OPINION: Will COP27 still be conducting fire drills as the world burns?

by Asif Saleh | BRAC - Bangladesh
Wednesday, 23 February 2022 16:00 GMT

Women wearing masks take part in a global warming and climate refugee awareness rally organized by Oxfam Bangladesh in Dhaka November 27, 2008. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Climate impacts are hitting people now, and help to adapt and pay for losses can’t wait

Asif Saleh is the executive director of  BRAC Bangladesh.

It has been 100 days since COP26 in Glasgow and temperatures continue to peak, fires decimate crops, wildlife and forests, and flooding washes away lives and livelihoods.

COP26 was a vitally important global gathering in the fight against climate change, but shocking in its lack of attention to current climate change impacts around the world.

As we head towards COP27 in November, it's time to plan a very different conference – one that pays attention to what is already happening.

It is, of course, essential to focus on the future. It is vital that we obtain far greater commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Those commitments are rightly the topic of media and public attention. They are how the speeches of leaders of the wealthiest nations are traditionally judged. They are the basis for the negotiations for which national leaders gathered.

At the same time, we must focus on the needs of hundreds of millions of people whose lives and prospects are already damaged by climate change. They cannot wait for emissions to be reduced.

In Bangladesh, where I live and where BRAC, one of the largest nongovernmental organizations in the world, is headquartered, over 2,000 people migrate every day to the capital Dhaka due to climate-related challenges such as floods.

The current impacts of climate change on the lives of people in the most vulnerable situations are already causing serious displacement globally. They are already reversing gains in poverty reduction. That will only increase if climate adaptation is not prioritized along with climate mitigation.

Three changes that the leadership behind COP27 should make are these:

First, highlight adaptation approaches along with mitigation goals, particularly locally led approaches from the global south.

Adaptation needs to be a major focus of the conversation. Excluding it denies the reality of much of the world. Including it presents a crucial opportunity for business, government, and nongovernmental organizations to work in unison.

A great example is the Ultra-Poor Graduation approach, a multifaceted, proven, researched set of interventions designed to enable those living in extreme poverty to lift themselves out of it.

The approach is based on a deep understanding of the challenges faced by those living in extreme poverty and most susceptible to natural disasters.

BRAC pioneered the Graduation approach, which has reached over 2 million households (approximately 9 million people) in Bangladesh alone. It is being scaled through more than 100 programmes in nearly 50 countries.

The global potential of such solutions to build resilience in the face of climate change should be understood. Funding their scaling should be a priority.

Adaptation is currently greatly underfunded, with only 21% of climate finance supporting adaptation and only 10% of that directly resourcing locally led adaptation efforts.

Second, COP27 should be designed so that the global south is properly represented.

COP26 was extraordinarily expensive to attend, and non-governmental organizations with crucial expertise in adaptation were relegated to the sidelines or not represented at all.

While wealthy nations and corporations are essential to combating climate change, less wealthy nations and nongovernmental organizations have the expertise in climate adaptation. The content needed to combat climate change should be prioritized over wealth. That is in the interest of everyone.

The organizers must ensure that COP27 does not become a place to greenwash the activities of corporations. To get prominent places, there should be definitive filtering mechanisms that will bring corporations that have truly internalized change towards sustainability to the front.

Otherwise, I fear that COP27 will be dominated by consultants and corporations who are trying to be visible without a lot of substance. 

Third, the voice of nongovernmental organizations with expertise in climate adaptation should be institutionalized.

It should be prominently represented throughout the events of COP27.

The challenge is now. We need urgent solutions to accommodate people who have started to migrate to find new livelihoods. We need to talk about adaptation and loss and damage front and center.

For that to be achieved, insights from the COP27 on-the-ground experts need to be channeled directly into formal decision-making. Otherwise, there will be two parallel discussions, neither benefiting from the other.

Non-government organizations like BRAC have been developing and scaling proven locally led approaches to adapt to climate change for half a century. Yet, the private sector and governments are isolated from this expertise and knowledge.

Climate change affects us all. COP27 should set a new course for the world: one that addresses the current impacts of climate change, while aggressively advancing commitments to minimize future ones.

The world is literally on fire – yet COP26 was still conducting fire drills.

COP27 needs to send a clear message that it understands the existing human consequences of climate change, that it advocates the scaling of adaptation methods already proven, and that it will be relentless in advancing mitigation commitments that are essential to the planet’s sustainability.

At COP27, the sirens need to be sounding – signaling not only the danger at hand but that proven solutions are on the way.