The Scottish Parliament on the world stage – report from Day 2 of the GLOBE Legislators’ Summit

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COP26 is taking place in Glasgow from 1-12 November 2021. For a background on what a United Nations COP is, see our blog on a brief history, or our SPICe briefing for a longer version, and our SPICe hub for material on COP26.

GLOBE and the Scottish Parliament are hosting the GLOBE International Legislators’ Summit on 5-6 November. GLOBE has hosted a legislators’ summit in connection with each COP. These allow parliamentarians from across the political spectrum and democratic institutions to engage in the COP process, which otherwise sees the negotiations carried out by governments, rather than parliaments.

SPICe has published an overview of the role of GLOBE and a summary of key issues considered during the first day of the Summit.

Day 2 of the Summit began with an update from Ahmad Nader Nadery, former peace negotiator and Chair, Civil Service Commission, Afghanistan – the only input from Afghanistan into the COP26 process.  Mr Nadery outlined the extreme vulnerability of Afghanistan to the effects of climate change, including the growing impact of drought and flooding on agriculture, which is essential for both feeding the population and employment in rural areas. He argued that these impacts fall disproportionately on women and children and can help drive young men, who would have worked in agriculture, towards armed groups or to begin poppy cultivation for organised crime groups.  He also raised concerns that increasing water shortages could potentially lead to conflict, particularly between countries which are reliant on water from cross-boundary river systems. 

Mr Nadery specifically asked that international agencies and donor countries earmark funds to deal with climate change mitigation and, given the current political situation, to find ways to support local institutions to act. 

This was followed by a keynote address from Dr David Cooper, Deputy Executive Secretary, UN Convention on Biological Diversity.  Dr Cooper highlighted that the climate change and biodiversity crises are intimately intertwined and should be considered together – mentioning the importance of “ecological literacy” in the drafting of climate change plans, decision making and the setting of budgets.

Dr Cooper briefly outlined the links between COP15: UN Biodiversity Conference and COP26, highlighting the importance of ecosystem management in climate action, giving the example of restoration of peatlands in Scotland.  

Dr Cooper also outlined his thinking on the role of parliamentarians in tackling the climate and biodiversity crises, setting out the following principles:

  1. Parliamentarians should advocate for strong and effective action plans to tackle the biodiversity and climate crises, with a strong focus delivery.
  2. Ensure these action plans translate global targets into national goals, while maintaining a consistent approach between countries.
  3. Approve legislation required to implement these action plans.
  4. Ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to the implementation of action plans.
  5. Develop transparent monitoring frameworks and review processes.

Dr Cooper ended by highlighting the need to share knowledge and experience between legislatures and governments. He mentioned the importance of parliamentarians and legislatures in championing climate change and biodiversity issues across communities, holding governments to account, and ensuring that action is taken within this decade.

Next followed a panel session looking at the role of environmental democracy in delivering action, which had three contributions.

Deputy Loren Legarda, Deputy Speaker, House of Representatives, Philippines Parliament outlined legislative and budgetary progress on climate issues made in the Philippines since 2009.  Deputy Legarda emphasised the importance of parliamentarians providing oversight and challenge to Government, particularly ensuring that budget allocations support stated policy priorities.  She emphasised the value in spending today to avoid higher costs in future, an approach that would be supported by a switch from considering Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to a wider “natural capital” approach.

Deputy Maia Bitadze, Chair, Environmental Protection Committee, Georgian Parliament echoed Deputy Legarda’s call for a shift from a narrow focus on GDP to a consideration of the impact of climate on humans and wider economy. She also argued that there is a need for action today and not just plans for future. She went on to highlight the right of people to be involved in decisions about economic development and the need to enshrine these rights in national legislation and policy, with parliamentarians providing oversight of the implementation of such rights.

Prof. Christine Loh Kung-wai, former Hong Kong Legislative Councillor emphasised the scale of carbon emissions produced in Asia, India and China accounting for 33% of world carbon between them. However, she emphasised that there are huge differences in the stage of development and emission levels between Asian nations.

Prof. Loh Kung-wai argued that real environmental democracy involves the equitable distribution of resources between nations, with a focus on providing poorer areas with basic necessities – energy, water and nutrition. It is important to acknowledge that while the developing world is home to the majority of the world’s population, its economy and associated greenhouse gas emissions are dwarfed by the developed world. She argued that there is too much finger pointing in our climate politics, which actually hinders progress. Prof Loh Kung-wai argued that parliamentarians, as representatives of the people, can help shape national and international dialogue, with a view to encouraging the major players to cooperate on decarbonisation – including sharing technology and funding.

There followed a session on “the new climate litigation landscape and legal innovations”, with four contributions.

Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, Supreme Court of Brazil; Convener, World Commission on Environmental Law outlined three shared challenges facing legislators and judges on the issue of climate justice.

  1. There are no case law or legislative precedents,
  2. There is a risk of adopting the wrong approach when dealing with any emergency at speed,
  3. Climate justice does not apply to a particular jurisdiction or constituency, but the entire biosphere

In considering matters of climate justice, it is important for legislators and judges to think beyond the issue immediately before them and to consider the common good, compliance with legislation/judgements and enforcement.

Jojo Mehta, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Stop Ecocide outlined action being taken to develop a framework for legislation to outlaw ecocide, defined as “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.”

The intention being to create a crime of endangerment, not actual harm, which would help prevent environmental harm before it happens. The issue is under active consideration by a number of states, who could begin the process of ratification within four or five years, time required to prepare for implementation.

Tzeporah Berman, Chair, Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative highlighted that the focus of climate legislation to date has been on limiting greenhouse gas emissions, rather than managing the extraction of coal, oil and gas.  She argued that this has created a situation where the amount of fossil fuels being extracted would produce emissions far exceeding those required to keep temperature increases within the 1.5-2 degree level.  A fossil fuel non-proliferation treaty would manage the stabilisation and wind-down of coal, oil and gas extraction, providing a basis for reducing demand through legislative and budgetary action, while providing an framework for a just transition   

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, Supreme Court of Pakistan echoed many of the themes raised by Justice Antonio Herman Benjamin, highlighting the movement from the locally focused “polluter pays” principle to a broader consideration of global issues, with a particular focus on human rights.

Justice Shah confirmed that primary responsibility for tackling climate change rests with government and legislature.  However, an impartial and independent judiciary has a role to play in upholding the rights of current and future generations to benefit from a safe, liveable environment.

The final keynote address was then given by Tanguy Gahouma-Bekale, COP26 Chair of the African Group of Negotiators (Gabon) on how COP26 can shape the future. Mr Gahouma-Bekale set out four key “ingredients” for a successful Glasgow COP.  These were:

  1. Science: There is unanimous agreement on the science of climate change, evidenced by the UN Secretary General declaring a code red for humanity following the publication of the IPCC sixth assessment report.
  2. Adaptation: While adaptation plans are being developed and funding allocated, these are not based on a firm understanding of need.  COP26 needs to begin work on assessing adaptation needs, associated funding requirements, and how best to track progress and assess impact
  3. Mitigation: Current mitigation plans are based on meeting the1.5 degree temperature rise target, which may be inadequate, particularly given the greater temperature rise already being experienced in some areas, including islands communities and parts of Africa. The $100bn annual funding for mitigation agreed at the Copenhagen COP is a a political commitment and not based on science. Work needs to begin on an evidence based assessment of need, which could be in the region of 10 times the commitment.
  4. Finance: As outlined above, while more finance is required from both the public and private sector there also needs to be a greater understanding of funding needs.

Mr Gahouma-Bekale concluded by highlighting the need for more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions, which are directly linked to climate science, targets and the implementation of the Paris agreement.  There also needs to be transparent national and international reporting mechanisms allowing progress to be tracked, so policies and funding can be altered as appropriate.

The final panel session focused on accelerating momentum for a just transition, building back better, multi-level governance and Non-State Action, with contributions from four speakers.

Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of UN Secretary General, UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) highlighted the overarchjing link between climate change andextreme weather events, weak governance, poverty, eco system destruction, land use and pandemics. She also explained that the least developed countries are poorest placed to recover from disasters, while outlining the return on investment in climate risk resilience with every dollar invested saves $15 in disaster recovery. Ms Mizutori also mentioned the Disaster Risk Reduction to achieve the Sustainable Development toolkit for parliamentarians produced by the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and ended by calling for a strong focus on prevention in any COP26 accord.

Deputy Viviane da Costa Reis, Member of Chamber of Deputies, Brazilian Parliament began by emphasising that climate change dialogue is not the preserve of exclusive climate conferences and should extend to communities across the globe. She raised concerns about the implementation of any COP26 agreement in Brazil, as she felt the President of the Federative Republic of Brazil was pursuing a policy programme that favoured business interests over those of local and indigenous communities and the needs of the Amazonian ecosystem. Deputy Reis argued that international project financing should be linked to the needs of indigenous communities and grass roots movements as this was integral to the fight against ecocide in Brazil.

Elizabeth Lee MLA, Shadow Minister for Climate Action and Environment, Australian Capital Territory outlined the environmental extremes found across Australia and the “world leading” greenhouse gas emission reduction targets set by the government of the Australian Capital Territory. Ms Lee set out a number of steps she considered necessary to ensure that efforts to recover from the coronavirus pandemic do not produce negative climate impacts:

  1. Review the climate impact of national recovery plans.
  2. Review the climate impact of support for developing countries
  3. Built climate thinking into any recovery programme – including new structures and systems
  4. Transition between the pandemic and the “new normal”, including a focus on policy commitments, decarbonisation, and wellbeing.
  5. Work to ensure the long term sustainability of interventions.

Tunç Soyer, Mayor of Izmir, Turkey; Climate Action Co-Chair, ICLEI discussed the role of culture in tackling climate issues.  He argued that a new perspective is required by decision makers, one which includes and values nature, where humanity acts to co-exist with nature rather than to dominate it.  This would need a change in our approach to human rights, with a greater emphasis on ecosystem preservation – acknowledging that a thriving ecosystem is essential to our right to life. Any such approach should be based on four “pillars”, these are:

  1. Harmony with nature
  2. Harmony with our past
  3. Harmony with each other
  4. Harmony with change

Mr Soyer hoped that any eventual COP26 outcome would acknowledge the importance of such an approach, which he described as a “circular culture” – broadly in line with the idea of a “circular economy” and that this would be fully embraced by legislatures and governments of all levels, with essential input from communities.

The day ended with a short summary from Juan Carlos Villalonga, President, GLOBE International who stressed the need for high quality parliamentary scrutiny of proposed Government action, the need for regular monitoring of progress and the need to listen to and involve all sections of society in decision making on climate issues as opposed to any dialogue being dominated by industrial, political and corporate interests.

Alan Rehfisch, Senior Researcher