Advancing Natural Climate and Community Solutions at COP28

By: Marcela Angel, Research Program Director and Angelica Mayolo, MLK Visiting Scholar

The 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) brought over 84,000 people together in Dubai — representing governments, businesses, civil society, academia, and local communities — to discuss how to move forward with the implementation of The Paris Agreement goals. The attendance was the largest in COP history. Discussions deepened on topics such as the global stocktake, mitigation and adaptation policies, and the operationalization of the loss and damage fund. Despite it being characterized by some media as a quiet COP for the lack of significant announcements from governments and stalled negotiations, the sheer number of delegates and wide array of topics covered in side events testified that climate action continues to gain traction on the ground. 

“COPs are moving into an implementation phase, where the big announcements are coming less and less from the negotiators, and more from organizations doing the hard work of implementation and bringing forward new models of collaboration and engagement,” said Marcela Angel, Research Program Director at the ESI. 

In an official side event titled “Knowledge to Action: Co-developing Local Solutions to the Climate Crisis,” MIT brought examples of how community-led collaborations between researchers, practitioners, and decision-makers promote knowledge sharing, capacity building, and solutions that are aligned with global environmental challenges and local socio-environmental priorities. Similarly, the ESI’s Natural Climate Solutions Program (NCS) had a robust participation across five pavilions, with over 20 invited speakers and six events, contributing to raising the visibility of technology-enhanced and participatory Natural Climate and Community Solutions. With the participation of community representatives, government officials, multilateral organizations, and researchers, these events were representative of the multi-stakeholder community collaborations needed to foster equitable local climate solutions.  

Speakers from the “Knowledge to Action: Co-developing Local Solutions to the Climate Crisis” event gather. From left to right: Marcela Angel, Mark Ortiz, Joice Mendez, Sergey Paltsev, Bethany Patten, Benjamin Zaitchik, and Maria Zuber. Photo credit: Angelica Mayolo

Showcasing the results of a participatory landslide monitoring pilot project

The ESI has been working alongside local partners in the city of Mocoa, Colombia on the challenge of equitable climate change adaptation since 2017, after the city suffered a devastating landslide that caused the death of over 300 people, while injuring and displacing hundreds more. During a side event in the Colombia Pavilion, a team of researchers from MIT, Corpoamazonia, and Pratt Institute — alongside community representatives from the Community Researchers Network, government officials from the Ministry of Environment, and strategic allies from the Development Bank of Latin America CAF and the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) — provided a vision for equitable community-based and technology-enhanced strategies to monitor and respond to climate change. The session showcased the results of the GEF project titled “Drones for Equitable Climate Change Adaptation,” which outlined strategies to combine community-based planning and the development of technological tools for landslide monitoring in Mocoa. Participants were able to engage with the project’s online platform prototype and take part in a lively discussion about the challenges and opportunities presented by the use of new technologies for environmental data collection, and the potential of information coupled with the promotion of community participation to develop risk reduction strategies through nature-based solutions. 

The ESI’s Marcela Angel and local partners present the “Drones for Equitable Climate Change Adaptation” project at the Colombia Pavilion. From left to right: Lucy Castillo, Maritza Garzón, Edgar Torres, and Marcela Angel. Photo credit: Angelica Mayolo

“Civil society worldwide is claiming for collective governance and more diversity in the organizational mechanisms,” said Edgar Torres, a member of the Community Researchers Network. “By being connected to the research from its origin, influencing the project’s mechanism of citizen participation called the Community Researchers Network, and with the objective of bringing in, acknowledging the role, and connecting the community, we are putting forward a model for community-led participation.” 

New partnerships for citizen science and biodiversity-based planning

At a side event titled “Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities’ perspectives for climate action and biodiversity protection: integrating traditional knowledge, culture and local innovation the ESI, alongside the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) ACDI/VOCA, Universidad Javeriana, indigenous representatives, and Colombia’s Institute for Scientific Research of the Pacific (IIAP), announced a collaboration to work in partnership with the Humboldt Institute of Colombia to strengthen local capacities in participatory science as a tool for co-creation, democratization, and social appropriation of biodiversity knowledge by various entities, ethnic communities, and local academia in the urban and peri-urban areas of the city of Quibdó. 

Speakers at the “Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities’ perspectives for climate action and biodiversity protection” panel convened by ESI and the AIFCC. From left to right: Marcela Angel, Zoraida Quesada, Luis Sevillano, Vanessa Teteye, Pablo Palacios, Angelica Mayolo. Photo credit: Sabrina Monsalve

“Quibdó is located in the Chocó Biogeographic region, within the Tumbes-Chocó-Magdalena global biodiversity hotspot,” said Zoraida Quesada, a researcher at the IIAP. “And it is representative of the development challenges of cities with limited resources and capacities to address the overlapping climate, biodiversity loss, and poverty crisis. Using the bioblitz method, we hope to engage the youth in biodiversity monitoring, aiming to create a baseline of information for the city while transferring technical capacities for the co-creation and appropriation of biodiversity knowledge, empowering local youth in biodiversity protection.” 

A research milestone for the Afro-Interamerican Forum on Climate Change (AIFCC)

The panel “Research to action: Insights for conservation from Afro-descendant communities in the Americas,” co-hosted by Conservation International (CI), the ESI, and the Afro-Interamerican Forum on Climate Change (AIFCC) at the Nature Positive Pavilion, showcased the findings of the forthcoming study (led by CI and with co-authors from the other groups) titled, “Recognizing Afro-descendant peoples’ (ADP) role in securing nature in the Americas.” This study, which was framed in the discussions of the AIFCC and headed by CI, a technical ally of the Forum, provides the most compelling evidence to date of the contribution of Afro-descendant people in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, and Suriname to biodiversity conservation and climate mitigation. 

Angelica Mayolo presents the vision for the AIFCC and moderates the “Research to action: Insights for conservation from Afro-descendant communities in the Americas” event with the participation of Hindou O. Ibrahim, Kelvin Alie, Martha Rosero, Hugo Habini, Marina Marcal, Luis Sevillano, and Pablo Minda. Photo credit: Marcela Angel

Martha Rosero, the Social Inclusion Director at CI and a co-author of the paper, presented the study. Then, people responded to the findings with their own perspectives and recommendations. The respondents — representing  organizations such as USAID’s ACDI/VOCA, Universidad Javeriana, C40 Brazil, the Saramaka Community of Suriname, and Universidad Tecnica Luis Vargas Torres of Ecuador — represented four countries and organizations from academia, NGOs, community leaders, and international cooperation working towards the conceptualization and launch of the AIFCC Researcher Network, which aims to promote a collaborative research agenda focused on addressing research gaps to advance policies and local priorities of ADP related to biodiversity and climate. 

Discussing transnational priorities for the Grand Chocó region

In a conversation convened and facilitated by the ESI and the Development Bank of Latin America CAF at the Latin America Pavilion, Sebastian Carranza and Ligia Castro — the Climate Change Directors of the Ministries of Environment of Colombia and Panama — led an in-depth discussion about the pressing threats and challenges with regard to the sustainable development and conservation of the Chocó Biogeographic Region and the need for instruments to strengthen collaborative work and enable joint international efforts for the conservation of this region. Ignacio Lorenzo, Technical Director for Climate Action and Positive Biodiversity at CAF, shared CAF’s perspective on the effective ways in which governments can implement coordinated conservation efforts. 

The side event, which was titled “The Chocó Biogeographic Region: Urgent call for a transnational effort to protect biodiversity,” also featured the work of Javeriana Professor Pablo Palacios and the MIT ESI’s MLK Visiting Scholar Angelica Mayolo, who presented an overview of the current demographic, economic, and environmental challenges of the Biogeographic Chocó (which is also referred by the researchers as the Grand Chocó region). 

Speakers from “The Chocó Biogeographic Region: Urgent call for a transnational effort to protect biodiversity” event gather. From left to right: Zoraida Quesada, Luis Sevillano, Ignacio Lorenzo, Alicia Montalvo, Ligia Castro, Pablo Palacios, Angelica Mayolo, Marcela Angel, and Martha Rosero. Photo credit: CAF

“The Grand Chocó region has lost around 10 percent of the local species of birds, 16 percent of all species of mammals, and 39 percent of amphibians,” explained Palacios, referring to the biodiversity loss trends in the region. “With a quarter of all species being endemic to the region, the damage to local biodiversity puts the entire ecosystem at risk” 

Mayolo reinforced those figures in her closing remarks. 

“The biggest challenges faced by the Biogeographic Chocó are all international threats, therefore requiring international action to ensure the protection of the region,” she said.

The ESI appreciates the support and commitment of multiple partners who contributed efforts and resources for the successful realization of these events and the wide participation of members from local communities, including GEF, CAF, USAID ACDI/VOCA, Pratt Institute, MIT´s MLK Program, the BMW Foundation, Universidad Javeriana, CI, and MISTI.