Inside COP26: Interview with Lydia Machaka – CIDSE

Inside COP26: Interview with Lydia Machaka

Inside COP 26: Interview with Lydia Machaka  

Interview with Lydia Machaka, CIDSE Climate Justice and Energy Officer. Lydia has an extensive background in climate justice and is specialized in Environmental psychology. She is currently in Glasgow attending the COP26 conference, relying on her experience gathered at seven UN Climate Change conferences working as a climate justice coordinator and years of climate volunteering.  

  In your experience, did you already come across climate impacts? 

There are enormous experiences I can share, but I would like to focus on a few striking ones more recently. In 2016 and 2017 I visited Uganda, Zimbabwe and Malawi and saw devastating droughts and floods. Farmers in Uganda are finding it harder to farm as a result of climate change.  It takes years to raise cattle, and some of them suffer tremendous psychological distress which at times result in others taking their lives because they struggle to find enough water for their crops and livestock.  2018-2019 was the worst drought ever in South Africa where some cities almost ran out of water. Water is life and the lack of it or too much of it thereof is a direct consequence of climate change and failed mitigation action! 

What particularly stroke you about this COP so far?  

I was encouraged to see that indigenous groups and young people who spoke at the beginning of United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), hitting on the right notes: calling for urgent climate justice and ambition, and the protection of forest and indigenous rights. A little girl showed Delphine’s animation story to global leaders at COP26. It was a story-telling narrative reflecting on what she imagines in the future if world leaders fail to address climate change in 2021. This was very moving and my hope is that all these pleas are seriously taken into consideration and effectively acted upon. 

 What gave me hope is also to see that many people and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) from developing countries still came in numbers at the march on Sunday, during the rainy Global Day of Action, even despite experiencing enormous challenges coming to Glasgow. This is sheer determination to push for climate justice globally and for many, it is an important moment to hold our governments accountable.  Everyone has great expectation on governments to deliver on their individual and collective climate action pledges that they promised.   

  What’s less appealing is that this COP26 is very exclusive compared to previous climate conferences. Access and participation at the venue and online have been extremely ineffective. COVID makes it far too easy to justify everything but many civil society organizations warned against this problem ahead of COP26 even when the UK COP presidency insisted on being confident about delivering an inclusive COP26. While COVID is definitely an issue, more could have been done to improve the situation especially when there was more than 1 year to prepare better.  

  At this stage of the COP, are you feeling pessimistic or optimistic about the outcome?  

I’m in the middle: I am generally an optimistic person, and I believe that there is an opportunity for everyone to correct mistakes, especially our governments.  South Africa has been promised about $8.5 billion investment from the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom to accelerate the transition from coal reliance and to reduce emissions by 2030. Also, Scotland pledged to direct £1 million from its Climate Justice Fund to communities experiencing losses and damages caused by climate change impacts.  So, we welcome such support and we hope that other countries would also be encouraged to do more. The next decade will be very critical for significantly reducing emissions: the global Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) don’t meet the ambition standard for now, and on the other hand, there is a huge gap between aspiration and urgent action, and this is not new. We have been asking for this since the Paris Agreement was signed in 2016, but progress still falls short of what is required to for communities in vulnerable countries to stay safe and alive.   

One good progress I can note is the topic of Loss & damage grabbing more attention at COP26. When the issue of Loss & Damage was added in Warsaw 2013, it was considered a great win, but there hasn’t been enough progress behind it. Appropriate mechanisms and finance to allow it proper implementation are still missing.  When will we operationalize it so that climate affected communities may be relieved and compensated?  

At the end of COP 26, will you feel happy if…?  

I’d be pleased if the details of the political promises that were made at the outset of COP 26 to phase out fossil fuels as early as 2022 and more importantly, a clear indication of how the protection of biodiversity, land, and human rights will be reflected in the decisions made at COP26. I will also be encouraged if there is an indication from the negotiations that parties want to have a long-term commitment on climate finance, beyond 2025.  As mentioned above, I will also be pleased if there is a decision on how to finance loss and damage and an agreement on the mechanism to support this problem.  For the time being, no funds have been set aside for loss and damage. Over and above, I’d like to also highlight that our lives are about more than just this one event (COP26); what is determined here will affect us for the rest of our lives.   

What are, more specifically, CIDSE’s main asks for COP?  

We call on big pulling countries to end their reliance on fossil fuels including oil and gas by consigning fossil fuels to history at COP26 so that emissions reductions really happen effectively and rapidly. Secondly, we are asking rich countries to fulfil their financial obligations in supporting poorer countries to meet their climate mitigation and adaptation actions including a just transition to renewable energy systems. Developed countries are still falling short of meeting the annual 100 US billion dollars finance goal. Third, I’d like to emphasize that the scale and quality of Climate Finance directed to poor and vulnerable countries should be new and additional and should focus on supporting the implementation of the Paris Agreement, especially adapting to climate change as well as phasing out fossil fuels and immediately investing and transitioning to renewable energy sources and agroecology.   Also, since the current financial commitments will last up until 2025, we are asking parties to renew their commitment beyond this period.  

CIDSE also has a long-term goal to facilitate greater access for small scale organizations to the Green Climate Fund, which is part of the UNFCCC flagship fund to help developing countries in their climate change projects. However, we’ve learned through our recent study that there are too many obstacles for smaller organizations to benefit from the fund: mainly businesses and large international agencies have direct access so far so it doesn’t really serve the transformative goal of the GCF. CIDSE documented these obstacles in the study “Improving civil society’s limited access to the green climate fund” and in the side event on 4 November during COP: “Transforming climate finance to radically transform societies: the case of Green Climate Fund funding”. 

  What is the strength of being at COP with a catholic network such as CIDSE? 

Through a network like CIDSE, we can revive the moral compass and encourage governments, businesses and individuals to work together, remind each other of our God-given responsibilities to care for the earth and inspire collective climate action because it is for our common good. We can also use a unified voice of witness and hope from our diverse actions and stories in different levels of influence (e.g., the church, women, youth, indigenous groups, etc.) to engage with decision-makers on systemic changes regarding the future we all need, not only to survive but to also thrive.  

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