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.” Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (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, East Africa has faced heavy floods affecting over 3 million people. The climate crisis has contributed to low agriculture production and productivity for countries like Uganda whose agricultural sector is rain fed; resulting in food insecurity and malnutrition; low incomes and hence aggravating poverty and inequality.

Over 25,000 delegates from 200 countries under the presidency of the Government of Chile met in Madrid, Spain from 2nd to 13th December 2019 in a climate summit known as Conference Of Parties (COP), which happened for the 25th time (COP25). The COP is a vehicle that the world community engages in to generate commitments and agreements between nations to fight the effects of climate change and reverse the climate crisis. At COP25, Oxfam and other CSOs under the umbrella of Climate Action Network pushed for realization of robust commitments from rich countries that are contributing 70% of the world’s emissions to increase their ambition towards reducing Green House Gas (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.

For any first time participant in COP like me,, it was not easy to maneuver through the agendas of the conference and to comprehend all the technicalities involved. To mitigate this, Oxfam strategically and selectively engaged 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 as well as transparency.

Agriculture

Agriculture is a key sector for many poor countries and 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 will be held in March 2020 in Bonn with financial support from the government of New Zealand.

COP26 will report on the progress of the 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 wouldn’t such critical issues be discussed and concluded but instead referred to upcoming conferences?

Loss and Damage (L&D)

L&D started in COP19 through the framework of Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM). Least Developed Countries (LDCs) at COP25 were pushing for a separate finance facility to address L&D. However, 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 that since they are already investing a lot in humanitarian assistance through the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), a new financing facility is not needed.

Then there was the idea to include L&D in the Green Climate Fund (GCF), which was not welcomed by LDCs, 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. GCF development on loss and damage would have been positive if new or additional money went with it. Despite COP25 presenting the high water mark of calls for a L&D finance facility, rich countries’ opposition remained strong. By the last day of COP25, there were no commitments on new and additional finance for L&D but instead rich nations 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 an agreement to establish the “Santiago Network” by 2020 as an expert group 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, GCF, and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) which were established following commitments made by rich countries after signing the Paris Agreement to contribute 100Bilion USD towards climate finance. One would question why there are several climate funding facilities but the answer is that they 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. However, this is in balance with the threat of America’s withdrawal from the Paris agreement. Additionally, we have not 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 these are still way below the 100Billion USD.

LDCs were united in calling for a doubling of the GCF replenishment - and expressed disappointment in the amount raised so far (G77 called $9.6bn a "regression" on last time). They still consider replenishment is not over, and AGN[JO1] called out specific countries who have not yet pledged enough. On a more technical climate finance reporting, a reporting format that would incentivise countries to give more climate finance in the form of grants to where it is most needed - and less in non-concessional loans was deferred to COP26. The other issue of contention is why these funds are channeled through the World Bank which according to many poor countries, has policies that do not help them that much.

Gender

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 who also 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 Nationally Determined Contributions,[JO2] 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 Systems (GALS), which 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. Against this background, Oxfam supported Ellen a female smallholder farmer from Malawi to participate in COP25. She talked about her experiences and the plight of small holder farmers and called on leaders to empower women to own land so as to promote agro-ecology, promote community seed banks to ensure genetic diversity and promote indigenous seeds, and hire more extension workers. (Jamie Oxfam Scotland Programme Manager, a former journalist in Scotland did a great interview with her here: https://twitter.com/OxfamScotland/status/1204018870966792194).

Oxfam also held two side events at COP25: “Justice for communities on the front lines of climate change: Cases from the Amazon & Caribbean” and the second 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. Other side events besides Oxfam’s contributed a lot to knowledge sharing and 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. At COP25 the newly operational UNFCCC platform for local communities and indigenous peoples was launched; however, representation on this platform is currently only by indigenous and not community peoples. Oxfam was therefore invited by the indigenous leaders to offer its technical support on issues of local community involvement so that local communities can also be represented on this platform. A meeting to further this discussion is slated to take place in Bonn in June 2020.

It goes without saying though that the climate summit saw a number of protests by CSOs calling for protection of women's and indigenous people's rights as well as 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, on 11th December 2019, CSOs organized a demonstration of more than 300 people in front of Baker Hall. However, the demonstration was interfered with when about 200 activists were pushed outside in the cold by security and faced the risk of de-badging. Additionally, UNFCCC closed access to all observers for the rest of the day. On the following day however, all observers were allowed back into the conference hall and negotiations carried on normally. If you thought shrinking CSO space only happens in Uganda, it does not. And the United Nations (UN) is not an exception. People have a right to speak, organise, associate and express themselves especially on issues that are not going well thus violating their human rights. The UN should be at the fore front of protecting human rights.

To many, COP25 was not very successful. This however was not faulted on UNFCCC or the negotiation process itself but on some rich and countries especially USA, Brazil, India, and Japan who 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 set a good example for other rich countries to follow suit.

Rich countries have been called upon to 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. The private sector needs to come along to address the climate crisis since 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. 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. We demand for climate justice now!

Between 20th and 24th April 2020, Uganda will host the African climate Week (ACW) 2020 at Speke Resort and Conference Centre in Kampala as one of four Regional Climate Weeks to convene in 2020, alongside Latin America and Caribbean Climate Week, MENA Climate Week and Asia- Pacific Climate Week.

ACW 2020 will convene under the theme, “Partnering for Transformation towards a Low-carbon Climate-resilient and Prosperous Africa: Managing Risks, Seizing Opportunities” and is aimed at mobilizing and enhancing partnerships and collaborative approaches, including to respond to the urgent need to understand the risks and impacts of climate change and integrate this knowledge in planning at all levels and in all sectors.

The event will also seek to facilitate NDC implementation and help deliver on Sustainable Development Goals.

Let’s ACT on Climate Now!