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The COP26 coalition: Politicians won’t save us, people will

Jamie Walker shares insights into climate activism inspired by the work of the COP26 Coalition in Glasgow.

Following a link in a tweet three months ago, an email and a training session the same evening, a few texts, train tickets, months… and we were here, a friend and I, in Glasgow, for the middle weekend of COP26. A pink sign with a picture of an anonymous rural woman standing in a desert, the dry ground fissuring away from her feet like shattered glass, hung above us as we exited the station: “NO TIME FOR DELAY, LET’S GET TO WORK: THE WORLD IS LOOKING TO YOU COP26.”

We were here to volunteer with the COP26 Coalition, a coalition of groups and individuals organised around the principles of climate justice. For communities in the global South there has been “no time for delay” for decades. The initial economic growth of the global North depended on industrialisation powered by fossil fuels and displacement, murder, and theft of the global South, before a shift to economic policy that perpetuates  this dynamic. Climate justice identifies the planetary environmental crisis as being rooted in this divided political ecology and advocates solutions that address these root causes.

The Global Day of Action, organised by the COP26 Coalition for the middle Saturday of the conference, saw hundreds of thousands of people gather in cities around the world to rally for climate justice. In Glasgow alone we found ourselves in the company of more than 100,000 others, including other stewards in high-vis, friendly smiles, standing in the pouring rain. The march was organised into 13 blocs with different emphases, highlighting how the climate crisis intersects with different movements and systemic struggles. Leading the march was a bloc for Indigenous peoples, raising awareness about the urgent need to centre the leadership of Indigenous people in the climate and ecological crisis. Other blocs in the march focused on anti-racism and anti-oppression, farmers and land workers, as well as  climate justice generally. We were at the biodiversity bloc, marching under the wings of a giant puppet RSPB avocet.  rainbow emerged as the rain cleared and we chanted: “What do we want? CLIMATE JUSTICE. When do we want it? NOW.”

That evening we attended a talk by climate representatives of QUNO (the Quaker United Nations Office) and Quakers in Britain which outlined the processes and challenges of COP26 in the context of previous COPs and climate justice principles. A key policy area that came up in the discussion was ‘loss and damage’ finance: a framework for industrialised nations to direct money to enable countries in the global South to cope with and recover from the immediate impacts of climate change that they are already experiencing. The moral dimension of this finance was emphasised – the global North is (in general terms) directly responsible for the death and destruction being experienced by the global South, and so the former must do all they can to help the latter cope.

This issue of loss and damage was first raised in 1991 by the Alliance of Small Island Nations, but was only included in international policy in the Paris Agreement of 2015, via the Warsaw Mechanism formulated two years prior, but this money has not materialised. At COP26, global South countries are still pushing up against resistance to loss and damage financing. A closely related issue is how much international finance is assigned to adaptation. Currently, about 20% of climate finance goes to adaptation, with the rest assigned to helping mitigate emissions. One of the primary aims of COP26 is to achieve the $100bn per year of climate finance directed from ‘developed’ nations to under-developed nations that was set as a target for 2020. Currently, it looks like the finance will not be achieved until 2023 and the Least Developed Countries negotiating bloc is still trying to secure assurances that 50% of the climate finance will go toward adaptation. Loss and damages and adaptation are the focus of Monday’s COP talks, ongoing as I travel from Glasgow.

Sunday saw the beginning of the COP26 Coalition’s People’s Summit, which comprises a huge range of events across the city and online, running till Wednesday. After a shift helping set up at some of the venues, I attended events ranging from workshops on transitioning to a non-growth-based economy and by the Collapse Total campaign – which is mobilising global action against the French fossil fuel company (one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters and still expanding operations in Africa and elsewhere) – to talks on the UN Declaration on the Rights of Peasants. The final event we attended was ‘Indigenous Feminisms’, given by five Indigenous women and femmes from present-day Central and North America. This panel emphasised how the climate crisis affects the food, homes, and communities of Indigenous peoples, areas of life where femme people often have an integral role. They emphasised that Indigenous people are not a monolith, but represent a huge diversity of cosmologies and aspirations. The panellists agreed that respecting the sovereignty of these diverse communities through free, prior, and informed consent is a fundamental pre-requisite to upholding Indigenous rights and ensuring climate solutions (including nature-based solutions) do not perpetuate colonialism. 

Over the course of the weekend I met and talked with other young people advocating for climate justice and was energised and inspired. We shared our frustrations at not being taken seriously by people in power and at how when we are included it is often tokenistic and most of the time unpaid. With this in mind, I was pleased to see the release of Youth4Nature’s ‘Global Youth Position Statement on Nature-based Solutions’, which included a call that, “NbS implementation must follow strict binding social and environmental safeguards, with a focus on ecosystem integrity and functions, meaningful participation and free, prior, and informed consent from Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, human and Indigenous rights, and rights of nature.”

Those that contribute least to global greenhouse gas emissions are currently suffering the most, yet national and international policy frameworks do not go far enough to support them and instead pander to the influence of powerful extractive industries. The Global Day of Action, the People’s Summit, and other actions in Glasgow over these two weeks demonstrate the anger and love that empower change. A grassroots, bottom-up movement founded on solidarity among oppressed groups is a vital compliment and antidote to top-down multilateral directive frameworks if we are to address the root causes of the climate crisis.

Image Credit: Dean Calma / CC BY 2.0

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