It is high time Botswana engaged civil society more in climate change issues, Chief Executive Officer of Botswana Council of Non-Governmental Organisations (BOCONGO), Monametsi Sokwe , has said.

He said the COP-27 Action for Climate Empowerment (AEC) and Civil Society Day proceedings held early this week provided an opportunity to foster greater engagement of civil society in the fight against climate change, to ensure that NGOs’ views and perspectives are inclusively and meaningfully integrated into climate negotiations and decision making. Action for Climate Empowerment (ACE) is part of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to denote work under Article 6 of the Convention and Article 12 of the Paris Agreement.

ACE empowers members of society to engage in climate action, through the six ACE elements - climate change education and public awareness, training, public participation, public access to information, and international cooperation on these issues.

Sokwe said this was a critical engagement, and he hopes it benefits Botswana because currently, there is reluctance by the government to engage NGOs when it comes to climate change issues. His lamentation is that although NGOs are doing a lot in terms of combating harsh climate change factors, the government does not have “a clear guidance nor international drive” to engage or support NGOs in the climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives.

Local NGOs are viewed as implementing partners by international NGOs, Sokwe said, emphasising that the role of NGOs is not clear in the Climate Change Policy. He said there are no resources available for NGOs to participate in climate change activities. For his part COP27 President Sameh Shoukry said it is important for NGOs to be involved in climate change issues.

“The role of Civil Society and NGOs in the climate action process is absolutely crucial. Effective climate action requires a whole of society approach. All of us need to be involved and engaged from institutions to individuals in both acting and persuading others of the need to act. This day truly embodies the spirit of coming together for implementation,” he said.

Some of the sessions held during the day included; the role of civil society in mobilising and ensuring delivery of climate finance commitments. In addition, there were discussions on the need for people to make their voices heard in order to press the developed world to deliver on their commitments and enhance their ambitions.

Civil Society and Shaping the Global Climate Agenda session focused on, Legacy and Prospects, and covered the importance of civil society and the need to safeguard human rights in order to enable society to play an effective role in the fight against climate change.

Response to Climate-Induced Disasters looked at the disproportionate impact of climate induced natural disasters on Africa and the developing world and ensuring that funding is in place to enable adequate preparation and early warning systems.

Sokwe told Botswana Guardian that Botswana could do much better if civil society was recognised as partners when it comes to climate change mitigation and negotiations, because NGOs are doing a lot, but they are only invited to meetings.

Head of BOCONGO Environmental Conversation and Livelihood, Dr. Moses Selebatso who is attending COP-27 in Egypt concurs that in all developments regarding climate change, NGOs need to play a leading role.

“We need to know that the communities’ projects are mainly directed or guided by civil society organisations, and they actually work closely with the communities and understand the concerns, challenges and opportunities that may be there to help the communities,” he said.

NGOs work with communities every day and therefore understand the global landscape in terms of the direction of how things are moving and it is important for countries, particularly governments to involve civil society in discussions about ways of adapting to climate change and coming up with mitigations.

Dr. Selebatso emphasised that Botswana should engage civil society more, when it comes to climate change issues.

“When Botswana developed the climate change policy, I don’t think there was enough consultation with civil society and as such the implementation will in a way be limited, so we need to encourage partnership and engagement with government and civil societies,” Dr. Selebatso said.

He added that funding that comes from the global community or even from government should also be channelled through civil society to ensure they implement and help the communities in adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

Dr. Selebatso reiterated that the relationship between government and civil society should be reinforced. “There is an effort to engage civil society but it is not enough. Government should take advantage of the collective organisations like BOCONGO and BOCOBONET because if they channel their communication and discussions through such, that will ensure that the general members of the civil society will be engaged as opposed to when the government picks a particular NGO to try and work with them on a specific aspect, so the inclusivity from the government side should target the umbrella bodies, and umbrella bodies take the responsibility of engaging the general members in all development aspects including climate.

“We need to capacitate our communities with education and awareness because government alone cannot manage because they obviously have limitations in terms of human resources and resources to undertake some of the training to raise awareness,” he said.

Participants at COP27 ACE and Civil Society Day shared best practices and identified challenges, as well as networked and developed multi-stakeholder partnership opportunities. Events and sessions showcased the roles and contributions of civil society in various forms of climate action and policy response both on the ground and at multilateral sittings.

(This article has been published with support from MESHA/IDRC grant for coverage of COP-27 by African science journalists)