Shahin Ashraf

Written by

December 24, 2018


The biggest international climate change negotiations – COP24 – this year took place in the city of Katowice, Poland. As Global Advocacy and Campaigns Advisor, I spent two weeks at the conference with my colleague Jamie Williams – Senior Policy Advisor for Poverty Reduction – to learn about the latest developments, governmental goals and to ensure that positive steps to reducing climate change remain on the agenda.

Here’s what we learnt!

1. Temperatures are still rising

The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) – the UN body on climate change – has revealed that far from stemming the rise in global temperatures, we’re in fact moving towards a catastrophic 3°C rise during this century. The study, which incorporates the expertise of more than 12,000 scientists encourages quick, effective and innovative change across all areas of society in order for us to lower the increase in global temperatures to a maximum of 1.5°C. Unfortunately, we’re currently looking at double this figure.

A key target to reach this goal is to reduce global emissions by 45% by the year 2030. However, for this to happen, we need urgent action and ambitious climate change goals. Sadly, this enthusiasm and commitment for change was not shared by all nations, including the world’s largest oil-producers. Without a consensus, the goal had to be dropped. We think that this is particularly disappointing and will continue to press for change on behalf of those who are the most vulnerable.

2. Unity is the only way forward

Not only is it critical that global nations agree on the same goals for us to move forward, but it’s also crucial that we truly stand together in unity. Our Talanoa Dialogue was a great way of bringing people together and shining a positive light on what is no doubt a serious issue. Now, what is a Talanoa Dialogue you may ask? Well “talanoa” is a traditional term used in the Pacific and across Fiji to refer to dialogue which is inclusive, honest and encourages participation. This is as you can imagine an incredibly useful and powerful tool at COP24 when working with a diverse group of diplomats and officials. While most of the negotiations highlighted critical differences, the Talanoa Dialogue instead focused on what draws us together.

As an organisation, we’re particularly interested in Talanoa Dialogue and used our experience of over 40 dialogues in more than a dozen countries to make an effective contribution and to drive further change from a variety of faith-groups. As a result, some Fijian sunshine spread around the conference rooms as we enjoined in a shared human experience, fresh ideas and collective effort. What’s more, the results of this dialogue were handed directly to the organisers of COP24 so this was definitely a positive step this year!

3. Climate changes needs greater funding

At this year’s COP summit, as with many others before it, the question of finances was at the heart of countless negotiations. Developing countries are concerned they won’t have enough funds to fulfil set targets, that there won’t be enough money to help them pay for the damage that climate change is expected to wreak on their nations, or that they won’t be able to access the finance they need to build green power plants and other low-carbon technologies.

Sadly, COP 24 offered little insight into how the goal to invest $100 billion by 2020 will be met, or how the overall finance target for post-2025 will be agreed. Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga of Tuvalu said:

“There must be scaled-up financing to meet both our mitigation and adaptation needs”.

We couldn’t agree more.

4. Human rights are central to change

Climate change is not just an ecological issue – it’s a human rights issue. The world’s most vulnerable people are finding themselves at ever greater risk of food insecurity and displacement from drought and famine and other natural disasters. With flooding and famine across the globe, we’re already seeing the effects that climate change is having on the fundamental rights of millions of people across the globe, including their right to housing, education, health, a family life and privacy.

Whilst it’s ethically and morally clear that the notion of human rights needs to be at the centre of climate action, the discourse around the issue hasn’t always explicitly reflected this. This year however, clear references to human rights, gender, indigenous peoples, and public participation were included in the preamble to The Paris Agreement which builds on the UN Convention on Climate Change calling on nations combat climate change, adapt to its effects and provide support for developing nations in combatting climate change.

We were however disappointed to see that, whilst human rights language was incorporated into this year’s COP plans, it was referred to in a somewhat obscure reference in the section on national plans. Outside of the negotiations, such language is unlikely to be understood by wider audiences. What’s more, a chapter on carbon markets was stalled until the next meeting. We must put human rights clearly on the agenda in a way that is accessible for everyone.

5. We must empower women

Promoting gender equality and empowering women were key features of the UN Climate Change Conference in Poland this year, something which we welcome greatly. Islamic Relief holds that gender differences in access to resources, power and processes of decision-making – including responsibilities within the household – make women particularly vulnerable to climate hazards and the effects of climate change.

We know that climate change interventions must be gender-responsive, recognising and addressing the particular pressures and challenges women and girls face. Women must be fully involved in decision-making and planning, and their skills used in disaster-preparedness and response and all aspects of climate mitigation and adaptation. We, therefore, hope to see women placed more firmly on the agenda on the coming months and welcome such important dialogue.

6. Young people are the future!

Whilst we were at COP24, we celebrated Young and Future Generations Day. Events marking the occasion included the presentation over 100,000 climate change cards by Guinness World Record and the awards ceremony of the Global Youth Video Competition on Climate Change 2018, which screens videos of young people spearheading innovative solutions for tackling climate change.

As far as our youth are concerned though, it’s not all joy and celebrations. Young people are in fact telling us that they’re fed up, frustrated and feeling ignored. They can see delay and diversion and are demanding more. It’s therefore critical that we not only listen to their concerns but welcome their contribution. After all, they are the future! Throughout COP24, it was young people who stole the show at events here in Katowice. For example, Toby Thorpe – a 16-year-old activist from Australia – challenged academics to set out a programme for engaging young people in climate research. Likewise, Greta Thunberg (15) from Sweden complained about the lack of policies:

“We can’t save the world by playing by the rules. This is an emergency. We are facing an existential threat. The rules have to change.”

As an organisation, Islamic Relief is committed to hearing the voices of everyone – especially our youth. We recognise and value the participation of young people in tackling climate change. It’s their actions than can build active future engagement to address climate change and it’s critical that world leaders and policy makers remember this.

7. Faith can play a key role in building change

As well as recognising the role of our youth and the need to include women’s rights in discussions, faith groups have also realised their potential in climate change discussions. As it’s the next generation who have to step forward to reverse the trend towards climate destruction, global citizens of all faiths can crucially help embody and spread the message that we must take immediate action to save Creation!

UNFCCC Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa addressed members of science and faith communities with a key message at this year’s COP:

“We need you to help spread the word. To help humanity understand the importance of the choice between action and inaction—and the consequences.”

It’s therefore up to us to address current concerns and help mobilise the population. If we choose not to, we know what’s coming: more hunger, more poverty, and more misery – especially for the worlds most disadvantaged people. We’ll quite simply face more extremes and even greater inequalities. For faith communities, we have the capacity to reach millions of people through our congregations and our communities and tackle the issues behind climate change.

Islamic Relief recognises climate change as one of the greatest ethical, social and environmental issues facing humanity. Inspired by Islamic teachings of justice, equality and stewardship, we help communities become more resilient to climate change, improve learning on environmental issues among staff and supporters, aim to reduce our carbon footprint, and undertake advocacy to promote substantial and equitable reductions in greenhouse gases. We must tread lightly on Allah’s Earth and rightly encourage others to do so too.

Where do we go from here?

Next year, COP25 will be in Chile and by this point, we hope to have full accreditation as an organisation fighting climate change so we’ll be able to put on our own side-events and more widely share our experiences. Working in some of the most vulnerable countries with local communities to build their resilience and adapt to changes that they face, we’ve got the experience, expertise and insight.

In the meantime, we’re joining calls for leaders at UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit in September 2019 to establish higher climate action targets and firm commitments to offer support to developing countries. Watch this space!

To get involved in the fight against climate change, join our climate campaign and call on your MP to keep the fight against climate change on the agenda. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook to see our exciting new campaigns on this important issue throughout 2019.

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