Edinburgh's independent student newspaper

COP26 People’s Summit: The movement beyond the negotiations

Protests sign that reads: "Greenwash detected"
Saturday 4th December 2021 16.12

As week two of COP26 negotiations got off to a start, a different set of discussions were had, regarding the failings of the conference and how real climate action can prosper. 

COP26 Coalition provided a People’s Summit in Glasgow last week where voices and ideas were shared beyond the confines of the Scottish Event Campus, where the main COP26 events were held. 

One of the events that took place from the 7 until 10 November was the ‘Our Time is Now’ panel where speakers such as previous leader of the Green Party, Caroline Lucas, ecological economist and author of the IPCC 6th Assessment Report, Julia Steinberger, and previous chair of Friends of the Earth International, Nnimmo Bassey, were able to share their ideas beyond government authority. 

The discussions were led by Asad Rehman, director of War on Want and who also spoke at the climate protest on Saturday 6 November, where over 100,000 protesters gathered. 

The panel allowed for a unique set of discussions where activists, scientists and politicians from all over the world were invited to speak, as well as having an open-floor aspect allowing people coming from Nigeria to Illinois to voice their concerns. 

In the final panel, multiple criticisms of COP26 were mentioned especially with regards to the idea of a ‘net-zero economy’, with climate scientist Kevin Anderson describing it as “not-zero” saying it “passes the burden onto the next generation.” 

Anderson also remained largely critical of COP26 alongside the other speakers saying:

“COP26 leaders have failed and continue to fail.” 

Leader of Fridays for Future Philippines, Mitzi Tan described those leading COP negotiations as “white, rich old men that have never even faced the climate crisis.” 

Nnimmo Bassey, who has attended multiple COPs in the past, described the conferences as a “conference of polluters” saying “the fossil industry is driving the negotiations.”  

The Student followed up with Tan about ‘climate greenwashing’ - a term used to describe negotiations that may look climate friendly but are actually misleading - who told us: 

“The greenwashing that is happening is so blatant, that it is a slap to our face.

“The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), they’re prioritising the people who are polluting … and that is the reason why the summit is bound to fail because it’s not giving space to the people who should be listened to.”

A main topic of discussion was also the colonial roots of the climate crisis, with the Indian author, historian and international climate activist Vijay Prashad saying “colonialism is a permanent condition … colonial structures and institutions reproduce themselves year after year after year.”

Particular emphasis was placed on the loan schemes implemented by the UNFCCC and International Monetary Fund in which western countries provide ‘climate finance’ loans to developing countries. 

Prashad saying, “you lend us money that is our money” in the heated discussion, reinstating and stressing that it is “our money” that is being loaned. 

Tan also spoke of colonialism with regards to the climate crisis saying it “isn’t just an environmental problem … it is something that is rooted in this profit-oriented system that is so focused on the over-exploitation of people of colour especially.” 

She continued: “we have to recognise that the climate crisis is only a symptom of the profit-oriented, capitalist, colonialist … system that we have.”

Prashad criticised the climate justice movement in itself for being western-oriented saying “what future?” with regards to current movements such as Fridays for Future. 

He also spoke of those struggling in the global south saying, “they’re not worried about their future, they’re worried about their present” and emphasising that if this is not recognised, “this movement will have no legs in the third world.”  

Julia Steinberger spoke of basic needs and billionaire culture saying “you cannot be a billionaire at low carbon.” 

This led to a discussion surrounding ‘big tech’ and its involvement in the main climate agreements - Jeff Bezos attended COP26 in Glasgow. 

Nnimmo Bassey added: “the issue of technology is on the issue of control and power” insisting that it is not necessarily the technology in itself that is adding to emissions but rather who uses it.  

The Student followed up with Bassey with regards to COP over all, with this being his final summit and he told us: “to me the COPs have been like a treadmill where there is a lot of motion but no movement, and secondly when things are moving they’re moving in the wrong direction.”

Image courtesy of Mike Langridge