Headline: Drawing the ACE Card – Are We Betting on Climate Action?

ACE Dialogue and Negotiations at SB60 in Bonn
Are we really betting on climate action, or just shuffling the deck without ever dealing a hand? Deborah Lika / RIFS

As we leave behind the recent intersessional meeting hosted by the UNFCCC Secretariat in Bonn (SB60) and prepare for COP29, it is safe to say that everyone has mixed feelings regarding the way forward. A lot was said and discussed inside and outside the negotiating rooms, and once again (unsurprisingly), many of the parties left the rooms without agreeing on much.

This year at SB60, I focused on one specific item on the agenda, the one that is said to be the tool for equipping and empowering societies to collectively achieve the goals of the Paris Agreement — Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE), also known as Article 12 of the Paris Agreement.

But before we continue, let’s recap what SB60 and ACE stand for: SB60 refers to the 60th session of the Subsidiary Bodies, integral components of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Held annually in June, these technical meetings serve as a preparatory stage for the Conference of the Parties (COP), the major UN climate summit taking place at the end of the year. Often dubbed the "pre-COP" meeting, SB60 provides a platform for delegates and negotiators to begin addressing the agenda items for the upcoming COP. During this session, participants engage in drafting preliminary texts or informal notes, which form the foundation for discussions at the COP.

Action for Climate Empowerment, or ACE, refers to Article 6 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement. It includes six elements: education, training, public awareness, public participation, access to information, and international collaboration. The key role of these articles is to promote changes in systems, attitudes, and behaviours that are needed to foster sustainable development and manage the causes and impacts of climate change. In theory, ACE works as a tool to equip people for life in a changing world and enable them to be part of the solutions. It aims to innovate and scale up successful initiatives that raise climate change awareness and prepare people for the road ahead. Very ambitiously, ACE seeks to help build a low-carbon future that is resilient in the face of climate impacts. 

But what happens when we move from theory to practice? How does ACE manifest in the real world, and what impact does it have on the ground, especially when parties are refusing to discuss ACE finance and show real commitment? These are critical questions as we transition from SB60 to COP29. Despite the ambitious goals and well-intentioned discussions, the challenge persists: it is time to convert these principles into concrete actions that empower communities and drive sustainable change. 

This year’s ACE Dialogue focused on tools and support, which aligns with the main theme of the upcoming COP – Finance. The dialogue started with a significant statement by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Simon Stiell: "Solutions must come from everywhere and everyone – the more people we involve and support, the better we will be to advance climate action." 

The Dialogue continued on this note, and it was heartening to see more people than ever interested in ACE, filling half of the largest room in the World Conference Center in Bonn. This event brought together various actors to discuss matters related to climate empowerment. And here are some of the outcomes: 
 

  • The ACE Dialogue emphasized the need for robust national ACE plans, drawing on the guidelines by the UNFCCC Secretariat. While these guidelines provide a global framework, there was a consensus on the necessity to tailor them to national contexts. Key actions include integrating ACE into existing educational curricula, public participation frameworks, and information dissemination channels. The focus should be on creating cohesive national strategies that engage diverse groups such as youth, women, and people with disabilities.
  • Participants highlighted the importance of collaboration between national ACE focal points, civil society organizations, youth-led groups, and non-party stakeholders. Successful examples from Bangladesh and Zambia showcased the potential of joint programmes and international funding to support local climate action. However, there was a call for more systematic support and coordination at all levels, ensuring that efforts are not fragmented and that they align with national and international climate goals.
  • A significant challenge discussed was the limited financial support for ACE activities. Despite its crucial role, ACE often struggles with minimal funding, necessitating creative structuring of activities to fit available budgets. There were calls for parties to develop specific funding instruments for ACE, including subnational initiatives, and to build partnerships to identify and address funding gaps. In the absence of agreements on the structural funding of ACE activities, various stakeholders also called on philanthropic organisations and donors to recognise the importance of ACE as part of their broader climate agenda.
  • Youth engagement emerged as a critical component of ACE. The dialogue stressed the need for more substantial support and resources to empower youth, both at the national and international levels. This includes funding youth-led projects, creating platforms for youth participation in climate processes, and ensuring that education and capacity-building efforts are inclusive and accessible.

    However, despite fruitful discussions and fresh views during the ACE Dialogue, parties inside the negotiation room could not reach a consensus. In the first week, the negotiators worked on a draft text aiming to address the financial needs for ACE initiatives. This text proposed two main actions: an in-session event in Baku (COP29) to discuss the financial gaps and needs for ACE; and the incorporation of submissions from parties about their financial challenges into the summary report in 2026. Having this included in the mid-term review in 2026, would strongly support the argument for increased finance for ACE implementation.

    Unfortunately, the parties were unable to reach a final agreement on the text. However, a procedural conclusion was achieved, which means that the progress made will be carried forward to the next session in Baku, where discussions will continue on this basis. This experience highlights the ongoing challenges in securing adequate financial support for ACE and the need for continued advocacy and negotiation 

    The quest for adequate ACE financing is a microcosm of the larger struggle for climate finance. With just six months until a decision must be reached during COP 29 in Baku, significant allocation priorities remain unsettled. Parties are expected to agree on a New Collective Quantified Goal (NCQG) for climate finance following up on the $100 billion per year climate financing target set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. The NCQG also determines how funds are allocated among different climate actions, including mitigation, adaptation, and potential loss and damage. If negotiations stall on this front, there may be delays in specifying the allocation for climate-related activities such as ACE. Likewise, should parties opt to prioritize other aspects of climate finance, resources for education, training, public awareness, and other components of ACE will remain constrained.

    The NCQG sets the scale and ambition for global climate finance targets. If parties do not agree on an ambitious goal, there might be insufficient financial resources allocated overall. As I followed the discussions on “climate empowerment”, I couldn’t help but notice the irony of this debate: even as we bet on bold ideas and ambitious goals, we often fail to ante up the necessary resources to bring them to life. The lack of progress on the finance negotiations in Bonn was very disappointing, especially considering the urgency expressed by developing countries as they are pushing for new, additional, and scaled-up public finance to fulfil obligations under the Paris Agreement.

    Lastly, what really underscored the frustration of pro-ACE negotiators was the minimal time allocated to ACE negotiations—just 2 hours out of 10 days. After all, even a game of cards can last longer than 2 hours, don’t you think? Overall, the intersessional meeting was yet another reminder of the complexities and slow pace of climate negotiations, even when the stakes are as high as the future of our planet.

    So, are we really betting on climate action, or just shuffling the deck without ever dealing a hand?
     

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