COP26: A “just” decision-making process is needed for a “just” transition


After two weeks of negotiations, countries have agreed and signed the Glasgow Climate Pact which – despite leaving many unsatisfied, such as scientists, civil society, indigenous peoples and developing countries – has been presented as a successful result to achieve a just climate transition by 2050. While the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) estimated that all together, emissions reduction targets leave us far from achieving the 1.5°C goal by 2050 – according to the Cop26 President, negotiations “kept the 1.5C target alive” (The Guardian, 2021). 

Therefore, Cop26 didn’t leave us with clear resolutions to the climate change challenges, but instead (again) with many doubts and the “hope” that new negotiations and a re-examination of National Determined Contributions (NDCs) in one year’s time at a conference in Egypt will increase countries’ ambitions regarding emission cuts toward the achievement of that 1.5°C target. 

Having been described by civil society groups and indigenous people as the most “exclusive Cop ever”, Cop26 also leaves us with another “hope” – that a “procedural justice” approach (Siciliano et al., 2021) is implemented in the negotiation processes of future conferences if a “just transition” must be achieved. 

While the approved ‘Glasgow Climate Pact’ rightly emphasises the importance to ensure “just transitions that promote sustainable development and eradication of poverty, and the creation of decent work and quality jobs” (Draft decision -/CMA.3: 9), the decision-making process of Cop26 was far from being “just”. Those from the front lines, most vulnerable and affected by climate decisions, asked for more decision-making powers and a better consideration of bottom-up alternative solutions to mitigate the climate as essential to achieve a just decision-making process in future negotiations. 

As highlighted by Professor Ian Scoones in The Conversation, top-down and centralised national solutions (e.g. development of renewable energy technology and technology transfer, forest protection, end of coal, methane and inefficient fossil fuel subsidies) discussed by countries and corporations in the main Cop26 venues, were completely disconnected to discussions led by civil society groups and indigenous peoples in alternative arenas.  In these arenas, the focus was on bottom-up, community-led and indigenous solutions to protect the nature – most importantly forests – and therefore contribute to mitigate the climate. 

In two side events I attended – “Alternatives to hydropower and nature-based solutions to protect the climate and indigenous peoples” organised by the NGO International Rivers and “Indigenous peoples of the Amazon and climate change: new solutions for energy from the indigenous territories” organised by the Rede de Cooperação Amazônica (RCA) – civil society groups and indigenous peoples from Mexico, Canada, and the Amazon region presented community-based solutions which are “innovative, just, and scalable clean energy” alternatives to the development of large renewable projects, such as hydropower dams, and nature-based carbon offset mechanisms (e.g. REDD+) in tropical forests home of indigenous peoples.

In their view, a just transition needs to capture the need to protect nature and, at the same time, to preserve local cultures and knowledge and share the costs and benefits of ambitious climate action and energy transitions in a fair and equitable manner. Adequate access to resources, energy sovereignty, environmental protection, inclusiveness in climate decision-making are central to indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ priorities in climate change negotiations. However, in Glasgow, these crucial, political debates were missing in the main negotiation spaces. 

On a positive note, in the Cop26 decision ratified by all parties, the Collaboration paragraph at point 93 “emphasizes the important role of indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ culture and knowledge in effective action on climate change, and urges Parties to actively involve indigenous peoples and local communities in designing and implementing climate action” (Draft decision -/CMA.3: 10).  

I therefore hope that in future climate change conferences, indigenous peoples’ and local communities’ alternative climate solutions will be taken seriously into consideration in international negotiations and national plans and that more collective spaces are created for a better recognition of bottom-up and inclusive approaches to climate change mitigation and for a collaborative definition of environmentally sustainable and socially-just solutions.

Dr Giuseppina Siciliano is a Lecturer in Sustainable Development in the Centre for Development, Environment and Policy, SOAS. She holds a PhD in Analysis and Governance of Sustainable Development and a MSc degree in Ecological Economics and Environmental Management. She works on sustainability and just transitions, with a focus on land use changes, energy and development. She has extensive research experience in different international contexts in Asia, Africa and Latin America. She worked on several international research projects on energy and land use transitions funded by UK Economics and Social Research Council and the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and a most recent project funded by Wellcome Trust on green transformations in the energy and land use sectors in the global South. She has authored numerous research articles.

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