Mary Church argues COP26 in Glasgow in 2020 must be a rallying point for people and planet
The outcomes of the longest ever meeting in the history of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – the COP25 negotiations in Madrid – have failed to reflect the urgency of the crisis or any grasp of the real solutions to the climate emergency. Rather, governments around the world continued to ignore both the undeniable science and the rising tide of peoples’ movements demanding radical action on climate. That unwillingness to listen to the people could not have been better illustrated than by the response to a mass action of civil society observers including indigenous peoples, NGOs, unions and climate justice groups in which over 300 people were aggressively ejected from the UN talks, in a chilling echo of the violent repression in Chile that led to the last minute relocation of the talks to Spain.
Instead, what we witnessed in Madrid was corporate-captured governments fighting for the interests of the fossil fuel industry and elites, unable to see past short-termism, unable to get out of the neo-liberal mindset that has brought us to this point. All part and parcel of a concerted effort over the past decade and more by rich historical polluters to shift the burden of dealing with the climate crisis onto those who have done least to cause it and will suffer the worst impacts.
Two major issues came to a head at COP25 that demonstrate this clearly: the question of finance for loss and damage, and rules on carbon markets under the Paris Agreement.
On the first, rich countries shamelessly resisted calls from developing countries for financial support to help them recover from the impacts of climate change that it is no longer possible to adapt to, offering instead to simply cut up the cake of existing international development aid and climate finance into smaller pieces. They also attempted to re-write the Paris Agreement by inserting a non-liability clause into the treaty to protect themselves from any compensation claims by climate impacted people. One of the few silver linings of these failed talks is that developing countries stood firm and resisted this. But expect to see the same fight play out next year in Glasgow.
On the second, sometimes no deal really is better than a bad deal. And that’s definitely the case with carbon markets. With no effective cap in place under the Paris Agreement, and no time left to buy and sell the atmosphere (even if it was an acceptable thing to do) carbon markets risk fatally undermining efforts to limit warming to 1.5oC. Not only do they divert time and resources away from real solutions to the climate crisis, they also risk increasing emissions, by carrying over a flood of carbon credits from previous trading schemes and through double counting of reductions. If that wasn’t bad enough, carbon trading also violates human rights, especially impacting indigenous peoples and global South communities whose lands and livelihoods are being grabbed to be sold as carbon ‘offsets’.
With parties unable to come to a consensus on carbon markets in Madrid, the issue will be firmly back on the table in Glasgow at COP26. Only fossil fuel companies and other reckless profiteers stand to benefit from carbon markets – this is the part of the Paris Agreement that Shell boasted it wrote – and they won’t give up easily.
Next years’ climate talks in Glasgow, COP26 will ultimately be the litmus test of the Paris Agreement. 2020 is the deadline for countries to resubmit their emissions reductions pledges, known as ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’ under the treaty. With current pledges putting us on the highway to a hellish 3-4 degrees warming, and no sign of the rich historical polluters who have ultimately caused the climate crisis stepping up to do their fair share, the chances of keeping the planet at a liveable temperature are on a knife edge.
In attempting to navigate our way out of the crisis it is crucial that the voices of those most impacted by the climate crisis are heard: participation of global South civil society and indigenous peoples are essential for climate just outcomes. The knowledge and small scale, sustainable livelihoods of indigenous peoples, rural and forest dwelling folks around the world are part of the key to turning the Titanic around.
Yet Glasgow will be the fourth COP in as many years, and five out of the last six annual UN climate talks to take place in the global North. This is highly problematic in terms of ensuring global South participation. The grim reality is that in light of December’s election results we anticipate the continuation of the racist hostile environment border control in Britain, which will put additional barriers in the way of climate impacted peoples’ participation. In this context the Scottish Government’s more internationalist outlook is important: Ministers can work with the UN to put pressure on the new Westminster Government to guarantee strong global south participation at COP26.
In terms of what to expect from Britain’s presidency of COP26, the Conservatives promised to scrap the Department for International Development and instead use the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to promote British business objectives abroad, giving a clear indication of the perverse priorities of the new Government. The manifesto on which the party was elected ranked by far the worst of the main political parties in terms of their pledges on climate and environmental action. While the Scottish Government is doing significantly better than that, including with its stronger national climate targets, the reality is that the bar for climate leadership is set dangerously low, and we are far from committing to a truly fair share of climate action.
When COP26 comes to Glasgow, therefore, both Britain and Scotland will be exposed as simply other developed countries which have grown rich by polluting the atmosphere and causing the climate crisis. The talks will shine a spotlight on the Britain’s unacceptable oil and gas expansion plans – and the Scottish Government’s support for them – which is completely incompatible with any claims of climate leadership.
The simple fact is that those responsible for causing the crisis – including Scotland and Britain – must step up and start making some difficult decisions if we are to avoid catastrophic warming. There is no other way forward that bears thinking about. It’s time to put an end date on North Sea oil and gas extraction in line with the Paris Agreement, and plan for a rapid and just transition of the workforce and communities. Time to transform our society and economy, changing the way we travel, how we produce and consume food, what counts as work, and how it is rewarded, what we value and strive for, and how we connect with each other.
To end on a positive note: with the emergence of the youth strikers and Extinction Rebellion the climate movement in Britain is stronger than ever before. COP in Glasgow must now serve as a rallying cry for all who care about our planet and the fate of peoples all over the world. This is not just about a two-week conference in November 2020. It’s about a year of campaigning and activism, learning and strategising, collaboration and creativity. We will use it to transform our movements and put climate justice at the centre of what we do. We are unstoppable, and despite setbacks, we know another world is possible. Get involved with the COP26 Coalition at cop26coalition.wordpress.com
Mary Church is Head of Campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland
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