“Optimism isn’t a belief that things will automatically get better. It’s a conviction that we can make things better.”
Melinda French Gates
I sat quietly on the train as I travelled home from Bonn where I’d spent the last two weeks for the intersessional climate negotiations, the spring meetings of the subsidiary bodies under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC or the Convention as it is often referred to). The session had ended the previous evening and as I watched scenes of Germany, then Belgium, France and finally, the UK, pass by, I processed the discussions that had unfolded over the last two weeks. What comes next? Where do we go from here? And where is here exactly?
I felt like a hot mess.
I’m sure I looked like a hot mess.
I was wearing shorts and a hoodie that badly needed washing. The hoodie now stained with soy sauce from the sushi (vegan in case you’re wondering) I had eaten at the beginning of my journey from Brussels to London having grabbed food in the station so that I could get in the extraordinarily long line for the Eurostar (thank you Brexit). Bringing a white hoodie on this trip was always a bad idea. Buying a white hoodie in the first place was probably a bad idea too. I blame the pandemic.
I was exhausted, having hardly slept the night before. I was so worried I’d sleep through my alarm and miss the first of the four trains that would take me back to my home in rural England. I so badly wanted to go home. Being away from home for long stretches of time just doesn’t fit anymore. And I often do, I wondered if the work that I do fits me anymore.
Am I making a difference here?
Is this where I’m supposed to be?
What am I supposed to be doing?
Does any of this really matter?
Heavy questions for an early morning train ride.
But in my defence, I felt frustrated. That’s not unusual for me. But the climate negotiations have a way of taking my frustration to new heights. Because seriously?
Don’t we owe those on the frontlines of climate change more than this?
More than talking about doing but very rarely actually doing?
More than pointing fingers at one another?
More than a system which is driven by fear?
One which perpetuates inequalities rather than addressing them?
And as usual that led me down a rabbit hole. Why can’t the folks we call leaders see that transforming economies and societies will only make their countries better if they do it right? Why can’t they see that mobilizing resources to ensure that each and every human being on planet Earth has the capacity to thrive will make our world so much brighter? Why can’t we all see how connected we are to each other and all the ways that taking care of each other makes us better humans? Helps us all live fuller lives. Lives full of more joy and love and all the things that make a life worth living.
Saying things like that in this space doesn’t always go over so well with some folks. But nearly every day I hear from someone who tells me how much the things I write about inspire them. Often people I’ve never met. So, I’m going to keep writing about why I think we can create a better world if only we believe that we can.
As my train journey continued that morning a few weeks ago, I reflected on the interactions I had during the session with decision makers from developing countries. The many challenges they recounted, the daily obstacles they encounter in supporting the citizenry of those countries.
And as I did so, I remembered the many times I encountered scarcity mindsets when I argued that we can and must do everything we can to mobilize support for the most vulnerable on Loss and Damage on all fronts —both inside and outside the UNFCCC. I was chided, scolded like a child: Don’t talk about that here. This is the place where we talk about this and only this. We can talk about this, there, but we can’t talk about that, here. Don’t you get it? I was boggled. Blinking my eyes, I could only reply: “Huh?”
And you know I get the politics. This isn’t my first rodeo in the process. I’ve been around the block a couple of times now. Same discussions, different year. So tell me, is that approach working for us? Doesn’t that encourage us to keep working in silos? Is that what’s best for the most vulnerable people, communities and countries - the folks we say we are fighting for? And what does fighting mean anyway? Shouldn’t we all be on the same team?
As the train got further and further away from Bonn, I got more and more clarity.
You are doing the right thing.
You are where you’re supposed to be.
This platform we have created to bring people together, what we call The Collaboration, can be the catalyst for the changes we need to see. Because: low ambition. That’s not my jam. I prefer blue sky thinking. I like to dream of what’s possible and then work towards achieving it. And don’t we need more of that in our work and in our world?
So in that spirit, here’s what I think is possible . . .
Mitigation ambition that averts future loss and damage. Ambitious reductions in emissions to limit warming to below 1.5°C through a just transition that sees fossil fuels phased out. Developed countries taking the lead and finally stepping up to their historical responsibilities. A just transition not just within but between countries. A process that has at its heart: equity.
Yes, and . . .
Support —including finance, capacity and technology— at the scale of the needs to enable adaptation to take place to the extent possible on all fronts, in all sectors and in all corners of the world to minimize loss and damage. The implementation of national adaptation plans that are country driven and locally led. A global goal on adaptation that’s operationalized to scale up adaptation to enable those country driven and locally led adaptation measures to be implemented. A world in which every country, and every community, household and person within it, has the tools they need to adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Yes, and . . .
Action and support to address both economic and non-economic loss and damage not averted by mitigation and minimized by adaptation including:
A Loss and Damage Fund that is fit for purpose with the resources and capacity to disperse at least 400 billion USD a year and eventually trillions (yes I said trillions —blue sky thinking, remember) of new, additional, adequate, predictable and sustainable finance.
Yes, and . . .
A Santiago Network for Loss and Damage (SNLD) that is fully resourced and capacitated to provide technical assistance to vulnerable developing countries. The UNFCCC secretariat fulfills its role as interim secretariat to link countries with the organizations, networks, networks and experts that can provide the technical assistance they need until the host of the SNLD is selected and the secretariat established. An advisory board established at COP 28 to provide guidance.
Yes, and . . .
A Global Stocktake that assesses progress towards achieving the goals collectively set out in the Paris Agreement. An outcome that helps us understand gaps and mobilize support and catalyze action on all fronts to address those gaps to avert loss and damage through mitigation, minimize loss and damage through adaptation and address loss and damage at the scope and scale of the needs, again on all fronts, in all sectors and in all parts of the world.
Yes, and . . .
Working outside the Convention including to reform the international monetary system away from one that makes the rich ever richer, and towards one that treats all countries fairly. The current system was built for and tailored for the world as it existed in the 1940s. The Paris Summit for a New Global Financing Pact highlighted so many gaps and addressed very few. That is the old world order at work. But as Barbadian Prime Minister Mia Mottley —among many others— has argued: it’s long past time to reinvent the global order. To establish a new world order that enables economic justice. The current system is broken. And it needs to be transformed, not tinkered with.
Yes, and . . .
Debt cancellation. At present 54 countries are in a debt crisis, spiraling without an end in sight. With very little fiscal space to address global challenges like (but certainly not limited to) the escalating impacts of climate change. We have the capacity to stop this madness. So-called developed or wealthy countries owe a debt to developing countries not just for climate change but for the impacts of colonialism and the lasting repercussions it has had. Debt cancellation must be part of the package of support to developing countries to enable sustainable development and climate action - and support efforts to ensure the overall well-being of their populations.
Yes, and . . .
A humanitarian system that is equipped to meet immediate and urgent needs. The humanitarian funding gap is widening fast with the compounded crises of climate change, COVID-19 and conflicts throughout the world. But we can mobilize funding to meet the full scope of the needs for humanitarian assistance if we put our heads together. Money exists to address this unprecedented shortfall —but political will is needed to mobilize it. This requires bold leadership and that requires courage.
Yes, and . . .
Facilitating equitable sustainable development at the scale of the needs in all parts of the world and ensuring those development efforts target the most marginalized and promote well-being. We are currently severely off course from meeting the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In his report to the High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development, the UN Secretary General, António Guterres, proposed a Rescue Plan for People and Planet. He prefaces this plan by saying:
“We can do better, and in moments of severe challenge, humanity has always come through. Now is another of those moments. “
Indeed we can do better. The UN Secretary General urges heads of state and government to recommit to accelerated action —both nationally and internationally— to deliver on the SDGs and leave no one behind. That means leaving no person, no community, no country and no region behind. That requires economically well-off countries to step up and acknowledge the debt they owe less economically well-off countries for poverty and under development and to begin paying off that debt.
Just as climate finance is not charity. Nor is finance for development. It is repayment of a debt long owed.
But more than that: we have a moral obligation to take care of one another. As Pope Francis reminded us in his encyclical letter released just before COP 21, the Earth is “our common home”. We need to do a much, much better job of taking care of both the planet and of one another. And that too, requires leadership.
Yes, and . . .
Transformation of economies and societies towards a system that is based on the well-being of humanity. An equitable world in which every human being on planet Earth and the ecosystems that sustain them are thriving, not just surviving. But thriving. A return to Indigenous values and wisdom and ways of doing and especially being. Remembering who we are.
Yes, that. Definitely: that.
No big deal, right? But you see, here’s the thing: it doesn’t have to be a big deal. We can move mountains when we put our minds to it.
When we believe that we can, anything is possible. When we come together to develop a vision of a better world and work towards it. When we roll up our sleeves and translate words into actions. When we get, not just in our heads, but also in our hearts, how connected we are to one another.
At the Loss and Damage Collaboration, we’re all about doing just that. We believe in radical collaboration and that means building on the work of giants and creating connections and networks with those giants. And there are a lot of giants to work with. Folks working on debt. Folks working on reform of the multilateral financial system. Folks working on humanitarian assistance, disaster risk reduction and sustainable development. Folks within the climate space working on the just transition, the fossil fuel phase out and scaling up adaptation at all levels. And folks within the broadening community of actors working on Loss and Damage.
The mosaic of solutions exists. We’ve just got to glue all the pieces of the mosaic together to create the world we want. We definitely can. And we definitely will. Just watch us.
Erin Roberts is the founder and Global Lead of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. She’s spending the summer reflecting on how we can meet the needs of the most vulnerable on all fronts. She’s also spending time in nature and with loved ones because radical self care is important too. She invites you to get in touch with her if you have any ideas you’d like to share on how we can create the kind of world we all want to live in.