Vidya Shah, Executive Chairperson, EdelGive Foundation, writes about how she found meaning at COP28, and why it is critical for Indian voices to show up in global climate dialogues.

As I prepared to attend my first COP in 2023, my perceptions were largely shaped by what I had heard from others who had been to previous COPs. I was unsure if there would be value in the private sector, including businesses, philanthropies, and civil society, attending such platforms, where the ‘real value’ lay in high-level negotiations behind closed doors by Heads of States. Such global platforms did not seem purposed towards enabling civil society actors and philanthropy to be drivers of change, and I wondered what actors (who were traditionally recipients of decisions taken by policymakers) could bring to the table.


However, after conversations with the India Climate Collaborative team, and recognising the growing importance of the private sector in global climate dialogues, I arrived in Dubai on November 30. Together, we identified specific events and focus areas where Indian philanthropy could weigh in to shape inclusive agendas, and complement the Government of India’s vision for climate-integrated sustainable development, over the next five days.


The critical role of the private sector


Through this curated experience, I witnessed how we could facilitate meaningful participation for the private sector, and why this is so important — in three broad ways.


One, COP28 platformed the private sector in a strong way for the first time, through the Business and Climate Philanthropy Forum. This CEO-level global gathering united business leaders and philanthropists to harness their practical knowledge, wealth, and collective momentum, and ramp up private actors’ action on climate change. This was particularly insightful for individuals like me, who are investing in climate trajectories for both development/philanthropy and commercial spheres (through EdelGive Foundation and Edelweiss Alternatives). For example, a prominent perspective this year was the need for businesses and markets to call for favourable regulations that support climate innovation and the transition — and supplement government action to move the needle.

This is significant progress towards holding businesses accountable for climate action, and a necessary response to resistors who have long argued that doing the ‘right’ thing can be a market disadvantage. This market-based approach might not have been spotlighted in the absence of a dedicated platform for the private sector.


Two, with the India Climate Collaborative’s support, I was able to engage in insightful conversations on private finance and how philanthropy can unlock larger capital for climate change adaptation and energy transition. Particularly surprising was the candour in these rooms, around the reality of global financial systems — that private finance will not come to the table if risks are not mitigated and returns not assured. This also shaped discussions around the need to change how multilateral development banks function, instead of only focusing on private finance, and how to make finance more accessible for developing countries like India.


Three, COP28, in a way, went ‘beyond climate’. In a first for COP, we saw great emphasis on themes like food systems and health, and their intersections with the climate crisis. Having worked closely on key development indicators with governments of low-income and vulnerable countries like India, civil society and philanthropy understand that we cannot design and implement quality solutions for education, health, or gender, without incorporating the climate imperative.


These themes invited discussions on how to solve overlapping crises at COP. And, yet, what was apparent was the urgent need for convergence in conversations around climate and Sustainable Development Goals on global platforms; the need to reframe our approach, and move from solving for key development indicators and climate change, to solving for key development indicators with the climate imperative.

The importance of having voices from the Global South

While insights like these make private sector participation even more valuable for global climate progress, they also indicate how voices from the Global South can show up on international platforms.


The Global South is often at a disadvantage in global negotiations, in tackling socio-economic and climate priorities, in fighting against poverty and for decarbonisation simultaneously. The geopolitical pressures that shape COPs’ climate agendas and the Global South’s responses are often only visible (and only in part) to those who are physically proximate to the closed doors — for example, some of us at Expo City Dubai this year.


What we can do, amidst these pressures, is build strength and unity in voice. The Global South is often grouped as a single entity in global climate conversations — but it is key to look at distinct pressures and therefore voices that are needed. Having travelled across Africa this year, I witnessed the continent’s increasingly united voice across climate and development priorities — including at COP28. Asia’s voice, however, does not appear similarly united — India, China, Indonesia, among others, show up differently on the world stage.

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