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Rural areas for climate neutrality

BLOG – 20/12/2021
by David Miller, The James Hutton Institute & Lorna Dawson, SEFARI Gateway (UK MAP)

The UN Climate Change Conference, Convention of the Parties 26 (COP26), met in Glasgow, UK, from 31 October to 12 November 2021. Approximately 40 000 people attended the negotiations in the Blue Zone, and 36 000 attended the public events in which SHERPA shared a stand with local partner, the James Hutton Institute.

The stand was a hub for three live panel Q&A sessions on Just Transitions to Climate Neutrality, of which SHERPA organised one focusing on ‘How rural areas can contribute to a just transition to climate neutrality’. Over 70 attendees joined from across Europe, north and west Africa and Australia.

The panellists, Alexia Rouby (DG AGRI, European Commission), Gerald Schwarz (Thünen Institute, Germany), Lorna Dawson (SEFARI Gateway, UK) and Karen Refsgaard (Nordregio, Sweden) set out challenges for what is required for just transitions to climate neutrality, and what can and is being achieved by the people in rural areas. They shared the view of considering everyone in rural areas, not to focus on only one sector. They discussed with participants how account needs to be taken of the diversity of resources of rural areas, and that not everyone has the same access to land of similar capabilities, or human or social capital.

There was clear advocacy of the need to lessen divides, involving people of all abilities, genders, ages, backgrounds, faiths, ethnicities and geography in the creation of place-based policies for tackling climate change. Such needs will benefit from continuing to review democratic processes, devolving more power to sub-national authorities, and making it possible for everyone to benefit from a greener and climate neutral economy, including investment in micro and small enterprises based outside urban centres.

In the Green Zone, the number of public attendees was restricted due to COVID-19 related measures. Nonetheless, at the SHERPA stand, visitors from around the world shared opinions on their priorities for tackling climate change, experiences of extreme weather events, and new business initiatives or food products using agro-ecological farming systems. They tested virtual reality models and 360o videos explaining peatland restoration, renewable energy, and climate change and water, or watched the live panel sessions.

Across the River Clyde, in the United Nations Blue Zone, negotiations between the national delegations concluded with agreements that “keep alive the Paris Agreement target of limiting global warming to 1.5oC.” The implication of agreements is a path to between 1.8°C and 2.4°C of warming, above the target of the Paris Agreement of 1.5°C, but marking progress in several aspects affecting rural areas. Notable amongst those are:

  1. the Declaration on Forests and Land Use, which refers to “promoting an inclusive rural transformation”, and building resilience, enhancing rural livelihoods and recognising the multiple values of forests;
  2. the Global Methane Pledge to reduce global anthropogenic methane emissions across all sectors by at least 30% below 2020 levels by 2030 including the “abatement of agricultural emissions through technology innovation as well as incentives and partnerships with farmers”;
  3. the conclusion of the Paris Rulebook, the guidelines for how the Paris Agreement is delivered; and
  4. a US$100 billion annual target for adaptation finance from 2025.

Arguably, the most significant statement is the first direct reference to “phasing down unabated coal power” (responsible for 40% of global CO2 emissions), which will focus attention on ensuring just energy transitions for mining communities.

The hosting of COP 26 in one’s home city made the opportunity of attending easier; together with bring party to an event of truly global focus and significance. The site of the two main venues of COP 26 was symbolic. Located in Glasgow, it was focused on the Scottish Event Campus and Glasgow Science Centre, either side of the River Clyde. Formerly these were sites of shipbuilding, and for one year the site of the Glasgow Garden Festival, part of an approach to develop a post-industrial heritage, and now an international entertainment and exhibition venues, science education, and HQs of several major broadcast and print media in Scotland. This is part of the new characteristics of many urban areas, adjacent to the River Clyde, rising in the rural uplands of south Scotland, eventually flowing past remote rural areas before reaching the North Atlantic.

Sited only 23 km from Scotland’s first National Park (Loch Lomond and The Trossachs), the river is a reminder of different types of geographical and historical transitions in economies and ways of life, in times when actions may not have been consistent with the term ‘just’.

The SHERPA panellists argued that while travelling the pathways to climate neutrality, we need to be willing and have processes that learn from what goes wrong, and build positivity into messages of what can be achieved. Those processes should recognise that thinking needs to be integrated across sectors of society and industries, and that “knowledge is not only science”, it also resides in the cumulative experiences gained through practice. They concluded that there is a need to lead by example, with effective science, society, policy interfaces, that are transparent and accessible to everyone.

Thank you to all the panellists, members of the MAPs who contributed to the videos, attendees of the online session and stand, and venue for a unique shared experience.

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