It is five years now since the Paris Climate Agreement was adopted. The development of national climate protection plans – the so-called Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) – is a particularly important component of this Agreement. However, the NDCs of all countries worldwide are as yet far from adequate to the task of limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees Celsius. It is therefore of the utmost urgency that the NDCs’ level of ambition be stepped up. A new, English-language publication produced by the FES looks at the role civil society could play in boosting the ambition of NDCs and the corresponding efforts to achieve comprehensive climate protection. Four case studies from Kenya, Kirgizstan, Morocco and the Philippines offer critical insights into possible transformative change.
Marianne Toftgaard and Jana Merkelbach of the Climate Action Network International developed the idea for this publication with the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung and implemented it with their regional partner networks. We asked them about the origins of the idea and its implementation:
Marianne Toftgaard (MT): Social dialogue is key to achieving national climate targets and developing solutions that are acceptable and can be implemented locally. It requires the wholehearted inclusion and participation of all relevant stakeholders, including local groups and communities.
The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted our societies’ weaknesses and systemic injustice and inequality. In order to combat these weaknesses we need to put people first when formulating and implementing climate targets. Thus society-wide consultations offer governments an opportunity to make sure that national climate protection policy principles and goals are specifically oriented towards the priorities, needs and demands of people on the ground. This encompasses combating poverty, health care, social justice, food security, biodiversity and the needs of marginalised and particularly endangered population groups. Local communities possess valuable knowledge and experiences that can make an important contribution to sustainable, socially and locally embedded solutions – if they can get a hearing.
In this context civil society can make a decisive contribution to the design and successful implementation of effective strategies, as long as they can participate in their development from the outset.
Jana Merkelbach (JM): The Climate Action Network (CAN) was founded in 1989 and for over 30 years now it has brought together civil society actors involved in climate issues. It is renowned and influential as an NGO umbrella organisation entity above all under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
CAN is characterised by its versatility. As an umbrella organisation we bring together diverse civil society organisations, ranging from local grassroots actors to big international organisations, such as Greenpeace and the WWF. In total, it has over 1,300 civil society organisations in over 120 countries. We thus unite a wealth of perspectives and expertise, and together we can operate as a strong alliance, and represent and introduce our demands and proposed solutions for transformative change nationally, regionally and internationally.
JM: It is important to stress that not all countries have contributed equally to climate change. The countries that we look at in this study have contributed vanishingly little in comparison with the big industrialised nations. Nevertheless the consequences of climate change are already dramatic all over the world, and most of all in countries that have contributed to it the least. For that reason it is crucial that those directly affected by it should participate in designing national climate protection plans all over the world. This way we can ensure that sustainable solutions to these consequences are developed that become embedded and accepted socially and locally, thereby containing the climate crisis effectively.
In this study we wanted to provide insights into four countries in four different regions of the world, and to come up with recommendations for actors on the ground. In this way we hope to help them to reinforce civil society involvement in working out national climate protection plans. We also hope to use the findings of this study to encourage the extension of this dialogue beyond national borders.
In order to select the countries examined in this study various regional network entities within CAN were involved in consultations to try to identify countries in which both the political context and local capacities could add as much value as possible to this research. Finally, the regional network entities within CAN made their recommendations, identified national researchers to implement the research on the ground, and consulted regional FES bureaus about the project. The selection of the countries emerged from all this.
MT: Unfortunately, the pandemic has created additional obstacles to the effective participation of civil society actors. Quite a few NDC review processes and related civil society consultations had to be postponed or curtailed due to the pandemic. Above all, it has meant that civil society involvement in these processes has had to be reduced significantly. This poses a new challenge, for which solutions have to be found. After all, civil society involvement is and remains crucial for combating the crisis.
The research had to be adapted to fit the project. Originally, our plan was for national researchers to interview local groups and communities. Because of the Covid-19 crisis and the ensuing safety precautions to protect people’s health, however, this was not possible. Instead, the researchers had to turn to Skype interviews and written questionnaires. The research findings should really be discussed in a series of national workshops and, building on that, to develop strategies to strengthen civil society participation in national consultation processes. Although these workshops will indeed take place they will be online and thus, unfortunately, on a much smaller scale. Nevertheless, even under these circumstances, this study provides valuable recommendations and insights to support work on the ground.
MT: What is paramount for me is how important people’s full involvement on the ground is, right from the outset, in the development of climate policy. This is the bottom-up principle in action. By this means, not only can the ambition of climate targets be decisively increased, but this is the only way of ensuring that, ultimately, climate protection and climate adaptation can be co-sponsored and co-implemented by the people on the ground. In my opinion, it is absolutely crucial that governments and ministries responsible for developing climate protection plans recognise that the full involvement of civil society is key to their successful implementation.