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COP26 failed us, but we need to win

Illustration by Aude Nasr @ahlan.my.darlings

Despite the ‘efforts’ we saw at COP26, we are still on a clear trajectory to catastrophic climate breakdown. Data released by Climate Action Tracker during COP26 shows that global temperatures will continue to rise well above 2ºC even if all current commitments are met, and that a rise of 1.8ºC by 2100 would be an “optimistic scenario.” This feels anything but optimistic and for the most affected people and areas, this is certain death. 

I am genuinely terrified by the situation that we are in. The Global South is being disproportionately impacted and so many people are already dying due to issues related to the climate crisis. As time goes on, the list of heartbreaking incidents will only increase. Wildfires, floods, famine, drought and extreme heat are already commonplace. I dread to think several years into the future, about the devastation we will be seeing then. How much of the world’s rainforests will be left? Will the deadly feedback loop of the Arctic permafrost have started rapidly melting and releasing methane? Will I and the people I love still be alive?  

While I wasn’t  surprised, I was overwhelmingly disheartened when COP26 yet again exposed the continued and severe lack of political will to act. With a lack of planning and financing for loss and damages, the Glasgow Climate Pact  is a complete betrayal to those who will be most affected by this crisis. Earlier this year, the International Energy Agency stated that in order to keep global temperature rise below 1.5ºc, there must be no new investments into fossil fuels. Despite all the harrowing warnings that continue to emerge from top scientific bodies, there still is no plan to ensure we do not cross the deadly threshold of 1.5ºC. In the true style of the current UK government, “keep 1.5 alive” is just another one of their slogans, which serves to hide the sinister truth of indifference and inaction during their fateful presidency of the conference.  So, I have very little faith left in the COPs. When the largest delegation at COP26 was the fossil fuel industry it really is no wonder why we ended up with watered-down language around a “phase-down” of fossil fuels. After 26 of these summits and 26 years of bureaucratic foot dragging, we have still not seen any real commitment to the total phase-out of fossil fuels. Even now that global climate breakdown is clearly visible on the horizon, it’s evident that those in power still do not care. 

However, even in the face of all this overwhelming, heartbreaking knowledge about where we are heading, knowing that emissions are rising every day, and knowing that the UK government has no intention of changing, I cannot help but believe in people power. And in this, I know that we can tear this destructive system down and build something beautiful in its place. 

Illustration by Aude Nasr @ahlan.my.darlings

Amidst the chaos of this year’s COP, there was a glimmer of hope. The energy in my home city in the face of the violence that came out of COP26, proved that we who are fighting for climate justice will not accept inaction anymore. We became a unified global voice for climate justice. We learned about each other’s campaigns, built coalitions, and ultimately,  felt less alone. Often, it is so hard to feel as though we can turn things around when the system is deliberately built against our revolutionary actions. Sometimes it can feel as though nobody else cares, but what I saw on the streets of Glasgow was a global revolution rising through the cracks in the concrete. 

It’s my belief that to tackle the climate crisis effectively as a movement we must accept that those in power have no intention of helping us create a just society. I am sick and tired of the most powerful people in the world looking at the climate crisis as if it is an abstract puzzle, sitting in their conference rooms considering whether to avert this “code red for humanity.” They have had so much time to put forward radical policies and implement an emergency phase-out of destructive industries, but no country in the Global North is living up to the action that climate scientists unanimously agree to be necessary. So, I am not going to wait for it anymore. We need to act directly in opposition to our destructive governments and build power against them. We need to force the change. 

In a UK context, it is clear that the government has no interest in justice. Currently, we are witnessing a turning point, where the government has decided to use the legal system to scare away protesters, or imprison us if we have the audacity to continue. The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts (PCSC) Bill, if passed, would effectively criminalise protest in the UK. For example, locking on would become a criminal offence, punishable by up to one year in prison. Some proposed clauses actually seem to directly criminalise specific protest groups. In response to the campaign against HS2, there is a proposed new offence of ‘impeding major transport works, and in response to the Insulate Britain protests, those engaging in obstruction of the highway would face an unlimited fine and up to six months in prison. In fact, a good friend of mine, Tim Speers, was one of nine protesters who were recently sent to prison for protesting with Insulate Britain. The first time a friend has been imprisoned for caring about the future of humanity is not a welcome first.  

With the knowledge that the government is plotting to shut us down and take away our liberties if we don’t shut up, we are faced with a dilemma. Do we back down? Personally, I am not prepared to do so. With all the privilege I hold as a white woman from the UK, I could not live with myself if I stood back and allowed the UK government and big corporations to lead the world down a path of death, violence and continued destruction. State repression is scary, but if we as global citizens fail to hold governments and companies accountable, we will not survive. So, I do not believe that backing down is an option.  

Instead of giving up, we need to unapologetically and confidently build a global revolution, knowing that we have everything to lose, and that saving whatever we can is worth everything. We need to build coalitions between groups on a global scale, share skills, and take part in direct action, protests, and pressure campaigns. Most importantly, we need to believe that we can achieve wins. It seems that the default is to think that whatever we are working on, we are going to lose. No wonder, when we are facing a global existential threat. However, hope for a better world is not something we automatically have or do not have. It is something we can actively practice, and achieve by building the futures we want to see. We need to believe in ourselves, believe in people power, and believe that we have a chance of overthrowing the current system and building something beautiful, despite the devastation and loss we will inevitably face along the way. This system is not coming to save us, so we need to save ourselves.

If you are wondering how to get involved in campaigning and find groups that you are passionate about, I really recommend listening to The Yikes Podcast ‘EPISODE 37: What Can I do?’ which breaks down these steps in an accessible way.                                                                                                                                                                      

Illustration by Aude Nasr @ahlan.my.darlings


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