COP22: 3, 2, 1 Action!

This year’s UN climate change summit, COP22, in Marrakech, Morocco has been labeled the COP of Action! Climate action, action for adaptation, loss and damage action, carbon market mechanisms for mitigation and – , you guessed it… action.


But what does action even mean? How do we translate these high level talks from the ivory tower we call the UN climate change summit to national platforms, to regional policies, and to actual change on the community level? Let’s start with a quick review…


Last year’s COP concluded with an international agreement (Paris Agreement) to decrease average temperatures by 2C degrees pre-industrial levels, through greenhouse gas emission reductions (otherwise known as mitigation). The first step to acting on these promises was the ratification (official confirmation) of the framework by 103 nations, and counting, all over the world. And this came into place three days before COP22. But now the real work, the “action”, begins with the need to implement commitments and promises otherwise known as NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions). These come in the form of mitigating our emissions, adapting our cities and places we live in, and dealing with loss and damage issues. To add to the complexity, every country suffers from climate change in different ways which means different approaches across mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage are necessary for resilience.


The intent of this post is to highlight what climate action looks like across different parts of the world and to highlight areas where students can contribute through innovative ideas, policy work, and interdisciplinary research. These issues require interdisciplinary and holistic approaches and at an innovative university like Waterloo, students would definitely have a lot to contribute.


National, Regional, Local Climate Action:


It’s only right we start with the host city and country, Marrakech, Morocco! Walking by many of the mosques (spiritual centres) in the city, you can see large solar panels detailing energy generation capacities, building energy consumption, and total GHG emissions eliminated.  This is part of a national plan to green 600 hundred mosques through LED lighting, solar thermal water heaters and photovoltaic systems, to speed up the process to clean energy. These buildings are communal places where it is more likely to influence individual and societal habits. Morocco is leading the way in north Africa, in part of the word that suffers from energy poverty, and effectively contributing to fulling it’s climate energy commitments. Further regional and small scale energy interventions are needed to nationalize clean energy.


Canada, home sweet home! Canada already suffers from climate change impacts, with some recent examples in the news including; inland flooding in Toronto, Alberta forest fires, and severe weather patterns on the Eastern coast. The Canadian government has recently mandated provinces to implement a carbon tax that will take effect in 2018, in an effort to decrease emissions, increase incentives for clean renewable energies, and return the money back for economic incentives. Based on conversations with Environment Canada’s Director of Negotiations and Policy at COP22, our delegation is looking to present action plans for meeting 2020 goals, prioritizing indigenous rights and gender in the context of climate change, pushing forward transparency frameworks for nationally determined contributions, and implementing efficient economic mechanisms for sustainable development. As you can probably tell there is wide variety of opportunities to contribute for effective Canadian climate governance including through policy work, cities planning, economic research for improved carbon market integration and much more.


African Nations (including Morocco): Many of these countries are highly oil dependent and would be significantly impacted with a transition away from this economy. However, for the first time, African nations have developed a concrete proposal to develop a renewable energy grid system in Africa. This is a crucial step after last year’s Paris agreements in a part of the world that suffers from energy poverty. At this time, there needs to be a focus to ensure this system is based on clean energy and to continue promoting and developing small scale energy interventions. Small scale applications like solar panels in local communities for water heating, cooking, and much more can significantly improve the quality of life individuals. In addition, in regions that emit extensively through automobile usage and a poorer population that relies on bike transportation, the development of electric bikes would significantly reduce carbon emissions in the region and promote sustainable transportation. Clean and accessible energy is a significant challenge in African nations, and thus there is a need for a range of initiatives from large scale policy applications to engineering small scale energy systems.


Another issue is that subsaharan African soils are significantly degraded and have difficulty supporting agricultural growth. However, 700 year old Indigenous soil enrichment techniques can present climate-smart sustainable alternatives. Many farmers in the region have adapted soil productivity by sequestering carbon into the ground (process to remove carbon from the atmosphere and hold in solids or liquids). The soils at this time can support food growth to support food security in the region. This not only reduces emissions from our atmosphere but supports self sufficiency, increase of biodiversity, and restores dignity to locals. Advanced research and technological innovation is necessary to increase agricultural productivity and carbon sequestering in the region.


How can we apply the Paris agreements to local levels? Columbia is already applying a process of vertical integration, meaning they are transferring the Paris agreement to their national mandates, their regional framework, and finally down to their local scales. These scales transect dimensions including agriculture, energy, tourism, transport, health, housing, and finance. Columbia is in the process of recognizing regional, cultural, and institutional differences to define priorities and the need for contextual approaches for public participation. There is thus a need for policy and planning work on many levels of government for climate governance in the country.


Many regions in Indonesia suffer from deforestation as a result of intensive logging. Non-profit organization on the island including Fauna and Flora International are approaching the issues through local landscape redevelopment and reforestation initiatives through community collaboration. Learning the traditional knowledge from local communities and empowering them through further education and modern techniques has supported communities improve their food security, health and wellbeing, and biodiversity regeneration. It also contributes to local economic opportunities through sustainable fishing and logging. This kind of grassroots approach and landscape planning is necessary for adaptation and reforestation.


Beyond the metropolitan and dense cities that can be found in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal, rural communities suffer from energy access, pollution, and food insecurity among other issues. Transforming many of these communities to eco-villages has been an increasing priority for non-profit organizations like Grameen Shake. To date 1.8 m solar homes have been installed in the region by the organization and 8.5 million villages benefit as a result. In regions, women do the cooking, farming, collect water, and take care of families. Technological additions in the form of solar panels, electric stoves and sand filtration systems for water treatment significantly reduce the work load of women who are disproportionately affected by climate change. By improving the livelihoods of women in those regions, we also improve the livelihoods of whole families. Eco-villages can also be promoted by educating the local farmers in sustainable farming techniques for food security. Once again, small scale technological ideas are necessary to support interventions as well as understanding local community values and then educating peoples on sustainable practices.


Lastly, the low-lying island Kiribati in the pacific is predicted to become uninhabitable within decades because of sea level rise due to climate change. Roads will be washed away, coral reefs will lose their productivity due to warming waters and ocean acidification, and intense weather patterns will increase, all of these factors impacting food security and the economy. While Kiribati has attempted to adapt to climate change by building sea walls and mangrove coastal planting, it’s adaptation efforts (in part due to lack of financial resources) will not hold back the increasing sea level. Thus, the island has initiated “migration with dignity” plans to assist locals in relocating on nearby islands and elsewhere. As a result, planners, community workers, psychologists, and others are needed to support relocation efforts as well as assisting the population mentally adapt to their new reality.


Final Remarks


If you didn’t know what climate action meant before, it’s clear that governance and realities of climate implementation goals can be complex. Thus the challenge at this year’s convention is outlining through policy frameworks and negotiations the global implementation strategies and to support meeting the 1.5C and then 2C degrees global temperature reductions.


Linking the Paris agreements to national platforms, to regional policies, and to actual change on the community level is crucial for nations to meet their commitments. As youth who attend an innovative University like Waterloo, our unique skill sets can allow us to contribute to climate change issues, if we choose to be part of this action!




This piece was written by Hadi El-Shayeb

Hadi is a fourth year Planning student, specializing in urban design at the University of Waterloo. His interest is on design for climate change adaptation and he’s worked on two islands cities research projects including Charlottetown, PEI, and Tobago in the Caribbean’s. He also enjoys long runs on trails.


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