What International Geneva wants from Glasgow

People walk by banners displayed in central Glasgow, Scotland. (Keystone/AP Photo/Scott Heppell, File)

Around 30,000 participants, from NGOs, businesses, media and governments started landing this weekend in Glasgow for the highly anticipated COP26. Throughout the next two weeks, they will observe, scrutinise and pressure countries to step up their climate commitments – and Geneva-based organisations will not miss the opportunity to bring their demands.

Despite the hoops and loops travellers must go through to get into the UK because of Covid restrictions, several of Geneva’s NGOs and UN agencies are sending their teams to press on specific climate-related areas, including health, to human rights to trade. Geneva Solutions asked them about their expectations from the key climate talks.

To offset or not to offset

One of the most divisive topics to come under the spotlight will be carbon markets. States will discuss one of the unresolved issues under the Paris agreement, which is the possibility for countries to compensate for their CO2 emissions by funding emissions reduction elsewhere. 

The practice has long divided Geneva-based advocates. Some claim that it will only delay emissions reductions, while others say that it is the only way to actually bring emissions down.

“Carbon trading delays specific actions that are absolutely needed to phase out certain industries,” said Sébastien Duyck, from the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), who will be in Glasgow along with two or three other CIEL members for the whole two weeks of negotiations.

Also travelling to Glasgow, Matthew McKinnon, executive director of the NGO Aroha and president of the Climate Vulnerable Forum’s secretariat, views carbon markets as a way to solve the financial woes of the energy transition: “At the moment, renewable energy is still tiny in the market. It needs to grow very rapidly and that would accelerate the revenue growth.” 

However, human rights NGOs such as CIEL, are worried that carbon trading could further harm vulnerable communities by promoting projects that lead to landgrabbing or even the assassination of local leaders, Duyck said. They will be asking countries to postpone a decision on carbon trading, arguing that developing countries which are the most concerned won’t be well represented. “Why rush a decision on article 6 in the Cop that is the most restricted in terms of diversity of access?” he said. 

On a different aspect, World Trade Organization (WTO) chief, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who will attend the summit, could prove influential for such discussions. One of the challenges of carbon trading schemes is complying with global trading rules overseen by the WTO, as the EU’s proposal to impose a carbon tax on foreign imports showed earlier in August.

Okonjo-Iweala will “help advise on how trade can be used as a force for good in making ambitious climate targets more within reach”, WTO told Geneva Solutions in an email.

Money talks will prove crucial

Geneva’s actors will also be attentive to discussions revolving around finance. Wealthy countries will be put on the spot for their 10-year-old broken promise to put down $100bn a year for the developing world. A delivery plan, published by the UK on 25 October and brokered by Germany and Canada, will serve as a basis for discussions.

 The head of the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), Rebeca Grynspan, will be among the UN agency leaders wandering the halls of the Scottish Event Campus. She can be expected to recall UNCTAD’s latest report warning that climate adaptation costs in developing countries could reach $300bn if countries don’t deliver on their commitments to slash carbon emissions.

“Fulfilling the $100bn a year pledge for the Green Climate Fund is a must at Glasgow. But aligning ambition and action will require a concerted reform effort at the multilateral level to ensure adequate funding for developing countries to adapt to the worsening impacts of ever-increasing climate change,” she said, launching the report last week.

NGOs will also be pushing for greater focus on loss and damage, a topic that rich nations such as the US are not fond of, since it could mean more financing obligations towards countries heavily affected by climate change. 

“We want to see new, additional and long term finance committed to loss and damage,” said Joie Chowdhury of the International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. The organisation decided not to attend the conference in solidarity with its members from the South that “were not able to travel because they did not receive vaccines on time or because of the possibility of bringing back infections to their home countries”.

Keeping other topics on the agenda, from fossil fuels to health

Geneva organisations will also watch out for commitments and actions on other issues. For the faith-based organisation Franciscans International, one of the priorities will be to “ensure just energy transition, in particular by setting up a concrete roadmap to phase out fossil fuels”.

The World Wild Fund for Nature will also be pressing actors to “shift away from our dependence on fossil fuels.” Expectations are likely to be low as G20 leaders who met over the weekend in Rome failed to make strong commitments to end subsidies for fossil fuels.

“Although WWF is not privy to closed door proceedings, we, through our networks and partnership provide advice and guidance on how to create a net-zero emissions future,” said a WWF spokesperson.

Humanitarian organisations will remind negotiators that climate change is already affecting vulnerable communities. The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) will be urging world leaders “to address the existing and worsening humanitarian impacts of the climate crisis”.

“Floods, droughts, storms and wildfires have affected more than 139 million people and an estimated 658.1 million vulnerable people have been exposed to heatwaves. By 2050, 200 million people every year could need humanitarian assistance,” said IFRC spokesperson Tommaso della Longa.

The IFRC will be sending its president Francesco Rocca to speak at the World Leaders Summit taking place from 1 to 2 November, along with a 30 member delegation, including its climate experts and representatives of the national societies.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), which will be sending a smaller team to participate in person, “will be advocating to strengthen climate action in places affected by conflict”.

Geneva’s global health actors will also be present to stress the health impacts of climate change but also to look for ways to reduce the health sector’s contribution to carbon emissions.

“We work in some of the most climate-vulnerable settings in the world where people already lack access to, or are excluded from basic healthcare. Their needs must not be forgotten,” said Djann Jutzeler, media officer of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), which will be attending a Cop for the first time.

The World Health Organization will also be sending a delegation from Geneva. While its boss Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is not scheduled to attend the conference, WHO director of environment, climate change and healthMaria Neira, and team lead on climate change, Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, will be speaking on behalf of the health authority.