Why COP26 Matters
The United Nations’ twenty-sixth Conference of the Parties, or COP26, is taking place in Glasgow, Scotland from October 30 to November 12. The COP is the largest and most important international meeting on climate change. The countries involved come together to make a number of crucial decisions to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions in order to ensure a sustainable future for humans and ecosystems alike. This particular session of COP was intended to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The two-week conference will consist of plenary meetings and negotiations, as well as workshops and side events hosted by nongovernmental organizations and businesses.
The International Research Institute for Climate and Society’s Mélody Braun isn’t a stranger to these massive meetings. The first COP she attended was in 2009 (COP15), which took place in Copenhagen. She has been to six more since then, and Glasgow will be her eighth COP. These experiences have helped shape how she approaches her work at IRI, including in her role as the Bangladesh country lead for the Adapting Agriculture to Climate Today for Tomorrow (ACToday) Columbia World Project helping farmers and policy makers implement climate adaptation and management strategies.
Why do you think COP matters?
First of all, COP matters because we don’t have a choice. Climate impacts are visible everywhere, we are hitting new records every year, and the most recent IPCC report confirms that we need to correct our trajectory immediately. COP, and by extension the Paris Agreement and the UNFCCC process, puts climate on the global negotiation table once a year and creates a collaborative framework for governments to tackle the climate crisis. It is a slow-moving, yet absolutely necessary part of the solution. Of course, it’s neither magic, nor sufficient, and another crucial aspect of COP beyond the negotiations themselves is the strong, powerful, interdisciplinary community of organizations and individuals who bring their experience from creating change at their own level to COP to support and influence the negotiation process. They learn, share, and contribute their knowledge to the agenda items being discussed, push for more ambitious, inclusive, and fair outcomes, and collaborate on projects on the ground. A lot of important things that happen at COP take place in the corridors.
You’ve spoken previously about some of the issues you observed at COP15 regarding the distribution of too many accreditations, resulting in a lack of space for farmers from around the world to voice their concerns. Do you believe space for local voices has improved in the last 11 years? How have these concerns influenced your goals at COP and the way you’re approaching the meeting this year?
The huge increase in attention about the issues of diversity, inclusion and engagement of marginalized groups in decision-making processes over the past few years has helped move the needle in the right direction at global and local levels. Of course, much more work is needed. This year is particularly complicated because of the COVID-19 context, the inequity of vaccine access, and how it’s influencing people’s ability to participate at COP. This once again puts an additional burden on developing countries. What’s new this year is that a big part of the events will be hybrid and offer the option to follow online. We will have to see how that affects the ability of civil society, and more specifically marginalized groups, to engage in the process, and also how it influences that learning, sharing, collaborating, and strategic planning part of COP that I mentioned.
Your ACToday work helps connect important climate data with climate policies and practices in Bangladesh through interactions between providers of climate information and the users of this data. How do you plan to bring this work to Glasgow? How do you see or hope to see COP addressing concerns for top-down climate policy approaches?
Our work connects closely with agenda items discussed at COP in a number of ways. The biggest, simplest message that we have is that we can’t adapt to the impacts of climate change that we are seeing all around the world if the people generating climate information in a country and the people facing the climate impacts in the same country are not talking to each other, collaborating, and co-producing useful climate information products together. And they can’t do that without the appropriate resources and institutional mechanisms in place, which require funding, institutional support, climate education, and professional capacity building. So, the work that we do on the development of climate services and climate services academies with local partners is directly supporting discussions on adaptation, with a strong focus on the need for processes that are bottom-up, inclusive, and participatory. Our work on generating climate forecasts using the best available science, and supporting the development of early action mechanisms and climate risk insurance, are very relevant in discussions around loss and damage. We are also actively engaging in the Paris Committee Capacity Building Network, and this year I am excited to contribute more to some of the work around Action for Climate Empowerment — both very focused on enabling all members of society to engage in climate action.
Are there any other events that you’re particularly excited to be a part of?
So many, which is always a challenge at a massive event such as COP! In terms of specific events, IRI is organizing an event on November 3 with the Climate and Development Knowledge Network that focuses on the role of universities and research organizations in creating long-term climate-related capacity-building; it’s called ‘From Research to Practice: Bridging the Science, Research, Policy and Practice Gap’.
I will also be moderating an event organized by the French Development Agency called ‘Empowering action through scientific literature: highlights from IPCC 6th Assessment Report and dialogue with youth and public development banks,’ which aligns very well with our activities.
I’ll also be participating in Climate School events, the launch of a new initiative that IRI is joining called the Adaptation Research Alliance, and a number of other events organized by our partners. More generally, with loss and damage finance being such a critical topic in Glasgow, I am eager to follow what will happen on that front. I also plan to engage in events organized by Action for the Climate Emergency, and, in line with that, I also look forward to contributing to activities of the Climate Fresk educational game that will be played and presented throughout COP.
Video: Mélody speaks on her work in Bangladesh, her past COP experiences, and more. Video by Jacquelyn Turner, IRI.
Brynne Wilcox is a graduate research assistant at Columbia’s International Research Institute for Climate and Society.
“We can’t adapt to the impacts of climate change if the people generating climate information in a country and the people facing the climate impacts in the same country are not talking to each other.”
As a future policy maker, my biggest fear is making policies for communities I don’t know, to address issues that I don’t understand. The way things are done now, someone collects data from a community, someone else analyses it, and policy makers use that information to design programs for the communities in question, completely discounting the fact that people are more than numbers on a screen. Although now we’re moving towards a bottom-up approach, little has changed in the way data is collected, analysed and used for policy development. The quote above captures this disconnect well. But while conferences like COP26 help bridge this disconnect to some extent, I would go so far as to say that we can’t make real change happen if the people deciding how to deal with climate change (“developed” countries) are given centre stage over the people facing the brunt of its consequences (“developing” countries).
The stewardship of indigenous and local communities in preserving forests across the globe should be recognized and rewarded. These forest areas serve as carbon sequestration powerhouses and but for their stewardship, we all would have been in an extremely precarious situation today. The global community should collectively take the responsibility to provide necessary funding to these vulnerable and marginalized communities to sustain the efforts to preserve the remaining forests. Moreover, these indigenous communities have a wealth of insights to offer, and it’s necessary to integrate their voices in global environmental policymaking. It is disappointing to see the lack of any concrete measures being taken in relation to this at these international environmental conferences.