When I’m not working on The RAG, walking my dogs, or surfing, I spend my professional life as a rogue activist lawyer, an international law and policy analyst specialising in climate change, biodiversity, and human rights.
I’ve now been participating in the international climate change negotiations since around 2007 and I haven’t missed a COP (Conference of Parties) since 2009. But it’s not just the annual COP that I’m in, but also the smaller events and meetings that happen in between, for example for the three years leading up to the Paris Agreement we would meet four times a year, and every year in June there is a mid-year climate negotiation.
I’ve spent a lot of time involved in these types of meetings over the past decade and I’ve had the privilege of working alongside a range of social justice, environmental justice, and climate justice movements, indigenous rights activists, international organisations, UN agencies and governments.
But I can’t do this one!
COP26 is being touted by the UK as one of the most important events on climate change to ever occur.
There’s a narrative going around that it’s essential for the event to take place to ensure climate action for the benefit of poor and vulnerable people. The people who are not only severely impacted by climate change but also suffering the worst impacts of the pandemic.
But is this really what’s happening
Is this COP really an event to benefit the poor and vulnerable?
Or is it an event that’s going to benefit the wealthy high emitting countries and the fossil fuel industry, and those seeking to delay climate action through false solutions such as nature-based offsetting, masquerading as an event to benefit the poor and vulnerable?
COP26 is shaping up to be an event along the lines of the latter.
This is going to be the most expensive COP in history with the least participation ever to occur in the process, which supposedly has equity at its heart. And those unable to participate due to the ongoing pandemic, vaccine inequality and costs, are the representatives from the country’s most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; and who need to be participating the most.
Perhaps a good place to start would be to look at the five priority areas that were identified at a recent pre-COP Ministerial meeting held in July.
As a starting point, it’s worth noting that only 50 Ministers participated in person in this meeting. There are 196 countries signed up to the Climate Convention and Paris Agreement which means, around 140 countries could not or would not attend. Not a great start!
Now, let’s look at the five priority areas at the pre-COP Ministerial and try to separate political spin from reality.
Scaling up adaptation: a not unexpected pivot towards adaptation needed by poor and vulnerable countries, from a process that has, for the past 30+ years focused primarily on mitigation. Unfortunate it has taken a global pandemic and critically worsening global inequalities to realise this, but a welcome priority, nonetheless. Ministers agreed there needs to be more finance for adaptation (again), something they have known for decades. Nothing new here. Where’s the finance?
Keeping 1.5 alive: something we most certainly must do, but the climate action pledges by countries currently put the planet on a trajectory for between 2.8 and 3° of global warming, which is completely devastating for the survival of humanity. It was expected that countries would provide new pledges by 2020 to put the world on track to achieve the 1.5 goal, but this hasn’t happened. Whilst we may see some new announcements, there will not be enough to close the emissions gap to the extent needed. Keep reading.
Loss and damage: now, let’s be honest here, the UK have not exactly been the number one supporter of loss and damage or for finance for loss and damage, although they were involved in the recent measly US$300 million pledge from the G7. That’s about the size of one Green Climate Fund project. The countries that will not be able to participate due to the barriers and exorbitant costs are those that are suffering the most in terms of loss and damage. If they’re not at the negotiating table this leaves the door open for those countries that have continuously sought to block progress on the subject to wreak havoc within the negotiations and set the agenda back. A COP that has so many barriers to participation but says it prioritises loss and damage is ironic to say the least.
Completing the Article 6 negotiations: Most like to think that Article 6 of the Paris Agreement is about carbon trading and is intended to be used as a way out of having to decrease emissions. It is well recognised that Article 6 has the potential to undermine the Paris Agreement which is one of the reasons why it is taking so long for countries to agree on an outcome. The UK COP Presidency has Article 6 high on its list of priorities and has even appointed Mark Carney as their Ambassador for Climate Finance, with his own special interests in carbon trading (no conflicts of interest here). An outcome on a market mechanism under Article 6 only benefits wealthy high emitting countries and fossil fuel companies and allows them to delay emissions reductions. A COP that is not inclusive of many of the countries and grassroots movement that are opposing these market-based approaches will be taken advantage of by those countries and companies from the global north who are able to participate. While the cat’s away, the mice will play, so to speak.
Mobilising finance: all the way back in 2009, Countries made a commitment to raise $100 billion per year in climate finance by 2020. Well, here we are in 2021 and this also has not been achieved. Another fail!! At the July Ministerial we heard yet again countries saying that more needs to be done to raise the required climate finance. To put this in perspective, the US Government spent US$778 billion on military alone in 2020, and the world has been able to mobilise trillions in a very short space of time to address the Covid pandemic. The money is there. The political will isn’t.
The UK in its role as COP President and its desperate efforts to ensure this event goes ahead has made it virtually impossible for people to be organised.
A promise was made to deliver vaccines to those who are in need and yet here we are, just 8 weeks out from the event and not a single vaccine has been delivered. Quarantine requirements increase costs by thousands of pounds per participant. The UK has indicated it may cover these costs, however eight weeks out from the event and there has been no confirmation on this issue. Quarantine is also required on the return to home journey also adding to the cost.
Accommodation in Glasgow is already fully booked and overpriced, and many countries and civil society representatives from social and climate justice movements, including youth and indigenous are announcing they cannot attend and are holding internal discussions to call for postponement.
What is already a deeply inequitable process is now exacerbating these inequities. The movements, organisations and countries that are most impacted by climate change and the pandemic, are being excluded from the process.
In all my years of involvement in the UNFCCC process, this COP is by far the worst. Whilst I’m a firm advocate for the importance of climate conferences, I just can’t be a part of this one.
International climate meetings can only achieve a positive outcome through a transparent and participatory process that puts those most vulnerable and most impacted by climate change at the forefront and should not be prioritising elites and high emitting countries and companies.
The event planned for November should be postponed to sometime in 2022, to enable for these inequalities to be addressed including the prohibitive costs and the distribution of vaccinations.
For November, a similar approach could be taken to the Convention on Biological Diversity, a high-level ambitious declaration which addresses the 5 priority areas above, as well as other major challenges within the UNFCCC such as the deep inequalities, conflict-of-interest, undue influence of the fossil fuel industry and putting communities first.
If the UK ignores calls for a postponement and pushes ahead with this COP, I’m personally all for a Boycott.
Who’s with me?