More verdicts on COP26

Civil society NGOs are not happy with the outcome of the Glasgow conference, reports Mike Phipps

The climate justice movement mobilised in great numbers, but in the end global leaders and big business did not listen. This seems to be the consensus among key civil society organisations that were effectively shut out of the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow.

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said: “From the very start, the UK presidency set this summit up for failure. A sanitised COP, captured by corporate interests and inaccessible to the global south, was never going to adequately or equitably respond to the climate crisis.”

He went on: “Despite pledging to make ‘cash’ one of its key priorities, the British government has refused to stump up its fair share of climate finance, failed to push rich allies to achieve the inadequate target of $100 billion, and colluded to block proposals for loss and damage compensation for climate-vulnerable countries.”

Murad Qureshi underlined this in a recent report for Labour Hub: “The reneging on $100 billion on adaptation funds for the developing world caused a lot of indignation amongst the vulnerable delegates and should have been dealt with before the conference. It became a huge issue of trust. Now we hear it will be delivered by 2024 – though it has been promised since 2009!”

Worse, the Loss and Damage mechanism to compensate communities and countries already affected by climate change failed to progress. The COP26 deal acknowledged the concept but failed to go further.

“Phasing out” coal was diluted to “phasing down”. But this headline takeaway was in fact a clever ruse to shift the blame away from wealthy states onto India and China. But these are not the countries most responsible for human-made climate change – the UK, for example, has 18 times the historical emissions per person of India.

Fossil fuels need to be looked at – and left in the ground – in their entirety, if rising global temperatures are to be checked. It may suit western economies, some of which are already moving away from coal, to demonise this particular technology, but gas and oil also need to be phased out. COP26 failed to so this.

The conference failed to confront the fossil fuel industry. There were 500 lobbyists representing that industry in Glasgow, in contrast to the victims of climate change, such as indigenous peoples who were often shut out. Moreover, the decision to scapegoat only those countries still dependent on coal was divisive and deflective.

Asad Rehman, a spokesperson for the COP26 Civil Society Coalition and director of War on Want, called the final document an “absolute betrayal”.  And true to form, the wealthy countries again found a less developed country to blame – this time India. But the real villains, he maintained, were the rich countries and the UK especially, for hosting one of the most inept and inequitable COP events in his experience.

Respected international environmental law charity ClientEarth also questioned the UK’s leadership, saying, “As COP26 host, the UK Government announced its goals would be cars, coal, cash and trees. It also stressed the need to “keep 1.5C in reach. The Glasgow negotiations do not make good on these goals.”

“And what commitments there are are voluntary,” commented GJN in its Twitter summary. “Compare and contrast with the way, say, trade deals are enforceable and binding. Says all you need to know: world leaders view trade liberalisation as more important than preserving life on earth.”

Additionally, the concept of ‘net zero’ is full of loopholes, including using markets to offset the emissions of those sectors who need to curtail them most. Meanwhile, fossil fuel companies are demanding at least $18bn in compensation from governments enacting climate policies.

One glaring absence from the discussion was the damage to climate and the environment done by the world’s militaries, a point well made in a recent Labour Hub article by international peace campaigner David Swanson.

“Even based on what we do know about military greenhouse gas emissions, the U.S. military alone is worse than each of three-quarters of the world’s countries,” he wrote. Additionally, “U.S. military corporations in their manufacture of weapons may emit as much in greenhouse gases as the U.S. military itself.”

Debt cancellation too was almost entirely absent from the agenda, despite the issue being raised by many developing countries.      

Some academic opinion was scathing too. Asked if COP26 was a success, Professor Tim Lenton, Director of Exeter’s Global Systems Institute, said: “No – we are still heading for more than 2°C of global warming, which risks triggering multiple climate tipping points.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Guardian columnist George Monbiot called the conference “a total fiasco”. Amnesty International’s Secretary General Kumi Naidoo agreed. 

There is one reason to be optimistic. Real progress was seen in the unprecedented levels of mobilisation and commitment by the climate justice movement, which has fought hard to bring home to people the science dictating why this is now such an urgent issue. Civil society organisations are agreed on what needs to happen. In the words of Nick Dearden, “The next COP must be a reckoning for the fossil fuel industry and the rich countries that caused the climate crisis.”

Mike Phipps is editor of the Iraq Occupation Focus e-newsletter, available at book For the Many: Preparing Labour for Power was published by OR Books in 2018.

Image: Blah blah blah sign. Author: Mænsard vokser, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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