To connect people to climate action and deliver real-world, sustainable benefits, the UN’s key climate conference should be reoriented to focus on local projects and innovations, a leading Kenyan communications specialist argues in a comment piece published by Forbes Sustainability.

Despite the media attention given to November’s COP26, the summit failed to secure binding commitments on emissions reductions from the most polluting nations. Additionally, wealthy nations again postponed establishing a $100 billion-per-year fund to support climate action in the developing world. Campaigners such as Greta Thunberg argued that the COP was nothing more than a “Global North greenwash festival”—simply a public relations exercise to make rich nations feel good about themselves, while doing little to solve the climate crisis.

Many have been left asking the question: how can the COP meetings be made to achieve actual change?

In the comment piece that follows, Ng’Endo Machua writes that, instead of giving center stage to abstract talks between diplomats and politicians, the COP climate summit should promote on-the-ground sustainability projects connected to people’s daily lives. This, she says, would be a more effective way to make climate action relevant and immediate to wider audiences, and pay dividends in the form of community investment and verifiable emissions reductions.

Realign COP Messaging To Focus On Local Projects And Innovations

This year, around November, the world will be gathering in Cairo, Egypt, for the 27th UN Climate Change Conference (COP27). The COP, which brings together leaders from across the globe for deliberation on issues around climate change, has for over two-and-a-half decades helped foster dialogue and debate on areas of priority for climate adaptation and mitigation.

Ng'Endo Machua stands before a backdrop of dense forest in Kenya.
Kenyan communications specialist, writer and podcaster Ng’Endo Machua. NG’ENDO MACHUA

Yet even today, the vast majority of people the world are unaware of what the COP entails, beyond the glamour that accompanies the two-week summit. This is because the communication activities around its year-long implementation are mainly focused on high-profile meetings between planning teams, governments and other leading organizations. Very limited attention is given to success stories that come about as responses to previous COP resolutions, or to the objectives of upcoming COPs.

But there is now an opportunity for change, with discussions at COP26 having emphasized the need to enhance the reporting of climate change initiatives with respect to their contributions to greenhouse gas reduction.

Already, there are numerous brilliant projects and innovations out there that can serve as evidence of steps towards carbon neutrality. These should be celebrated within the COPs’ messaging programs, for reasons that will be outlined below.

In Kenya, for example, organizations such as AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) and the IKEA Foundation have implemented several agro-ecology projects [PDF] that have led to the dramatic restoration of deforested lands. In the country’s western region, about 6,000 hectares of degraded tropical rainforest land have been reclaimed, contributing immensely to the restoration of their carbon sequestration capacity.

Similar success stories have been reported in the country’s central region, where the promotion of regenerative agriculture has resulted in the uptake of farming strategies that cause less damage to the environment. Such innovative investments, unfortunately, seldom make it to the COP showcase as scalable pilots, because the global convention has for a long time been arranged so as to disproportionately promote high-profile dialogue.

Having the COP’s messaging celebrate ongoing activities around climate change mitigation and adaptation would be a good way of creating and validating a database of programs that can be properly financed for scaling. Indeed, at COP26, wealthier countries committed to continue financing their poorer counterparts in adaptation. This is part of the yet-to-be-met goal of channeling $100 billion a year to developing nations by 2020, helping them adapt to climate change and mitigate further rises in temperature.

The pledge could, however, be more quickly achieved if the financiers had specific projects to fund—an arrangement that would also help to improve accounting processes for climate financing, a challenge that was recently highlighted by the same people who negotiated the pledge 12 years ago in Copenhagen.

Meanwhile, the onus is now on governments, the private sector, youth, observers and civil society in developing countries to step up and promote activities in their regions as a way of garnering the attention of COP decision makers.

The messaging from these interest groups should be that impactful projects, which offer the best chance to slow the pace of climate change, are already taking off locally, and with proper support could fast track the 2015 Paris agreement goal of restricting global warming to “well below” 2 degrees Celsius, if not 1.5 degrees.

Ng’Endo Machua is a communications specialist from Kenya, specializing in food systems and climate change. She can be found on Twitter @ngendo87.

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