Zero-zero, dolphins and conversations for change

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11 December 2014

IIED director Camilla Toulmin reflects on her trip to Lima for the COP20 Development and Climate Days.

IIED director Camilla Toulmin enjoys the 12th D&C Days event at COP20 in Lima, Peru (Photo; Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre)

On arrival in Lima last week, I realised I hadn't been to a climate Conference of the Parties since Copenhagen in 2009. The sense of frustration at how little we had achieved five years ago had discouraged me. But the atmosphere in Lima was much more positive. 

It started as soon as I landed, thanks to my taxi driver who took me along the ocean to avoid the traffic. As we sped along, a school of dolphins leapt through the water, playing in the waves, just a short distance from the shore.

Targeting zero-zero

I was mainly at our Development and Climate Days (D&C Days) – put on by IIED and partners (Red Cross Red Crescent Climate CentreOverseas Development Institute (ODI), and Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)) every year during the middle weekend of COP. The theme had a catchy title, "zerozero", which resonated well, and focused discussions on getting to zero within a generation – zero extreme poverty by 2030, and zero net emissions by 2050.

So, where does "zero-zero" come from and how might it be achieved? Governments agreed in 2009 to set 2⁰C as the maximum figure for the global temperature increase, a target that requires world carbon emissions to peak before 2030, and reduce rapidly thereafter.

The sooner we can phase out greenhouse gas emissions, the more likely it is that global temperatures stay below 2⁰C, and we limit the risk of severe and irreversible impacts on people and ecosystems. So the goal of zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 offers the hope of a sustainable planet.

Zero extreme poverty by 2030 is a promise to complete the task established by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). If zero net emissions are to be achieved in a fair way, justice demands that we help poor countries and communities achieve low carbon prosperity, and build livelihoods that are more resilient to climate risk.

A team effort

Whenever I go to the UN or other big events – such as D&C Days, CBA (our annual workshop on community-based adaptation) or Rio – I am struck by the huge respect and admiration in which IIED colleagues are held. This is especially true of our very own senior fellow Saleemul Huq, who hasn't missed a single COP, and set up the first D&C Days in New Delhi in 2002.

But there is also a wonderful team from the climate change group, communications, natural resources and human settlements who provide support, ideas and organisation for a range of events. This year we had 20 events in Lima, from REDD+, equity and forest governance, to indigenous peoples' knowledge in building adaptation strategies, to fitting forests into the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I joined Achala Abeysinghe, IIED's principal researcher in the climate change group, and her team for breakfast with the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group of negotiators. They span eminent elders such as Batu Uprety from Nepal, who has been a steady hand both in the COP process and also putting Local Adaptation Plans of Action and National Adaptation Plans of Action into effect, to recent arrivals from Gambia and Senegal – young women full of energy and enthusiasm for the task at hand.

One proudly recounted how she put the brash Australian delegates in their place, after they sought to dismiss the hard-won achievements of recent days.

I listened with pride to the heartfelt testimony from people around the breakfast table, from Mozambique, Nepal, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Senegal, Malawi and Bhutan. They spoke of the enormous value they gain from the support IIED gives them – logistics for the group to work effectively, a daily review of progress and what needs attention that day, a sounding board for analysis and ideas, as well as encouragement in taking an ambitious line in the negotiations.

It has been particularly remarkable to get strong women's participation in the negotiation teams – more than half the people round the LDC breakfast table are now women. Sumaya Zakeldin from the University of Khartoum is the doyenne of women LDC negotiators, having started more than ten years ago as a CLACC fellow, thanks to IIED's support.

Actions speak louder than words

The example of Sumaya shows the importance of investment over time, in building relationships, demonstrating commitment, and being a regular presence and supporter of the LDCs. It is a good case of actions speaking louder than words.

Long-term involvement also offers insights into the process, how the various arguments have ebbed and flowed, and the importance of injecting new language into the debate so the process moves forward. Zero-zero certainly achieves this end.

The COP process has become so much more than just the official event. In the non-government arena, large numbers of people set up events, meetings and media announcements to highlight new evidence and ideas they want taken on board in the official proceedings.

Getting a good flow of people and ideas between the two processes helps more progressive governments push for greater ambition. Even the Australian government has been shamed into pledging money to the Green Climate Fund, following their listing at the bottom of the Climate Change Performance Index, along with Saudi Arabia, Kazakhstan, and Russia.

Our message of "zerozero within a generation" was firmly endorsed by Chris Field, one of the pillars of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), who said whether you take 1.5⁰, 2⁰ or 3⁰C as your temperature target, ultimately we’re going to need zero net emissions. It is just a question of how quickly to get there. Being an early mover means being at the forefront of the new low carbon energy revolution and winning the economic prize.

These big international events are the means to agree a change in direction in favour of a fair and sustainable planet. Government delegates need to hear strong, positive stories of change from civil society and business.

A focus on zero-zero establishes a new narrative, and higher level ambition, linking together a low carbon future, with bringing prosperity to the poor; both of these goals have been at the heart of 40 years' work at IIED.

  • Read a round-up – including photos, videos, news and views – of day one and day two of the 12th D&C Days event

Camilla Toulmin (camilla.toulmin@iied.org) is the director of IIED. This is the latest in a series of blogs she is writing following the announcement of her departure in 2015, reflecting on her role and the work of the organisation.

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