The UN Climate Change Conference and Philanthropy in International Climate Policy
This year, November 6 to 18, the COP27 world climate conference took place in Sharm el-Sheikh. The Robert Bosch Stiftung was there to support its partners. Ottilie Bälz, Senior Vice President and responsible for the climate change program, reports her impressions and talks about the Foundation’s work on the topic.
A conversation with Ottilie Bälz
Henry Alt-Haaker: As a representative of the Robert Bosch Stiftung, you’ve attended this year’s COP in November. In public debate, COP27 received mixed reviews. There was no success on new benchmarks and commitments to emission reduction, but there was progress in recognizing "loss and damage" as a category. How do you assess its results?
Ottilie Bälz: It’s positive that, after 30 years, loss and damage has finally found its way into official climate negotiations. Moreover, now there’ll be a fund set up to compensate particularly vulnerable countries for climate-change-inflicted disasters. While there are still many details to work out, the commitment of industrialized countries to take responsibility is a major breakthrough.
On the other hand, there was no progress on other important issues. The 1.5 °C target has not yet been abandoned, but there are no concrete, binding agreements to bring us closer to this goal. In particular, while there is agreement to a coal phase-out, which had already been sealed at COP26 in Glasgow, a similar phase-out from oil and gas is not in the final declaration. And there was also no progress on financing adaptation measures. To this day, the fund for this purpose remains underfinanced.
What was the role of the Robert Bosch Stiftung at COP27 and what contribution has the foundation made through its participation?
We had observer status and were mainly involved in the civil society program. We wanted to support underrepresented groups – such as young people, women, and representatives of civil society organizations and cities – to participate in the conference. We covered travel costs for about 50 partners, mostly from African countries, who spoke at conference events and brought their views to the table. One example is the Youth Negotiators Program, which supports the inclusion of young people in their countries' negotiating delegations.
Another goal was to anchor the topics of land use, agriculture, and food more strongly in the COP. For the first time, there was a special day dedicated to this. In this context, we will continue to support civil society, particularly from sub-Saharan Africa, to develop common positions and to introduce them into the negotiation process.
We’re also working with partners to bring the issue of climate mobility into political debates and negotiations. The UN Global Centre for Climate Mobility had its own Climate Mobility Pavilion. One particular success is that migration is now counted as a form of adaptation in the final declaration under the heading of "loss and damage."
Furthermore, we want to bolster the discussion of climate justice from a philanthropic perspective. At COP, we shared our experience with the Climate Justice Resilience Fund on how local support can work. On the whole, our contribution at such a UN conference can always only be small, but we were nevertheless able to achieve a lot together with our strong partners.
COP27 is a prominent and visible part of international efforts to address climate change. It is, however, only one building block in the complex context of our activities. When we look at the Foundation's climate change portfolio, where do we focus regionally, thematically, and in terms of target groups?
Our focus is on the relationship between climate change and land use. Our approach is holistic: we want to protect the climate and prevent any further loss of biodiversity. Simultaneously, we put people at the center. In the context of climate justice, we support those people who suffer most from the consequences of the climate crisis. We strive to minimize existing inequalities. At the same time, we also want the systemic transition to become a just transition, which is necessary to contain the climate crisis.
We have two focal points regionally. Firstly, we look at Europe's transformation agenda and what contribution civil society can make to the reform of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy, scheduled to happen by 2027. Political framework conditions should be set such that land use in the EU can be regenerative and climate-positive. At the same time, Europe needs to live up to its responsibility towards other parts of the world, as our agriculture should not come at the expense of externalized land use in other regions of the world.
Secondly, we focus on sub-Saharan Africa since many countries in Africa are particularly affected by climate change – and these countries have contributed least to the crisis itself. In this region, we support local solutions for a climate-resilient agricultural sector, as well as the participation of local communities and indigenous groups in decision-making processes on land use and land rights. A key prerequisite for practicing viable and sustainable agriculture: secured land use rights.
And we want to make perspectives from African contexts more visible in international processes. In other words: ensure that local voices have a hearing at the international level.
You said that we only make a small but important contribution to the inclusion of unrepresented groups. Part of the mission of our work is to ask people directly affected by climate change about their needs and solutions. Why do we believe that local solutions are more effective than, for example, those made by German climate scientists?
Global climate science is, obviously, indispensable and an essential cornerstone of our work. We need both: the big picture and the very concrete and local problem-solving approaches. When it comes to local contexts, a principle of the Foundation's work is that we want to learn from those who benefit from our efforts. We have confidence in our partners. They know best what they need. There is also evidence, above all from development work, that projects developed without local involvement – and then rolled out from an international context to the national level – are less well anchored locally. This is because there is a lack of ownership, and perhaps the measures fail to meet needs, which can differ considerably from one context to the next.
We are a large German, medium-sized European, and relatively small international organization. Given this, what role can the Foundation play among philanthropic institutions?
We can play an intermediary role by providing financial support for organizations to operate locally and to professionalize themselves to enable them to apply for larger funds. Intermediary also in the sense of mediating between different sectors and levels of governance. As a foundation, we are in a position to support intiatives at the local level, to talk to government representatives at the national level, and also to be present as an observer in international processes. We can transfer expert knowledge gained in practice from the local level to other levels and facilitate participatory formats.
When we look into the future, the climate debate often talks about the "point of no return": the point after which a turnaround would no longer save us. The Foundation plans its goals long term, from five to ten years into the future. The required changes in our approach to climate change must also be thought about in the long term but initiated promptly. What milestones and goals have you set for the climate change program in the coming years?
With an eye to the European transformation agenda, we want to continue to promote civil society’s contribution to the reform of the common European agricultural policy. We are trying to do this Europe-wide, for instance by supporting the land use program of the European Climate Foundation. In Germany, we're helping set up Agora Agrar, a think tank for agriculture and food. This think tank organizes stakeholder processes on the basis of existing scientific findings to bring together diverse interests, formulate common proposals for action, and present them to policymakers.
In sub-Saharan Africa, we’re currently working to focus regionally. Our emphasis is on supporting local initiatives, for the purpose, among other things, of testing funding mechanisms that can be models for other funders. Moreover, we’re also testing methods for participation, accountability, and transparency: for instance with the World Resources Institute as part of the African Forest Landscape Restoration Initiative (AFR100), a major restoration project. Also, in our cooperation with Transparency International we focus on transparent and fair design of initiatives in the framework of the “Great Green Wall”.
In addition, we’ll continue to work on interfaces between climate change and other topics and policy fields. With a view to migration as a strategy for adapting to climate change, we will push ahead with building an ecosystem around the issue of climate mobility to keep it on the political agenda. Questions about climate justice, a fair transformation, and the participation of underrepresented groups, also in Germany, will be key for us in coming years.
One question that is close to our heart in our work on climate change is our connection to the Bosch company. Are there actors in the field who ask us about the company and sustainability?
Yes, it’s understandable that our partners want to know where our resources come from. The interests of Bosch GmbH and the charitable goals of the Foundation are distinctly separate. We do, however, have one thing in common: we're linked to a company that has set itself ambitious sustainability goals and is actively implementing them. As a foundation, we also see it as our obligation, beyond our funding activities on climate change, to become more sustainable ourselves. as an organization.
Ottilie Bälz is Senior Vice President of the Robert Bosch Stiftung at the department of "Global Issues" and responsible for the programs "Climate Change" and "Migration".
Henry Alt-Haaker is Senior Vice President of the Robert Bosch Stiftung and heads the Strategic Partnerships and Robert Bosch Academy department.
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