agriculture sector is rain fed; resulting in food insecurity and malnutrition; low incomes and hence aggravating poverty and inequality. At COP25, Oxfam and other CSOs under the umbrella of Climate Action Network were pushing for realization of robust commitments from rich countries that are contributing 70% of the world’s emissions to increase their ambition towards reducing GHG emissions, and committing finances to help poor countries not only adapt to climate change but also to recover from the loss and damage caused by climate change.

About 29,000 delegates from 200 countries met in Madrid, Spain from 2nd to 13th December 2019 in a climate summit known as Conference Of Parties (COP), happening for the 25th time #COP25. The COP is a main vehicle that the world community engage in with a hope to reverse the climate crisis. This COP25 was to be held in Chile but because of the unrest in Chile, it was shifted to Madrid in Spain. For a first time participant in COP like me, it is not easy to maneuver through the agendas and comprehend with all the technicalities involved. To mitigate this Oxfam strategically and selectively engages where we would add value instead of being everywhere. In this COP, Oxfam followed up on 4 themes; Agriculture, loss and damage, climate finance, and Gender. Key for Oxfam in all these negotiations was inclusion of human rights perspectives and safe guards plus transparency.

Agriculture, a key sector for many poor countries contributes immensely to the economies of these nations since it employs about 70% of their rural populations. In light of this through the Koronovia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA), delegates held a conference on improved nutrient use and manure management towards sustainable and resilient agricultural systems; the discussion focused on issues of soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility. Key highlights from this negotiation included an agreement to modify existing tools as well as develop new ones for assessing adaptation co-benefits and resilience in Agriculture; an additional intersessional workshop to be held in March 2020 in Bonn with financial support from the government of New Zealand; COP26 will report on progress of KJWA, it is hoped that the financing facility for this will be discussed and agreed upon in COP26 in Glasgow UK in 2020. This decision means smallholder farmers and communities that were hoping for concrete commitments to better the Agriculture sector will have to wait until COP26. Postponement of such key decisions does not totally show the urgency from world leaders for climate action. Why would such critical issues not be discussed and concluded but instead differ them to upcoming conferences?

Loss and damage (L&D) 

L&D started in COP19 through the framework of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM). Least Developed Countries at COP25 were pushing for a finance facility to address L&D. In the negotiations, rich countries were hesitant on having a financing facility on L&D with a claim that L&D could be categorized as a humanitarian crisis and they are already investing a lot in humanitarian assistance through UNHCR; so for rich countries L&D is more of a humanitarian crisis. The suggestion to include L&D in the Green Climate Fund (GCF) was not a welcome idea for Oxfam and other CSOs because accepting this move would mean diverting money from GCF that is meant for adaptation hence exposing the poor and vulnerable communities to more climate disasters. By the last day of COP25, there was no commitment on new and additional finance for L&D, instead rich nations were urged to scale up finance. On this there were no conclusions but the discussions and negotiations are hoped to continue in June 2020 in Bonn and in COP26. The only positive thing that came out from the L&D negotiations was the agreement to establish “an expert group” by 2020; the establishment of the “Santiago Network” to catalyze technical assistance to countries. Uganda needs to be proactive and reach out for this support.

Climate Finance

There are several financing mechanisms to support mitigation and adaptation efforts of poor states. These include the Adaptation Fund, Green Climate Fund (GCF), Global Environmental Facility (GEF). These were established following commitments made by rich countries after signing the Parish Agreement to contribute 100bilion USD towards climate finance. One would question why there are several climate funding facilities but the answer is that several funding facilities would help generate more funding for climate action. To be able to confront this climate crisis heads on, we need long term and diversified sources of financing. The target was to have 100billion USD met by 2020 as per the Paris Agreement, but this is in balance with the threat of America’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement; we have not also seen more commitment being made towards achieving this target by several rich countries like Japan, Australia and USA. Countries like Belgium and Germany have made additional financial contributions but putting all these together, they are still way below the 100billion USD. The other issue of contention is why these funds are channeled through the World Bank that is considered by many poor countries as having policies that have not helped them that much.

Carbon markets Article 6 of the Paris agreement was not Oxfam’s advocacy priority and so did not follow much on these negotiations. This said, Article 6 is a best opportunity for international carbon markets to operate- if carbon markets function properly, they can stimulate investments in climate action and raise ambitions. However, many delegates at COP 25 especially representatives from the indigenous communities think that carbon market is a fallacy since the Paris agreement did not create robust mechanisms/rules to drive the carbon markets; there is fear that pressure is put on poor countries to reduce GHG emissions through their NDC ambitions, using this reduction to allow increased emissions in rich countries. This to many, will not take us towards net zero emissions by 2050.


Climate change is affecting all of us but the impact is not felt equally. Small holder farmers especially women are more adversely affected by climate change. The key milestone from COP25 was the adoption of the Gender Action Plan (GAP) which was reviewed by parties and agreed to pass it. For Oxfam this is a great opportunity that will see countries incorporate robust gender responsive measures that would bring about gender equality in climate actions. As countries are reviewing their NDCs, there is need to ensure that gender is fully integrated to enhance gender responsive climate finance and actions. There is need however, to support countries with limited capacity on gender mainstreaming so that their NDCs have clear gender outcomes. Organizations like Oxfam that have experience with gender transformative approaches could play a role in supporting countries to come up with gender sensitive NDCs. Oxfam in Uganda in particular can work with the government of Uganda to review its NDCs using the Gender Action Learning (GALS) methodology. GALS is a community-led gender transformative methodology used for joint planning and decision making between men and women. This methodology is used as a planning tool by individuals, households, communities and institutions.

Oxfam believes in empowerment and inclusiveness of all most especially the vulnerable with less power and voice. It is against this background that Oxfam supported a female smallholder farmer from Malawi to participate in COP25. She talked about her experiences and the plight of small holder farmers; she called on leaders to among others empower women to own land so as to promote agro-ecology, promote community seed banks to ensure genetic diversity and promote indigenous seeds, plush she pushed for governments to hire more extension workers. Oxfam also held two side events at COP25, the first side event was titled “Justice for communities on the front lines of climate change: Cases from the Amazon & Caribbean; the second side event was on gender with experiences from Latin America. In both of these side events, the panellists were local and indigenous organisations supported by Oxfam to deliver innovative and practical solutions for building community resilience to climate change and bring about transformation. There were other side events besides Oxfam’s; they contribute a lot in knowledge sharing, capacity strengthening for delegates on approaches to build community resilience. It is such engagements and grounded experiences that make such climate summits impactful and meaningful.

The climate summit saw a number of protests by CSOs calling for protection of women's and indigenous people's rights, and ambitious actions from rich countries. Frustrated by the slow speed of negotiations/commitments from rich countries towards raising their ambition to reduce emissions and pledge more funding for climate action, CSOs on Wednesday 11th December, decided to organize a demonstration in front of Baker Hall where high level negotiations take place and at that time the UN Secretary General was making a speech. This unregistered protest had more than 300 people participate in it. However, this did not go well for about 200 activists that were pushed outside in the cold by security and faced the risk of de-badging. UNFCCC then closed access to all observers for the rest of the day. If you thought shrinking CSO space only happens in Uganda, not it does not, it happens at the UN as well. People have a right to speak, organise, associate and express themselves especially on issues that are not going right. UN should be at the fore front of protecting human rights. On the following day however, all observers were allowed back into the conference hall.

To many, COP25 is considered as a failure on several fronts. This is however not the fault of UNFCCC or the negotiation process itself; it is the fault of rich countries especially USA, Brazil, India, Japan who have used it as an opportunity to negotiate themselves out to avoid raising their ambition. The European Union (EU) on the other hand unveiled its green deal with a target of achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Apart from Poland, all the other EU countries are in support of the green deal. The EU has set a good example for the rest of rich countries to follow suit.

The call to action for rich countries is that, “they should pay for real climate solutions, loss and damage, sustainable agriculture, a just transition from production of fossil fuels to production and use of renewable and clean energy”. Private sector needs to come along to address the climate crisis; it is profitable and sustainable in the long run for private sector to invest in climate action. If governments do not ACT NOW on the climate crisis more people – especially the poorest communities across the globe – will go hungry, more people will be forced from their homes and more people will die. We demand for climate justice now! The struggle continues beyond COP25, a climate action of an individual and of a single country will help grow the global movement for climate action.

Let’s ACT on Climate NOW!