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The EU in Sharm-El-Sheikh: Good cop at a bad COP?

24. November 2022 - 14:00

©UNFCCC on Flickr

Early in the morning of Saturday 19 November 2022, Frans Timmermanns, the EU’s climate chief, appeared in front of the press at COP27 in Sharm-El-Sheikh with the 13 EU ministers still present. He had a clear message to convey: “All ministers, as they have told me — like myself — are prepared to walk away if we do not have a result that does justice to what the world is waiting for.“

The EU collectively decided to make this unorthodox intervention after the Egyptian presidency presented a draft of the cover decision that, in the EU’s view, would have been tantamount to forfeiting the 1.5-degree objective of the Paris Agreement. Timmermanns also announced that the EU had one final offer to make: it was willing to support the creation of a „Loss and Damage Fund“ which it had previously rejected, if this fund was targeted at the most vulnerable countries and if the base of contributors was broadened to include today’s big emitters and major oil- and gas-exporting countries like China and Saudi Arabia. The EU also called for more ambition when it comes to reducing emissions (with a peak of emissions in 2025) and expected all countries to stand by their commitment to a 1.5-degree pathway as agreed upon in the Glasgow Climate Pact at the previous COP. Yet, no country of the G77 & China group of developing countries openly declared its support for the EU’s position. On early Sunday morning, when the final decision was accepted by all parties, it was clear that the EU had only been moderately successful – perhaps because few would have expected the EU to have actually walked away.

The EU can however claim an important role in breaking the deadlock regarding Loss and Damage (L&D), in no small part due to Germany’s persuasion on the matter. Indeed, the co-chairing of the negotiations on L&D by Jennifer Morgan, State Secretary and Special Envoy for International Climate Action in the German Federal Foreign Office and her counterpart, the Chilean environment minister María Heloísa Rojas Corradi, proved conducive to a constructive outcome on this highly controversial agenda item. Ultimately, the Sharm-El-Sheikh cover decision includes the establishment of a L&D fund and a process to develop commensurate funding arrangements for supporting the most vulnerable countries to address the costs of extreme weather events caused by climate change, with details to be agreed on at COP28. This is a substantive result that was far from certain during negotiations. It is in itself a major success for developing countries and only became possible once the EU reconsidered its initial, year-long resistance to any such fund.

The L&D breakthrough was also the reason the EU decided against walking away from an otherwise sobering and underwhelming outcome of COP27. Notably the EU’s efforts to include a mitigation work programme that would tighten climate targets by industrialised countries with annual reviews by high-level government officials were in vain. Timmermanns openly addressed his disappointment and the EU’s inability to achieve more: „The EU has come here to make sure we agree on strong statements and we are disappointed that we have not been able to do that“. Yet, he also indicated the moral dilemma the EU was facing in not signing an agreement that included the L&D fund breakthrough for vulnerable countries. In a way, the EU thus found tables turned from the Glasgow COP when climate vulnerable developing countries had only grudgingly accepted a cover decision that appeared ambitious on mitigation, but lukewarm on adaptation and, crucially, without progress on L&D.

Could the EU have done more?

So the question remains if the EU could have done more. Or could it have engaged differently to achieve a more ambitious result of COP27, in particular with regards to reducing emissions or international climate finance? During the first week of the COP, the EU’s climate diplomacy was remarkably silent and was not yet present at Sharm-El-Sheik with a strong negotiating mandate or bold announcements of new initiatives. As the EU’s main climate representative, Timmermans was instead preoccupied with internal EU climate action negotiations during the first COP week, during which the EU made progress in increasing emissions reduction targets for member states (effort sharing) and legislation on carbon sinks. This, in theory, would allow the EU to increase its Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) from a 55% to a 57% reduction by 2030 compared to 1990. Timmermans presented this option of an update of the European NDC at the COP, yet this change to the EU’s NDC still has to go through a formalised process where the Commission proposes it to the member states, who would then have to adopt this change with a qualified majority. With a decision on that still open, the EU was hampered from fully capitalizing on actually ‘walking the talk’ in its decision-making.

It also didn’t help that the EU had no ‚fresh money‘ to offer with regards to climate finance, as a request by the European Parliament to dedicate 10% of the EU’s Emission Trading to international climate finance was rejected by the Council. The EU thus remained largely inward-looking and ‚reactive‘ at COP27, without strong ideas of how to globally become more ambitious with regards to limiting global greenhouse gas emissions and to living up to its self-proclaimed leadership aspirations on global climate governance. While India’s push to call for a „phase-out“ of all fossil fuels and not just coal in the cover decision failed to attract sufficient support, many observers did not perceive the EU as a leading voice among the 80 countries that supported building on the ambitions agreed in Glasgow.

Yet, it is also questionable how credible the EU can currently ‚sell‘ such a phase-out, in view of some member states’ ‚dash-for-gas‘ in other parts of the world, including Africa. European leaders portray energy diversification as an intermediate step to become less dependent on Russia while intensifying investments into renewable energies. Others blame the EU for double standards and hypocrisy given its push at COP26 to phase out fossil fuel-oriented external investment (including in Africa) while continuing to allow such investment within its own borders and for adopting a ‘taxonomy’ that risks facilitating greenwashing. On balance, the EU’s international credibility and role as a leader on climate has seen tremendous damage, when trust and credibility are key ingredients to forging alliances and mobilising support for positions.

Lessons for COP28 in Dubai – act first and demonstrate resolve to rebuild trust

Key lessons for the EU as it prepares for the next rounds of global climate negotiations, including COP28 in Dubai, is to act decisively in the months ahead, to enter the negotiations in good time and to demonstrate resolve on key issues, now including L&D. This requires the EU to dedicate more time and energy into its climate diplomacy and to live up to its announcements and pledges with commensurate resources politically, technically and, indeed, financially.

One can hardly accuse Timmermans for lack of passion and conviction. Yet, his portfolio in managing the European Green Deal’s implementation domestically while also representing the EU in global climate diplomacy may be too demanding a combination. German foreign minister Baerbock‘s decision to appoint a dedicated, high-profile State Secretary for climate diplomacy certainly helped in Germany’s global climate representation and visibility. Much the same could be said of John Kerry’s role as Special Presidential Envoy for Climate of the US State Department. The EU could consider a similar approach and nominate a senior political representative with the role of EU global climate envoy, who would still work under the leadership of Timmermanns but could dedicate more time and capacity into global climate diplomacy than Timmermanns actually can in his dual role. This mandate for EU climate diplomacy should include both the global representation of the EU and the ‘internal’ negotiations with the EU’s 27 member states to bolster the EU’s position and engagement in multilateral climate politics.

Either way, the EU with its forthcoming stance on the establishment of a dedicated L&D Fund has positioned itself to rebuild trust among developing countries. It will now need to follow up on this move with credible action and contributions to prepare and launch the process that settles the details of the prospective L&D fund and corresponding funding arrangements. Sustaining that momentum will require to swiftly operationalise the fund, ensure it has a broad financing base, and a significant financing volume to boot.

Moreover, and especially in the light of COP27’s blatant failure to deliver on an ambitious mitigation work package, new and additional alliances with countries willing ‚to do more‘ are also urgently needed. Just Energy Transition Partnerships, like the one recently agreed on with Indonesia, can be promising stepping stones, especially in the context of the G20. Broader alliances seem also feasible and could help to build international momentum for a phase-out of all fossil fuels, for instance in the context of the Climate Club initiative of the German G7 Presidency or a reinvigorated High Ambition Coalition among progressive Parties to the UNFCCC. Being seen to walk the talk with ambitious domestic reforms and the implementation of its European Green Deal should enable the EU to resume a leading role in such alliances and, indeed, global climate governance.

Der Beitrag The EU in Sharm-El-Sheikh: Good cop at a bad COP? erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

Zeitenwende – Investing in competencies for transnational cooperation

16. November 2022 - 14:00

Russia’s attack on Ukraine has put into sometimes sharp relief the different perspectives of inter- and transnational cooperation. The violation of the rules-based order after WWII caused shockwaves, specifically in Europe. Experiences of partners in, say, Africa or Asia with this international order historically differ from the European ones; consequently, even if we might share values, perspectives differ. While inter- and transnational cooperation is more needed than ever, cooperation takes place across deepened ideological rifts and conflicting material interests. This is a politically more complex world.

We thus need better structures for transnational knowledge cooperation and individuals who have the skills to navigate unchartered and sometimes choppy waters and address tensions in these difficult times. Training of actors is thus crucial, as a “Zeitenwende” is characterised by the absence of “business as usual”. Consequently, building and strengthening competencies of staff (and partners) to enable them to (re)act to and shape new and challenging situations matters largely for transnational cooperation.

Global challenges require global and transnational perspectives

Cooperation across borders is a precondition and basis for shaping solutions. Working on, say, climate change needs to combine knowledge (in the widest sense) from Europe, North America, China, India or Brazil as well as the participation of partners from most affected regions – Africa, South and Southeast Asia, the Pacific and the Arctic. The same logic applies for other crucial elements for societies’ progress, if not survival: international knowledge cooperation is needed in order to understand, analyse, research global challenges systemically and from different perspectives.

Cooperation takes place in a context. In order to be effective and policy-relevant, research will have to include actors beyond academia and think tanks – and engage in transdisciplinary work, co-shaping research agendas. At the same time, work on global solutions directed towards the global common good needs to be based on evidence rather than self-interest and ideology. We thus have to consider power asymmetries, globally and nationally.

Globally, agenda-setting powers differ – and are undergoing changes. Traditionally grants mostly were funded “from the North”, coming with its own challenges, as this was (and still is) substantially impacting on research agendas in regions in need of funding. The North-South divide is an almost tangible narrative. At the same time, Europe is no longer the only show in town: the attraction of alternative actors increases, and their abilities have substantially increased over the last years, too. A decoupling into groups or friends and foes is certainly not a desirable scenario. We cannot simply accept the establishment of “political camps”, but need exchanges across North-South divides, as we need to cooperate for shared understandings and contribute to the global common good. As an illustration: the like-minded G7 needs to build bridges to other actors, not least so in the context of a more “southernized” G20.

Furthermore, national power settings matter for cooperation. Think tanks in authoritarian settings have limited range of manoeuvre. While they do play an important role in providing technical expertise and helping to explain “the outside world’s discussions” to decision-makers, experts might not be able to express their points publicly or outright. Their tasks also include the “projection of the official (inside) view” to the outside. Consequently, cooperation, as much as it is needed, is thus not without tensions, both institutionally and from an individual’s perspective.  Bridges into difficult contexts are needed, and not least think tanks enable bridge-building, through dialogue and training activities.

Different sets of skills and competencies are required to navigate the more complex, multipolar world.

Training competencies for global cooperation – shifting emphasis

Training for professionals in global cooperation has to prepare early career participants for not only operating under these tensions, but to actively contribute to reducing them. First and foremost, tackling situations of high complexity and uncertainty under conditions of fragmentation demands a cooperative approach.

Training programmes need to go far beyond simply teaching “known facts” (and the question, what constitutes facts is an additional dimension for exchanges, anyhow). Knowledge is certainly necessary, i.e. the cognitive dimension of having information about facts, theories, procedures and being able to analyse and apply this information. Yet, competencies are much more. Based on knowledge, they include skills and attitudes. Skills are the ability to do something in practice such as applying a certain technique and using the appropriate tools in a given situation. And attitudes mean feelings and belief systems: in which way do we approach situations? Are we open-minded, risk-averse or experimental?

Cooperation competency is essential for overcoming fragmentation. It is required in order to reach a deeper understanding of different perspectives, thereby laying the ground for a joint analysis of problems and the creation of sustainable solutions. Key elements that nurture cooperation include skills such as active listening or being able to express own ideas and opinions in a clear and non-offensive way. Furthermore, communication competency is based on attitudes such as a learner’s mindset, believing that every perspective is important. In order to address and potentially overcome tensions, conflict management competencies are required, meaning a mix of self-awareness of own emotions (and what triggers them), the ability to manage emotional responses and to change perspectives by listening to differing opinions. Reflexivity is closely connected and refers to the ability to reflect on behaviour and values as well as the readiness to deconstruct established patterns of thinking and acting.

Exploring joint solutions in a more polarised, more uncertain world, however, also requires normative competencies in cooperative actors. Values are the ground we stand on in our positioning. Actors need to be aware of own values, to be able to express them and to identify and honestly discuss inconsistencies and tensions, be it within own value systems or with regards to partners’ values.  Particularly in difficult times and in spaces where actors from different contexts with potentially contentious perspectives interact, it is important to be able to engage in an open dialogue with each other. In the very least, lines of cooperation need to be maintained.

Zeitenwende: transformative competencies needed

And yet, in times of multiple fundamental crises and high urgency – a Zeitenwende – cooperation has to reach a different level altogether. It has to leave behind the policy paradigm of incremental adjustments in and optimisation of globalisation; cooperation needs to reach transformative quality. This is obviously also posing particular challenges to training.

We need to nurture creativity, an openness and willingness to explore new fields and to identify new ways of doing things in order to overcome business as usual. Actors need to sharpen their ability to take into account the interlinkages, side- and ripple effects of actions, drawing upon evidence. In brief: they need to analyse complex systems in a holistic way.  Closely connected to this, training programmes need to strengthen anticipatory thinking as the capacity to create visions of a desired future, as well as the ability to strategically develop pathways of change towards this desired future by seizing windows of opportunity, designing interventions, building alliances for change.

In a nutshell: We cannot assume that “we are all in the same boat”, even though we are all facing the same storm. Yet, in order to weather the storm, we need to strengthen our innovative and creative abilities – jointly, wherever possible.

Der Beitrag Zeitenwende – Investing in competencies for transnational cooperation erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.

The 2030 Agenda: It’s Governance

9. November 2022 - 14:00

© SDG Action Campaign on Flickr

In the last couple of years, the reassessment of the Sustainable Development Agenda has become more relevant. As the world enters a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, characterised by lower numbers of infections and deaths, the apparition of new variants of the virus, and considerable economic and social challenges, several issues have become more urgent. These include the adaptation capabilities and resilience that are required of societies in the face of social isolation and economic conversion policies; the realisation that mental health is as important as physical health; the wider inequalities affecting the young and women regarding poverty, lack of decent work, and the burden of childcare; the difficulties of ensuring access to technology; and the impact of these matters in our (changed) expectations on the State. These factors have emphasised that the Sustainable Development Agenda is ultimately a governance agenda, in the sense that they overcome the usual governability concerns with a focus that identifies interdependencies with non-governmental actors.

The post pandemic evaluation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) has produced a continuum of positions, ranging from the reiteration of the Goals as the blueprint and “compass” for “building forward better” , to the call for their substitution by a “post 2030 utopia”. As it is always the case with complex problems, the solution lies somewhere in the middle, developing sophisticated approaches that allow making the necessary adjustments without compromising the improvements already made.

Between two harmful extremes

The “middle approach” is typical of governance dynamics. By this I do not mean that SDGs are a good governance agenda – that is, one that focuses on voice and accountability, political stability and absence of violence, governmental effectiveness, regulatory quality, rule of law, and the control of corruption, as the World Bank Worldwide Governance Indicators propose. Rather governance in the sense that Sustainable Development requires the cooperation of governments, civil society, and private companies to deal with complex or wicked problems. In its most fundamental, governance is formed by the co-definition of shared goals and the inter-organisational and inter-sectoral processes to achieve them. It requires effective governments, but it goes beyond them, incorporating non-governmental actors that behave as stakeholders in the solution of common problems. It usually implies flexible arrangements, typically networks; but includes wider socio-political, institutional, and civic-culture frameworks that enable a common understanding of the problem, processes of co-construction of solutions, and rules of the game that maintain conflict at manageable levels.

Governance theories have been criticised for not being consolidated enough to offer effective analytical tools to actually solve problems; being one of the most important how to ensure cooperation among actors and coherence among objectives. The do-it-by-yourself definition of the national indicators for SDGs assumes, too easily, that all the actions conducted by public, social, and private actors will virtuously contribute to the solution of the problems behind the indicators.  Advancement in one SDG, however, does not necessarily ensure advancement in the rest of them, despite the argument posed by the United Nations regarding “the interlinkages and integrated nature of the Sustainable Development Goals”.Governance is not only “technical”; it requires a new style of leadership that recognises the political dimension of cooperation and policy coherence. The tensions between traditional rule of law solutions (mostly hierarchical, based on the implementation of conventionality control measures), on the one hand, and the more selective approach of SDGs (mostly horizontal, based on inter-organisational cooperation), on the other, offer a good example of the political nature of governance. Generating a more or less common approach to Sustainable Development requires a combination of traditional and new solutions, in a mix that varies according to context.

Towards the post-2030 Agenda

The governance approach to Sustainable Development recognises that, in spite of the possible measures and indicators that can be reached and adjusted with time, it remains a horizon that can never be completely fulfilled. In that sense, at least in a very fundamental dimension, SDGs will remain a project of multi-level governance with different co-existing conditions and speeds. By implication, Sustainable Development as governance entails the acknowledgement of the partial usefulness of governance literature to deal with complex problems, addressing the challenges of steering, the re-definition of new priorities among the SDGs in the post-pandemic world, the assignation of funds to those new priorities, and the discussion – again – on how to adjust the right indicators to empower public, social, and private actors as the different SDGs develop in space and time.

The future of a post-pandemic 2030 Agenda might require a reclassification of priorities, the effective increase in coordination capabilities, and fostering cooperation in the lines described here. This, in turn, calls for the rethinking of the integrated nature of SDGs that assumes that the 17 Goals are equally important, in all places, all the time.

Der Beitrag The 2030 Agenda: It’s Governance erschien zuerst auf International Development Blog.