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The forward view: learning from London Climate Action Week 

By Colin McQuistan, Head of Climate Resilience On 09.07.2021 Climate changeBlog

From June 26 to July 4, London held its Climate Action Week, bringing together climate experts, decision makers and practitioners to explore how to accelerate climate action. Practical Action organised two events to share our experience from the communities on the front line of climate impacts and highlighting examples of climate action to influence decision makers and COP negotiators.  

Here are our takes and learnings from this event.  

Why did it matter?  

With over 240 events, this year’s London Climate Action Week (LCAW) is a crucial step on the UK’s road to COP26. And as the UK is the current president of the G7, it contributes to place climate as a priority for world leaders.   

Since LCAW took place just after the G7 meeting and a few months before COP, it provided the opportunity to look at the promises made at the G7 and raise important guiding questions such as:  

  • Are these promises adequate? 
  • Are they comprehensive enough to put us on a pathway for success at COP 26?   
  • What does the COP process look like and at what point along it are we in regards to negotiations?  

So, where are the negotiations at the moment? 

We’re in a relatively good place in terms of increasing climate finance and raising ambition on rapidly decarbonising economies.  

However, the details are crucial. In 2016, a roadmap was drafted to achieve a US$100 billion climate finance target through a combination of public and private finance. However, the G7 nations recognised that they haven’t achieved it yet and need to accelerate diplomacy to boost funding sources. 

And while we have an array of net-zero promises on decarbonisation, the actual delivery details are still being worked out. Scepticism in whether the countries will fulfil their promises is to be expected when we see, for example, the UK talking about opening up new fossil fuel fields in the North Sea and a new coal mine in Cumbria.  

It’s great to see the United Kingdom and the political leadership is talking about loss and damage. There are plenty of examples of where people are facing irreversible climate impacts, where people have changed their lives until they weren’t able to adapt anymore and were forced to move. For many climate impacts are unavoidable and have already happened. 

Are the European Union and the UK “walking the talk”?  

While talking is good, we need to take action. The EU and the UK need to invest more political energy and diplomacy in working with other developed countries to make progress.  

A new and additional source of climate finance needs to address the unavoidable impacts of climate change. It could work as a global solidarity fund, in which the wealthier and most polluting nations support the adaptation of the countries in the global South that are the most impacted by climate change, or it could be paid as compensation for damages caused. 

Either way, it is about changing course for people facing irreversible impacts on their lives. What we see at the moment is repeated extreme events hitting countries in which things are just getting worse. As soon as people get back to where they were before the last climate event, they lose everything again. And this repetitive hit erodes their ability to be part of the global economy and contribute to everyone’s wellbeing and prosperity.  

What would a global solidarity fund be invested in?  

The first thing to invest in is loss and damage assessments to understand exactly what is happening in the most impoverished and remote areas in the most climate-vulnerable countries. How are people in Darfur affected? How are hill farmers in the Himalayas impacted? What is it like to be hit by a cyclone and flooding in sub-Saharan Africa? How are hill farmers in the Altiplano of Peru coping with lack of water due to glacial retreat? 

Secondly, this investment needs to address the needs of those people. Help them relocate to new and better futures or to support the new occupations they are forced to adopt. It means new infrastructure, new housing, new skills a new economy. It implies support and knowledge sharing to innovate and adapt their forefathers’ crops and farming techniques into what is suited to the climate they now find themselves facing.  

Are there examples of where this is being done?  

Practical Action has played a role in making the possible a reality throughout the world and in various contexts. Our staff has worked closely with communities already making significant progress towards a safer future and know some of the most urgent measures that need to be done.  

In some coastal areas of Bangladesh people are already having to change their homes, their profession and can no longer live in the way their forefathers did.

For example, communities impacted by more frequent and more prolonged floods in Bangladesh need elevated platforms to protect their homes. They need refuges to secure their valuable items and need somewhere to take their livestock. They need new places to stay when their homes are inundated. They need new training to be able to farm in flooded areas and they need innovation to be able to farm new crops in new ways on salinised land.   

In Nepal, the monsoon rains are increasing. They’re starting earlier and combining with cyclones in the Bay of Bengal to deposit rain earlier in the season and in areas that traditionally have been drier. To move homes out of harm’s way, we need more basic infrastructure such as bio dykes. And to secure their livelihoods, these communities need to be equipped with new skills in farmer field schools to adapt their farming systems and switch from flood-prone low-lying fields to higher slopes. They are even shifting from rice to banana crops that don’t get washed away when flooding hits.  

Sadly, in the areas in which the impacts of climate have been so profound, there is no other choice but to move. In this scenario, we support people moving to better, new locations and providing them with the essential services they need. For example, in our urban programme we are exploring climate smart water, sanitation and waste management systems, allowing these people to power up their economic diversification and contribution, especially in often overlooked smaller cities.  

In terms of the work Practical Action does, we have seen the power of communities rising to the challenges of climate change. It is a matter of scaling up what we know that can radically create a better future. 

Climate change will not only affect certain areas. Broader ecosystems are under threat too. Are there potential solutions?  

Workers in Nepal update the irrigation system to enable farming to continue in the face of climate change.

We must bear in mind that we are dependent upon the natural world for everything: water, soil, pollination, timber from trees etc.  

Climate impacts affect not only people they also hit natural systems. Their restoration is undoubtedly a priority topic, as we know there will be a big emphasis on nature-based solutions at COP26.  

But we need to make sure that those nature-based solutions work not just for carbon mitigation but also deliver social and environmental benefits. They must not exacerbate existing gender and social inequalities or cause ecosystem decline. They must respect local and indigenous practices, they must recognise alternative land management systems, they need to be effective not just for carbon capture but also for the local people. 

Can 2021 be a ‘superyear’ for climate action? 

Only if we boldly make the decisions that need to be made.  

The pandemic has undoubtedly complicated the negotiation process: face-to-face meetings are still essential to navigate the most complex negotiations, as they flow better with personal interactions and for some cultures where they can see the body language. 

While COP26 should be a decisive turning point for climate action, the following years will bring a significant shift in emphasis. Africa will host COP27. Asia will do it for COP28. This shift can create momentum to centre the developing countries voices, raising urgency from the proximity with some of the most affected communities, making their voices relevant for broader audiences, thus increasing their demands.    

While some steps have been taken, it is time to consolidate and take stock of where we are. As the COP26 host the UK has a responsibility to lead this journey. Let’s hope we are up to the task.  

You can watch or listen to Practical Action’s sessions at London Climate Action Week here. 

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A woman from Practical Action is standing in front of a group of people at Africa Climate Week 2023.

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