The IRM at COP26: Discussing accountability and dispute resolution in climate projects

  • Article type News & articles
  • Publication date 22 Dec 2021

When the time comes and our bodies are buried under the ground, that’s when our souls embark on a journey in the sea. As our souls swim in the water, they learn from our ancestors’ knowledge, and later on, they pass on that knowledge as they travel through the water cycle to be reborn…

This is the story of a short animated film entitled “Indlela Yokuphila” (a Zulu term meaning “the journey of the soul”), which kicked off the COP26 event that the Independent Redress Mechanism (IRM) co-hosted with the One Ocean Hub and the Strathclyde Centre for Environmental Law and Governance on 10 November. This film illustrated how, if we are willing to listen closely, scientific knowledge and indigenous knowledge can at times align. With this introduction, the event discussed the use of arts-based mediation in climate change-related conflicts, focusing on conflicts involving indigenous peoples' spiritual sites. The second part of the event highlighted the use of multiple sources of law to bridge disconnects and inequalities between different knowledge systems when climate change projects are planned and implemented on the land and under the ocean.

Paco Gimenez-Salinas, from the IRM, and Pablo Lumerman, an IRM rostered mediator specializing in environmental and intercultural mediation, jointly presented on the topic of intercultural mediation inclimate projects-related conflicts. Their presentations highlighted how the spiritual framework and culture of indigenous peoples are often overlooked in the decision-making process surrounding development projects. They then spoke about how mediation could come into play to address such concerns by facilitating an inter-cultural dialogue. Two case studies from Patagonia and Honduras were presented to illustrate how mediation has dealt with conflicts relating to sacred indigenous areas and involving different cultural perspectives and values. This unique topic and the diversity of the speakers who presented – academics, art performers and mediators – made for an insightful event.

Later, the IRM joined in one additional event on 12 November which brought together the three independent units of the Green Climate fund, namely the Independent Evaluation Unit, the Independent Integrity Unit and the IRM itself. Each unit presented their respective mandates, covering different areas of integrity and accountability. Despite these differences, the units showcased their shared values and goals in making GCF projects and progreammes more transparent and accountable.  

It was the first time that the IRM participated in the UNFCCC COP, formally “the Conference of the Parties,” which is the largest and most significant global meeting around climate change. Every year, the 197 countries that have ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meet to report progress on climate action and set new policy targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. COP is the biggest and most important forum on climate change. Nevertheless, the conference has grown so much in the number of people and agendas that it is sometimes difficult to draw the attention of the general public to events that are sometimes niche in nature – tackling the side effects of climate projects and/or programmes.

The IRM thus used this opportunity to join the other voices in raising the awareness of the need to integrate climate justice and accountability in global climate action. Apart from participating in the two side events, the IRM was able to use this valuable opportunity to meet with the parties involved in our cases and share ideas with stakeholders from the civil society.

Overall, the IRM’s participation in COP26 was successful in getting the word out about accountability in climate change projects, especially through mediation, and it was also a great learning opportunity for us. The IRM plans to continue to join future COP events to share our knowledge and experiences and to learn from others.