Amplifying the missing voices in the fight for climate justice

In depth: The COP26 Coalition hosted an alternative summit to amplify the voices, ideas and solutions that it believes are largely missing from the COP – including the new global green deal, polluter accountability and indigenous ecological knowledge .

The annual Glasgow climate conference may be getting a lot of attention this year, but its publicity is not at all good.

Waves of protests around the event amplified the message that world leaders are not doing enough, despite big promises, and demanding more ambition in national commitments and strategies. One side of this message is a civil society movement called the COP26 Coalition.

The movement is hosting an alternative summit that amplifies the voices, ideas and solutions that it says are largely absent from the COP, including the new global green deal, polluter accountability, indigenous ecological knowledge and the zero gap. net emission and real zero emission. .

The United Nations climate conference, known as COP26 this year, brings together officials from nearly 200 countries to discuss how best to tackle global warming. It has been held annually since 1995 and also serves to review the progress and implementation of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol and the 2015 Paris Agreement, which saw a global commitment to keep warming between 1.5 ° C and 2 ° C. Alok Sharma from the UK government is chairing COP26, which runs from October 31 to November 13, which has been delayed for a year due to the pandemic.

“Numerous protests around the event amplified the message that world leaders are not doing enough, despite big promises.”

After more than a week of talks, agreements were reached to phase out coal over the next 30 years, reduce deforestation and reduce methane. While some have hailed these initiatives, others are calling them “bogus solutions” and “greenwashing”, notably famous young activist Greta Thunberg who has led protests calling for an end to “empty promises” and climate commitments. ” full of gaps “.

“Every day is a disappointment,” says Sapna Agarwal, a volunteer with the COP26 Coalition. “Every day we hear more and more about how the process itself is increasingly liberalized.”

The Kyoto Protocol concluded binding legal agreements while the Paris Agreement was defined by commitments due to be revised this year. She says some of them have gone in the wrong direction with no accountability built into the system.

“It seems the greater the urgency, the less action there is,” she said.

The People‘s Summit started on November 7 and ended on November 10, 2021. It involved around 235 events and workshops held online or in person at the Scotland site.

Sessions ranged from general actions, such as implementing zero waste, local and sustainable solutions, climate justice as racial justice and uprooting the drivers of deforestation, to direct actions such as prosecution. big oil companies like Shell or the management of confrontations like the police. .

Specific issues are also addressed, such as the role of surveillance in climate change and the revolution of social ecology in Kurdistan. And the focus is on global perspectives, including those of the Middle East and North Africa.

“The grassroots movement can move the Overton window and change the conversations that take place in higher places. It is therefore worth it ”

South London-based Choked Up, run by black and brown teenagers, is one of the groups that ran a workshop at the People’s Summit. Their “hacked road signs” highlighting air pollution received national media coverage this year as part of a campaign to repeat that “people of color are disproportionately exposed to air. toxic and poisoned “.

Co-founders Anjali Raman-Middleton, 18, and Nyeleti Brauer-Maxaeia, 17, said The New Arabic that the workshop, organized as part of the social justice training group Advocacy Academy, discusses their Choked Up campaign, the broader issues surrounding climate change and how to get involved in activism.

Artists paint a mural on a wall next to the Clydeside Expressway, near the Scottish Events Center (SEC), which hosted the UN’s COP26 climate summit. [Getty]

The campaign, which they launched after air pollution was recognized as a contributing factor in the death of teenager Ella Adoo-Kissi Debrah, sparked a conversation about air pollution at the London municipal elections are approaching, Raman-Middleton said.

“As a result of this action, we were also able to ask questions, in particular about clean air and air quality during some of the town hall debates, and organize electoral campaigns, in particular by making people talk. people about their clean air policies, which they wouldn’t do otherwise. were toasted, ”she says.

The main goal of the People’s Summit was for grassroots activists and people with conversations about climate justice to have those conversations outside of their existing circle, Agarwal said. The process facilitated the exchange of information on each other’s struggles, experiences gained and genuine solutions of early adopters to the climate crisis.

“The grassroots movement can move the Overton window and change the conversations that take place in higher places. So it’s worth it,” she said. The New Arabic.

“Critics said this year, the conference’s structural set-up has excluded large and vulnerable communities more than any other year.”

“It has been really interesting to be here, to be involved in more of the field campaigns, and to see the number of people showing up and just the feeling of disconnect between what seem to be closed-door conversations and not. not really recognize the people who are really here and what we demand is action now, ”Brauer-Maxaeia said.

Civil society groups often attend the main annual climate conference with space for events and exhibits set up in the green zone, open to the general public, and the blue zone for UN accredited parties.

However, critics said this year, the conference’s structural set-up excluded large and vulnerable communities more than any other year. This exclusion occurred due to “global vaccine apartheid” as richer countries had better access to the Covid-19 vaccine, a barrier to travel from some countries. High travel and accommodation costs are also a factor, as is the difficult UK visa application process that many activists attribute to UK harsh environment policy.

“All of this combined has prevented thousands of activists and key organizations from all over the world, including North Africa, from coming,” said Hamza Hamouchene, an Algerian researcher and activist who spoke at the event. a session of the People’s Summit entitled ‘Reflections on the just transition (s) in North Africa’.

Hamouchene, who has participated in several climate conferences, is very critical of current statements and argues that there must be a drastic reduction in CO2 emissions by stopping the expansion of extraction and production. of fossil fuels, namely oil and gas.

“Some of the region’s fossil fuel economies, such as Algeria and Libya, will be hit hard if Europe drastically reduces its fossil fuel imports from the region over the next decades. Therefore, serious discussion and public debate must take place to reflect on the necessary transition. to renewable energies while phasing out fossil fuels, ”he said, adding that this cannot be disconnected from issues of democratization and popular sovereignty over land, water and other natural resources.

“In kleptocratic military dictatorships like Algeria and Egypt, how can people decide and shape their future without first demilitarizing and democratizing their countries and societies? he asks.

Hamouchene cites various examples in North Africa, where, according to him, undemocratic and exclusive governance of the transition to renewable energies persists.

The Ouarzazate solar power plant in Morocco launched in 2016, for example, did not justify the appropriation of land by Amazigh agro-pastoral communities to install the facility of more than 3,000 hectares, he said. In addition, funding by various international institutions is also supported by guarantees from the Moroccan government which increase the country’s already burdened public debt and the thermal energy source (CSP) of the project requires intensive use of water to cool and clean the panels.

“In a semi-arid region like Ouarzazate, diverting the use of water from consumption and agriculture is simply outrageous,” says Hamouchene.

Similar harmful projects are taking place elsewhere which he calls “green grabbing”, but asserts that renewable projects in the occupied territories of Western Sahara can be qualified as “green colonialism” because they are carried out in spite of the Sahrawis.

“In kleptocratic military dictatorships like Algeria and Egypt, how can people decide and shape their future without first demilitarizing and democratizing their countries and societies?

One of the big topics of discussion this year was also the issue of climate finance and how to help less wealthy countries develop their green economies while suffering the adverse effects of climate change caused by large economies.

The activists demanded reparations and “took this account completely away from this idea of ​​foreign aid,” Agarwal explains.

Hamouchene also cautions against the corporatist nature of buying industry-touted solutions.

“Carbon trading gives many people the impression that climate change could be addressed without structural change,” he says. “We must recognize that market mechanisms will not sufficiently reduce global emissions.”

Sophia Akram is a researcher and communications professional with a particular interest in human rights, particularly in the Middle East.

Follow her on Twitter: @mssophiaakram

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