NEW DELHI, India, Dec 6 2023 (IPS) – We, a global coalition of over 50 civil society and human rights organizations from over 30 countries have co-developed the “Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI”, a groundbreaking initiative aiming to steer AI policies towards safeguarding rights and deconolonising AI discourse. We question, and we are not the only ones: whose voices, ideas and values matter in AI ?
“If Silicon Valley was a country it would probably be the richest in the world. So how genuinely committed is Big Tech and AI to funding and fostering human rights over profits? The barebones truth is that if democracy was profitable, human rights lawyers and defenders including techtivists from civil society organizations wouldn’t be sitting around multistakeholder engagement tables demanding accountability from Big Tech and AI. How invested are they in real social impact centred on rights despite glaring evidence to the contrary?,” asks Nina Sangma, of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact, a regional organization founded in 1992 by Indigenous Peoples’ movements with over 40 members across 14 countries in the Asia-Pacific region.
We are currently at a critical juncture where most countries lack a comprehensive AI policy or regulatory framework. The sudden reliance on AI and other digital technologies has introduced new – and often “invisible” – vulnerabilities, and we have just seen the tip of the iceberg, literally melting from the effects of climate change.
Some things we have already seen though: AI is still a product of historical data representing inequities and inequalities. A study analyzing 100+ AI-generated images using Midjourney’s diffusion models revealed consistent biases, including depicting older men for specialized jobs, binary gender representations, featuring urban settings regardless of location, and generating images predominantly reinforcing “ageism, sexism and classism”, with a bias toward a Western perspective.
Data sources continue to be “toxic”. AI tools learn from vast amounts of training data, often consisting of billions of inputs scraped from the internet. This data risks to perpetuate harmful stereotypes and often contains toxic content like pornography, misogyny, violence, and bigotry. Furthermore, researchers found bias in up to 38.6% of ‘facts’ used by AI.
Despite increased awareness, the discourse surrounding AI, like the technology itself, has predominantly been shaped by “Western, whiteness, and wealth”. The discrimination that we see today is the result of a cocktail of “things gone wrong” – ranging from discriminatory hiring practices based on gender and race, to the prevalence of algorithms biases.
“Biases are not a coincidence. Artificial intelligence is a machine that draws conclusions from data based on statistical models, therefore, the first thing it eliminates is variations. And in the social sphere that means not giving visibility to the margins,” declares Judith Membrives i Llorens, head of digital policies at Lafede.cat – Organitzacions per la Justícia Global.
“AI development isn’t the sole concern here. The real issue stems from keeping citizens in the dark, restricting civic freedoms and the prevalence of polarisation and prejudice on several dimensions of our societies. This results in unequal access, prevalent discrimination, and a lack of transparency in technological processes and beyond. Despite acknowledging the potential and power of these technologies, it is clear that many are still excluded and left at the margins due to systemic flaws. Without addressing this, the global development of AI and other emerging technologies won’t be inclusive. Failure to act now and to create spaces of discussion for new visions to emerge, will mean these technologies continue to reflect and exacerbate these disparities,” says Mavalow Christelle Kalhoule, civil society leader in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel region, and Chair of the global civil society network Forus.
The Civil Society Manifesto for Ethical AI asks, what are the potential pitfalls of using current AI systems to inform future decisions, particularly in terms of reinforcing prevailing disparities?
Today, as EU policymakers are expected to close a political agreement for the AI Act, we ask, do international standards for regulating machine learning include the voice of the people? With the Manifesto we explore, challenge, disrupt, and reimagine the underlying assumptions within this discourse but also to broaden the discussion to incorporate communities beyond the traditional “experts.” Nothing about us, without us.
“We want Artificial Intelligence, but created by and for everyone, not only for a few,” adds Judith Membrives i Llorens.
From the “Internet of Cows” to the impact of AI on workers’ rights and on civic space, developed by over 50 civil society organisations, the Manifesto includes 17 case studies on their experiences, visions and stories around AI. With each story, we want to weave a different path to build new visions on AI systems that expand rather than restrict freedoms worldwide.
“The current development of AI is by no means an inevitable path. It is shaped by Big Tech companies because we let them. It is time for the civil society to stand up for their data rights,” says Camilla Lohenoja, of SASK, the workers’ rights organisation of the trade unions of Finland.
“Focusing on ethical and transparent technology also means giving equal attention to the fairness and inclusivity of its design and decision-making processes. The integrity of AI is shaped as much by its development as by its application,” says Hanna Pishchyk of the youth group Digital Grassroots.
Ultimately, the Manifesto aims to trigger a global – and not just sectorial and Western-dominated dialogue – on AI development and application.
Civil society is here not just as a mere token in multistakeholder spaces, we bring forward what others often dismiss, and we actively participate worldwide in shaping a technological future that embraces inclusivity, accountability, and ethical advancements.
Bibbi Abruzzini, Forus and Nina Sangma, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact (AIPP)
Research team in the Arctic. Professor Tjernström is standing on the left.
STOCKHOLM, Sweden, Dec 4 2023 (IPS) – This year’s UN Climate Change Conference is taking place in Dubai from 30 November to 12 December. The so-called COP summits are organised every year and constitute a means for the global community to agree on ways to address the climate crisis, such as limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, supporting vulnerable communities to adapt to the effects of climate change, and achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.
More than 70,000 delegates are attending the COP28 in Dubai. Main delegates are the 47 representatives of the member states (called Parties), which constitute the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Business leaders, young people, climate scientists, Indigenous Peoples, journalists, and various other experts and stakeholders are also among the participants. Officially, COP 28 stands for the 28th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC.
UNFCCC was established in 1992 to combat “dangerous human interference with the climate system”, in part by limiting the greenhouse gas emissions that compromise Earth’s entire ecosystem, a prerequisite for human existence. Among other items on its agenda COP 28 will address progress made in accordance with the Paris Agreement of 2015, when 195 Parties of the UNFCCC agreed to keep the rise of global temperature to well below 2 °C (3.6 °F), compared to pre-industrial levels, and preferably limit the increase to 1.5 °C (2.7 °F).
To gain a scientific perspective of the meaning and influence of COP28, IPS asked Professor Tjernström about his views on climate change and what he assumes might be done to amend it. Michael Tjernström is since 2001 professor of Meteorology at Stockholm University. He has spent several periods at institutions such as CIRES, The Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) and The Earth System Research Laboratory (ESRL) and National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR), all in Boulder, Colorado, USA. Professor Tjernström’s main research interests concern climate change in the Arctic. He has participated in several scientific expeditions to Arctic areas and is since 2011 a member of the International Arctic Science Committee.
IPS: Professor Tjernström, can the outcomes of COP28 drastically affect current climate changes?
Michael Tjernström: The COPs are a necessary and essential factor when it comes to addressing climate change. A COP summit might be likened to a regular check-up visit to the dentist. It can be painful, but is necessary for good dental hygiene. The dentist might find that your teeth are in a very bad state and to save them, urgent measures have to be taken – caries has to be amended, maybe a bad tooth has to be extracted, dental bridges inserted, etc . The point is that the dentist is an expert and you have to trust him. However, the decision to save your teeth is all yours. In a similar fashion the COPs intend to amend already present damages to the climate, determine their causes and try to prevent a negative development. But it is up to the members to act.
IPS: How do you perceive the UN’s role in this endeavour?
Michael Tjernström: There is absolutely no other global organization other than the UN which would be able to organize and be in charge of such a process. No other national, international, political or private, organisation would be able to establish a global consensus and general awareness, as well as maintaining the perseverance, stamina, objectivity and legal strength to do so. An endurance against all odds, but nevertheless made possible through the UN’s established rules, combined with its global and local outreach. Of course, there are cracks and concerns, but the administrative structure and operations of the UN are firmly based on the commitment of its member states.
People, who in general are prone to criticize the UN system are often only perceiving the actions of the Security Council and how its commitment is crippled by the veto power of its five permanent members. However, this does not apply to the UNFCCC and its scientific support organisation, ICCP. As a scientist and propagator for awareness about climate change, I perceive the lack of understanding the great importance of the UN as a marketing problem. People are not aware of what this global organisation stands for, and even less so – its support of the global scientific community.
IPS: Will you attend the COP summit in Dubai?
Michael Tjernström: No, most scientists have through their research already made their fair contribution to efforts to combat climate change. The current state of research, results and warnings are comprehensively explained and diffused through the ICCP reports and scientists have thus no need to attend the COPs. Whether or not politicians listen to science or not is not determined by my presence at a COP.
COP summits are more politically than scientifically motivated. However, they are based on the factual basis provided by ICCP reports. The COPs mainly attract other stakeholders than scientists, such as government representatives, spokespersons for environmentalist pressure groups and lobbyists representing the interests of fossil fuel-based industries, as well as oil and coal producing companies. Many such lobbyists try to find a place among decision makers, while environmentalists might be looking for political scapegoats.
People and organisations are trying to highlight their own, often specific interests, some of them being based on doubtful assumptions and moral priorities. Environmentalists have often demanded that certain interest groups be excluded from COP summits, like those lobbying for the use of fossil fuels, interests of oil producers, as well as industrialists who, for the sake of their own profit, try to minimize the threat from global warming.
Nevertheless, it is important that influential stakeholders are present . The global outreach demands this. Everyone has to be allowed to have their voice and concerns heard, as well as being provided with an opportunity to be informed about scientific achievements, new environmentally friendly technologies, and the threats of global warming.
Industrialization based on non-polluting and zero emissions of greenhouse gases, as well as new eco-friendly technology, are essential for change and improvement. Environmentalism’s contributions are also important. Like most revolutionary movements radical environmentalists highlight political and capitalist motivational reasons and misconduct, while they demand change and sacrifice. Historically did socialists and suffragettes contribute to emancipation and justice. However, some revolutionaries have turned into fanatics, and some have concentrated on relatively minor but easily targeted issues while ignoring an overall picture. For example, opponents to air travel are maybe not fully aware of the fact that it actually contributes to only three percent of global greenhouse emissions, while private cars and other fossil-fuel based transportation means account for much more of carbon dioxide emissions . It might be stated that it would be more beneficial for the environment to limit the use of your car, than avoid travelling by air. Veganism may be considered as beneficial when it comes to emission of greenhouse gases, though methane emissions from ruminating animals constitutes less than five percent of greenhouse gas emissions. If we could stop throwing away a third of all the food we produce, this would be much more efficient and would also have other benefits. However, every effort to limit greenhouse emissions is worthy of attention, though decisive and comprehensive political actions are particularly crucial for achieving zero greenhouse gas emissions as quickly as possible. It is not enough to limit them; they must be eliminated.
IPS: But can COPs really have the impact you could wish for?
Michael Tjernström: In several respects, development is moving in the wrong direction, especially when it comes to acquiring knowledge. Many confide in badly informed, or even deceitful, social media and populist politicians. In certain circles a negative attitude to research and science is thriving. Science might by such groups be perceived as an essentially separate activity, practiced by an intellectual elite devoting itself to mutual admiration.
The COPs make participants aware of the fatal threat of global warming. But more than that, it also makes the general public aware and therefore participants can be held accountable for their actions, or lack thereof, and are through legally binding agreements forced to take social and economic measures to amend the ongoing destruction of natural resources, and the atmosphere.
IPS: What exactly is ICCP and what is its connection with the COPs
Michael Tjernström: Generally speaking, people are not knowledgeable, most don’t know what ICCP is. The task of ICCP, i.e. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, is to advance scientific knowledge about climate change caused by human activities and it does so by examining all relevant scientific literature on the subject. This comprehensive review and dissemination of scientific insights and research results include natural, economic and social impacts and risks. ICCP also covers possible responsive options. IPCC does not conduct its own original research, its mandate is to survey the research situation, while aiming at being objective and comprehensive, and only openly published results that have already been reviewed by experts can be used. Thousands of scientists and other experts then volunteer to review the findings and publications of ICCP, before its key findings are compiled into a Synthesis Report intended for policymakers and the general public. Experts have described the work of ICCP as the biggest peer review of the global scientific community. COP28 will discuss the 6th ICCP Synthesis Report, issued in March 2023.
Most climate-related risks assessed in the Fifth Synthesis Report, issued in 2014, are in the Sixth Report deemed to be higher than earlier predicted and projected long-term impacts are worse than they were assumed to be in 2014. The Sixth Synthesis Report highlights that climatic and non-climatic risks will increasingly interact, creating compound and cascading risks, which will be extremely difficult to manage. The confidence of the conclusions has also been gradually increasing across the reports.
The development of climatological research is quite fast, the lag in actual efforts to halt global warming is mainly to be found in decisive decision-making. The original ICCP reports contain tens of thousands of pages that few decision-makers can assimilate. The summary for policy makers is reviewed and edited by several stakeholders. Efforts may thus be made to mitigate alarming findings and adapt them to political concerns. However, changes and adaptions are carefully wetted in order to secure that none of them contradict actual and fact-based research results, predictions and warnings.
IPS: Do you perceive yourself as a pessimist, or as an optimist?
Michael Tjernström: I am both hopeful and worried. As a researcher I cannot allow myself to fall victim to paralyzing dystopias. As a scientist I contribute to the measurement of climatological processes, while taking the pulse of the current situation, but also looking for trends and measures to mitigate, and perhaps even hinder, a worrisome development. Accordingly, a scientist has to be a kind of optimist even in the face of despair. Furthermore, I consider that my role as a researcher has to involve the popularization and dissemination of research results. A role I appreciate and feel comfortable with.
It is reasonable that we in the West, who so far have contributed by far the most to the ongoing climatological damage, also take our responsibility when it comes to mitigation and adaptation. We have the technological, historical and scientific prerequisites to make amends for all the damage we have caused and should therefore also go into the breach for the realisation of necessary improvements, while contributing to the economic means to do so.
But the picture is complicated. China is making great progress in climate research, but is at the same time contributing to the world’s largest emissions of greenhouse gases in total, and is number two in the world in per capita emissions, yet is still claiming they should still be treated as a developing country and indeed has a large poor population in the face of a rapidly growing middle class. Africa is lagging behind in its industrial development and consequently have limited emissions, but must nevertheless already now end its dependence on fossil fuels.
We in the West live well and safely and could without any major problems dismiss a lot of the gratuitous comfort we currently are enjoying. The drama is undeniable, even when the Paris Agreement was signed it was by some researchers pointed out that the 1.5 target was unattainable in reality. There is much talk about tipping points, when much of the existing ecological balance suddenly collapses, and that this might happen at a two degree rise in global temperature. But contributing factors are manifold and I don’t believe it will be happening in the near future. There is no really compelling evidence for most of these suggested tipping points. The most important thing is to immediately stop the burning of fossil fuels. In spite of all, I assume that much can and will be done to stop the worrisome development.
IPS interchange with Professor Tjernström was quite extensive and informative. In a following article we will return to Professor Tjernström describing his own research and thoughts about current, and future climatological changes.
Yamide Dagnet, the Director for Climate Justice at Open Society Foundations, delves into the intricacies of the negotiations at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 27th session of the Conference of Parties (COP28) in Dubai.
Yamide Dagnet points to the urgency of climate action to meet the Paris Agreements, while protecting frontline communities as about 70 000 attendees grapple with issues during the UN Climate Change Conference COP28. Credit: COP28/Walaa Alshaer
DUBAI, Dec 3 2023 (IPS) – As the world converges for COP 28, the urgency of addressing climate change has never been more palpable. In an exclusive interview with IPS, Yamide Dagnet, the Director for Climate Justice at Open Society Foundations, delves into the intricate details of this pivotal conference—from the unprecedented start to key challenges and opportunities in climate finance. She offers a comprehensive and nuanced perspective on global climate discourse.
As COP 28 unfolds, this interview provides a panoramic view of the complex landscape of climate action. From the challenges of climate finance to the critical role of the private sector and the ethical considerations in technology deployment, Dagnet offers a roadmap for navigating the intricate terrain of climate change, including an urgent call to action urging global leaders, businesses, and civil society to address the challenges that lie ahead collaboratively. As the world grapples with the consequences of climate change, the interview serves as a compass, guiding stakeholders towards a more sustainable and resilient future, and her voice clearly articulates her views that while the just energy and industrial revolution hold immense potential for economic growth in resource-rich nations, it is crucial to protect the rights of frontline communities and activists.
The Start of COP 28
The conference’s initial day set an unprecedented tone. “Positive developments like the creation of the Loss and Damage Fund and sizeable pledges, especially from countries like the UAE, Germany, and the EU, are highlights of this momentum’s emphasis on international solidarity; I hope that the momentum generated on day one will permeate the entirety of COP 28,” Dagnet told Inter Press Service.
Yamide Dagnet, Director for Climate Justice at Open Society Foundations. Credit: TJ Kirkpatrick, Open Society Foundations
Wealthier Nations and Climate Change
Dagnet delves into the role of wealthier nations in the fight against climate change. “While there is an expectation for these nations to fulfil their commitments, reality paints a different picture. Adaptation finance has not seen the necessary investment,” she said while pointing to a critical gap in addressing the immediate impacts of climate change. Looking at the financial dynamics, Dagnet dissected the pledges made by key nations and highlighted the ongoing challenges in reaching the financial targets made since 2009 and outlined in the Paris Agreement. Dagnet contends that “fulfilling pledges and demonstrating seriousness are essential steps for wealthier nations to regain trust and ensure a unified front in the fight against climate change.”
Key Trends in Climate Change Policy
Transitioning into a discussion on key trends shaping climate change policy in the next decade, Dagnet underscored the critical importance of aligning investments with the goals of the Paris Agreement. A concerning trend emerges as she highlights the “doubling of subsidies for fossil fuels, signaling a misalignment with the imperative to transition to clean energy. There is a need to redirect investments toward clean energy, adaptation, and activities in line with the Paris Agreement.”
Dagnet also highlights the challenge of balancing economic goals while adhering to climate policies, emphasizing the integration of climate policy into the broader development agenda. She illustrated the economic risks posed by climate-related disasters, citing examples of hurricanes causing widespread destruction. “Resilient infrastructure is vital, as even substantial economic gains can be wiped out if development projects are not resilient to floods, hurricanes, and other climate-related events,” she said.
Exploring the business sense of investing in reducing emissions, Dagnet highlights that, with the decreasing costs of renewable energy, it is not only an environmental imperative but also financially prudent. “The cost-effectiveness of renewable energy makes a compelling case for nations to prioritize emission reduction efforts, aligning economic goals with sustainable development,” she said.
It also means recognizing that the rare transition minerals needed to scale up the use of renewable energy require a just energy and industrial revolution, which holds immense potential for economic growth in resource-rich nations.
“However, the risk of human rights abuses and other adverse effects should be taken into account and mitigated by focusing on value addition in mineral supply chains by reconciling with the protection of activists and frontline communities, including people’s rights in land use, labor, and conservation of cultural heritage.”
The Role of the Private Sector
Dagnet further delves into the role of the private sector in climate action, focusing on areas such as adaptation and loss and damage. She acknowledged the challenges faced by the private sector in engaging with these aspects, emphasizing the need for them to integrate climate risk into their business models. “While adaptation may not seem immediately profitable, the long-term consequences of inaction are severe,” she says. She suggests that insurance companies need to review their business models, considering how they can better contribute to tackling losses and damages.
Technology for Addressing Climate Change
Turning to the role of technology in addressing climate change, Dagnet discussed the potential and pitfalls. She advocates for a “balanced approach that leverages indigenous knowledge alongside technological solutions. Dagnet highlights the importance of proper assessment, monitoring, safeguards, and global governance to mitigate the risks associated with less-proven and more controversial solutions like geoengineering, carbon dioxide removal, and carbon capture and storage. This is critical for responsible technology deployment, recognizing that while technology can offer solutions, it must be guided by ethical considerations, an understanding of potential risks, and the design of appropriate guardrails to minimize unintended adverse impacts.” She suggested that a holistic approach, which includes both technological advancements and indigenous knowledge, together with a more participatory process bringing various constituencies from both the global north and global south, provides a more robust foundation for addressing climate change challenges in an innovative and equitable way.
Civil Society’s Accountability Role
Dagnet further highlighted the vital role of civil society in holding governments accountable for their climate commitments, including their financial pledges. She contends that efforts to “measure progress and scrutinize government actions are essential tools for civil society to hold governments accountable for their commitments.” She also acknowledged the power of public pressure to drive governments to take more ambitious climate action. Dagnet emphasized the need for a multi-faceted approach, combining legal frameworks, grassroots movements, and international collaboration based on robust data and supported by nuanced and more sophisticated communication strategies, to hold governments accountable on the global stage effectively.
Assessment of International Agreements
Dagnet provided a sober assessment of the international agreements reached so far in the fight against climate change. She also acknowledged that the world is far from achieving its climate objectives, and the window to meet temperature goals is shrinking rapidly. But like many climate justice avengers, she is not defeated and points out ways COP28 and its global stocktake can create an inflection point, with a “course correction pathway” that highlights the need for increased attention to scaling up efforts to keep global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius and enhance resilience, especially in the face of recent climate-related disasters globally. “No country is immune to the disasters the climate change is unleashing. It is imperative to scale up and speed up efforts to keep fossil fuels on the ground while focusing on building resilience to mitigate the impact of climate change,” she concluded.
Teacher Maria Alberto in her classroom, 3500 classrooms were destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Mozambique. Credit: Manan Kotak/ECW
NAIROBI, Nov 28 2023 (IPS) – A catastrophic surge in the frequency, intensity, and severity of extreme weather events has placed children on the frontlines of climate emergencies. Nearly half of the world’s children, or one billion, live in countries at extremely high risk from the effects of the climate crisis. Most of these children face multiple vulnerabilities.
An estimated 80 percent of countries categorized as extremely high-risk are also categorized as Least Developed Countries (LDCs). More than 62 million children—nearly one-third of the 224 million crisis-affected children worldwide in need of educational support—face the repercussions of climate-related events like floods, storms, droughts, and cyclones, which are further intensified by climate change.
Against this backdrop and in advance of the Conference of the Parties (COP28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, the United Nations global fund for education in emergencies and protracted crises, Education Cannot Wait (ECW), issued today an urgent appeal for USD 150 million in new funding to respond to the climate crisis.
“The very future of humanity is at stake. Rising seas, spiking temperatures, and ever-more-severe droughts, floods, and natural hazards are derailing development gains and ripping our world apart. As we’ve seen with the floods in Pakistan and the drought in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, climate change is triggering concerning jumps in forced displacement, violence, food insecurity, and economic uncertainty the world over,” said Yasmine Sherif, Executive Director of Education Cannot Wait.
The new appeal underscores the urgent need to connect education action with climate action. New ECW data indicates that 62 million children and adolescents affected by climate shocks have been in desperate need of education support since 2020. This appeal was prepared in November 2023 by the ECW Secretariat based on estimates provided in the organization’s background study, “Futures at Risk: Climate-Induced Shocks and Their Toll on Education for Crisis-Affected Children.
[embedded content] The study draws on the latest ECW global update’s findings and methodology, as well as the latest research, and endeavors to bridge critical knowledge gaps with regard to the extent to which climate change, environmental degradation, and biodiversity loss impact and displace school-aged children globally and influence access to education.
Study findings show that over the last five years, more than 91 million school-aged children impacted by crises have faced climate shocks amplified by climate change. The effects have been particularly pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, affecting 42 million children, and in South Asia, impacting 31 million children. Among the various climate hazards assessed, droughts emerge as the most severe and persistent, disproportionately affecting children in Sub-Saharan Africa.
“The climate crisis is robbing millions of vulnerable girls and boys of their right to learn, their right to play, and their right to feel safe and secure. In the eye of the storm, we urge new and existing public and private sector donors to stand with them. We appeal to you to act right here, right now, to address the climate and education crisis,” said Gordon Brown, UN Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the ECW High-Level Steering Group.
Additionally, the Futures at Risk study stresses that children affected by climate hazards are at risk of educational disruptions due to forced displacement. In the 27 crisis-affected countries where 62 million children have been exposed to climate shocks since 2020, there were 13 million forced movements of school-aged children due to floods, droughts, and storms.
Young girls and boys, after receiving UNICEF bags and books, attended their first class in a UNICEF-supported temporary learning centre in Allah Dina Channa village, district Lasbela, Baluchistan province, Pakistan. The primary school was badly damaged during a heavy monsoon rain in 2022. Credit: UNICEF
The 224 million school-aged children globally effected by crises need diverse forms of educational support. Of these, 31 million children are in countries ill-prepared to handle the impacts of severe climate-related crises. Droughts, closely followed by floods, are the most frequently encountered climate-related shocks, which often intertwine and exacerbate one another.
“Education is an essential component in delivering on the promises and commitments outlined in the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, and the Sustainable Development Goals. As all eyes turn toward this year’s Climate Talks (COP28) and the Global Refugee Forum, world leaders must connect climate action with education action,” Sherif emphasizes.
The number of disasters driven, in part, by climate change has increased fivefold in the past 50 years. By 2050, climate impacts could cost the world economy USD 7.9 trillion and could force up to 216 million people to move within their own countries, according to the World Bank. This poses a real and present threat to global security, economic prosperity, and efforts to address the life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis.
Unmitigated, the study shows that the future of millions of children is at risk. Children who are already at risk of dropping out face an even higher risk when exposed to crises worsened by climate change and environmental degradation. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where climate-related crises are prevalent, internally displaced children are 1.7 times more likely to be out of primary school compared to their non-displaced peers.
The study emphasizes that climate change impacts are not gender-neutral. Women and girls are disproportionally affected due to preexisting gender norms. Climate change exacerbates the risks of gender-based violence, school dropouts, food insecurity, and child marriage.
The new appeal outlines a strategic value proposition that connects donors, the private sector, governments, and other key stakeholders to create a coordinated approach to scaling up education funding in response to the climate crisis. The new funding aims to ensure learning continuity by providing mental health and psychosocial support, school rehabilitation and resilience, child protection, gender-based violence prevention and risk mitigation, water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH), disaster risk reduction, and anticipatory and early action measures.
ECW has championed the right to education for children affected by the global climate crisis. In the aftermath of devasting floods, Libya, Mozambique and Pakistan and spikes in hunger, forced displacement, and violence across the Horn of Africa and the Sahel, the ECW has issued emergency grants to get children and adolescents back to the safety and opportunity that quality education provides.
Within existing programmes in crisis-impacted countries like Bangladesh, Chad, Nigeria, South Sudan and Syria, ECW investments are supporting climate-resilient infrastructure, disaster risk reduction, and school meals, offering hope and opportunity in the most challenging circumstances.
Climate change impact on Africa has been devastating as this photo taken in the aftermath of Cyclone Idai in Mozambique shows. Credit: Denis Onyodi / IFRC/DRK
NAIROBI, Nov 24 2023 (IPS) – A just transition should be viewed as an opportunity to rectify some of the wrongs where women are not prioritised in the energy mix, yet their experience of the impact of climate change is massive, says Thandile Chinyavanhu, a young South African-based climate and energy campaigner with Greenpeace Africa.
Recent UN scientific research on the state of the climate change crisis and ongoing climate action reveals that the window to reach climate goals is rapidly closing. The world is not on track to reach the goals set out in the Paris Agreement, which commits all countries to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.
To achieve this goal, emissions must decrease by 45% by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050. Ahead of COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates (UAE), expectations are high that a clear roadmap to net zero progress will be reached, bringing issues of energy, a global energy transition, and energy security into sharp focus.
The energy sector has a significant impact on climate as it accounts for an estimated two-thirds of all harmful greenhouse gas emissions. The burning of fossil fuels is the primary cause of the ongoing global climate change crisis, significantly altering planet Earth. The issue of energy and climate is of particular concern to African countries, especially the Sub-Saharan Africa region, as they also relate to increased vulnerabilities for women, especially rural women. The intersection between energy security and economic growth, poverty reduction, and the empowerment of women and girls is not in doubt.
Still, despite access to reliable, affordable, and sustainable energy for all being articulated under the UN’s SDG 7, one in eight people around the world has no access to electricity. In sub-Saharan Africa alone, nearly 600 million people, or an estimated 53 percent of the region’s population, have no access to electricity. Currently, less than a fifth of African countries have targets to reach universal electricity access by 2030. For some, the silver bullet is to dump fossil fuels and go green; for others, it is an urgent, just, and equitable transition to renewables.
IPS spoke to Chinyavanhu about her role as a social justice and climate activist. She says she wants to contribute to climate change mitigation, ensuring that people and cities are prepared for climate change and can adapt to what is coming.
Here are excerpts from the interview.
IPS: Why are current energy systems untenable, considering the ongoing climate change crisis?
Chinyavanhu: On going green and dumping fossil fuels, there are several issues at play, and they vary from country to country. Fossil fuels—coal, oil, and gas—are by far the largest contributors to global climate change, as they account for more than 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 90 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions. South Africa, for instance, has a big coal mining industry and is one of the top five coal-exporting countries globally. The country relies heavily on coal for about 70 percent of its total electricity production. We need to move away from energy consumption models that are exacerbating the climate crisis, but we must also ensure that we are centred on a just transition.
IPS: What should a ‘just energy transition’ look like for Africa and other developing nations?
Chinyavanhu: Overall, we are looking at issues of socio-economic development models that leave no one behind. To achieve this, renewable energy is the pathway that provides us with energy security and accelerated development. We have serious energy-related challenges due to a lack of preparation and planning around the energy crisis. The challenge is that Africa needs energy and, at the same time, accelerates its development in a manner that leaves no one behind, be it women or any other vulnerable group that is usually left behind in policy responses.
There is a need to address challenges regarding access to energy for all so that, in transitioning to clean energy, we do not have any groups of people being left behind, as has been the case. This is not so much a problem or challenge as an opportunity for countries to address gaps in access to energy and ensure that it is accessible to all, especially women, bearing in mind the many roles they play in society, including nurturing the continent’s future workforce. A just energy transition is people-centred.
We must recognise and take stock of the economic impact that moving from fossil fuels to clean energy could have on people and their livelihoods, such as those in the mining sector. It is crucial that people are brought along in the process of transition, giving them the tools and resources needed for them to be absorbed into new clean energy models. There is a very deep socio-economic aspect to it because people must be given the skills and capacities to engage in emerging green systems and industries.
IPS: As a young woman activist, what do you think the roles of women in an energy transition are?
Chinyavanhu: Women are generally not prioritised, and so they do not have the same opportunities as men, even in matters of climate change adaptation and mitigation, and this is true for sectors such as agriculture and mining. Women have great economic potential and have a very big role to play towards a just energy transition as key drivers of socio-economic progress.
In the green energy space, economic opportunities are opening up. Men are quickly taking over the renewable energy industry, but there are plenty of opportunities for women to succeed if given the right resources. We are at a point in time when we have the opportunity to leave behind polluting technologies and, at the same time, address some of the key socio-economic challenges that have plagued societies for a long time.
This transition should be viewed as an opportunity to rectify some of those wrongs in a way that is people-centred and inclusive. No one should be left behind. It is really about building harmony with nature while also addressing many of the socio-economic issues that plague us today. This is more of an opportunity than a hurdle. It is about understanding and rectifying systems’ thinking that contributes to women being left behind. It is important that we see the bigger picture—identify and acknowledge that different groups—not just women, but any identifier that places people at a point of vulnerability—have been left furthest behind. The energy transition process has presented an opportunity to make it right. IPS UN Bureau Report
Credit: Bryan Bedder/Getty Images for Bloomberg Philanthropies
LONDON, Nov 17 2023 (IPS) – The need to act on the climate crisis has never been clearer. In 2023, heat records have been shattered around the world. Seemingly every day brings news of extreme weather, imperilling lives. In July, UN Secretary-General António Guterres grimly announced that ‘the era of global boiling has arrived’.
In short, there’s a lot at stake as the world heads into its next climate summit.
But there’s a big problem: COP28, the latest in the annual series of conferences of parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, will be held in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is a country with closed civic space, where dissent is criminalised and activists are routinely detained. It’s also a fossil fuel power bent on continuing extraction.
At multilateral summits where climate change decisions are made, it’s vital that civil society is able to mobilise to demand greater ambition, hold states and fossil fuel companies and financiers to account and ensure the views of people most affected by climate change are heard. But that can’t happen in conditions of closed civic space.
In September, the UAE was added to the CIVICUS Monitor Watchlist, which highlights countries experiencing significant declines in respect for civic freedoms. Civic space in the UAE has long been closed: no dissent against the government or advocacy for human rights is allowed, and those who try to speak out risk criminalisation. In 2022, a Cybercrime Law introduced even stronger restrictions on online expression.
There’s widespread torture in jails and detention centres and at least 58 prisoners of conscience have been held in prison despite having completed their sentences. Many of them were part of a group known as the UAE 94, jailed for the crime of calling for democracy. Among the ranks of those incarcerated is Ahmed Mansoor, sentenced to 10 years in jail in 2018 for his work documenting the human rights situation, and held in solitary confinement for over five years and counting.
Ahead of COP28, civil society has worked to highlight the absurdity of holding such a vital summit in closed civic space conditions. Domestic civil society is unable to influence COP28 and its preparatory process, and it’s hard to see how civil society, both domestic and international, will be able to express itself freely during the summit.
Civil society is demanding that the UAE government demonstrate that it’s prepared to respect human rights, including by releasing political prisoners – something it’s so far failed to budge on.
An ominous sign came when the UAE hosted a climate and health summit in April. Participants were reportedly instructed not to criticise the government, corporations, individuals or Islam, and not to protest while in the UAE.
Civic space restrictions aren’t the only indication the UAE isn’t taking COP28 seriously. The president of the summit, Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, also happens to be head of the state’s fossil fuel corporation ADNOC, the world’s 11th-biggest oil and gas producer. It’s like putting an arms manufacturer in charge of peace talks. Multiple other ADNOC staff members have roles in the summit. ADNOC is currently talking up its investments in renewable energies, all while planning one of the biggest expansions of oil and gas extraction of any fossil fuel corporation.
Instead of real action, all the signs are that the regime is instrumentalising its hosting of COP28 to try to launder its reputation, as indicated by its hiring of expensive international lobbying firms. An array of fake social media accounts were created to praise the UAE as host and defend it from criticism. A leaked list of key COP28 talking points prepared by the host made no mention of fossil fuels.
A summit that should be about tackling the climate crisis – and quickly – is instead being used to greenwash the image of the host government – something easiest achieved if civil society is kept at arm’s length.
Fossil fuel lobby to the fore
With civil society excluded, the voices of those actively standing in the way of climate action will continue to dominate negotiations. That’s what happened at COP27, also held in the closed civic space of Egypt, where 636 fossil fuel lobbyists took part – and left happy. Like every summit before it, its final statement made no commitment to reduce oil and gas use.
The only way to change this is to open the doors to civil society. Civil society has consistently sounded the alarm and raised public awareness of the need for climate action. It’s the source of practical solutions to cut emissions and adapt to climate impacts. It urges more ambitious commitments and more funding, including for the loss and damage caused by climate change. It defends communities against environmentally destructive impacts, resists extraction and promotes sustainability. It pressures states and the private sector to stop approving and financing further extraction and to transition more urgently to more renewable energies and more sustainable practices. These are the voices that must be heard if the cycle of runaway climate change is to be stopped.
COPs should be held in countries that offer an enabling civic space that allows strong domestic mobilisation, and summit hosts should be expected to abide by high standards when it comes to domestic and international access and participation. That should be part of the deal hosts make in return for the global prestige that comes with hosting high-level events. Civil society’s exclusion mustn’t be allowed to happen again.