COP28 agrees greater role for devolved governments in climate change fight
Devolved institutions like the Welsh government should be given a greater say in global efforts to tackle climate change, world leaders have agreed at the United Nation’s COP 28 climate summit.
The ”important role” played by nations, regions and cities in efforts to limit global warming has been formally recognised in the conclusions of a COP summit for the first time in Dubai this week.
The ‘Global Stocktake’, which is the main text negotiated by politicians and diplomats, also calls on states, such as the United Kingdom, to “enhance cooperation” with devolved governments.
The development, which was pushed for by the European Union delegation, comes after the UK Government was accused in the Senedd of leaving Wales without a voice at COP28.
The Welsh Government said the move was “encouraging” and reflected the fact that the majority of action needed to deliver the Paris Climate Agreement will be delivered at substate level.
“Subnational governments aren’t actually a formal part of the process at all and that’s been part of the issue,” said Champa Patel, the Welsh executive director for government and policy of the Under2 Coalition, which coordinates climate action by substate governments around the world.
Speaking to Nation.Cymru after returning from the summit, Patel added: “Most of them have powers to drive forward this change but they’re not part of the conversations at the international level where goals are set.
“This COP is different because, for the first time as part of the formal agenda, there was a local climate action summit and there’s reference to the subnational level in the Global Stocktake, which hasn’t been there before.
“It is a big step change in terms of their role. They’re still not a formal party but they are now recognised as a stakeholder which national governments should work closely with.”
Climate cooperation between Cardiff and London was put under the spotlight this week when UK climate minister Graham Stuart was summoned back to Westminster to help the government avoid a Commons defeat over its controversial plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda.
Dereliction of duty
Llyr Gruffydd, the Plaid Cymru MS who chairs the Senedd’s climate change and environment committee, called the decision a “dereliction” of international responsibilities which showed “Wales, in future, should be represented in our own right in these negotiations.”
Labour Climate Change Minister Julie James said the decision to prioritise “nonsense” at Westminster over the “existential crisis of our time is just absolutely extraordinary.”
“Wales does have a sort of voice there, because we belong to the Under2 Coalition,” she added. “Our voice is very loud inside that coalition —louder inside that coalition than it is actually in the UK delegation.”
James and her deputy, Lee Waters MS, did not attend the summit.
Wales was represented by senior officials who met with indigenous community leaders from Brazil as well as taking part in meetings of the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance and the Under2 Coalition.
“At an Under2 Coalition event, there were growing calls for non-party Governments to have a seat at the negotiating table,” said a Welsh government spokesperson.
“We will continue to work with our partners in the Coalition to ensure the views and needs of non-party Governments are increasingly reflected in international climate dialogues.”
Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf was among leaders making those calls in Dubai, telling the general assembly of the Under2 Coalition that “if you want things done, devolve the powers down to people taking action at local level.”
That view is supported by a new academic analysis of climate change governance in the decentralised states published in the Catalan government’s Journal of Self-Government.
It found that “in many cases, the sub-central institutions, together with the courts and social movements, are playing, on many occasions, a role of impetus for mitigation and adaptation policies, in the face of the less committed position of the states.”
It also sets out how “decentralised climate action has the potential to increase the legitimacy and acceptance of climate policies among local populations.”
Wales, Scotland, Quebec, California and the German state of Baden Württemberg are among substate entities often mentioned as having gone further in taking climate action than the states of which they are part.
However, Belgium is cited as a cautionary tale of where a complex constitutional arrangement has impeded climate action.
“It depends on each context but there are some broad trends: we see some national governments going backwards in terms of commitments,” added Champa Patel of the Under2 Coalition. “But it’s not stopping sub-nationals because of devolution.
“For example, we see that with Rishi’s retreat on net-zero. That hasn’t stopped Scotland and Wales progressing with their goals because there are devolved powers in some areas.”
“It’s not possible that national governments can do this by themselves and it’s not possible for sub-national governments to do this by themselves. We need subnational and national governments to work together.”
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