This article is written by Lise Tanfin.
In the lead up to COP23, which will be co-chaired by Fiji, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations took place in Bonn last month. During these two weeks, the 196 Parties who have signed Paris Agreement debated on the implementation modalities of the agreement.
Civil society is essential to fight climate change
Since the signing of the Paris Agreement and the launch of the action agenda, (aiming at gathering initiatives from non-state actors), number of participants from civil society attending international climate negotiations kept growing. Indeed, reaching the Paris Agreement objective to stay below 1,5°C can’t be achieved without civil society. National contributions from Parties will only limit global warming up to 3°C for now. Parties expects civil society to fill this gap. Actors from civil society are split in several constituencies, namely youth, indigenous people, gender, research, industries and business, farmers, trade union and local government.
During these two weeks, participation of civil society in climate negotiations has been discussed through several events such as consultation with Fiji champion Inia Seruiratu, workshops and conferences. Civil society can take part in climate action either on a national level through the dedicated action agenda and national dialogues, and an international level by attending climate negotiations. Moreover, several summits aim at gathering and structuring the actions of non-state actors such as the Climate Chance Summit or the Business and Climate Summit. Non-state actors can express their views and actions during these events. The will to go further and take part to National Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) review, to attend Technical Expert Meeting (TEM), facilitative dialogue and global stocktake has been brought up. Transparency and assessment of the participation of civil society has also been identified as essential.
Constituencies and their involvement
Participation to the climate talks and climate action differs among various constituencies. YOUNGOs – the Youth constituency – are organized to move forward issues regarding mainly education. Education is a key component to encourage civil society to take part in climate action. Some country delegations include “youth delegates” so that youth can directly interact with negotiators on their concerns and expectations. In the Netherlands, the action of youth delegates goes even further: youth delegates are real youth champions and raise awareness among approximately 5 000 young people.
Among the UNFCCC constituencies, RINGOs – the Research constituency – want to generate a more effective link with negotiators to address their needs and orient their research programs.
Conflicts of interest are slowing down actions of non-states actors
However, involvement of civil society in negotiations raises the issue of the space allocated to each category of stakeholder. Participation of the private sector in particular can be a source of concern. Indeed, conflicts of interest are an issue that has been raised several times during the negotiations. While it looks fair that each constituency has the same participation rights in the climate talks, many stakeholder think private sector and fossil fuel companies’ participations could weaken the Paris Agreement.
During the first workshop on stakeholder participations held on May 9th in Bonn, ENGOs – NGO constituency – stated that UNFCCC secretariat must restrict the role of some organizations, especially those generating interferences from private sector in the negotiations process. This position has been supported by the Gender constituency who claimed that between a company that emits greenhouse gases and indigenous people who don’t have a lot of opportunity to speak up, all the observer’s groups cannot have the same weight.
Following WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control which officially banned tobacco industry from negotiations, some actors from civil society called on UNFCCC secretariat to carry out the same with fossil fuels companies. On the other hand, BINGOs – industry and business constituency – wish to develop synergies and strengthens further the link between government policy and action. Norway and Australia supported this position by pointing out the importance to involve every part of civil society to initiate a transition and, the private sector could be seen as a change leader.
Civil Society has a greater role than expected
Given this concern of lack of neutrality and representativeness of some actors from civil society, it is important to point out that in the context of climate negotiations, civil society action – through mobilization and participation to negotiation – is independent from political decisions. This way, civil society can express its views on the process to follow but Parties are the ones who decide in the end. These debates on conflicts of interest raise questions on the relevance of marginalizing the ones responsible for global warming in the process to resolve it. Furthermore, many companies from the private sector are aware that climate change threatens the future of their activities and integrate climate issues into their economic priorities. To address climate change, all the actors from civil society must unite in action and go beyond their conflicts of interest. Going forward, some actors from civil society request UNFCCC secretariat to define these conflicts of interest to establish a legal framework on civil society participation.
Participation of civil society is more than ever on the agenda and goes beyond climate negotiations: French president Emmanuel Macron recently appointed members from civil society in its government. This opening of political world to the whole society allows to work collaboratively, ensures honesty and transparency and reminds policy makers realities on the ground. To go further, it is important not to reduce climate discussions only to Parties responsibilities but to develop a holistic vision that integrate all actors of society. Either in the context of climate negotiation or elsewhere, it is high time civil society be recognized as stakeholder and go beyond its observer status.
About the author : Lise Tanfin is a French environmental engineer, who graduated from national school of agronomy in Toulouse. She is particularly interested in climate change and attended several sessions of negotiations such as COP22 as French Youth Delegate. She pays major attention to the way stakeholder can take part in climate action, and interactions between civil society and governments.