Acorn at COP27

The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (or COP27) wrapped up last month. This annual event, held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt for the 2022 edition, assesses and discusses the global progress made when it comes to climate change. Attended by world leaders, UN representatives, and interested parties, it aims for transparency, accountability, and actionability.

Acorn was present as well. Our strategy lead Emma van de Ven and finance consultant Max Berkelmans represented our organization and mission, and in this blog post, they will provide a brief retrospective on their experiences at COP27.

A welcome addition

As you may already have read in the Rabobank blog article about COP27, there was plenty of enthusiasm for Acorn among the conference's attendants. Max Berkelmans has a theory as to why: "There was a lot of interest because COP27 really explored the implementation of solutions, rather than just discussing the problems we face. Acorn ticks all the boxes as a solution. When I started working here, it almost seemed too good to be true: the way it benefits our climate, the way it helps smallholder farmers, the way it bridges financial gaps."

Emma van de Ven concurs: "Nowadays, the focus lies as much on how to adapt to the consequences of climate change as on how to combat it. Those two go hand in hand." Max adds: "That balance has only really been emphasized since the 2015 Paris Agreement."

This Paris Agreement also introduced NDCs, or Nationally Determined Contributions: climate action plans for the various signatory countries to play their part. For some countries, these contributions are conditional: especially for lesser developed countries, for example, external financing is the only way for them to realize climate adaptation and invest in climate action. As Emma puts it: "There's a price tag on adaptation. Acorn fills that niche to utilize the voluntary carbon market to really help smallholder farmers."

Paying for past mistakes

However, COP27 wasn't just an inspiring and affirming event for Emma and Max. "Being at COP27, you're so close to all of these discussions that illustrate how much adaptation is still necessary," Emma explains. "Beyond that, it highlights how many things have gone wrong. There's disillusionment among parties like some Central American countries, that experienced cowboy behavior from project developers who promised real, positive change but didn't end up fulfilling their promises. Acorn isn't like that, and never has been, but we're still experiencing the effects of the trust that was lost back then."

She laments: "We can now see and learn from what went wrong when the carbon market just started, with the early actors. Of course, there might be mistakes we're making right now that we don't realize yet. But in the beginning, there was true mistreatment of vulnerable people for financial gain, when these parties were already victimized by climate change that they had a much smaller part in causing. Besides, dirt cheap carbon credits were being used as a free pass to continue emitting carbon. It's important to take responsibility for that as a market and learn from its past mistakes."

Popularity and its price

The unilaterally positive reception of Acorn was a source of conflict and concern for Max and Emma as well. As Emma explains: "There were no critiques, no critical questions regarding Acorn. I find that a little worrying. Because Acorn was one of the very few actual solutions presented at COP27, attendants might have been too scared to rock the boat. After all, if you find out you don't have that one solution, you're left with nothing but problems."

And as Max experienced: "Some parties eager to meet with us would be a great match, but their proposition is currently not a part of our activities, so joining the two would require a lot of time and manpower that we already have to invest in our existing projects."

Still, both were pleased to find just how seriously other participants took Acorn. "Big parties such as IFAD (the UN's International Fund for Agricultural Development), governments, and investment funds were immediately enthusiastic," Emma explains. "There's no other event with this many important stakeholders in one place, with all of them already motivated to act. This trip and its investment were absolutely worth it for Acorn, opening doors and building our reputation."

A worthwhile endeavor

With COP28 already in the works (next year's conference will be held in Dubai, UAE), we can't wait to see how the agreements made and intentions set at COP27 will be taking effect in the coming year. Of course, we'll be doing our part, continuing to support smallholder farmers as they pivot to agroforestry, and tracking and selling the resulting carbon credits.

As Emma puts it: "If there's one takeaway from COP27 for me, it's that Acorn is doing something truly important and that we have to scale up tenfold." Max agrees: "When we began to pursue our mission almost three years ago, plenty of people thought it was impossible. Now it's clear that it's a real solution, and that there's not just a seat at the table for us, but widespread support."

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