As part of our annual COPCAS programme we have an exciting line up of pre-COP workshops, the Climate Action Studio which will run throughout the full two weeks of COP26, and a ‘What Really Happened at COP26?’ event to end with.
On Wednesday the 20th of October we had our first workshop with the latest cohort of COPCAS students. All the students this year are under the SCENARIO doctoral training programme based either at Reading or Surrey University.
Our first workshop focused on introducing the students to COP, and then developing key interview skills which they will need to apply throughout COP26. As part of this, the students worked in groups to interview 4 members of The Walker Institute’s Board.
Each of the students groups produced a blog post which we wanted to share with you!
Dr Celia Petty is the co-founder and Director of Operations of Evidence for Development (EfD) which specialises in the study of rural and urban livelihoods in developing countries. Her work considers links between climate change and livelihood systems, people and communities. This necessitates an integrated view of both modelling and policymaking that considers how large scale systems - such as international policy and the climate - interact with small scale systems - such as villages and farming communities.
Asked about the realities of trying to inform wide-scale policy with data on the local impacts of climate change, Dr Petty believes that things are moving in the right direction. In her view, as public awareness of the climate crisis has grown, resulting in greater political focus, the fundamentals of what researchers need to focus on to address the crisis have been increasingly pinned down. The system is not perfect however, with political will lagging behind that of individuals, who Dr Petty believes are willing to make substantial changes to their consumption and lifestyle habits. Additionally, challenges in the ability and will to engage in interdisciplinary communication are ever present, resulting in slower change.
Of crucial importance to all climate research is the characterisation of uncertainty, on which Dr Petty takes a holistic view. Uncertainty on climate models and scenarios are increasingly well understood, but Dr Petty warns that serious innovation is needed to get sufficiently accurate local data on socio-economic climate impacts to then feed into policy and models. Communication of uncertainty cuts both ways however, though Dr Petty is much more optimistic about scientists’ ability to communicate climate impacts to local communities than to policymakers, explaining that farmers and other community stakeholders are just as much in the business of understanding uncertainty as scientists.
Aida Opoku-Mensah is one of the Walker Institute’s board members, and during her career has worked on developing the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) for the United Nations 2030 Agenda. She was also the United Nation’s Director of the ICT, Science and Technology Division for African Nations.
As she was involved in developing the SDGs, with similarities in their negotiations to those taking place at the Conference of Parties (COP), we were curious in the differences between the climate change COP and more broad ranging SDG negotiation processes. Aida thought that the yearly cycle of COP creates a momentum which otherwise might falter. Both the SDGs and COP hold meetings every year, which helps encourage countries to have something to show. For COP, this has created some really impactful practical successes. Countries witnessing climate change, like many in Africa, go to COP climate change meetings and raise alarm bells on the threats and impacts climate change is already causing.
African nations are not responsible for the emissions which are causing climate change, but are suffering from it. Aida believes the key role for African nations at this COP will be financial incentivising, and hopes that negotiating parties at this COP will work on ways to help finance sustainable development and investment in African Nations. Aida emphasised that agriculture is fundamentally important to the economies of many African nations, and its output forms an integral part of international food supply chains. But many African nations are not sufficiently funding or have the budget to be able to fund the changes required for more resilient and sustainable agricultural practices.
Africa has a campaign for debt cancellation because of covid. Aida explained that this cancellation means keeping resources in their countries and diverting funds to where they’re needed most. This discussion has migrated to better managing climate prices through the impacts already being experienced.
African nations must develop new methods of industrialisation – which are ecologically sound, and economically viable, so that workers have reliable well paid jobs. Expanding on this, Aida described difficulties of roling out technologies in which supply chains are so often outside of Africa, and with only the final product being imported. Making tools affordable, repairable, and adaptable in Africa will require a transfer of technical skills, knowledge, and funding.
We asked Aida if climate research for policy development is being made accessible across Africa. This will be a key underpinning. Without scientific basis, countries will be unable to act in the right way or understand the benefits or risks of different actions. There will have to be some very serious climate science investment, to better support creation and distribution of weather and climate information in Africa.
Today we had the chance to speak to Peter Gibbs who has extensive experience as a science communicator. He began his career taking measurements for the British Arctic Survey; before moving on to weather forecasting, first for the UK Met Office and then for local councils. He moved on to broadcasting and journalism as he is passionate about communication. Notably, we discussed how in the past the BBC communication about climate change was limited due to climate scepticism and fear of upsetting their audience. This has changed in recent years as the impacts of climate change are becoming more clear. Peter uses his communication skills developed in broadcasting to share climate change knowledge with others.
After learning about Peter’s career and expertise. We moved on to discussing the Conference Of the Parties (COP). Peter has never attended COP himself, but has chaired the COP Climate Action Studio debrief “What really happened at COP?” numerous times. He described himself as “a bit cynical” about COP because he feels that more is happening outside of the main COP negotiations both in the Green Zone and through other initiatives. He is interested in innovative solutions that lie outside of policy, such as those highlighted by the Earthshot Prize (https://earthshotprize.org/), and thinks this is the way forward to halt the climate crisis. His interest in action is part of the reason he chose to join the board of the Walker Institute and is also why if he could choose one person to speak to at COP it wouldn’t be a politician.
About Dr Andrew Bennett
Dr Andrew Bennett is a tropical agronomist who specialises in rural livelihoods and environmental programmes, climate and biodiversity. He is the President of the Tropical Agricultural Association and is on the Board of the Walker Institute. Dr Bennett has worked in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Pacific and the Caribbean. His experience spans areas including international development, international negotiations and the environment. He has worked with the ministry of agriculture in Sudan and was an advisor to the South Pacific region at the British Department for International Development (DfID). He subsequently went on to being the Director of Rural Livelihoods and Environment at DFiD. Dr Bennett founded the Syngenta Foundation for sustainable agriculture, and ran the Foundation for 6 years.
Dr Bennett contributed to the negotiations for the Montreal Protocol, signed in 1987, and the Rio Earth Summit in 1992. He has since been involved in a number of COPs and was involved in the development of the Global Environment Facility (GEF).
Dr Bennett’s thoughts on climate change and COP26
Dr Bennett discussed the disconnect between the climate activists on the fringes of COP who have hopes for our climate future, and the negotiators making the decisions, who prioritise sovereignty and popularity. This can make achieving progress at COP very challenging. He notes that there is a move towards a greater focus on adaptation, and this is important for small-holder farmers who face the worst impacts of climate change yet have contributed least to the cause. We need to progress away from the belief that all sustainable actions cost money.
Dr Bennett spoke about funding for tackling climate change, stating that although developed countries should contribute more funding to support developing countries in tackling climate and development goals this is hampered by the limited and delayed payoffs of many climate change investments. The process is made more difficult by the complexity of agreements, where every word needs to be negotiated. He highlights that these complexities mean that policy is often science-informed, rather than science-based.
Sustainability projects work at the community level. Therefore, he believes the role of research organisations, such as the Walker Institute, is to scale this up to the national and global stage. Dr Bennett suggests the best way to do this might be through good news stories, emphasising the interplay between human welfare, climate action and preservation of nature, and the power of localised action. He emphasises that we have seen that opinion matters more than fact, so influencing public opinion to align with scientific facts should be our priority going forward.