For the past two weeks, many of the world’s leaders and representatives have converged in Glasgow, Scotland, for COP26. But as its end quickly approaches, it is increasingly clear that the conference is grossly inadequate on several fronts. A severe lack of attendees from the Global South due to miles of red tape and unequal vaccine access; stifling overrepresentation from the fossil fuel industry; and continued ignorance from the world’s wealthiest nations are just a few frustrations.
Meanwhile, as official negotiations flail, the COP26 Coalition has brought together movements from across the world to build power for system change. The People’s Summit looks to amplifies the voices and demands of Indigenous, frontline and Global South communities as an alternative to false solutions and inaction at COP26.
What is COP26?
COP26 is this year’s occurrence of the annual United Nations Conference of Parties, as well as the five-year anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement. Signatories—which include nearly every nation in 2015—adopted the international agreement in an effort to limit the average global temperature increase this century to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. The climate accord is particularly relevant for this summit after a landmark IPCC report found that the 1.5° target was perilously close this past August, signaling a code red for humanity. Accordingly, COP26 has been billed as the world’s “last best chance” to address the climate crisis.
In negotiations, one of the hottest topics on the table is climate finance. In the most basic sense, climate financing is local, national, or transnational funding that aims to financially support mitigation and adaptation measures. Other negotiations have surrounded coal and fossil fuel phase outs, deforestation, methane emissions, and carbon markets.
Discussions so far have led to a number of breakthrough agreements. Almost two dozen nations agreed to stop approving or building new coal projects and to phase out coal over the next two decades, while China’s divestment from overseas coal projects nearly halted the international bankrolling of coal projects. Earlier that week, around one hundred nations and parties signed onto the Global Methane Pledge, agreeing to cut methane emissions by 30 percent by 2030. A proposal released yesterday seeks a historic end to fossil fuels, updating the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) revision timeframe to next year instead of every five years.
Despite this progress, COP26 is also proving to be a monumental failure. The UK government, hosts of this year’s conference, had claimed that this year’s summit would be “the most inclusive COP” to date in the preceding weeks. A spokesman said in a statement, “Ensuring that the voices of those most affected by climate change are heard is a priority for the COP26 Presidency, and if we are to deliver for our planet, we need all countries and civil society to bring their ideas and ambition to Glasgow.”
Ironically, COP26 is blatantly exclusionary. Only one-third of the usual numbers of ambassadors, civil society delegates, and activists from the Global South are able to attend due to the vaccine apartheid, immoderate travel costs, and the UK’s impermeable immigration system. Only four leaders from Pacific island states will attend in person; a third won’t send any government officials at all, and instead will entrust negotiations to representatives from their missions abroad. There was also insufficient Indigenous representation.
“This is not a conference. This is now a Global North greenwash festival, a two-week-long celebration of business as usual and blah, blah, blah,” said Greta Thunberg. “The most affected people in the most affected areas still remain unheard, and the voices of future generations are drowning in their greenwash and empty words and promises. But the facts do not lie, and we know that our emperors are naked.”
Simultaneously, the fossil fuel industry had a showing of 503 agents—the largest delegation at COP26. An analysis by Global Witness revealed that there are more representatives for fossil fuel interests than for any single country. In fact, they found that the fossil fuel lobby is larger than the combined total of the eight delegations worst affected by climate change in the last two decades.
These attendance patterns are representative of the same tragic mistakes that originally created the climate crisis. While fossil fuel interests gained overwhelming shares in climate negotiations and attempted to stall climate action, island nations broadcasted their message from their shores hundreds of miles away. Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister Simon Kofe presented his speech standing knee-deep in water where it used to be dry land.
COP26 Coalition & The People’s Summit
As leaders and delegates negotiated at official talks, the COP26 Coalition mobilized at the People’s Summit and on the streets. The coalition is a UK-based civil society organization assembling around climate justice during COP26. Its members span across the globe, including environment and development NGOs, trade unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, migrant and racial justice networks, and progressive lawmakers such as Caroline Lucas and Rashida Tlaib.
Between November 7-10, the climate justice movement came together to discuss, learn, and strategize for system change. The coalition hosted over 200 assemblies, interactive workshops, strategy sessions, arts and cultural events, and roundtables on a variety of topics that were largely absent from official negotiations, from Indigenous rights, to fossil fuel divestment, to ecosocialism, to Green New Deals. Over 12,000 people registered for the Summit, attending live and virtually. One highlight included a session putting COP26 on trial in The People vs. the UNFCCC: a people’s tribunal on the United Nations Framework Convention in Climate Change.
“Building power outside the COP is essential if we are to hold world leaders to account inside the COP, and force them to do what we know needs to be done,” said Asad Rehman, co-founder of the COP26 Coalition.
Off the table, nearly 400 climate justice demonstrations took place across the world. Glasgow alone saw over 100,000 protesters on the street. The closing rally featured speakers representing Indigenous and MAPA communities, trade unions, Small Island Developing States (SIDS) envoys, and other climate justice leaders.
COP26 sidelines the populations and nations most affected by climate change—the People’s Summit seeks to center and amplify them. Official negotiations have long erased the stories of those on the frontlines, and it’s time for our leaders to listen. The decisions made at COP26 will decide how governments will address the climate crisis, if at all. But the solutions we need already exist and are in practice.
With just days to go, big hurdles remain as official negotiations will soon draw to a close. As both summits conclude, it is vital we continue to put pressure on our leaders to work with the climate justice movement to imagine and forge a future that works for all of us. The transformative solutions that we need to survive and build a more just and fair world can only be brought about through collective action, solidarity and coordination, from our local communities and international levels. Learn more about the COP conferences and what is at stake this year from grassroots climate justice leaders.