climate justice

COP26: Climate justice is yet to be achieved

COP26 left many doubts and hopes unfulfilled. One of the issues that remained in the pipeline is that of climate justice. How are environmental crimes compensated? What to do to prevent its repetition? How to weave collective strategies in favor of the environment? This latest installment by Julieta Bugacoff on COP26 talks about this and more.
COP26 left many doubts and hopes unfulfilled. One of the issues that remained in the pipeline is that of climate justice. How are environmental crimes compensated? What to do to prevent its repetition? How to weave collective strategies in favor of the environment? This latest installment by Julieta Bugacoff on COP26 talks about this and more.

On November 13, Greta Thumberg wrote on her Twitter account: “# COP26 is over: Here’s a short summary: blah, blah, blah. The actual work continues outside of these aisles. We will never give up, ever.” The words of the Swedish activist constitute a synthesis of the perspective of environmental activists, territorial leaders and social movements regarding the event held in Glasgow. That same day, the president of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, the British Alok Sharma, made a tearful apology to the delegates for the outcome of COP26. 

In 2015, the signing of the Paris Agreement during COP21 gave environmental movements some hope. On that occasion, 191 countries agreed to do everything possible to limit global warming to “well below” 2ºC. However, confidence on the part of environmental movements in international politics quickly faded. So far, there has been no significant reduction in CO2 emissions, and in 2019 they were at an all-time high.

According to a report by the United Nations Environment Program , in April, levels of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere reached a new record of 410.5 parts per million. The joint measures agreed in Paris only entered into force in January 2021, that is, five years after their approval. 

Disagreement with the final agreement issued by COP26 was not a surprise to anyone. On this last point, Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, said: “The text is tame, it is weak and the 1.5ºC target is barely alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. And that is important. Although the agreement recognizes the need to reduce emissions in this decade, these commitments are postponed to next year ”.

The Glasgow Climate Pact makes explicit mention of the role of fossil fuels in the climate crisis. At first, it seemed that the decisions to be made on coal regulations were going to be more decisive. However, the delegation from India refused to give its approval. It is important to mention that for the agreement to be valid, it is necessary that the 197 parties agree with the final text. Finally, the Asian country said that it would give its consent if a modification was made: coal should not be eliminated, but progressively reduced. 

In addition to criticizing the Glasgow Climate Pact, Morgan spoke about the importance of social movements: “ The only reason we get what we get is because youth, indigenous leaders, activists and climate frontline countries forced concessions that were given grudgingly.”

Extinction Rebellion is in front of the COP26 Blue Zone, protesting against fossil fuel industry and also leaders like Boris Johnsin and Joe Biden, that even with promises to end fossil fuel, they keep with projects to new pipelines, coal mines and fracking. Credits: Olly Armstrong | @olly4northfield | #COPCollab26

And in Latin America? 

On September 10 of this year, several Latin American governments met virtually with the aim of unifying positions on climate policy two months before COP26. Representatives from Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Panama, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, Paraguay and Ecuador participated in the event -convened by Argentina. A striking fact is that most of the presidents and ministers’ speeches aimed to highlight the need to obtain financing to reduce CO2 emissions.

Unfortunately, this was another of the points that were not achieved in Glasgow. The agreement underscores the importance of loss and damage from climate change. However, while it states that there must be a commitment to provide technical assistance to affected countries, it does not establish a specific fund. Instead, ask for more dialogue. The main consequence would be that a real fund could take several years to arrive, and would not be useful in an emergency. 

In the case of Latin America, conceiving of COP 26 as a climate justice mechanism is increasingly difficult. On the one hand, one of the central themes in Glasgow was expected to be the future of the Amazon. In the last two years, the largest rainforest in the world occupied several newspaper covers as a result of massive fires and deforestation. However, the measures taken to protect the Amazon – which has already been destroyed by 17% due to the exploitation of hydrocarbons, mineral extraction and deforestation – are scarce 

And climate justice? Between simulations and collective responses

In May, the UK Government, host of the event, announced that COP26 would be the most inclusive of all. However, reality had little to do with the discourse adopted by the European country. On the one hand, most of the peripheral countries were placed on the red list of countries with the highest risk from Covid19, so their representatives had to quarantine for 10 days.

Furthermore, on this occasion, the UK limited the number of civil society observers who could be present inside the negotiating room. As a consequence, one of the fundamental elements that guarantee transparency in the instances of debate was banned.

Wilma Esquivel Pat belongs to the Masehual Mayan community. She is a community feminist, and is part of the Indigenous Futures Network . This year, he attended COP26 with the aim of denouncing the systematic violence suffered by territorial leaders in Latin America. For her, the main problem of the event is that it is a simulation: “The great powers do not come to look for solutions, but to negotiate how the cake is divided.”

Regarding the decisions made this year, she stated: “Negotiations hurt us. Much of the economic compensation is done through the implementation of green technologies, which end up negatively affecting forests and jungles. ”. In addition, he added that the answers to the problem will not come from the countries that have economic power, but from the community.

In “Socio-environmental conflicts in Latin America”, César Garavito and Carlos Baquero Díaz explain that in the last two decades, extractive industries and indigenous rights have been globalized simultaneously. Consequently, conflicts related to the exploitation of indigenous territories became an increasingly frequent problem.

At age 9, Panamanian Sara Omi was evicted from her home with her mother and grandparents. From that moment on, she has been convinced that the struggles to defend the land are the way to climate justice. In an interview, the indigenous leader Embera explained that indigenous peoples are responsible for caring for 80% of the world’s biodiversity, for that reason, they are in the first line of the effects of climate change. 

For Sara Omi, indigenous communities are excluded from negotiation spaces: “We have the mission of keeping the essence of our communities alive, but for that, we must take part in the decisions that are made about our territories,” she explained. In relation to the link between climate justice and COP26, Omi considers that the true objective of the event is to know the situation of other environmental leaders, and articulate strategies that allow to face the decisions made by governments, that is where the true climate justice. 

This year, the disappointment resulting from COP26 was twofold. On the one hand, Latin American governments did not get the funding they hoped for. At the same time, activists, territorial leaders and indigenous peoples continue to denounce that the measures taken are not enough. Now that the outlook is clear, developing real strategies to deal with the environmental crisis remains in the hands of social movements. In their future decisions lies the possibility of achieving true climate justice.  

This story was originally published on Distintas Latitudes, with the support of Climate Tracker.

Julieta Bugacoff
Julieta is a freelance journalist and photographer. She studies anthropology at the National University of San Martín. She usually works with issues related to gender, migration and the environment. She collaborates with media such as New Society, The Cry of the South, LatFem, and The Rocket to the Moon (among others). Since 2020 she has been part of the 5th generation of young journalists of the RedLatam de Distintas Latitudes. Her greatest talent is the ability to relate everything to a Simpsons episode.