An open letter to the UN Secretary General and COP Executive Secretary
Reform of the COP process – a manifesto for moving from negotiations to delivery
With all essential components of the global climate agreement now finalised post-COP27, the United Nations needs to shift gear and focus all efforts on the delivery of global goals and commitments in the lead-up to 2050. Successful delivery requires an urgent reform of the COP process. We, the undersigned, are committed to creating a sustainable, healthy, just and equitable Earth for All and we stand ready to support the United Nations in future-proofing the COP summits to close the gap between science and action, preventing current crises delaying progress and enabling the safe landing of global climate commitments.
All the essential legally binding documents and guiding declarations committing the world to holding global warming below 2°C and aiming for 1.5°C are in place. It has taken 7 years since the 2015 signing of the Paris Agreement to finalise all components of the agreement, including Article 6 on carbon trading and loss and damage funding.
The consensus-based COP structure is predisposed to incremental progress – it took 6 years from Copenhagen/COP15 to Paris/COP21, and then another 6 years to Glasgow/COP26 for progress on Article 6, and 7 years from Paris/COP21 to Sharm El-Sheikh/COP27 for progress on loss and damage. Meanwhile, global emissions and temperatures continue to rise, and climate extremes are occurring more frequently and with more severity than expected.
This lethargic progress is at odds with climate science and real-world climate damage and risks, which show that the only way to come close to holding the 1.5°C limit, is to cut global emissions by approximately 50% by 2030, and continue to cut emissions by 50% per decade, to reach a net-zero world economy by 2050-2060. Similarly, it is in contradiction with the Breakthrough Agenda curating policy and financial commitments by 45 State and non-State sectoral actors (carbon intensive industries) for net zero targets.
We are now faced with a dramatic and unacceptable mismatch, confirmed by the UNEP Gap reports, between what COP needs to accomplish, and the inertia that it consolidates amongst Parties.
From a climate action perspective, it is completely disconnected from scientific necessity, and the growth of new zero-carbon energy markets and solutions at affordable prices, to not even be able to reach consensus that the world needs to start “phasing out fossil fuels”. A consensus that once again could be beyond our grasp at future COPs if fossil energy interests are prioritised over the Paris Agreement goals.
A planetary emergency has been declared by United Nations Secretary General António Guterres as well as national and local leaders across the globe. However, governments faced with the compound effects of the COVID pandemic, climate change and conflict are using related economic impacts and inflationary effects to dampen climate ambition and delay action for a just global transition.
After 27 COP summits, the negotiation of all essential components of the global climate agreement has been finalised, all efforts must now be focused on one thing, delivery to enable a safe climate landing for humanity on Earth and ensure that current crises do not delay progress and further exacerbate the disconnect between science and action.
Successful delivery requires a reform of the COP process – focused on transforming the COP meetings from closed negotiations of annual statements and “accord” documents and legal text, to becoming multistakeholder platforms for delivery, accountability, finance, and exchange of experience/lessons.
It requires that the United Nations re-adjust the current COP process to reflect the need for urgency and put in place a structure that ensures and enables continued ambition, delivery and accountability of COP decisions during this time of growing complexity and poly-crisis.
Shifting the focus from agreeing on goals to achieving them should be complemented by increasing the momentum on policy action, for example, by establishing a clear troika of action and decision-making between Presidencies, i.e., those incoming, outgoing and in-position as well as more frequent inter-session meetings (3-4 per annum) to resolve key agenda points ahead of COP. This in turn would necessitate greater clarity in the relative responsibilities of both the United Nations and COP Presidencies to steward successful negotiations and guarantee that state and non-state actors alike can engage in a safe and trusted environment.
According to the UNFCCC the core objective of the COP gatherings is to avoid dangerous climate change by delivering the Paris Agreement, which implies:
- accelerating and scaling transformations to 50% global emission reductions by 2030 and following transformation pathways towards a fossil-fuel free world by 2050, by phasing out fossil energy and eliminating fossil energy subsidies, and reduce to a minimum, all other greenhouse gas.
- transforming the global food system from source to sink, promoting regenerative agricultural practices, and safeguarding all nature carbon stocks and sinks.
- starting to scale negative emissions through carbon capture and storage and carbon dioxide removal.
- building climate resilience to unavoidable climate change.
- compensating for loss and damage.
- finally setting up the mechanism to transfer 100 USD billion to the world’s most vulnerable governments immediately (current mechanisms are insufficient).
To accomplish this, the following major pillars urgently need to be put (back) to the centre of the COP process for the world to have a chance at delivering the Paris Agreement:
- knowledge exchange and technology co-development
- aligning mitigation plans with science
- accountability through measurement, reporting and verification.
These six pillars in practice should be reconfigured with smaller annual COP meetings complemented by more frequent intersessional meetings which focus on targeted deliverables whilst ensuring a broad base of multistakeholder involvement. These would replace the current separation of negotiations and climate action showcased in civil society side events and delegation pavilions. Multistakeholder dialogue is at the heart of an inclusive process. COP meetings would benefit from a structured and legitimised role of non-state actors, including civil society organisations, businesses, and indigenous peoples as guardians of the Earth, to ensure access to the political process and proper representation during negotiations.
A further de-composition of the pillars may be warranted, for example delivery themes structured around (1) coal, (2) oil, (3) gas, (4) forests, with sub-themes on fossil-fuel phase-out plans and subsidy reductions, carbon pricing, investment schemes.
In a reformed COP, science, both social and natural sciences across WG1-WG3), should be integrated into the formal program (plenary sessions) in a prominent way; all country delegations should be updated with the latest science on climate risks, impacts, adaptative capacity, economics, governance, equity, health, scalable solutions and scenarios.
The United Nations Gap Reports, and the Global Carbon Project reporting can be used to benchmark all national delivery reporting, so that all countries are held accountable for following mitigation pathways that align with scientific necessity.
Multilateral banks and financial institutions, currently at the forefront of proposing new financial architecture around resilience, sustainability, debt restructuring, and special drawing rights – in line with the UN Secretary General’s call for a New Global Deal, should be given a central role in the working sessions of the COP meetings to match mitigation and adaptation plans with public sector funding – thereby shifting from pledges to tangible workplans and concrete delivery mechanisms.
In designing these workplans and delivery mechanisms, the process should account for regional differences in transition pathways and implementation capacity to ensure a just global transition. Parties to the process do not have equal access to data, technology, and financial resources. The reform process offers a unique opportunity to reframe international collaboration and partnerships.
The COP meetings can take different formats to deliver the objective of accelerating implementation whilst avoiding re-negotiation.
The most transformative step would be to completely abandon the current structure with different zones separated from the negotiations, and instead drastically reduce the size of the COP meetings and repurpose them into reporting, accounting and working sessions, with representatives of all stakeholder groups in one or several gatherings across the globe that deliver results. This restructuring would place increased importance on internal conversations and in-between working meetings. Regular climate change negotiations among key United Nations agencies (i.e., UNCCD, UNFCCC, UNDP, UNEP and the CBD Secretariat) focused on implementation could facilitate the process.
A focus on implementation and delivery does not negate the importance of stakeholder engagement more broadly. Facilitating multistakeholder dialogue and ensuring equal representation of all stakeholders and transparent access to the political process should be core elements of the reform process, as mentioned above. Side events and other action-related events could be hosted during Regional Climate Weeks and other key, external-facing, moments throughout the year to ensure they add rather than distract from the formal negotiation process. Alternatively, a restructured COP process could take on a hybrid format, for example the COP meeting could take the form of a large summit focused on externally directed events and showcasing solutions and progress in action by different ‘climate champions’ every third year; negotiators could meet in Bonn for final sign-off on previously negotiated working documents during the other years to ensure continued momentum building for the negotiations. Ultimately, the goal of these external-facing efforts would be to ensure the right feedback loops between all relevant stakeholders – governments, private sector, civil society, youth, and indigenous voices – to feed ideas and suggestions into the negotiations to ensure we meet the climate goals set in Paris over a decade ago.
A global modelling and projection mechanism for real time calculation of temperature implications of status at the reformed COP summits should be established (daily reporting of how far away from 1.5°C the world is).
Lists of Nation State alignment with 1.5°C should be published by the UNFCCC secretariat and publicly displayed at all COP meetings to highlight which countries are truly progressing.
All country and multilateral climate actions should include focus on all mitigation wedges:
- phase out of fossil-fuels
- food system transformation
- safeguard carbon stocks and sink capacity in intact nature
- build carbon stocks and sinks in managed nature (afforestation, restoring nature
- adopt nature-based solutions
- scale negative emission technologies (CCS/BECCS/CDR/DAC).
As well as on adaptation/resilience, finance/equity, and loss and damage compensation.
And, finally, Nationally Determined Contribution upgrades should be celebrated.
To meet our 1.5°C world, we can no longer waste time in never-ending negotiations that risk backtracking rather than delivering the 1.5°C goal. To focus on delivery, the United Nations must now ensure that COP negotiations are structured for success. This will require a major step change from the current format to guarantee equality and diversity in representation; the safety and human rights of all State and non-State delegates; and a safe and trusted atmosphere for exchange.
We, the undersigned, urge the United Nations to put delivery at the heart of the COP summits and stand committed to aid and support such reform process to ensure a sustainable, equitable, healthy Earth for All.
Prof. Dr. Johan Rockström (Director of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research)
Sandrine Dixson-Declève (Co-President of the Club of Rome)
Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland & UN Special Envoy on Climate Change)
Ban Ki-moon (former Secretary General of the United Nations)
Prof. Laurence Tubiana (Former Climate Change Ambassador for France & Special Representative for COP21 and COP22 UN High-Level Champion for Climate Change)
Prof. Dr. Saleemul Huq (Director International Centre for Climate Change and Development)
Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim (Founder of the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad)
Dr. Carlos Nobre (Member of the Joint Steering Committee of the World Climate Research Programme & the Rockfeller Foundation Economic Council on Planetary Health)
Dr. Arunabha Ghosh (CEO of Council on Energy, Environment and Water)
Sharan Burrow (former General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation)
Sheela Patel (Director of the Society for Promotion of Area Resource Centres & Global Ambassador for the Race to Zero and Race to Resilience)
Marie-Claire Graf (Co-Founder of the Youth Negotiators Academy & YOUNGO Focal Point COP26)
Bertrand Piccard (President, Solar Impulse Foundation)
Luc Bas (Vice-Chair for Europe, IUCN Commission on Environmental, Economic and Social Policy)
Dr. Gunhild Stordalen (Founder & Executive Chair, EAT)
Oded Grajew (Founder, Abrinq Foundation for Children’s Rights, Rede Nossa São Paulo, co-founder of the World Social Forum, the former president of the Ethos Institute for Business and Social Responsibility)
Marc Buckley (Founder ALOHAS Regenerative Foundation, Ambassador UN HS4A & WAAS)
Peter Emerson (Director, The de Borda Institute) – recommendation to switch from binary voting to Borda count with highest average preferential voting
Prof. Dr. Antonio Sarmiento-Galán (Instituto de Matemáticas, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México)
Martin Venzky-Stalling (Senior Advisor, Chiang Mai University Science & Technology Park)
Peter Friberg (Professor of Public Health, Gothenburg University)
Manuel Guzmán Hennessey (Director General, KLIMAFORUM LATINOAMÉRICA NETWORK KLN)
Luiz Marques (Senior Professor, the State University of Campinas, Ilum School of Science of the National Center for Research in Energy and Materials Brazil)
Gabriela Castellano (Associate Professor, the State University of Campinas, Brazilian Institute of Neuroscience and Neurotechnology – BRAINN)
Emília Wanda Rutkowski (Assistant Professor, FLUXUS/FECFAU/UNICAMP)