What Does an Inclusive Global Stocktake Look Like for Civil Society?
The Global Stocktake (GST) is the heart of the Paris Agreement's ambition mechanism—an iterative process to increase climate action by all countries by periodically reviewing how well current efforts are doing in achieving the treaty's objectives. The GST's output can then help countries collectively assess and understand what more needs to be done to protect people and ecosystems from the impacts of climate change. To achieve this goal successfully, the inclusion of civil society representatives in the GST is crucial.
Over the past three decades, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes have constructed a culture of negotiation and exchange between parties (countries that have signed on to the Convention). This “party-driven” approach leaves very little room for civil society to engage meaningfully beyond observing the meetings. The GST process, however, follows a more flexible and participatory approach. As we reach the halfway point of the GST's preparation phase, we looked at whether the vision for an inclusive GST set out in the Paris Agreement is turning into a reality and how it could go further to ensure a successful outcome at the 28th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 28) and beyond.
The Global Stocktake: Co-designing for success
The GST has incorporated an innovative approach to civil society inclusion. In addition to civil society representatives' usual role as observers, they had the option of being the co-designers of the process and made the process more inclusive by encouraging participation beyond the UNFCCC parties. For instance, anyone who wishes to submit data and reports to the GST is welcome to do so via the GST submission portal. Additionally, Technical Dialogues (TDs)—a core activity of the 2-year GST process that includes a series of round table dialogues and workshops—are open to civil society experts who are facilitating, driving, and contributing to the conversation. This “co-designing” process is new to the UNFCCC, and while some aspects could be improved, there is already evidence of success so far.
First, during the first submission phase (February 2022), over 68 non-state actors submitted their inputs to the GST process, in addition to three groups of parties and 10 individual parties. At COP 27, we will also see many civil society organizations' non-written inputs, such as posters, videos, and other innovative formats, at the GST Creative Space. This demonstrates civil society actors' interests and commitments to ensuring the GST output is comprehensive and reflects diverse views. To make these submissions even more inclusive, however, there needs to be a greater focus on accessibility—such as accepting more languages for input submissions or offering support for translation—as the process only accepts English-language submissions at the moment.
Second, the World Café format of discussions during the TD was a real success. Despite the lack of space and time, many civil society representatives could talk with parties at the same table in an open setting, which ignited frank and constructive exchanges between actors who usually do not have the opportunity to have these conversations. During the closing plenary of the first TD in June 2022, parties and non-state actors underlined how much they appreciated such a format and wished to see it continue in the future. The TD round tables, however, remained formal, and interventions were still largely based on pre-prepared statements. Observers also noted that the speakers at the roundtables were not very diverse in terms of age, gender, and social or cultural background.
Third, the summary report of the first TD integrates many views and recommendations from civil society, which demonstrates the value of these inputs. These inputs include the need to scale up climate finance, especially for adaptation and loss and damage; the just and equitable phase-out of fossil fuels around the world; the protection of ecosystems and human rights; and the imperative of calling out greenwashing and considering equity in climate action. The summary report could be clearer in terms of capturing the dynamics in the room and providing more nuanced observations rather than simple synthesizing, but this report remains innovative and novel for an official UNFCCC document.
The last point to consider is the inclusion of non-state actors beyond the UNFCCC, which has the potential to offer new perspectives, insights, and critical questions. It is important to reflect the diversity of society in the TD room and to listen to all of the voices at the table. Yet, it is also important to remember that non-state experts should be chosen in alignment with the priorities of the Paris Agreement, and the GST should not become another place for greenwashing and commercial promotion.
Why is Civil Society Inclusion a Key Success Factor for the Global Stocktake?
As the UNFCCC moves from negotiation to the implementation phase of the Paris Agreement, the inclusive engagement and participation of all relevant stakeholders are key to realizing the visions set out at the 2015 Paris Climate Change Conference. In that context, the modalities of participation must change.
Civil society groups have played an important role in shaping the Paris Agreement and its subsequent negotiations since COP 21. As such, non-state actors, especially civil society and representatives of the most impacted populations, such as women, Indigenous peoples, youth, and people living with disabilities, are also key partners in implementing the Paris Agreement. The agreement will not succeed without national and subnational implementation, and local-level actions will not happen without the expertise, knowledge, mobilization power, and leadership demonstrated by civil society and grassroots groups.
Thus, the GST cannot happen without robust and meaningful civil society representation at the table. Here are three reasons why:
- They are essential for taking stock of global climate action. Civil society and community leaders are working at the local level—most of the time, with grassroots organizations and communities directly. They have unique perspectives and experiences with the progress and gaps that people are still facing to mitigate, adapt, and recover from climate change impacts.
- They are indispensable partners for implementing improved climate action plans after the GST. Civil society will inevitably be involved in the planning and implementation of the next round of nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). They have the strongest connections for channelling political decisions into concrete measures and projects that benefit people, biodiversity, and the climate.
- They are drivers of political visions and momentum for change. Involving civil society in the design of the GST allows for incorporating their ideas and perspectives on how the process should take place, how the outcomes should look, and how to enhance the integration of global climate ambition. The broad participation of civil society groups legitimizes the process and the outputs of the GST. In addition, civil society representatives have the potential to call for more ambitious outcomes from the GST by moving needles from planning to implementation and supporting parties in implementing their climate policies at home. Thus, the output of the GST should consider recommendations from civil society stakeholders and correspond to their needs, and as these discussions continue, civil society must be consulted and heard.
COP 27, and Then What?
The GST is the first UNFCCC process to propose a new way of working together. The critical phase of the GST will continue at COP 27, including at the second TD, which will take place in Egypt. Additionally, political planning for the GST should start at COP 27 and feature the meaningful engagement of and contributions from civil society representatives. This will ensure ample time to produce a strong decision text with political support and a common vision for the 2023 GST outcomes, led by the current Egyptian and the incoming Emirati COP presidencies. These two processes—the second TD and the political discussions on a GST output—for COP 27 should be prepared with civil society and observers to ensure their effectiveness, legitimacy, and relevance.
The GST should not be the only process where steps are taken to adequately include civil society. It could instead be a starting point for reflection concerning the whole governance of the UNFCCC. Between COP 27 and 28, the secretariat, supported by parties and all UNFCCC civil society constituencies, should undertake a stocktake of the progress and challenges of civil society inclusion and participation with the creation of a task force. With insights from both the GST process and from the task force's review, COP 28 will be a key moment to formalize a process to pursue a number of reforms to the way people can participate and engage in UNFCCC processes.
The photo used in the banner image for this article is from the Bonn Climate Conference in June 2022 and was taken by IISD/ENB's Kiara Worth.
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