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Demanding accountability for exploitation at COP26

Illustration by Emilie Muszczak @emim.k

For many, the weekend ahead will be focused on Halloween costume planning. But in the climate organising sphere, the majority of us are nervously anticipating something else: COP26. The global climate summit, taking place in Glasgow between 31 October and 12 November, has for the last two years seen the global climate justice movement come together to increase climate action fairly, build our collective power and demand that countries in the Global North repair the historic and ongoing harms imposed on communities around the world. 

Members of the climate reparations bloc co-leading the 6th November COP26 Coalition Global Day of Action are walking in the footsteps of the 1991 multinational People of Colour Environmental Leadership Summit’s seventeen principles of Environmental Justice, the anti-globalisation movement, and decades of climate justice leadership from the majority Global South. Inspired and moved by this work that came before us, we will be collaborating with brilliant groups in London (including Platform’s London Leap participants and beyond) – making connections between the housing and energy injustice at home, and fossil fuel extraction and climate breakdown globally. We’re demanding that the UK government stop perpetuating climate harms, and instead start to repair them. Our polling with Opinium found that 53% of people support the idea that companies and countries who have contributed most to climate change should provide compensation to communities most impacted by it.

At home, the UK government has overseen drastic increases in poverty, homelessness and precarity. They have forced local authorities to cut services that help marginalised communities most, while banks have turned a profit. Take the London Borough of Newham as an example; while housing services, young peoples’ centres, provision for people who live with disabilities, and domestic violence shelters have been shut, Barclays has made a profit from its loans to numerous local authorities, including Newham.

Illustration by Emilie Muszczak @emim.k

But why is this bloc needed? And what do we mean by climate reparations? 

It is no secret that globally, the richest 10% are responsible for nearly 52% of the total emissions driving our climate crisis. 2,153 billionaires hoard more wealth than 60% of humanity. In a world where it is estimated that 120 million people could fall under the $1.90-a-day poverty line in 2021, surely the responsibility falls on the rich to redistribute wealth and push forward climate action. While they contribute most to emissions, they are unfairly insulated from the consequences of escalating impacts, as they often have access to transport, multiple homes, and even protective bunkers. In contrast, over 3 billion people (roughly 50% of humanity) live on less than £4 per day, create about 7% of emissions, and have little resources with which to prepare them for health, climate, environmental or economic shocks. The richest 10% of the world population live in every continent; however, around half the emissions of the richest 10% of people are associated with the consumption of people in the minority Global North.

The US, UK, Canada, EU and Russia are responsible for 55% of cumulative emissions, despite only representing about 11% of humanity. To this day, the average person in the US, Canada, and Australia emits roughly fifty times more CO2 than someone in Mozambique. The average person in Britain emits more carbon in the first two weeks of a year than the average per capita emissions than Rwanda, Malawi, Ethiopia, Uganda, Madagascar, Guinea and Burkina Faso combined. Countries least responsible for climate change impacts have relatively few resources to respond to the scale of the crisis already in motion. This is often as a result of odious debts with catastrophic conditions which straightjacket countries’ opportunities to increase health, education, and housing provision.Countries in the Global South have also been encouraged to welcome corporations in hope that jobs will be created and taxes paid, but many industries exploit tax havens, pay workers poorly, and cause costly environmental degradation. 

These power inbalances are rooted in ongoing economic and political projects such as slavery and colonialism. A country’s history of having been colonised continues to be indicative of per capita levels of poverty. Poverty diminishes the capacity of countries to respond to the effects of climate change in a way that protects people and prevents future generations from experiencing accelerating impacts. Colonial profits helped fund an era of fossil fuelled development in the majority global north. Reparations have never been paid to colonised countries, communities, enslaved peoples, indentured servants, or families of survivors. 

At the same time, countries in the Global South are already experiencing billions of dollars in damage, and this is likely to increase to between $290-580 billion within the next nine years. The cost of transformation towards sustainable energy, food, housing and transport is estimated to be between $1.6-3.8 trillion, and for adjustments in light of impacts to be around $180 billion a year between 2020 and 2030. Yet, this pales in comparison both to the trillions the countries give to harmful industries every year through subsidies and state aid, and the trillions more that banks and asset managers give for fossil fuel infrastructure projects. And, of course, money should not factor into calculations on human life, oceans and biodiversity. We have the opportunity to take action that could prevent 153 million premature deaths from air pollution worldwide by 2100, and protect two billion people from food stress, water stress, heat stress, severe drought, and displacement. We have the money, and the technology. The era of excuses and injustices must end. 

After hundreds of years of exploiting the Global South, the largest polluting companies and governments must take responsibility. That must include regulating banks that are funding the climate crisis, and making the fossil fuel and agribusiness industries disproportionately responsible for emissions at the centre of paying for a green and fair transition. This is also why many of us will be coming out on 29th October with calls for banks to defund climate chaos. We’ll be standing with frontline communities from Colombia, Indonesia and the Pacific. We’ll also be calling for our government to stop handing money over to the biggest polluters, and instead start investing in insulating our homes, and in transitioning to green public transport, and community food and energy cooperatives. 

What is happening in the UK? 

On the face of all this, the UK government is hosting COP26 armed with empty “net zero” plans and pledges, and “nature based solutions”, which continue patterns of extraction, exploitation and displacement in the Global South. Many of these plans are displacing communities from their land, and promoting harmful monoculture tree plantations which use up scarce water resources and reduce biodiversity. They’re allowing countries in the Global North to continue to pollute while putting the responsibility to take action on countries in the Global South and future generations. 

The UK and other wealthy countries including the US and Australia are also blocking talks on action and support to address the hardest hit by climate change impacts, financing for loss and damage remains at zero. 

Joining the climate reparations bloc

We are calling groups and organisations working on systems change to join us on the 6th November at COP26 and beyond; together with other social, racial, and economic justice groups across our movements, we are co-leading direct actions and the main rally from the Bank of England to Trafalgar Square. 

For details and ongoing organising, visit: https://climatereparations.uk/ 

Illustration by Emilie Muszczak @emim.k


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