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Turning Talanoa from talk to action

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Last Sunday (6 May 2018), the first meetings of the Talanoa Dialogue (storytelling) took place in Bonn, as part of the latest round of the UN climate change talks. The expectation was that the Dialogue would provide a crucial opportunity to acknowledge the reality of the global effort to tackle climate change: that existing pledges are inadequate to the scale of the task; and that ambition urgently needs to be increased.

Climate Solver – climate change innovation

WWF’s story was about innovation and the difference it can make.  There are many seeds out there in the world; we need to help the seedlings grow. In this sense I presented a story from China – about a student who, while studying at Harvard, was challenged by his professor to do something to change the world. So he developed a low-cost zinc-bromine battery that can be deployed in rural areas in China and avoid up to 23.6 million CO2 emissions if used in 10% of China’s solar power capacity. There are similar stories on www.climatesolver.org, an online platform developed by WWF to provide entrepreneurs with credibility, verification (of potential climate performance if they grow and take market shares) and visibility/exposure (to investors, potential customers, policy makers and often the public too).

Talanoa stories

Some interesting stories were featured in the Talanoa I participated in:

  • Austria has just finished their first integrated climate and energy strategy that is now under stakeholder consultations.
  • The EU mentioned sectoral policies with legally-binding targets and their climate change package of regulations, incentives and financial instruments to shift investments from brown to green.
  • Finland presented the key take-aways of their national Talanoa Dialogue, organized by the Ministries of Transport and Environment.
  • The Seychelles announced they will review their NDC.
  • Brazil mentioned the Montreal Protocol as a positive example of developing and developed countries cooperation.
  • Saint Lucia is organizing a regional NDC Forum for the Caribbean to discuss public and private investment for NDC-related development projects.
  • The Mahindra Group’s main message was that “once you start, you find out that you can actually do more” and mentioned their programs on energy reduction; training women to become energy technicians in their villages so also driving social change and forest restoration/carbon sequestration initiatives that are also fostering social change. Innovation and science-based targets were also highlighted at the closing discussions.

Talk must turn to action now

While I have been encouraged by the engagement of governments and other stakeholders and their compelling stories, I am still anxious to see the talk turn into action. And I am quite sure this feeling is shared by the broader NGO community and especially by the most vulnerable and poor countries in the world.

Talanoa started life in Paris at COP21 as the facilitative dialogue, a process designed for parties to the Paris Agreement to take collective stock of their progress towards the long-term goals of the climate treaty.

At COP23, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, as COP President, proposed renaming the process after the Fijian tradition of inclusive and transparent dialogue. Talanoa involves participants sharing stories, experience and ideas with a view to building empathy and making wise decisions for the common good.

The Talanoa Dialogue is structured around three questions regarding our collective climate change objectives: Where are we now? Where do we want to go? How do we get there? By the start of April, 220 inputs had been received by the UN climate change secretariat, from governmental entities, civil society, academia, business, coalitions, international organisations and UN bodies. WWF also made a submission.

Stories must be turned into concrete outcomes in the negotiations

WWF welcomes this innovative approach to negotiations.  I felt the spirit of trust and cooperation it created in the room yesterday. But we are concerned that the Talanoa Dialogue may not deliver on its potential. It is not clear what mechanisms exist – if any – to reach conclusions regarding the discussions held, nor how those outputs might be fed into the negotiating process.  The challenge is to turn the stories, experiences and solutions that emerge from the Talanoa Dialogue into tangible, concrete outcomes within the climate negotiations.

Some recommendations that might help Talanoa pave the way for a strong outcome at COP 24 would be: having another Talanoa round in the next meeting in Bangkok (if there is one); countries replicating the dialogue at the regional, national and sectoral levels with the full involvement of non-Party stakeholders; the strong commitment by the incoming Polish Presidency to have the process deliver more ambitious Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by 2020.

Fiji invoked Talanoa as a more informal, consensual process that would help build trust more broadly. But it must be more than that. It must work as a lever to lift global ambition to reduce emissions more steeply and more rapidly than is implied by the NDCs that were brought to Paris in 2015. The talk must lead countries to step up climate action.

Dr Fernanda De Carvalho is the global climate and energy policy manager for WWF International. She is based in Brasilia.   fcarvalho@wwfint.org

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