COP28: "Climate change is not just about temperatures"

The British NGO Christian Aid operates in some forty countries and works alongside local populations as well as with their governments to try to improve their situation through legislation. Like many civil society groups, it had its reasons for participating in the Dubai climate conference. Interview with Osai Ojigho, its Director of Public Policy.

Osai Ojigho, Director of Campaigns and Public Policy at Christian Aid, on December 3, 2023 at COP28 (Dubai). © Géraud Bosman-Delzons/RFI

By: Géraud Bosman-Delzons Follow


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RFI: Can you explain to us the reasons for your presence at the COP?

Osai Ojigho: Climate change has a direct impact on our missions and is now one of our priorities. We have adaptation and resilience programmes on the ground, but also advocacy campaigns at national and regional levels. For example, we work in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Bangladesh, with small farmers, with diverse communities in Latin America who have to deal with the vagaries of the climate. We are trying to use our influence with governments to make sure that these populations are listened to.

In our delegation to the COP, we have colleagues from Malawi and Kenya. They attended meetings with their leaders at their country's pavilion. These political or economic leaders are more accessible here than in their countries, where they are unlikely to visit their villages. In this way, they can find out at the source about the effectiveness of the programmes but also demand concrete actions, not just promises.

On the ground, we act on two levels. Many of our projects aim to give people the tools to negotiate with companies that want to use local natural resources to develop new technologies. We are working with governments at the legislative level to both protect these populations and ensure that they can also benefit from it.

Like what?

In Kenya, the land of Turkana communities is being exploited for its wind potential. We found that companies have been working with government departments to move people so that they can use their spaces to test their turbines and then set up their factories to produce them and finally send them to Europe, to Denmark to be precise. And on top of that, these communities don't have electricity! So we published a report that concludes that the company needs to help locals use their own resources to have their own wind turbines and so that they can live prosperously in turn.

It is the whole issue of climate justice and a just transition that is being negotiated at the COP that must allow us to accomplish all this work. There is no Planet B, so if the world we live in collapses, then what will happen to the rest: human rights, economic equality, the fight against poverty, which are at the heart of our missions.

What do you think of this photo?

More than 180 heads of state and government have just arrived in Dubai for the #COP28

Is there anything that shocks you?

— Loup espargilière (@L_Espargiliere) December 1, 2023

I don't see any women or minorities. This shows that the political world is dominated by men and that the many campaigns for more inclusivity and diversity are not reflected in this image. Which worries me, of course.

Is the climate a woman's issue, a gender issue?

Climate is everybody's business. Everyone should be represented around the table: women, children, indigenous minorities... Because the effects of climate change are experienced in different ways, depending on where you live. Those who suffer the most from the impacts of global warming are those who contribute the least, those who pollute the least. And what's more, when the climate talks come to make decisions that concern them first, they are not in the rooms. It's not fair, they should be able to vote on these issues. The voices of poor countries are limited in these negotiating spaces.

They are still represented here at the COP, because these groups, women, youth, indigenous peoples, farmers are actors officially recognized by the UN Climate and have a voice...

Yes, but when the agreements are finalized, malicious lobbies act to bring these groups into line with the positions of the more powerful nations. Bands tend to be excluded from the core of chords, that's something we see. We have not seen much progress on women's issues. On climate finance, how many women, how many local communities can have access to the financing provided for in the leaders' commitments? This topic is not a priority, nor is it planned.

What is your reaction to the adoption of the loss and damage fund, at the very beginning of the COP?

Everyone was very excited and applauding. This is a welcome decision, of course, but for my part, I hesitated: I was waiting for the amount of the promised funds. This is not the first time promises have been made. It is disappointing to see that those who should be leading the fight, such as the United Kingdom for example [a sponsor of the NGO, editor's note] have not announced more than they had already committed to in the past. Yet they have the opportunity to find the necessary money, not from individuals, but from large companies that make billions in profits. In my country, Nigeria, the oil industry has tapped into the country's wealth, but has done almost nothing about environmental degradation, the loss of livelihoods such as fishing villages, health undermined by water and air pollution.

I wonder if this fund will allow for the restoration of the environment. Look at those countries whose coasts are affected by erosion because the sea level is rising. Their populations must retreat and leave their homes. They then lose a bit of their identity. This leads to another problem: where you migrate, you settle in other people's territory, which can generate tensions, even conflicts... Climate change isn't just about warmer temperatures, it's impacting entire lives. Our negligence and inability to respond to problems wipes out other people's stories.

We often hear powerful words in speeches. We know the shocking sentences of Antonio Guterres, the convictions and encyclical of Pope Francis. But are words still effective?

Of course you can! They use their position to try to spark action: not only by sending messages to decision-makers, but also because they bring hope and inspiration for action in many people.

To what extent can spiritual forces and communities contribute to climate action? What makes you different from others?

As a faith-based NGO that works with all populations, believers and non-believers alike, our primary mission is to be stewards of the Earth, which provides us with everything we need: water, food, oxygen. Since we take from nature, we must also repair it.

It is also a question of measuring how our actions affect our neighbours: we must look out for others. So if my action causes problems for my neighbor, I have to find ways – of peace, of love – so that it doesn't happen. In concrete terms, we see that the mining industries are driven by capitalist political aims, to the benefit of their societies and to the detriment of those from which these resources come. But it's also the subject of overconsumption. It is therefore not only a political problem, but also the civic and moral duty of everyone.

What unites us specifically is our faith. It doesn't matter what country you are, what your standard of living is. So we have the potential to mobilize a very large number of people quickly. And then spiritual organizations live among the population, they not only bring them spiritual comfort but also more material well-being. They know people, they are connected to them on a daily basis and can reach hearts.

You also have projects in the Palestinian Territories, particularly in Gaza. What is your situation there?

We do have programs in the Middle East. Our teams in Gaza have been evacuated. We have called for a ceasefire so that humanitarian action can continue. The situation in Gaza is a real denial of humanitarian assistance, which is recognized by international law.

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