Step by Step toward Resilience: A Commentary on Climate Change

In my ongoing campaign for multi-stakeholder collaboration, I have had a strong reaction to the film “Don’t Look Up” and the media attention it has attracted. I understand why Leonardo di Caprio’s well-known activism regarding climate change makes it an obvious comparison to the apparent failure of the Glasgow Summit on Climate Change (COP 26) to avoid the looming catastrophe of global warming. But it inspires me to share my somewhat contrary views about climate change.  I do agree that climate change is happening and that much more needs to be done to avoid a catastrophe. But I also believe that the political will to do more depends on our building popular support for action through multistakeholder collaboration. Here is my commentary on what this means for us.


Anyone who had expected the Glasgow Summit on Climate Change (COP26) to produce more than it did had to be out of touch with reality. I’m not suggesting here that COP26 should be declared a “success”.  We are all justified in calling out the disparity between where we need to be and what governments are agreeing to do to get there. Nonetheless, I do think that the official outcome did move things in the right direction, and more importantly, it provided a setting for people outside of and independently of the official proceedings, to come together and do a whole lot more on their own initiatives.

Although there might not be enough momentum from all these voluntary initiatives to take care of the crisis, they are where things are happening. And it is through the incredible and growing array of these voluntary and mostly multi-stakeholder initiatives that collective action to do even more can effectively be mobilized.  So first, we should be recognizing and encouraging these multi-stakeholder initiatives especially in their reaching out across stakeholder groups. Second, we should encourage strengthening the accountability and measuring the impact of these multi-stakeholder initiatives. And third, we should all be paying more attention to how all these initiatives can strengthen our appreciation for what a “just transition” can do for people in their daily lives.


With due credit to the UK, the Glasgow Summit attracted tens of thousands of protesters. Their presence outside the conference halls and in multiple parallel rallies around the world was facilitated by the organizing skills of a considerable variety of organizations, and they attracted significant media coverage with their colorful and often raucous protests. One has to conclude that the popular momentum for climate action was evidently strong and growing – providing a visual contrast of youth and gender and overall diversity to the more sedate and elderly participants in the official delegations to the summit.

Inside the conference center, though, COP26 also attracted a record number of registered participants – almost 40,000 (higher by some 10,000 than even the record-breaking Paris COP21 in 2015).  Although most of them (some 22,000) were in the official delegations of the 197 participating governments, another 14,000 were officially registered observers representing over 3,400 different “non-party stakeholder” groups, to use the UNFCCC nomenclature. (The rest were registered as journalists, another record of some 4,000.)

While media attention was directed to what the governments were doing, whether in their official negotiations or in their launching of various “coalitions of the willing” (on methane or deforestation or electric cars), more interesting to me were the many multi-stakeholder initiatives that were featured in side events at the Summit but were not initiated or driven by governments. The UNFCCC organizes these non-state actors into seven categories – business and industry, local governments and municipalities, environmentalists, farmers, indigenous peoples, researchers and independents, trade unions, women and gender and youth. In practice, though, there are other variations, with a particular emphasis on the first two of these categories – business and industry and local governments and municipalities. The Marrakech Partnership for Climate Action, which was initiated as the framework for coordination of voluntary initiatives to supplement governmental pledges as a follow-up to the Paris Agreement, for example, distinguishes in its reporting between businesses and investors but lumps all non-state actors into one cluster of “civil society”, while also giving due deference to the activism coming from cities (along with states and regions).


The focus of my interest in multi-stakeholder initiatives is primarily with how the business community can fit into the climate change world.  One must recognize that certain business interests (i.e., the fossil fuel industry) have been driving the resistance to climate change. And therefore, where the business community is made up of good guys (clean energy advocates) and bad guys (coal or oil and gas companies), the whole debate slides into a suspicion of business generally.

I had encountered this problem while working with the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, a multi-stakeholder initiative bringing governments together with NGOs and the food industry, on developing a conflict-of-interest guidance note. Inclusion with transparency was the main proposed solution, but there was intense resistance from NGOs to working with any business that promoted infant formula in lieu of breast-feeding. And yet, these same companies that were producing infant formula were also producing food, even nutritious food – and even knew how to get nutritious food to people (and yes, especially to infants) in need.

The issue also came up when I was helping the International Labor Organization with outreach to the business community on climate change. One could argue that the business world is even more complicated than the Nestles or Danones of the food industry. The fossil fuel companies, especially the big oil companies, have clearly been complicit in undermining the scientific evidence of climate change. And other industries are heavy emitters of greenhouse gas emissions   – electricity, for one, and transportation, for another, along with industry generally, as in manufacturing, or construction or agriculture!  And yet, many of the companies in these sectors have both a positive record on workers’ right and are working on developing or shifting to alternative energy sources. While it is difficult for me (or for the ILO) to promote their exclusion, it is nonetheless a problem, especially when it comes to many of the advocacy NGOs on climate change, like Avaaz or or Greenpeace International.

One way to avoid this dilemma is to spin the businesses that care into separate business coalitions. But even there, the dilemma still exists. The leading business group for climate change, the We Mean Business Coalition, for example, is a non-profit made up of other non-profit business associations, such as Business for Social Responsibility or the World Business Council for Sustainable Development. And both of these associations have corporate members, some of which are in the oil or mining or other questionable sectors. And yet they are business associations that are actively engaged in supporting action and specific initiatives on climate change, including with these highly suspect members. As I had previously concluded in my work with the Scaling Up Nutrition movement, what this means is that business groups are especially challenged to be both transparent and accountable.


On the climate change front, there is this Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action that was formally established at COP 22 in Morocco. The Partnership embraces all manner of non-party stakeholders (but mostly, as noted above, businesses, investors, civil society and that cluster of cities, states and regions) that have filed climate-related commitments on something called the Global Climate Action Portal. On this portal as of October 2021, there were 22,259 initiatives, both governmental and nongovernmental.  Cities have the largest number, with 10,905 listed, while companies showed up with 7,370 initiatives and investors with another 1,261.  (See more detail on these numbers here.)

The Marrakech Partnership also benefits from the oversight of two officially designated champions whose responsibilities are to coordinate the activities of all these non-party stakeholders and their initiatives. Thus, the designated champions have oversight of the Portal, plus the publication of an annual yearbook and a summary report for the UNFCCC itself.  In addition, the Partnership and its champions have launched global campaigns to further improve coordination among these initiatives, both in a “Race to Net Zero” campaign and more recently in a “Race to Resilience” campaign. Media coverage seems to miss the significance of all this coordination but rather has tended to focus on one or two specific initiatives without recognizing that they have been launched under the umbrella of this Marrakech Partnership.

At COP 26, the two officially appointed “High-level Champions for Climate Action were Nigel Topping from the UK and Gonzalo Munoz from Chile, interestingly both with strong business-related credentials.  Their efforts included the convening of a substantial program of side events parallel to the official proceedings. The program featured panels and progress reports (or launches) on quite an array of sector-specific initiatives associated with this Marrakech Partnership. The sectors included finance, energy, land use, water, oceans and coastal zones, health care and human settlements, and one entitled “industry”. This last one included reports from the fashion industry, sports, cement, chemicals, and consumer goods, just to mention a few of the sub-sectors listed more broadly as “industry”.

Out of this panoply of side events, the mainstream media were especially impressed with one of the initiatives launched specifically at COP 26 – the Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero.  Well, actually, it was initially launched in April, before the November event, but it was directly linked to COP 26 even then, and much had happened since April to build it up. With over 450 banks, asset managers, asset owners, insurers and finance service providers pledging to phase out all fossil fuel-related investments using assets valued at over $130 trillion, the initiative had almost tripled in participating firms and nearly doubled in assets by the time of the event itself. I also found it quite impressive when Mark Carney announced at COP 26 that Michael Bloomberg was joining him to co-chair this initiative, along with an impressive collection of other “Principals”. Clearly it was a big enough deal for it to be featured as one of the three major initiatives under the Marrakech Partnership (besides the older “Race to Zero” and the parallel “Race to Resilience” that had been launched at previous COPs).

I suppose one could argue that this GFANZ initiative was the single most important non-party-stakeholder initiative that came out of COP 26. But I was also impressed by the concluding statement of support from the Marrakech Partnership participants announcing a commitment to accelerate action in this next decade, to 2030. The statement confirms that the signatories share an alarmist concern about the gap between official commitments coming out of COP 26 and the Paris Agreement objectives (including that target of no more than 1.5 degrees Celsius increase in global warming from pre-industrial time). The statement refers in several places to the Partnership’s globally focused campaigns (the Race to Zero and the Race to Resilience, as mentioned above) for joining together the thousands of initiatives and commitments. And I was impressed by the repeated reference to “fostering radical collaboration”, both in efforts to connect non-party stakeholders with “the parties” and across value chains and sectors.


That does bring me to the issues of accountability and impact. The Marrakech Partnership and its two Climate Ambition Champions have been loosely but formally affiliated with the UNFCCC process.  The host of each Conference of the Parties is expected to appoint a champion to serve for two years, first with the champion appointed by the preceding host and then with the host of the succeeding event. There have been two champions starting with France and Morocco, followed by successors from Fiji, Poland, Chile and the UK. One can expect an appointment soon from Egypt, in anticipation of its hosting COP 27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh in November 2022. These champions do play an active role in publicizing these non-party stakeholder initiatives – and even in helping them come into existence. Mr. Topping clearly played an active role in bringing about the GFANZ with Mr. Carney and is serving as one of its vice-chairs going forward. But what else?

As previously noted in this commentary, there is Global Climate Action Portal, with a variety of criteria for participation and reporting on progress by all these non-party stakeholders. But one should note that these are all voluntary initiatives, with varied characteristics and methodologies. And it was only at COP 26 that the Portal’s managers announced the launch of a more structured tracking of these voluntary initiatives, one track for “Actors” and another for “Cooperative Initiatives”.  I am impressed that this improved tracking effort is in collaboration with what is being described on the Portal as a “community” of data and analytical experts, aka Camda, that had already started working on this in 2017.  One can hope that more will be forthcoming.

I do note that COP 26 also had a report on another business-oriented initiative to address this issue. A network of business and other coalitions (CDP, We Mean Business, World Resources Institute, UN Global Compact, WWF) is supporting the Science-Based Targets initiative (SBTi), which issued the “world’s first net-zero standard” for companies to use. I understand that there has been some criticism from environmentalists about the measurement systems used by SBTi, but it is funded by a number of philanthropies. And over 1,000 companies have committed to using its guidance. In line with the launch of GFANZ, by the way, one of the sector-specific standards being developed by SBTi is for the financial sector.

Another aspect of the GFANZ initiative is also worth mentioning here. That is that it has its own governance, elaborately worked up in the past six months, as explained in their first progress report.  This includes a board of directors of sorts, called the “Principals”  Group, plus a more day-to-day management or “Steering” Group  that includes both business and NGO representatives and an “Advisory” Group made up of NGO representatives to provide more strategic and technical advice. There are also some seven task forces to implement sector-specific financing commitments.

All of this is necessarily voluntary, as are the nationally determined contributions that governments are called upon to provide. It may be that more can still be done on a voluntary basis.  I do see that the UN Secretary-General himself announced in his closing statement at COP 26 that he intended to appoint a “high-level expert group” to measure and assess the commitments of non-state actors on climate change.  This is fine and good, as far as it goes – the added publicity and all that. Elevating the level of scrutiny does raise the visibility of naming and shaming anyone who negligently or deceptively fails to fulfill commitments. But again, this all remains voluntary.


Developing standards for measuring progress may strengthen the moral suasion of voluntary initiatives, but another important strategy to attract more support and involvement is to shift the emphasis, to make these initiatives more relevant. Back to the Marrakech Partnership’s global campaigns, I have already mentioned the two global campaigns on the Race to Zero and the Race to Resilience a couple of times. It is worth noting that the first of these, launched several years ago with a focus on reaching net-zero targets, has been supplemented with this newer global campaign on a Race to Resilience. I do think this is an important progression to incorporate not only net-zero targets but actual impact on people’s daily lives.  This parallel approach calls on “front-line communities and practitioners” to be heard through the building of resilience to climate change. The target here is to build or upgrade the resilience of up to 4 billion people by 2030.

As the 2021 Yearbook explains, the local emphasis here is all about how good governance for change requires “participative decision-making” and “inclusive management of resilience-building initiatives”. These words resonate with me, as much as those other words “radical collaboration” did earlier.  In my aspirations for participatory and inclusive multi-stakeholder action on global social issues, I can only repeat here in this context that the political will for action on climate change can only happen from this participatory approach.

Along this same line of thinking, I would also support the good work being done by the International Labor Organization (ILO), with its “Just Transition” program for climate change. While it may be that the labor movement has had a history of being at loggerheads with the environmental movement, the two are increasingly in sync about the health and wellbeing of people and the intertwined nature of sustainable livelihoods.  The significance of this linkage is especially evident at the ILO itself, and one can hope that it will be more widely embraced in other settings, too, including at these pivotal COPs on climate change.

In 2015, in line with the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, the ILO adopted its “Guidelines for a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies and societies for all“. The ILO followed this up with a program on “Just Transition” to work with its tripartite constituents in the field, and a “Climate Action for Jobs” initiative for partnering with other international organizations and stakeholders.  In fact, I was pleased to work with the ILO as an advisor on implementing this program at the UNFCCC and its Paris Agreement.  The ILO has also continued to be active in the COPs, most recently with the promotion of a “Just Transitions Declaration“ at COP 26. While there are many resilience-oriented initiatives that are being coordinated through the Marrakech Partnership, this ILO example is one in which I have a personal interest. And it is a prime example of how a net-zero target for the world is dependent on achieving a lot more on resilience through a participatory and inclusive process.


I started this commentary a couple of months ago and set it aside, in part because I was hopeful that the US would enact its Build Back Better legislation shortly after COP 26. I had hoped for an earlier enactment, too, of the infrastructure bill that would have helped both the US negotiating position at COP 26 and the outcome of the state-level elections in Virginia (where I vote). The infrastructure bill did eventually pass, and that in itself is good for the economy and for the environment. But it is the Build Back Better Act that had most of what the US needed to do to upgrade its nationally determined contribution for the Paris Agreement, and the delays and barriers to its enactment have simply reinforced the malaise that we all felt at the close of COP 26 in November. (The outcome of the Virginia election didn’t help either!)

At the beginning of this new calendar year of 2022, the political scene in the US may be grim, and European-level politics are distracted by Russian interests in Ukraine and by several country-level elections (including here in France). These factors, along with that crazy film “Don’t Look Up”, would suggest, however, that we need to pick up the pieces and get going, step by step, wherever we can. These multi-stakeholder initiatives are more important than ever if we are going to save our planet – and our humanity.



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