East Africa News

COP 27: Economic systems change is the way out of the climate crisis

Published on November 09, 2022

by Simon Ticehurst Movements and Advocacy Lead at WEAll

“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Martin Luther King, Jr.

The first time I attended a multilateral event was at the beach resort of Cancun, when I was with Oxfam at the WTO Summit, in September 2003. Coldplay, who were championing Oxfam´s Make Trade Fair campaign, turned up with a message of hope that multilateralism could deliver fair trade rules. The summit collapsed, no consensus was reached, and it ended early, after Lee Kyung-hae, a Korean farmer, angered by the failure to address the concerns of small farmers, stabbed himself in the heart and died at the organized protest. Right in front of me. 

Seven years later, after the meltdown and disappointment of climate talks in Copenhagen in 2009, the COP16 was held, again in Cancun, in 2010.  A last-minute agreement to establish a global Climate Fund took the climate talks off its life support system. But it wasn´t until the COP21 in Paris in 2015 that things started to get serious. The Paris Agreement established a landmark, legally-binding treaty to limit global warming and take action against climate change. A first real sign of hope for a global solution to climate change. 

Fast forward to 2022, the parties come together at another beach resort, at Sharm el Sheikh in Egypt, for COP27. 

Despite the setting, the scientific evidence being presented at the COP27 from the latest IPCC report paints a bleak picture of accelerated decline resulting from the impact of climate change, with widespread and irreversible losses in terrestrial, freshwater and coastal and open ocean marine ecosystems, as well as impacts on human systems, water scarcity and food production, health and wellbeing. 

The Egyptian presidency is calling this the “Implementation COP.” The time to move from negotiation to implementation, from words to action. 

There are two main COP workstreams following the Paris Agreement: Climate finance, essential for any type of climate action and scaling up of ambition, and mitigation commitments aimed at turning down the heat and keeping the planet below 1.5 degrees. We are not yet seeing the political will and annual commitment on finance, and according to the latest IPCC report there is no longer a pathway to achieve the 1.5 degree target ceiling. 

The global context of multiple crises threatens further disappointment. In a time of Covid recovery, the war in Ukraine is adding further crisis. Energy and food inflation combined with fiscal pressures are exacerbating inequalities and generating renewed demands for fossil fuels, taking us down a trajectory contrary to the goals of the Paris Agreements. So many of our intererconnected crisis, are caused by a flawed economic system that doesn’t protect the natural environment. 

Not surprisingly, we are also off-track with regard to the Sustainable Development Goals. The latest 2022 UN report argues that the confluence of crises are affecting implementation of all the Sustainable Development Goals. 

Yet we cannot let the crisis we face in the short-term sideline our commitments and dilute the political will to address the climate emergency which UN Secretary- General António Guterres describes as “the defining issue of our time”.

Where can we find hope?

Inger Anderson, Executive Director of UNEP states that “only a root-and-branch transformation of our economies and societies can save us from accelerating climate disaster.” 

In the context of crises and implementation failures, we can no longer revert to type and kick the can down the road. The time has come for more radical solutions. Hope lies in the growing convergence around increasingly sophisticated propositions to deliver planetary wellbeing. Such thinking includes the post-growth pathways that require a fundamental turnaround in economic systems, of production and consumption models, with more regenerative, cyclical, redistributive and predistributive design and implementation principles as outlined in the Club of Rome’s latest book, “Earth for All.” 

Governments across the world are also moving towards new economic frameworks that take into account the health and wellbeing of people and the planet. The Wellbeing Economy Alliance government Partnership program is a great example of this. Leaders from Iceland, Finland, New Zealand, Scotland, and Canada are collaborating on ways to develop policies that go beyond economic measures alone and take the health of nature into account. 

Moreover, there are ways to finance this transition, through progressive fiscal reform, windfall taxes on those who have benefitted in times of crisis, for example the huge profits of energy companies and the super rich who have doubled their wealth during Covid. Clearly the time has come (again) to provide debt relief, to help address the financial shortfall, provide fiscal space for developing countries for public services, economic transitions, and climate adaptation. 

Another source of hope lies in the greater influence of perspectives from the Global South. Regions, like Africa, have contributed little to the climate crisis, and yet face some of the worst consequences given their higher levels of environmental and societal vulnerability. One such perspective is related to “loss and damages” resulting from the impact of climate change. Rich nations have so far been reluctant to discuss the financial implications of this, but it is gathering momentum and is now finally on the agenda of the COP27 and was also discussed in the latest IPCC report. Introducing loss and damages raises the stakes by bringing in issues of responsibility, reparations and attributions. While politically complex, organizations from the global south are pushing for loss and damages as a third pillar of climate negotiations. Loss and damages can force a rethink around financial commitments and contributions, and pressure for both debt and tax reform as well as renewed financial commitments for mitigation and adaptation, the so-called New Qualitative Collective Goal (NQCG) on financing. 

And finally, hope lies in people power. Regardless of the long distance and difficulties of access to such a remote location, and even with the accumulated frustration around how slow things are moving, this is an opportunity to connect and collaborate with others and help build alliances and a movement that can provide momentum for a convergent power base able to influence change further and faster. There are a range of organizations, movements and alliances addressing the different component parts of human and environmental wellbeing, and the  climate change movement is a key part of this. The challenges they are all trying to address have economic roots, but not all movements embrace or converge around the need for economic systems change. Can such a convergence be around the recognition of the needed economic turnaround mentioned above? The root and branch transformation of our economies, as proposed by the Director of UNEP? Can we go further and work together around the central ideas of a new global eco-social contract? Our collective participation at Sharm el Sheikh can help connect with this convergence of purpose, narrative and action and force greater accountability and change. It’s also an opportunity for us to look at the systems that are driving the climate crisis, in particular our economic system which doesn’t value the environment. And for those of us who can´t make it to Sharm el Sheikh, “well you get on your feet and out on the street”. Join this global movement towards a wellbeing economy. Never lose infinite hope.

Want to join
the discussion?
Let us know what
you would like
to write about!