Communities for Future at COP27 – Together for Implementation?!

This article was written by ECOLISE’s network weaver Laura Kaestele on her experiences and reflections on attending COP27 in Egypt.

Radiant sunshine, dry air and colorful banners welcomed the tens of thousands of participants to COP27, this year’s Conference of the Parties of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change that took place in November 2022. The event location, Sharm el Sheikh, is a city located in the desert and degraded lands of the Bediun people, now called Sinai, stretched out between the bright blue sea and sandy, rough mountains. As I traveled through the city past its countless giant hotels, shopping malls, restaurants and bars, I saw a supreme example of modern capitalism, consumerism and entertainment. It seems like with each annual event the contrast keeps getting starker.

Witnessing the accumulated effects of long-term ecosystem degradation, extraction, pollution, and ongoing harm of nature and people, we urgently need to ramp up our collective ambition and action to respond to the ecological and climate emergency. It is high time to turn pledges into action as the COP27 theme “together for implementation” suggests. As people gathered on African land, we can see clearly that many vulnerable communities least responsible for ecological collapse are already living out its negative impacts. We need to hold governments accountable, starting with the world’s richest economies, to bring policies in alignment with planetary and human well-being.

As ECOLISE’s network weaver, I  joined forces with friends and partners such as ICLEI (Local Governments for Sustainability), Global Ecovillage Network, Gaia Education, European Committee of the Regions, European Youth Forum, Climate Chance, SEKEM, Climate Action Network, and Oxfam to strengthen alliances, advocate for and share concrete examples of local, regenerative community-led action for a just eco-social transition. Communities are a strong driving force for social change and must be included in negotiations, commitments and finance as they can localise and actually implement objectives of the Paris Agreements and the European Green Deal.


A Climate of Contrasts

COP27 ended with an agreement on a “Loss and Damage” fund, for now an expression of intent lacking practical implementation and with no plans or consensus to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This means very little progress was achieved on climate action and achieving net zero emissions by 2050. It was agreed to fix a work programme to scale up efforts by 2026 and a new framework for carbon market trading was outlined. But will anyone keep to these frameworks? It is hard not to be cynical – even more so with 600+ lobbyists from the fossil fuel industry who were present at the conference and, despite civil society demands and “Don’t Gas Africa” protests, no decision was taken to phase out fossil fuels.

Sponsored by companies such as Coca Cola, Nestle, and Microsoft with a presidency held by a military government that severely represses its citizens in a holiday resort far away from the realities of the Egyptian people we were never going to expect much from the outcome of COP27. The greenwashing also extended into side events for example in the Food Systems Pavilion with various members of AGRA and other green revolution advocates misusing the term “regenerative” to promote GMOs, lab meat, and no-till glyphosate-drenched practices. Let’s not be fooled, speak up about the truth, and claim our space in negotiations and society to catalyse real change.

Furthermore, the division and narrow focus on numbers and CO2 emissions tries to distract from the dynamics of money, power, control, and harm against people and nature really at play behind the “climate agenda”. We need a whole-system approach including biodiversity and the protection of intact ecosystems, restoration, and a shift to regenerative agriculture and food systems to bring back ecological balance. The loss and damage facility also looks rather flimsy in light of the Bridgetown Initiative, a radical global reform of the financial system proposed by Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, which would unlock trillions of dollars for low-income countries.

What stood out for me at COP27 was the stark contrast between what politicians say and do, between the climate pledges and what actions are really needed to keep global temperature rise below 1.5 °C, between nature-based and synthetic high-tech solutions, between alternative community-led initiatives and conservative political decisions. Some might lose hope or despair over this stark contrast, try to rebel against or convince the “other side”. How about we appreciate the contrast for so clearly showing us two divergent pathways into the future? Everyone of us can distinguish and choose which path to walk. We have the power to say “no” to what harms and “yes” to what nurtures life and well-being for all on planet Earth.


Standing For What Matters

What could “together for implementation” really mean? Beyond a nice event title or empty political promise to actually become embodied and realised in the world? I think it could mean we unite as one global family, take care of everyone’s well-being, hold spaces for restorative healing, and empower local communities to lead a just eco-social transition. We could stop harm, oppression, negativity and “fighting against” and instead “stand for” what we deeply care about. We could take actions and responsibility to re-align capacity and resources in order to develop creative, regenerative and healthy solutions and implement best practices. In that spirit, I want to share some highlights and inspiring stories from my experience attending most of the second week at COP27.


The Power of Community-led Action

First of all, let’s celebrate the incredibly rich and messy networking space with ~40.000 global participants. A highlight was joining the side event  “Mobilising youth & transforming communities – embedding the SDGs in formal & informal education” with speakers from the Global Ecovillage Network and Gaia Education, both ECOLISE members. ICLEI, local governments for sustainability, had their own “multilevel action” pavilion to host interesting dialogues and I also met with partners of the multi-level climate governance coalition to revive connections and explore opportunities for shared work. he Climate Action Network, of which ECOLISE is a member, had a strong political presence coordinating civil society organisations to drive collective action and climate justice.

If national governments wish to make real progress in climate mitigation, adaptation and sustainability and implement the Paris agreements they will need to collaborate with and provide support and finances to local communities. Fasil Bogale, Chief Financial Officer and Africa Lead for Gaia Education, summed up the critical importance of bottom-up movements: “In many ways, the time spent in COP27 gave me good confirmation that the work done by all the grassroots, community-based initiatives, is the way forward. We can’t anymore wait for those who are shackled by serving too many masters. Let’s serve our communities and share our wisdom with each other. The road might be difficult and slow, but like many movements that have changed the world, we start with tiny acts and few people, but once the ball gains momentum nothing will stop us.”


Regenerative Approaches for a Liveable Planet

For the first time in COP history, agriculture and food systems were highlighted as a top priority, including more than 200 side events and the UNFCCC’s Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture implementing plans for climate action through agriculture. It was an inspiration to hear from Climate Farmers providing expertise, coaching and certification to scale regenerative agriculture in Europe, witness Commonland present their policy paper on holistic landscape restoration, and meet with John D. Liu, initiator of the Ecosystem Restoration Camps. Later, I also visited the Habiba community and organic farm in Sinai, which empowers women and trains smallholder farmers across 75 farms to re-green the desert, adapt and mitigate climate change using regenerative practices.

A fantastic achievement during COP27 was the official adoption of the carbon credit scheme that SEKEM, an Egyptian initiative for sustainable development, created with the Egyptian Biodynamic Association, the Egyptian government, the Cairo Stock Exchange and the Bank of Egypt to support the transition of 43,000 Egyptian farms to biodynamic agriculture that increases farmers incomes as well as health, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration. Overall, the incredible self-healing ability of nature and particularly the restoration of healthy soils, their organic matter, and their capacity to build back ecological stability, including sequestering carbon, is one of my greatest hopes for a livable planet.


Youth Activists Speaking Up

A successful innovation, pushed by UNFCCC, was the creation of a Children and Youth pavilion for the first time. It was one of the most vibrant, colorful and alive spaces to be with the presence of many youth leaders, workshops, art and activities. I also joined SPARK project partners from Oxfam in handing out postcards with messages and images created by kids across Europe to negotiators. The European Youth Forum was one of the many active groups advocating for the end of fossil fuels and over-consumption and the need for a systemic approach to climate change. Beyond COP, the Forum co-hosts youth climate and sustainability round tables as a high-level political forum and dialogue space.

Moreover, we were delighted to offer places in our ECOLISE delegation to three young climate activists from the Global South to attend the official COP27 events in the blue zone. Carlos Santander, reported: “The highlight of the conference was meeting with Dr Martin Frick, the director at World Food Programme and Mary Robinson, the former president of Ireland, to talk about the role of youth in averting the climate crises and how to encourage more youth to speak up, occupy influential spaces and make positive generational impact.” Activist Emiliana Rickenmann was happy to get more involved in negotiations and meet with Susana Muhammad, the environmental minister, and Francia Marquez, the vice president of her home country Colombia, who were open to listening to the youth’s demands.


Scaling Inspiring Solutions 

Outside of the craziness of COP27, I found real humanness, inspiration and innovation at the COP Solution Dialogues, a parallel event series organised by the Future Economy Forum together with NOW Partners, SEKEM and Heliopolis University. Policy makers, business leaders and activists met to deeply engage in solutions, innovative ideas and real action. With an impressive 108 speakers and 1,831 participants from 82 countries over the course of 10 days, we explored solutions in regenerative finance, economy, agriculture and climate, as well as hearing stories of social change from Egypt, Africa and Amazonia.

It felt encouraging to focus on actionable solutions and connect with like-minded people, including in the business sector, like clean technology pioneer Bertrand Piccard who shared about the Exponential Roadmap Initiative’s ‘1.5 °C Business Playbook’ and 1000+ profitable solutions to protect the environment collected by the Solar Impulse Foundation. Hunter Lovins, entrepreneur and investment fund leader, and founder of Natural Capitalism Solutions, poignantly asked: “What is the business case for ending life on earth?” Finally, CfF was invited to link and partner with the ‘Sustainability Action Platform’, a project currently seeking funding to develop a compendium of sustainable actions, a self-assessment tool, library of case studies, and access to expert consultants to accelerate local transitions.


A Just Eco-Social Transition

Now moving forward from COP27 I have new questions, clarity, inspiration, and many connections to amazing people working for a holistic, just eco-social transition. We must leverage policy change alongside finance, innovative & collaborative action and inspirational leadership to affect systemic change. “Having the right policies, infrastructure and technology in place to enable changes to our lifestyles and behaviour can result in a 40-70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This offers significant untapped potential,” said IPCC Working Group III Co-Chair Priyadarshi Shukla. “The evidence also shows that these lifestyle changes can improve our health and wellbeing.”

While these transformative times challenge us like never before, I also feel glad to be alive at such a pivotal moment. What we choose, where we go and how we act and relate truly matters. Or as Mary Robinson, Chair of the Elders, Former President of Ireland and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said: “We will not get from here to where we need to get without a just transition with the emphasis on just. We’ve got to change a lot of what’s running our world. It’s very transformative when you think about a just transition, because we have so much injustice and inequality in our world. And yet, it’s very exciting.”

Connecting to the land in Sinai, experiencing the pure, fierce nature of the desert and sea reminds me that nature does not compromise, judge, forgive, nor waiver. Do you hear and feel the call for humans to become a force of nature, align with its principles, and lead lives in harmony with nature? As part of nature we are letting go of the old world dying, decomposing and transforming it like mushrooms and microbes in the soil taking all nutrients to feed more vitality. We are re-greening, building and cultivating a regenerative, equitable, peaceful and life-affirming human presence on planet Earth. I am inviting and encouraging you to join us, to collaborate and contribute to advance the CfF mission.

Together for Implementation

We call on policy makers, community leaders, and active citizens alike to put nature first – and stop doing harm. Get involved in a local community initiative to protect, steward, and restore your local natural environment, care for healthy soils, water, air, plants and animals as your commons. Reduce your ecological footprint and find ways to live a high-quality life within planetary boundaries because healthy ecosystems are the foundation for all life on earth. Take time to connect, exchange, collaborate, learn from and empower each other, especially across differences within society to function as a caring human collective.

Moreover, events like COP27 just show how important more multi-level governance, participatory citizen engagement, truly democratic and localised system are. We need to speak up, refuse to comply with harmful practices, and hold policy makers accountable. We encourage local communities to get politically active, raise your voice, engage politicians in dialogues, express your demands, and join force with local governments on climate and sustainability. We ask policy makers to be open, listen and actively involve communities, to make financial resources accessible and support innovative, collective action.


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