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Below is the audio, video, and full transcript from a presentation on October 13, 2021, “Climate action in the Global South: is net zero (sufficiently) inclusive?” with Jessica Omukuti.
Following the Paris Agreement goals of limiting temperature increase to 2 degrees by 2050 through reduction and balancing of emissions, net zero has recently become a framing concept for global climate action. Different actors, including governments, businesses and civil society have started adopting net zero as a framing concept for climate action.
In “Climate action in the Global South: is net zero (sufficiently) inclusive?” Jessica Omukuti will focus on inclusivity in net zero and climate finance, and will explore the evolution of the net zero framing to date, particularly focusing on the Global South. Jessica will also discuss why and how climate justice, equity, and inclusion should be an integral part of policy discussions on net zero.
Listen to “Climate action in the Global South: is net zero (sufficiently) inclusive?” on the Cities@Tufts Podcast (or on the app of your choice):
“Net Zero in the Global South” Transcript
Jessica Omukuti: [00:00:06] Developing countries need to chart their own course to net zero emissions where they decide what they should do and how they should do it and when they should do it. Because these countries have made very little contribution towards climate change, but also they are affected much more than that. And if you go back to the Paris Agreement, it says that we should limit emissions within the framework of sustainable development, which is a very huge priority for countries in the global south, but also within the framework of poverty reduction, but not even just reduction — eradication of poverty.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:00:37] Could Rio’s favelas offer a sustainable housing model for cities around the world? What are the impacts of over-policing Black mobility in the U.S.? Are $16 tacos leading to gentrification and the emotional, cultural, economic and physical displacement it produces? These are just a few of the questions we’ll be exploring on this season of Cities@Tufts Lectures, a weekly free event series and podcast where we explore the impact of urban planning on our communities and the opportunities to design for greater equity and justice. I’m your host, Tom Llewellyn.
[00:01:09] In addition to this audio, you can watch the video and read the full transcript of this lecture and discussion on sharable.net. And while you’re there, get caught up on all of our past lectures. And now here’s Professor Julian Agyeman, who will welcome you to the Cities@Tufts Fall colloquium and introduced today’s lecturer.
Julian Agyeman: [00:01:33] Welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium. Along with our partners Sharable and the Kresge Foundation, we offer an interesting set of talks on a range of topics that are really pressing in the world today. I’m Professor Julian Agyeman, together with my research assistants Perri Sheinbaum and Caitlin McLennan, we organize Cities@Tufts as a cross-disciplinary academic initiative, which recognizes Tufts University as a leader in urban studies, urban planning and sustainability issues. We’d like to acknowledge that Tufts University’s Medford campus is located on colonized Wampanoag and Massachusetts traditional territory.
[00:02:13] Today, we are delighted to welcome Dr. Jessica Omukuti. Jessica’s research expertise on climate justice and equity, climate finance, climate change and adaptation, and just transitions in the global south. Jessica is a research fellow on Inclusive Net Zero for the Oxford Net Zero Initiative and is based at Oxford University’s Institute of Science, Innovation and Technology. Her work involves engaging with actors in the Global South to outline what net zero means and how inclusivity can be embedded into net zero policies and practices in the Global South.
[00:02:48] Jessica is also an ESRC COP26 fellow based at the University of York in England, and her research focuses, as I said, on the delivery of climate finance adaptation to climate change, specifically using the Green Climate Fund as a case study. And Jessica’s talk today is: “Climate Action in the Global South: Is net zero sufficiently inclusive?” Jessica, a zoom-tastic welcome to the Cities@Tufts colloquium.
“Net Zero in the Global South” Lecture
Jessica Omukuti: [00:03:15] Thank you, Julian. Hi, everyone. It’s really great to be here. I have been really looking forward to speaking with you today, and so I’m really hoping that we can have a conversation. So, today’s conversation will be about climate justice and climate action in the global south. And as Julian mentioned, I’ll base this conversation on my current and previous work on climate finance, but also on net zero.
[00:03:44] And so I’ll just start off by introducing myself. I will take the next about half hour, let me just start my timer, I’ll take about the next half hour I’m just going through some of the issues that I think are quite important to understand when you think about climate action in the Global South and then we’ll use the last maybe 20 or so minutes for Q&A. And so, yeah, please feel free to just ask me the basic questions and most of the — if you think you have a very complex question, please do. I’m happy to answer it.
[00:04:12] And so just a bit about myself. I am a research fellow at the University of Oxford and my work is focused on net zero in the Global South, and so I am interested on — my part of the project is interested in understanding whether net zero can be inclusive and how we can make that happen, particularly for the Global South, but also in the Global South. And most people ask me, what do you mean by the Global South? Think in this case, we just have a very, very specific definition. It’s countries in Africa — it’s kind of [inaudible] geographical, so it’s countries in Africa, Latin America and in parts of Asia. And so that’s mostly South Asia. And so for the the whole Oxford Net Zero program is interested in obviously understanding net zero as a framework for climate action. And as I mentioned, my component is just understanding how do we make it as inclusive for the global south, but also in the Global South? And I talk about that a bit later.
[00:05:10] Before working at the university — before joining the University of Oxford, I worked at the University of York at the IGDC Interdisciplinary Global Development Center, but I’ve worked on other places. And so I spent some time working for the Green Climate Fund, which is a very big, famous, favorite, dedicated climate finance institution. I’ve also worked in development organizations such as Mercy Corps, I worked with CARE, I started off working at the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership way, way, many years ago. But I also also worked with CHOOOSE, which is a carbon offset, kind of, really not carbon, but an emission offset institution or company. It’s a kind of a private sector company that deals with carbon offsets.
[00:05:52] And I am a Kenyan. If you’re wondering, I grew up in a very agricultural based area in Kenya, and I was trained as a meteorologist at the University of Nairobi. And then I did an M.S. at the University of Sussex in the UK and then did a PhD at the University of Reading. And so my work started off as a climate scientist, but I’ve progressed, I’ve kind of built up on that to finally start doing climate justice. But then in between that, I’ve done a bit of climate information services and then I progressed to doing some work on resilience and adaptation in sub-Saharan Africa. And then that has finally transformed into climate finance and climate justice and now net zero.
[00:06:33] And so my main interests are, as obviously as you can see, it’s on on climate change and adaptation and resilience and how that intersects with climate justice and equity. But also seeing how that plays out in relation to climate finance. And then lastly, I’ve added in net zero in the global south. And so kind of the interaction between that, how does climate finance affect net zero, but also how does net zero affect climate finance? And then in the middle is where we get everything that’s interesting and fun happening.
[00:07:03] So I’ll just start off — Julian told me about this year’s class and he said that you’ve been talking about climate change. And so me explaining that climate change is everyone’s reality, but more for some than for others, is something that you probably already know. And there’s obviously the global shift, the very binary division in causation and impacts of climate change or the consequence of climate change. But even within those regions, for example, in Africa, we have places that are better able to respond to climate change than others. But also within Africa, there’s people who have caused or contributed more emissions who have emitted more emissions than others. In the UK, it’s still the same. You can say differences in contribution to climate change, but also differences in ability to respond to the impacts of climate change.
[00:07:51] But then within these, I think the most recent IPCC report was able to show that we’re still experiencing very, very extreme effects at the moment, and these are definitely going to get worse. For example, as we move into the second part of this century and we find that some places, for example, in North Africa, we find that the central parts of Latin America will have very, very quick warming as compared to other places. You have coastal areas being affected much more than inland areas. And so we have different types of climate risks for different people, and some people will be much more affected by a combination of climate change risks.
[00:08:28] And that is why we start off by thinking about how do we define climate action. And my concern is, well, there’s obviously global climate action where we’re thinking about how much do we need to do to limit the emissions, but also, what can we do in the Global South? But, so, it’s thinking about what should we be doing in the Global South? What should the Global South be doing. And then going further and asking what can the Global South do?
[00:08:54] And so I’ll just be very presumptuous here and assume that most of you don’t know about the Paris Agreement. And so I’ll just step back a bit and give a very basic introduction to the Paris Agreement. And so it is very, very, very — it is an international agreement for countries and actions to resolve or to address climate change. And there’s Article 4.1 in the Paris Agreement is what I consider a very, very, very important first step to addressing climate change specifically in the framework of limiting emissions, but also supporting adaptation.
[00:09:27] And so Article 4.1 says that for us to address climate change, we need to aim to reach global peaking of greenhouse gases as soon as possible. Of interest is as soon as possible. And so the Paris Agreement, which was created in 2015, back then it said that we need to peak as soon as possible. And then in the same line, it says that we recognize that peaking will take longer for developing countries.
[00:09:53] And then after saying that, but it says that, we need to undertake very rapid reductions thereafter in accordance with best available science, and we need to achieve a balance between anthropogenic emissions by sources and removals by sinks of greenhouse gases in the second half of the century. And so it says that we need to peak very soon, yeah? It says that some people will take longer than others to do the peaking, but we also need to start reducing our emissions very, very quickly. And it says that we need to balance between how much we emit and how much we reduce, by sources and by removals and using removals by sinks. And then there’s a last bit to it. It says that we should do this on the basis of equity and in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.
[00:10:43] And so we’re kind of a lot of things playing out here. So it’s kind of the timelines where it’s as soon as possible by mid-century, There’s issues such as, some people will do this better or some people will take a bit longer to do it, kind of recognizing that there’s an issue of equity, but also countries still need to do this in the context of sustainable development and poverty eradication. And this is what we’re using to define climate action moving forward. And in essence, this is what we’re using to say that achieving limiting warming, we will need to balance between emissions and sinks, and that is net zero. So kind of net zero is where we say that what we emit into the atmosphere, anthropogenic emissions will need to be counterbalanced. And so counterbalanced by what we capture back from the atmosphere. And that is the basis of net zero.
[00:11:32] But this is kind of in relation to the science, and so the science says that for us to limit warming to two degrees, we need to capture X amount of carbon from the atmosphere or we need to limit the amount of carbon in the atmosphere by this much gigatons or we need to reduce this much gigatons per year until this much time. And so there’s the science that underlines this, and here’s what the science says. The sense is that if you continue business as usual, we will obviously have a continual increase in temperatures. But then for us to reach net zero, which is very much implied in the Paris Agreement, we need to reduce how much we emit. But also we’ll have to balance that with removals through sinks. And the blue line, as you can see, the blue line kind of shows when we reach net zero. And so net zero, if we use this,, we are more likely to reach a net zero emissions by around 2065. And that’s why we’re still in meeting a bit of carbon. But also we’re kind of countering that with a lot of carbon removal from the atmosphere.
[00:12:40] And so net zero is kind of a science, so net zero says that we need to do this. The science is that we need to limit the amount of carbon put into the atmosphere by this much gigatons of carbon, but also net zero is a framework that tells us how to do that. And so it says that we have to combine carbon — limiting how much we emitt — so that is carbon avoidance or emission avoidance, with emission removals. And as a framework, it’s quite important. But it’s also quite broad because there’s little guidance on how we do it.
[00:13:12] I mean, if you go back to the Paris Agreement, it’s just say, well, let’s do it by the second half of the century, and then it says by that, well, some people will have to do it and, you know, later than others. And the Paris Agreement also says, Oh yes, some people will have to take up a bit more responsibility for it, not just to let others do it. And we have to do that with the sustainable development and poverty reduction. And so it’s a very broad framework and that is a good thing because there’s very different needs in the world. There’s very different needs within continents, across continents. People need to determine their own priorities. And it’s also quite tricky because a lot could go wrong. And a lot could go wrong because it’s kind of a very blank slate. Well, not very, extremely blank because we kind of have that goal of: we need to limit warming by 2°C. And to do that, we have to achieve net zero.
[00:13:57] But then countries have been asked to make pledges for emission reductions towards net zero. And for those who are new to this, and there’s been a lot of re-pledging, renewals of ambitions through the Nationally Determined Dontributions and the [inaudible] did an assessment. So 20 countries were supposed to submit revised pledges that showed new ambitions for contribution towards emission reductions and the NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions) that was submitted last year, they showed that whatever ambition that countries were saying they would do was was just not enough. And so pledges are growing, have much more participation, much more willingness for people to make pledges towards net zero. And it’s just not countries. We have businesses, we have institutions, we have even cities making pledges towards net zero. But the ambition does not really — it’s not enough to even reach net zero by, you know, within the timeframe that we’re hoping for.
[00:14:53] But then there’s the Climate Action Tracker that has tried to assess what these ambitions, and the low ambition that we’re seeing versus pledges, and what we need to do, and finds that with the current policies, we will get a 2.7-3.1 degree warming — a mean warming — but then with the pledges and targets that countries are submitting and just, you know, the countries and businesses and cities and whatever everyone is submitting, we’ll probably land at 2.6 degrees.
[00:15:23] And if some of you read the — there’s the IPCC 1.5 Special Report that said that warming of two degrees is dangerous, that will mean that we have biodiversity losses, we have a lot of sea level rise that is very, very catastrophic for a lot of things. In fact, we’ll have some things just going extinct. And so just think about if we stick to the current pledges, we’ll have a 2.6 degree Celsius warming, which is way, way more than what we can even imagine. But then even an optimistic net zero target will get us to 2.1, which is just even worse. And so to get a two degree consistent warming, countries will have to reduce a lot, a lot of the emissions.
[00:16:03] And I usually kind of think about how much we need to do in relation to what happened in March of last year when we had a lockdown. So I was in the UK, and in March, it was a really uncertain time. But I remember things shut down very, very quickly. People weren’t going to the supermarkets, there was just deliveries being done. No going to school, no going to work. And so that was a very, very huge economic slowdown. But even then, we did not achieve the rate of reduction in emissions that we even need annually to reach a two degree consistent warming.
[00:16:35] And so that means that to get to net zero, we’ll have to transform our economies, how we produce very, very drastically. And it excites some people. It scares quite a lot, even more people, because that level of transformation is unheard of. We will need to think about new ways to go to school, about new ways of seeing our families overseas, which gives us very little time — that’s, we’re kind of, in 2020, that’s giving us about 70 years or even less to do that. And that technological transformation is still unknown.
[00:17:07] Anyway, moving on. But then there’s a group that is thinking, Well, we’re definitely not on the path to net zero. And if we get to net zero, it’ll be at a much later date was probably the end, the last bit of the second half of the century. But then they say that hitting net zero is not enough, really, you must restore the climate. And so there’s one group of people that are saying that, well, we’re making pledges, but they’re not enough. And there’s another very radical group of people that are saying that, well, we don’t need net zero. We need absolute zero emissions for us to be able to survive this planet for us to keep the planet as it’s supposed to be.
[00:17:45] And so we’re urging — some people are urging governments to very drastically cut greenhouse gas emissions. And so think about it, if net zero is that difficult to achieve, how will cutting greenhouse gas emissions absolutely, how will it look like? And then there’s this kind of beyond that. That’s kind of a very broad discussion. And then there’s a group of people that are saying, well, what exactly is net zero? And so what sort of transformations will we need? What sort of actions would we need? And what does that mean for the Global South? Because at the international level, the Global South is this very, very politically powerless group that is only — it is at the mercy of very global politics that is controlled by the Global [inaudible].
[00:18:29] And so the Global South, in most discussions of net zero — I was part of a climate neutrality forum, I attended a forum at the University of Oxford and we had so many people attending, about, we had three hubs in perso, but then there was a lot of people attending online who were talking about what do we need to achieve climate neutrality? And most of the discussions were talking about, we need policies, we need technology, we need action in North America specifically, and in Europe. And there was very few people mentioning about what would happen in the Global South. But it was just, you know, those one-off mentions about the Global South.
[00:19:07] The Global South is seen as a very silent participant in this case or a very active participant in net zero. And so its job is to either follow the leader or A or B and to be able to implement policies that are created in the global north. For example, a lot of these conversations kind of assume that there’ll be a very huge machine that will be created in the UK and that will be taken to a small country, let’s say a small country like Zimbabwe, and it should be placed there, and it will absorb all the carbon from the atmosphere and then we will achieve net zero. And so Global South countries are seen as, you know, supporters of global north policies and global not ambitions, but not as agents of determining what net zero should look like.
[00:19:54] But then one of my colleagues said that developing countries need to chart their own course to net zero emissions where they decide what they should do and how they should do it and when they should do it, because these countries have made very little contribution towards climate change, but also they affected much more than that. And if you go back to the Paris Agreement, it says that we should limit emissions within the framework of sustainable development, which is a very huge priority for countries in the Global South, but also within the framework of poverty reduction, but not even just reduction — eradication of poverty.
[00:20:29] And then, in a way, kind of the Paris Agreement says that you can only start considering net zero after you’ve achieved sustainable development and after probably — or you’re closer to eradicating poverty. But then there’s one that says that thinking about net zero, specifically in relation to the Global South, should have an approach that incorporates fair share, where fair share could be either responsibility for emissions or capacity to implement net zero policies and strategies. And so it’s where we say that developing countries will chart their own course based on fair share where they say that we’re either, we don’t have the capacity to do this and so we will develop our capacity or we will attend to our most urgent priorities. And then when we’re able to, and in accordance with the Paris Agreement, we will peak our emissions a bit later and then start reducing them in line with the science.
[00:21:20] But then the problem is that even with the Paris Agreement, there’s still a lot of push for countries in the Global South to start reducing their emissions. And as you remember, the UN assessment, the NDCs, some of the NDCs that were submitted were from developing countries. Some of the NDCs were from developed countries. And so the assessment in overall found that there’s very limited ambition to achieve the Paris Agreement, 2.0 degree temperature target. But then there’s kind of a very strong push at the moment for countries in the Global South to start limiting their emissions.
[00:21:56] A very good example is last week there was the Green Climate Fund that I mentioned earlier. So the Green Climate Fund had its 30th board meeting and they were supposed to be re-accredit South African Development Bank. It’s got the DBSA — Development Bank of South Africa. It operates in the South and Africa region. And before we re-accreditation — so accreditation basically is where institutions are kind of in a way vetted to see whether they are aligned with the goals of the Green Climate Fund and whether they can manage this year funds. And so usually you get accreditation and then you kind of get that passport for about five years and then you have to come back again and tell them, well, I’m still the same person or I’m a better person, and so give me permission to still work with you.
[00:22:44] And so DBSA was seeking the re-accreditation and first the board of the GCF (Green Climate Fund), part of the board — so the board of the GCF is made up of 24 members, 12 from developed countries and 12 from developing countries. And so the developed country function, part of it, was of the opinion that before DBSA is re-accredited, it should show commitment to being in alignment with net zero by 2050. And that basically meant that DBSA should make a commitment to not fund fossil fuels or not to put its money in fossil fuels.
[00:23:15] But this kind of was a very, very big thing because developing countries do not want those conditionalities. And I was having a conversation with my colleagues yesterday, it’s kind of — we will thought that, you know, the conflict between developing country members of the board and developed countries, it’s seen as if net zero is being weaponized to force developing countries onto a certain path that is not in alignment with the clause that I showed you in the Paris Agreement.
[00:23:43] And so we had this very important tweet by Zaheer Fakir. So he is a South African government representative, and he said that following the GCF board meeting, it is absolutely disgusting to see how some developed countries are using the GCF and the needs of developing countries to impose their unilateral will and conditions on them. And so it’s kind of the weaponizing of net zero against the Global South when we know experts, practitioners in the developing countries should [inaudible].
[00:24:13] And there was a bit of a back and forth. But then that shows where net zero is going. That shows that there’s the kind of the risk of weaponization. There’s also the kind of the tendency of mistrust from the Global South, where they suspect that developed countries will start using — and when you think about this, you kind of see the conditionality that when board, part of the board, put on the DBSA, it’s kind of very similar to what we’ve seen with the structural adjustment programs by the World Bank earlier, but it’s also some of the conditionalities we’ve seen and up to the early 2000s or even the 2010s where, you know, you have to do this before we give you the money, you have to achieve this, you have to implement this before you’re able to do that.
[00:24:50] And so it’s kind of — it’s inclusivity where we think about what is net zero, what should net zero be, but also what should net zero be for the Global South? And how can the Global South be able to chart their own these course? But then should they also be able to [inaudible]? Is it a right? Is it something that should be dictated by someone else? And who is that someone else? Who gives them that opportunity to do that?
[00:25:13] So that’s my work. Now I think about what is net zero in the Global South? And at the moment, I’m thinking about it in three aspects and a kind of three lenses. And so it’s kind of in three way: A) it’s inclusivity. For net zero is equity and justice in net zero. Inclusivity is ensuring that there’s equitable processes and outcomes. But there’s also justice in how net zero is defined and implemented. And its kind of justice and equity for the Global South in international net zero. And where we say that international net zero is how we define how the world should achieve net zero. And usually, as I mentioned, net zero discussions kind of overlook the Global South.
[00:25:54] At the moment, I suspect that the Global South is somewhere — we need to know where the Global South is in relation to understanding of net zero, but also what they could do, what they’re willing to do in relation to other priorities. And so we need to kind of have justice and equity for the Global South within international debates, but also inclusivity is just as an equity in the Global South, within those countries and in those regions, there needs to be an understanding of how net zero is defined. How they think they’ll achieve net zero and specifically looking at what sectors need to decarbonize, which sectors need to decarbonize a bit later. Which areas, you know, which places, which communities are more affected by net zero? Which ones are not affected?
[00:26:42] And then the third component in inclusivity, inclusivity thinking about future generations in the Global South, which is really interesting because when talking about future generations, mostly we think about future innovations in the global north and the kind of shifting this conversation to the Global South is very, very important because we have the greatest proportion of youth is in the Global South. Population growth will happen in the global south. And we still have this very young population coming up. And this is where we start thinking about what does just transition, how does that transition towards net zero mean for people who will be born ten years from now, about 30 years from now?
[00:27:22] And so within this are three or four research areas that I’m kind of thinking about. One is what is net zero in the Global South. If you go back to the DBSA example, obviously DBSA and Zaheer have a different idea about what net zero is. There’s an article that, the links in the PowerPoint, you can have a look at that, there was kind of a pushback where developing country board members were saying that, well, the DBSA has committed to doing this, but the developed countries were thinking maybe they were thinking that that is not enough. We need more stronger — we need stronger commitments towards not funding coal power plants or fossil fuels or not, you know, not investing in new fossil fuel sources.
[00:28:01] And so we need to understand what net zero means in the Global South. And this is also particularly important because countries in the Global South have been doing different forms of net zero. And so I mean, growing up, and even in my early career, I hear things about low carbon development, low emission development, there used to be mainstreaming of climate change into development. There’s things such as — very specific tools and strategies such as [inaudible] which are kind of a very important component to net zero or maybe part of net zero or entirely not net zero.
[00:28:33] And so we need to know where the Global South is in relation to net zero. They may have done something, they may not have done something. And so it’s understanding what net zero means in the Global South and then using that to build up to kind of, create a shared understanding of what they can do. And then, yeah, linked to that is how should and how can countries and actors in the Global South reach net zero? And so it is very, very practical. And that’s kind of in the framework of sustainable development because countries still need to develop, institutions still need to develop, and looking at what role can actors play to help these places reach net zero.
[00:29:09] And important to that is what does this transition look like within a Global South context? And this is quite important also for me because I started working on just transitions about three or four years ago. And one of the things I realized is discussions on that mostly focus on the global north. There’s a lot of literature on how Germany can transition to net zero or the US about coal dependent communities, communities living [inaudible] coal mines. But there’s very limited information about how, let’s say, how Nepal can transition to net zero, how countries that are not really as dependent on fossil fuels as the global north, but whose dependence on fossil fuels is kind of means a very, very, very huge effect. You know, it’s kind of it means either you stop developing or you develop.
[00:29:55] And so it’s kind of a very good example. I was speaking with my colleagues yesterday who was saying that not investing a new coal power plant — it could mean nothing, if a country such as the USA says that we’re not investing in new coal power plants, that, you know, that means something different as compared to a country such as Tanzania, which probably has two coal power plants and will say that we will A, not invest in new coal power plants or we will kind of take them off operation. If your infrastructure is 50 percent of what you have. If fossil fuels is 50 percent of your infrastructure, then that has a very huge implication for how you transition to a net zero status. And so we need to understand what just transitions mean in the Global South.
[00:30:38] And then lastly, is barriers and enablers for net zero in the Global South. And so this kind of a very overall assessment about what are the barriers in different regions, different countries, different sectors and different communities. What is the role of cities? What is the role of communities? What role can businesses play? And that’s something that people have actually overlooked, and that’s something I am really looking forward to kind of going deeper and looking at. What role can businesses play in the Global South in enabling or supporting or identifying net zero targets?
[00:31:07] Okay, lastly, my last slide here is, so I work, my work is on specifically net zero, and I work as part of a larger team. Oxford Zero was funded by the New Strategic Research Fund for the university, so it’s kind of an internal investment. And we collaborate — w have different departments, different schools collaborating. And right now, I’m part of a group from — there’s people who are working on the law and governance of net zero and land governance of emissions. And then there’s people who are working on greenhouse gas removals where they think about geological storage, the role of oceans, you know, the role of nature-based solutions.
[00:31:42] And we’re thinking about how we can bring in people from behavioral sciences and psychology, how we can [we] engage with philosophers to kind of understand the framework of net zero, not just the science itself, but also the framework of net zero. And so the team is growing, we’re trying to kind of cover as much space as we can. And so it’s a lot of collaboration, but then inclusivity kind of cuts across that. Inclusivity is part of the [inaudible] when I think about nature-based solutions, about what what’s the role of offsets, what is the role of forests or parks or wetland, but also storage? And what is the law and governance of net zero and inclusivity also cuts through that.
[00:32:16] And so, yeah, I think that’s it. And if you’re interested in any of the things that I mentioned, please do reach out — I’d be really happy to speak to you. Thank you very much.
“Net Zero in the Global South” Discussion
Julian Agyeman: [00:32:25] Thank you so much, Jessica. That was a really fantastic overview of your work and some really provocative questions that I — well, I mean, the chat is evidence that people really want to speak to you about these things. So I’m just going to jump straight in, Jessica. Steph asks: I would like to know your thoughts on the Green New Deal and how the Global South often gets the short end of the stick with this type of extractive capitalism.
Jessica Omukuti: [00:32:53] So mostly the Green New Deal obviously started off in obviously the North, but Africa is jumping on it. It took a while for, let’s just use Africa as an example — African countries are jumping on it. We can see a bit of agency emerging from discussions on what a Green New Deal could mean for the Global South. It is taking a while because obviously there’s the push, international push for these countries to commit towards very specific aspects of the Green New Deal.
[00:33:28] But then I think the African Union has some form of New Deal, a Green Deal. And what interests me the most is the willingness of countries to engage on these issues. It’s also the willingness of different other sets of actors within the continent.
[00:33:46] And so at the moment, we’re thinking about what can countries in the Global South do to transition to a Green New Deal? And so there’s very, very, very specific requirements where we know that you need to decarbonize the sectors, you need to provide protection for these areas, you need to anticipate these changes. But then how to do that is something I think most countries are still struggling with. But the most important thing is to how to finance it, how to resource it. And that’s, I think, the biggest gap where there’s very significant finance gaps. Yeah, I think, yeah, finance is the biggest issue because we know there’s three pillars of the Paris Agreement — so there’s the finance page, there’s technology and there’s capacity. And once you have finance sorted, it’s easier to kind of start thinking about how do we address technology needs and how do you address capacity needs? And so most of these areas are thinking about how do we get the finance to achieve this Green New Deal? I hope that answers your question.
Julian Agyeman: [00:34:43] Great, thank you. One thing strikes me — and this isn’t particularly my area of expertise, but I, you know, I think about it from, you know, everything that you’ve talked about in many ways is about the economics, the technical know how, the science. But there’s a huge moral morass here, isn’t there? You know, these people in the DBSA in South Africa, these people around the world who are being first and worst affected are the least responsible and the least able to do something about it. That’s a moral problem. And then to hear words like, you know, that the Green Climate Fund is bullying or coercing — that just, you know, surely global capitalism can grow some moral backbone. What do you think, Jessica?
Jessica Omukuti: [00:35:34] Well, it should, but it won’t. I’ve been working with a group called The Scotia Group. They are a group of very influential leaders who are trying to kind of make a statement about what should happen at COP26. And so I’m part of a mediation support unit were supporting the Scotia Group to provide accommodation for very specific areas. And one of them is loss and damage. And I’m working on the loss and damage. And so we set off by recognizing that loss and damage has been a very, very slow topic to progress at COPs. Or they do integrate very procedural issues and saying that we will develop this working group and then we will agree on this, but not really substantial decisions.
[00:36:20] And so we asked ourselves, how do we unlock negotiations at the COP? We start off by asking, should we go with the responsibility bit, where we say that because a group of countries caused this, they should be responsible for addressing loss and damages? And then we thought about it and were like, nah, it would never work because responsibility, historical responsibility, has been on the table since, you know, since the Earth Summit at the 1992 meeting. But it hasn’t gone anywhere because the pushback against responsibility has been so, so strong. And that’s why you see researchers and practitioners recommending other soft measures for achieving equity where it’s not like, Yeah, let’s put eggs on historical responsibility. You know, we know that we’ve done this, but we’re not willing to admit that. And so let’s just go with the capacity where we say that it doesn’t matter you contributed to it. What matters is, can you do it?
[00:37:13] And so our recommendations for loss and damage are kind of very soft approaching, kind of. We say that addressing loss and damage at the core will need you to kind of get some solidarity from different people where you’re not accusatory, where you’re just like, please support us, we really need this. And that’s where climate action is going on — global discussions on climate action are going where it’s just, yeah, it’s moving away from that responsibility bit. And it’s really worrying because it means that we won’t get the action that we need. It won’t happen as fast as it’s needed. We will have so many losses by the time we even get close to addressing climate change if we ever do.
Julian Agyeman: [00:37:50] Great, ok. So, Johnny Shively has a question: I’ve heard arguments that carbon emissions are significantly higher in the north than the Global South. Is focusing on the Global South a distraction from reducing emissions where the majority of production, extraction and carbon emissions are centered?
Jessica Omukuti:[00:38:09] It is. It’s a political game. It’s kind of a whataboutism. I read that through something on Twitter. It’s kind of asking, yeah, it’s saying that, yeah, we know we’re doing this and we’ve emitted X, you know, X carbon over the last ten years. And what about those guys? They’ve admitted X plus 20 tons of carbon over the last ten years. And that kind of it’s saying that irrespective of historical contribution, you know, we need to reduce emissions in the Global South. And as I mentioned, that overlooks some capacity, but it’s also used as a political tool to control actions in the Global South. As I mentioned, you know, so financing is given on the condition that countries have made commitments to net zero.
[00:38:56] Funding towards very specific areas is being cut because it’s assumed or it’s thought as being a very huge contributor to emissions. And so in a way, and this is my biggest worry at the moment, I just, I haven’t — it’s something that I’m just thinking about is: how bad could this go? How far can net zero go? How worse could it get? And what are the scenarios? You know, in a very good world, we’d have people doing their fair share. People, you know, countries, institutions doing their fair share. In a very different world, in a very different scenario, we would have, you know, those who have the greatest burden still being the greatest — bear the greatest responsibility.
[00:39:36] And it’s not even just about responsibility for emissions, its responsibility for, you know, for not acting. So it’s, we could ask the Global South to pay for this in other forms. And so it’s either paying through money but also paying through debt. We could also ask them to pay through lives and a lot of the lives we’ve seen lost — I mean, what is the price of science? The price of science is having lives lost and having CNN going over there and saying, Oh, well, OK, yeah, yeah, they died. And that’s that sea level rise. And so what is the price of action? And most of these prices are paid in the Global South in ways that cannot really be quantified through monetary terms. And that’s where loss and damage comes in.
[00:40:15] And as I said, loss and damage at the COP has been really, really difficult to address. It’s really slow. And yeah, I hope something changes. I’m really kind of very hopeful in the next COP — COP27 is happening in Africa. We’ll have it in Egypt, And we’re kind of trying to align ourselves to be in the path of that COP so that we can start steering conversations towards a more equitable and inclusive net zero, but also it discussions of loss and damage. It may not come to anything, but then it’s just hoping.
Julian Agyeman: [00:40:46] Just a quick follow up to that, and I don’t want to monopolize the questions here, Jessica, but just something that’s just really burning me at the moment. We’re talking a lot about reparations here in the US. And, you know, 20 years ago, if you’d asked me, that would have meant writing a check. Now I realize reparations is about the restoration of the full capabilities of humans to achieve their full potential. That’s what reparations are to me. To what extent is the language, the narrative of reparations being used by global sovereign nations in terms of this reduced capacity for humans to live full and happy lives? Are you using the notion of any form of reparations for climate debt, for instance,
Jessica Omukuti: [00:41:34] You can see reparations coming up quite a lot in discussions on losses and damages from climate change. And a lot of the discussions I’ve seen are discussed in the context of: should we be even asking about reparations? It’s not even about what reparations — and so we’re really far off from even getting there. And so, for example, in the discussion on loss and damage, one of our reviewers said that, yeah, don’t even mention reparations. Although we hadn’t mentioned it, there was nothing about reparations because we recognize that talking about reparations is responsibility, and responsibility is something that will never be discussed. But then in a review, someone just went out and said, well, yeah, yeah, don’t mention reparations.
[00:42:14] And so discussions are really quite far off in academia. We’ve gone further and talked about, yeah, what exactly does reparations mean? But then in policy, it’s kind of very far off of a question of why are we even thinking about it and other alternative ways to go around this other than reparations? And so the question is quite political. It has political implications for both the global north and the Global South.
[00:42:38] I have one of my friends, one of my colleagues at the University of Reading, who was looking at loss and damage and with the loss and damage can be seen as adaptation. And I remember one thing that she mentioned, I think she’s probably finalizing her thesis, and one of the things she — she did her thesis in the Maldives, she based her thesis on the Maldives, and she spoke to communities that were being displaced from sea level rise. And one thing she mentioned that has stuck with me since is that people in the Maldives don’t want the big money. They just want someone to come over and say and admit that they did something wrong. And say that, you know, we’re sorry. You know, we did this and we’re sorry, and we recognize that you’ve lost a lot. And so reparations are — it’s a contextual meaning. And so in policy circles, we’re really far off from that.
Julian Agyeman: [00:43:29] Yeah, great. Ok, thanks. But it’s one — I think it’s one to keep an eye on. I think this, certainly in the US, it’s a very big question. And yeah, I think it’s one thing to think about. We have a question from Lamia: Hi, Jessica. I was wondering how the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) are working in synergy. Is there a common framework that connects them? Great question Lamia.
Jessica Omukuti: [00:43:53] I don’t think there is. Maybe I just don’t know. Maybe they exist. But thing is, I worry about this. But with imposter syndrome in academia, sometimes you just don’t trust yourself. But I worry that we’re creating too many frameworks and these frameworks are kind of addressing, you know, there’s so many overlaps between them. But then we expect institutions, actors, we expect countries to fit into all these frameworks and to create plans for them, strategize for them, and implement them. But then the Paris Agreement, by mentioning that we have to do this in the framework of sustainable development and poverty reduction, in a way brings in the SDGs and brings in the Sendai Framework.
[00:44:36] And so most of these plans, countries are usually, and even institutions, are usually encouraged to think about them in relation to their other priorities, in relation to the other commitments. And when you see support given to these countries, it’s kind of, you know, we’re supporting you to think in a holistic way. How that happens in practice is is a different case. But then, yeah, there’s obviously the frameworks, there’s encouragement, there’s obviously teams that are working to make sure that they are connected, but in most cases you still see them being discussed separately. And so I don’t think that’s an answer to your question. It’s probably much more confusing than that. But yeah, that’s it.
Julian Agyeman: [00:45:14] Ok, Emily Wood has a question: I’m curious if there are recommendations for changes in how these COPs and other avenues where global pledges are discussed are run. Are these avenues that can lead to changes in how we focus on the Global South and net zero?
Jessica Omukuti: [00:45:30] I don’t know. I cannot speak for the Global South. I think the Global South is countries, but also it’s more than the countries. It is the cities, it’s the municipalities, it’s also the communities. I think COPs are really important. COPs are an opportunity for mostly countries, which are the parties, to come on and express their needs in an equal platform — an assumed equal platform. And to have negotiations and agree on what could be done. But then obviously, COP represents policies, not actions, because we’ve seen policies agreed on at the COP and then they just never come to fruition. For example, we, you know, we have the Kyoto Protocol, which turned out terrible. And then we had — we’ve had so many like and, you know, the hundred billion climate finance at Copenhagen, which has not been done.
[00:46:23] And so the COP is an opportunity to start these discussions. And what feeds into the COP are years and years of work. For example, we have work by the IPCC, we have work being done by community-based organizations, NGOs, we have trade unions that feed into that. And so the COP is just kind of the peak of how these things work. Underneath it is what counts as what, what makes these processes meaningful. And so if I were given an opportunity to kind of make the COP much more effective, I would think about what happens at Glasgow in a few weeks, but I would also think about what feeds into this. Do we have processes that ensure that that single person in that very remote place in, let’s say, in Malaysia, knows that the decisions that are being made that will determine their lives for the rest — the rest of their lives, but also they’re able to feed into those processes. We have much more bottom-up processes or is the cop just a top down process?
[00:47:21] And so, yeah, a very short answer to your question. The COP can be a very good platform, but there’s work that has shown that it’s, you know, historically it’s just been unequal. For example, in developing countries do not have equal representation. They have very limited capacity. They come in with, you know, less, a smaller delegation. Like this year, a lot of developing countries will not, you know, they won’t even be able to attend because of COVID restrictions and historical issues that affect participation, representation and meaningful engagement at the COP. But then even beyond that, what happens in that lower than the international level is quite important. I hope that answers your question.
Julian Agyeman: [00:48:01] Great. Thanks, Jessica. Two quick questions, well, hopefully two quick questions. Vladimir asks: what coordinated action across public and private sectors do you feel would be most helpful in making meaningful progress?
Jessica Omukuti: [00:48:15] This is just a very biased opinion, actually, because I work on climate finance, but we need resources, finance, climate change, net zero will not happen without the money. Just transitioning an energy system in a small community requires a lot of money. Because A) community just don’t even have energy in most Global South countries. And then getting them into renewable energy and then taking them further to kind of make that energy, you know, continuously available in sufficient quantities at the right time is really challenging.
[00:48:50] And so at the center of net zero, but also at the center of climate action, which goes beyond net zero, because I think that that we’re looking at, you know, achieving net zero by 2065 or 2050. And I think we need to kind of put in place strategies that will either keep it that way or we will be able to keep taking it down. Because if we think in the short term, then we get to net zero by 2065, or we’ll get there by 2100, and then we’ll be there for about five years, and then just things will start going back up again and then people are like, OK, so we didn’t plan for this.
[00:49:23] And so we need money to get to net zero and keep it that way — keep taking the emissions down and the money is at the moment, it’s not there. There’s very little commitment. Developed countries said that they would provide finance for climate change, but they haven’t. Whatever they’re providing is quite conditional, as you see, in the case of the GCF. And what they’re providing is not working. And so a lot of money has been spent on adaptation that does not reduce vulnerability. And so if you look at funding for the last 20 or 30 years, you say that this money could have done much more than what it’s done so at the moment. And so it, kind of, just you see money going to water projects, water projects every year, and you’re wondering why, why are we still doing this? We should be learning. If it’s not working, let’s try a different approach that should give us better results in terms of vulnerability reduction. And so getting more climate action is for me, and other people will say with different opinions, for example, and people say we need reparations. I’m not a reparation expert, I’m a climate finance expert. And so at the center of it is climate finance in the right quantities at the right time, but also much more effective. It should reduce vulnerability.
Julian Agyeman: [00:50:33] And other moves towards correcting climate finance and leveling the playing field? What are those efforts, Jessica?
Jessica Omukuti: [00:50:41] What do you mean?
Julian Agyeman: [00:50:42] Well, you know, you’ve said that the playing field is not level at the moment and that climate finance is skewed it’s biased, it reflects global northern priorities. What are the top three things that you would do to the Climate Finance Fund to change things — that would be game changers literally.
Jessica Omukuti: [00:51:02] I think it’s getting money to where it hasn’t reached so far, so it’s making access easier. A very good example of the GCF, is countries — GCF has been in operation for about six years now. It was operationalized in 2015. So that’s about six years. There’s countries that have not received adaptation finance by 2020, there’s a report that was done then that found that countries have not received a cent for adaptation finance. That means that access for them is really, really challenging. And so for countries like Kenya — and I’m Kenyan and I admit this — Kenya is a donor favorite. For countries like Kenya, they will apply for funding, it will be comparatively easier for them than other countries, such as Somalia or Sudan and South Sudan or even Sudan itself.
[00:51:49] And so we need to kind of use an equitable approach to make sure that there’s access — and access, at the center of access is capacity to, you know, improving the capacity of institutions to create a pipeline of projects, but also to manage this pipeline of projects that contribute towards meaningful climate action. And that’s not all — I mean, there’s much more to that. But yeah, that’s kind of a very good start for that.
Julian Agyeman: [00:52:13] Great. Well, Jessica, I could ask you lots more questions. There are more questions, and I’m sorry to those people who I didn’t get to your questions. Next week, we have Jay Pitter talking about Resisting the Invisible Woman Syndrome, but can we give a warm UEP, Shareable, Kresge Foundation thank you to Jessica Omukuti at Oxford University. Thank you, Jessica. And we’ll see you next week.
Jessica Omukuti: [00:52:37] Thank you, everyone.
Tom Llewellyn: [00:52:41] We hope you enjoyed this week’s lecture. Join us live for another event tomorrow or listen to the recording right here on the podcast next week. Cities@Tufts Lectures is produced by Tufts University and Shareable with support from the Kresge Foundation and the Barr Foundation. Lectures are moderated by Professor Julian Agyeman and organized in partnership with research assistants Perri Sheinbaum and Caitlin McLennan. Light “Without Dark” by Cultivate Beats is our theme song. Robert Raymond is our audio editor. Zanetta Jones manages communications and editorial, and the series is produced and hosted by me, Tom Llewellyn. Please hit subscribe, leave a rating or review wherever you get your podcasts, and share it with others so this knowledge can reach people outside of our collective bubbles. That’s it for this week’s show. Here’s a final thought:
Jessica Omukuti: [00:53:27] To get a two degree consistent warming countries will have to reduce a lot, a lot of their emissions, and I usually kind of think about how much we need to do in relation to what happened in March of last year.