Civil society should play a more prominent role in climate change negotiations

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Climate change mitigation and cross-sectoral climate issues were the focus of the thematic debate held as part of the TEN section's monthly meeting on 22 November 2017. Civil society organisations should have a central role in the negotiation and implementation of UN climate change agreements, highlighted the EESC members taking part in recent COP meetings on climate change.

The UN Conferences of the Parties (COP) should focus on climate change mitigation and horizontal issues, recognising a key role for people working on the front line. This is the main message from the members of the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) participating in this year's Conference of the Parties (COP23) held in Bonn from 6 to 17 November 2017 and in previous rounds of negotiations.

EESC members Isabel Caño Aguilar (Workers' Group), Stefan Back (Employers' Group), Lutz Ribbe (Various Interests' Group) and Toni Vidan (Various Interests' Group) addressed the implications for transport, energy and digital society after COP23 and shared their experiences at the thematic debate organised by the EESC's Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN) on 22 November 2017. The TEN president, Pierre Jean Coulon (Workers' Group), welcomed the efforts and commitment of the EESC members, underlying the important role played by civil society organisations in climate change negotiations. "This process may sometimes be complicated," said the TEN president, "but it is one of the few places where everyone from all walks of life meets, all sorts of groups and parties, not only Heads of State and Government, and they all try to move in the same direction."

EESC Members Ms Caño Aguilar, Mr Back, Mr Ribbe and Mr Vidan have played an active part, in different years and delegations, in the latest rounds of COP21, COP22 and COP23 negotiations. They acknowledge that civil society organisations are key players and should be better represented in the negotiation and implementation processes of climate change agreements.

Ms Caño Aguilar appreciated the horizontal approach of COP23, but regretted the lack of ambition in terms of energy production and improving governance: "We talked about agriculture, gender, renewable energies, building renovation, energy efficiency, transport and initiatives on health, but we need to define and set concrete objectives when we talk about transition to a low-carbon economy."

"Climate issues are not just political issues, but it is something that civil society has to take up as well," stated Mr Back, who focused on the role of transport, recalling that this sector is a cornerstone of the fight against climate change. "How can sustainable transport play a decisive role? Regional solutions at EU level are fine, but we need a global approach."

"I was impressed to see the initiatives coming from the grassroots level," said Mr Ribbe, who advocated for a stronger role for civil society organisations: "Innovation comes from the grassroots level. We've got the preparedness to act and the technology. Civil society can be an active partner, not just an observer."

According to Mr Vidan, climate negotiations have to be praised as this is where most of the impetus for progress on sustainable development issues has stemmed from. In the yearly COPs, "all stakeholders come together in an informal atmosphere and this has real effects on the discussion on climate change issues and a strong impact on the negotiations. Stakeholders may come up with unplanned initiatives."

Two external speakers also participated in the TEN thematic debate. Dimitrios Zevgolis, deputy head of the EU delegation to the international climate negotiations, stressed the extent to which stakeholders from civil society organisations wanted the negotiators in COP23 to do more and to finally make the implementation of the Paris agreement a reality. "We need to be able to tell what we are doing in Europe, how we are making progress towards low carbon and climate resilient development. For this reason, we do not only need the parties, the states and the governments, but also the stakeholders, businesses, civil society organisations, regions and communities to come forward with their own proposals."

Gilles Berhault, president of the French think tank ACIDD, highlighted that the diplomatic process of the negotiation had to be accompanied by an ongoing debate, and that the floor needed to be continuously and increasingly given to citizens and organisations in order to continue to discuss the issues of climate change. He concluded by saying that "we have to look at the actors on the ground in the economy, avoid a certain complacency and look for solutions: let's imagine things together and believe in solutions."

Global negotiations on climate change under the supervision of the United Nations began in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio and reached a milestone with the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. The Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or COP21, held in Paris in 2015, reached a historic agreement on keeping the increase in global temperature to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and to pursuing global efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels. COP23 was held in Bonn in November 2017, under the presidency of the Fiji Islands. The next Conference of the Parties, COP24, is scheduled to take place in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018.


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