August 17, 2022

On the Road to COP27: Stockholm +50 and the Intersessional Climate Talks

International Climate Justice Program

Adrián Martínez Blanco, the Director and founder of La Ruta del Clima, recently attended two key climate-related UN meetings: Stockholm +50 and the Intersessional climate talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). He shared his perspective of the relevance and outcomes of these meetings from a Latin American civil society perspective.

Adrian, in June there were two big environmental conferences – Stockholm +50 and the Bonn intersessional climate talks. Can you explain the significance of these two meetings and the key issues discussed?

Stockholm +50 was a UN meeting designed to accelerate the green transition, symbolically held 50 years after Sweden hosted the first UN conference on the environment in 1972. The relevance of Stockholm +50 to environmental political activism in the multilateral sphere can have different interpretations. For La Ruta del Clima, Stockholm +50 is a historical statement of the renewed need for structural change in our relationship between society and nature. It is also a testament to the undeniable awareness of international political institutions that for decades we have been locked into an economic system that endangers ourselves and the planet.

Stockholm +50 makes ten recommendations for accelerating action towards a healthy planet for the prosperity of all. It somewhat contextualises the 26 very detailed principles of the 1972 Stockholm Declaration. Yet, after participating in Stockholm +50, we doubt that the statements made in 1972 could find the same international support if placed in a negotiating text currently. Despite the simultaneous socio-natural crises, the transformation of the economic system that destroys our well-being has effectively eluded environmental diplomacy efforts and has managed to materialise 1972 fears into day-to-day realities across the world ecosystems and communities.

The 56th intersessional climate talks of the UNFCCC (SB56) happened days after Stockholm +50. These intersessional meetings are held annually between the official Conference of Parties (CoP) meetings that occur every November as part of the overall process to advance the UNFCCC decisions and outcomes. The meeting agenda for SB56 continued many discussions that were addressed at last year’s COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow, UK and serves as a preparation for the next climate conference in Egypt in November.

The talks addressed issues such as the creation of a work programme to urgently scale up mitigation ambition and implementation. It also covered discussions relating to Loss and Damage, including the Glasgow Dialogue on Loss and Damage (which is discussing the arrangements for the funding of activities to avert, minimize and address Loss and Damage associated with the adverse impacts of climate change) and continued negotiations on the Santiago Network (which aims to catalyze technical assistance for Loss and Damage).

Stockholm +50 was the first UN environmental conference that has explicitly referred to phasing out fossil fuels. What is the significance of this?

Stockholm +50 reference to phasing out fossil fuels is an interesting development. It does pose a significant contradiction between what countries seem to be able to agree on a soft-law declaration and what they decide within the process of the international climate regime. In Stockholm, governments agreed to promote the “phase out of fossil fuels while providing targeted support to the poorest and most vulnerable in line with national circumstances and recognizing the need for financial and technical support towards a just transition”. However, six months ago they could have included this in the Glasgow Pact but choose to limit ambitions to “phase-out of unabated coal power and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies, recognizing the need for support towards a just transition”.

There are two significant details to focus on. First, the right to development and just transition for the Global South are important elements in this discussion, as it is not just about deciding to phase-out a dangerous energy source but also about the necessary steps that follow. And second, the fact that under the UNFCCC discussions only unabated coal power was agreed to be phased out should put in question the political significance of the Stockholm +50 reference. If there is a place where fossil fuels could be phased out it is at the UNFCCC and yet this has not happened. In contrast, months after COP26 and even during SB56 coal energy production by European countries has renewed strength and oil and gas dependence continues.

Why has the issue of Loss and Damage become such a flashpoint in the climate talks?

As part of the Paris Agreement, governments agreed on aiming at keeping global temperature rise well below 1.5 degrees – but the world is likely to overshoot this limit, with no significant change is on sight in terms of significant carbon emissions. A the same time, climate impacts have increased in magnitude and are now defining the socio-economic realities of communities across the Global South.

We are at a point in the climate talks where arguments of attribution science used to divert conversations on Loss and Damage no longer have relevance. Furthermore, there are no big negotiation items that can be used to distract developing countries from the evident dismissal of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement on Loss and Damage. Addressing Loss and Damage, which has been at the centre of Global South political demands and proposals for decades, can no longer be hidden by the US and developed countries.

At COP26, countries representing the majority of the global population united in requesting to establish a financial mechanism to address Loss and Damage. A means to provide aid to those affected by the negative effects of climate change and a paragraph was included in the Glasgow Pact. However, developed countries managed to delete it and offered the Glasgow Dialogue instead. This dialogue was a significant loss from what was almost achieved in COP26, but it did provide in SB56 an opening to discuss Loss and Damage.

Aerial view after a mudslide in Petropolis, Brazil on February 16, 2022. – Large scale flooding destroyed hundreds of properties and claimed at least 34 lives in the area. (Photo by Florian PLAUCHEUR / AFP) (Photo by FLORIAN PLAUCHEUR/AFP via Getty Images)
What was the outcome of discussions on Loss and Damage in Bonn?

The Glasgow Dialogue established by COP26 had very little structure as it was not decided that it should produce a specific outcome and would only happen once every year until 2024. The questions presented by the facilitators made discussions digress. At the end of the session it was clear that the dialogue should focus on “addressing” Loss and Damage and avoid the issues of averting and minimising since these are part of adaptation and mitigation measures. Developed countries tried to steer the conversation on the usefulness of humanitarian aid which was considered inadequate and unwarranted by developing countries regarding Loss and Damage. The Global South maintained its demand for a financial mechanism to address Loss and Damage.

The other issue of relevance was the operationalization of the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage. Even though there was a significant amount of discussion there was no agreement, and this issue will have to be addressed from scratch at COP27.

Lastly, despite efforts by developing countries to have an item on Loss and Damage included as a permanent agenda item and despite Loss and Damage being the third pillar of the Paris Agreement, there was no consensus to include it as a permanent agenda item for COP27. This proposal is key as it would open a permanent discussion on Loss and Damage in the international climate regime. There was some progress, however, as at the end of discussions there was a move to include Loss and Damage as a provisional agenda items for CoP27. Even so, the agenda has to be adopted at the start of the meeting and it is expected that the first moments of COP27 will be thus focused on an agenda fight as developing countries, yet again, try to create a formal landing space for Loss and Damage in the UNFCCC process.

What would be considered a positive outcome on Loss and Damage at COP27? And what needs to happen between now and COP27 for this to be achieved?

It is very important when we talk about positive outcomes on Loss and Damage to take the perspective of those most vulnerable. Therefore, for La Ruta del Clima success starts when justice and resources reach the hands of those disproportionately and unjustly affected by Loss and Damage.

Key steps to that political success is to have Loss and Damage as a permanent agenda item, recognizing that it is an issue that the international community has to be responsible for many generations to come. Another positive outcome would be to create a financial mechanism to address Loss and Damage which is the vessel to provide climate reparations to those suffering Loss and Damage due to transboundary environmental harm caused by carbon intensive economies. One related procedural item pending is the Santiago Network, which needs to be operationalized at COP27.

At the G7 conference in 2021 in Cornwall, Germany committed itself to increasing its annual international climate finance contribution to 6 billion Euro per year by 2025. A look at the draft budgets for 2022 and 2023, however, reveals that the necessary annual increases in current contributions for international climate finance are not in line with reaching this commitment. What is the impact industrialized nations failing to deliver on their commitments? Both for local affected communities and for the wider climate negotiations in general?

The lack of fulfilling commitments is a serious concern, especially if this is viewed from a Loss and Damage perspective. The current non-binding pledges in many instances represent loans that increase debt to developing countries. Yet, even these insufficient voluntary pledges of finance are not fulfilled by the Global North. Therefore, it erodes the trust that the Global South can have on the international climate regime as to offer real solutions.

Loss and Damage is a negative externality of the current carbon economy. Vulnerable communities pay for these externalities every day in terms of their well-being and lives, while developed countries reap the benefits. The cost of Loss and Damage is estimated to be many times over the current total pledges of climate finance. Therefore, when developed countries talk about humanitarian aid or insurance schemes based on pledges, these are not only perceived as unjust proposals but there is no concrete reason to believe that they will be implemented. Increased emissions and high scale Loss and Damage are tangible realities for communities across the Global South. This is why the Global South is focused on creating a mechanism that provides easy to access finance to rectify the harm cause to communities due to climate change.

Adrián Martínez Blanco is the Director and founder of La Ruta del Clima. He is also the Co-coordinator of the Climate Action Network – Loss and Damage Working Group and a researcher and PhD candidate at the University of Eastern Finland. He has a Masters in Environment, Development and Peace.

Based in Costa Rica, the NGO La Ruta del Clima has been engaged in international climate activism since 2014, when the founders of the organization decided that the general public in Latin America had a right to know how decisions about our climate were being made. The NGO was created with the purpose of strengthening public participation in climate action from a human rights-based approach in Latin America. La Ruta del Clima’s work has been focused on research, political advocacy and public awareness. Regarding the organization’s work on the, climate justice, responsibility and reparations are key political demands.