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Faith, Food, and Loss and Damage at COP28

Inside the Faith Pavilion during its virtual inauguration (Photo credit: Pedro Walpole SJ)

A virtual inauguration of the Faith Pavilion

It was another hectic morning, and despite the World Climate Action Summit (WCAS) concluding, Blue and Green Zone delegates were once again redirected to alternative entry points and lengthy lines for crowd control.

Day 4 started with the inauguration of the Faith Pavilion; Pope Francis and Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed Al-Tayeb delivered their addresses virtually. The actual ceremony attended by COP28 presidency officials and faith leaders was held in another pavilion, and was livestreamed in the Faith Pavilion with no simultaneous translation facilities in place. Sometime after, the faith leaders led by Cardinal Pietro Parolin visited the Faith Pavilion, making the event for those in the present something of a reality. The pavilion is very small but on a prominent corner.

Photo Credit: Criselle Mejillano

A co-organizer of the pavilion shared in another meeting that standard operational costs amounted to over USD 1 million and the organizing team had to rely on donor contributions. This is another idiosyncrasy of the COP system that made it challenging for the Faith Pavilion to be a space for encounter, dialogue, and action.

The two sides of food systems at COP

A key focus of the COP28 presidency is on food systems with its Food Systems and Agriculture Agenda to “address both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the frontline of climate change.” On 1 December, over 130 countries have signed on the Emirates Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action that signifies their commitment to integrate food into their climate plans by 2025. This again is a declaration of which there are many, that hopefully will not take decades to find root and act for sustainability in the lives of those in need.

Despite this agreement, negotiations on the implementation mechanisms of the joint work on agriculture and climate action have reached a stalemate. Civil society groups such as Pesticide Action Network (PAN) and DeSmog urged that agroecology should be central in the negotiations while raising the alarm on industrial agriculture lobbyists present in COP28.

DeSmog mapped out industrial agricultural giants and where they seek to influence discussions through an interactive map. These industries bring corporate and technological-driven solutions to the table as opposed to upholding traditional knowledge of local farmers.

The extent of industrial agriculture is disconcerting as it heavily outweighs the representation of local farmers in high-level discussions. In a 16-minute documentary produced by the Environmental Science for Social Change (ESSC), a Jesuit research and institute based in the Philippines, smallholder women and men farmers in Bukidnon in northern Mindanao, share their stories and experiences in the corn industry that supplies animal feeds, laying bare the socio-economic vulnerabilities in their communities. Their reflections reaffirm the transition potential of food systems towards agroecology through culture-based actions.

Negotiations on operationalizing the Santiago Network

The Santiago Network was formally established in COP25 at Chile in 2019. The network’s purpose is to provide technical support to organizations, networks, and bodies to address loss and damage, and since its inception, the Santiago Network has yet to be operationalized as Parties could not come to a consensus on the network’s host.

A key negotiation item for today was an informal consultation on the draft decision text of matters relating to the Santiago network (SBSTA 59). The latest version of the draft text was disseminated a few minutes before the sessions started, inhibiting Parties to have adequate time to review the text.

A key advancement was that Parties agreed that the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNDRR) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) serve as the network’s host. Other Parties also emphasized that regional contacts of the Santiago Network are in place to ensure equitable access. Representatives of YOUNGO, the official youth UNFCCC constituency urged Parties to operationalize the Santiago Network immediately and ensure that technical assistance is human rights and needs-based, and gender responsive.

Faith-based discussion on loss and damage

Amid the hustle at the Faith Pavilion, Germanwatch, an independent development, environmental, and human rights organization that lobbies for sustainable global development, and the Interfaith Liaison Committee (ILC), a platform with the UNFCCC that supports the informal gathering of faith-based organizations in the climate conferences, convened a small gathering with faith actors on loss and damage. The group was a mix of actors from the Global North and Global South, which enabled a compelling exchange.

A small group of faith actors discuss loss and damage concerns (photo credit: Criselle Mejillano)

Following the landmark deal on the operationalization of the Loss and Damage funding arrangements during the first day of COP28, voluntary contributions from developed countries continued now amounting to over USD 600 million, according to the Climate Fund Pledge Tracker of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). This is a small sum considering that USD 400 billion annually is needed to address loss and damage needs by 2030, according to a report by Climate Analytics. Yet, the United States of America only contributed USD 17.5 million, and Japan contributed USD 10 million. The World Bank serving as the intermediary of the fund for the first four years is met with skepticism and dissent by developing countries, given that past fund disbursements of the World Bank were in the form of loans. Ensuring that the Loss and Damage Fund is directly accessible at the local level and is responsive to actual needs are key concerns.

The small group gathered emphasized that loss and damage is a moral issue. The group also highlighted that the Loss and Damage Fund now hosted by the World Bank will not work unless financial architectures of funding institutions are reformed.

In COP27, faith-based groups along with civil society played a crucial role in lobbying for the inclusion of loss and damage in the formal agenda. Faith and civil society actors have the potential to influence financial systems reforms through strategic engagements and dialogue with funding institutions. It is crucial to keep justice and equity, not just the finances in the fore, and keep practical and steadfast collaboration alive throughout the COP process and beyond.

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