Over the last two weeks, tens of thousands of people arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th Conference of Parties (COP 26), the U.N. hosted negotiations focused on combating the climate crisis.
Originally scheduled for 2020 but delayed by a year due to the global pandemic, COP 26 was supposed to be a major step forward. Yet before the world turned its attention to Glasgow this month, there were already rumblings that this crucial summit would be a failure. Many nations from the Global South demanded further delays due to inequitable access to vaccines worldwide.
With just weeks leading up to the conference, the U.N. itself warned that the conference was set up to be largely inequitable, noting that many countries and communities would not be able to send delegates due to vaccine apartheid and that the overwhelming majority of speakers would be male-identifying.
To make matters worse, the largest delegation attending the conference by far was the fossil fuel industry with more than 500 people. Their great presence privileges fossil fuel interests and virtually ensures that any negotiations to limit global warming to the IPCC target of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 F) fail miserably.
Despite the seemingly bleak outlook of the conference, COP 26 did make progress framing other greenhouse gases beyond carbon dioxide for reduction targets. For instance, the EU and the United States are committing to reducing methane emissions by 30% compared to 2020 levels, Global North countries plan to end financing fossil fuel projects abroad by the end of 2022 and South Africa raised $8.5 billion to transition off of coal.
Unfortunately, however, fossil fuel companies and climate deniers have a lot to look forward to as well.
The Biden Administration is preparing to approve the largest sale for offshore drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in U.S. history. Additionally, while 40 countries pledged to phase out coal, the United States backed out of the pledge. Here in California specifically, the Public Utilities Commission unanimously approved expanding methane storage capacity at Aliso Canyon, despite concerns about seismic volatility and projections for decreased market demands.
So while world leaders were applauding themselves for taking a step forward in principle, we took many steps backward in practice, all in two weeks. Case in point, California joined the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance while, at the same time, the California Democratic Party refused to divest from fossil fuel and policy funding.
This conference could have been a major victory for environmental justice by affirming the rights and livelihoods of indigenous and frontline communities. However, it turned into a protection racket for fossil fuel companies.
Fossil fuel companies and the Global North are overwhelmingly responsible for climate change and yet fossil fuel propaganda was front and center during negotiations on solutions for emissions reductions and targets.
For decades, fossil fuel propaganda has co-opted environmental movements by using confusing language. At COP 26, this manifested as countries in the Global North pushing for “Net Zero” and “nature-based solutions” over environmental justice concerns.
While sounding good, the focus on achieving net-zero emissions lets historical contributors to climate change off the hook for colonialism and resource theft, and the policy would lock in inequality around the globe by forcing nations in the Global South to end development projects. Furthermore, nature-based solutions prioritize enclosing spaces around the world specifically for extraction to allow further environmental devastation.
This focus also dismisses financing needs from the Global South, needs promised more than a decade ago in terms of payments for mitigation and adaptation. Up until the last minutes of the negotiations, Global North negotiators sidelined any discussions about creating a site to meet loss and damage demands from communities in the Global South to pay reparations for the devastating impacts many communities are experiencing now and in the future.
The Global North needs to also acknowledge that, by backing fossil fuel interests, it is, in essence, backing the forced displacement of millions of people worldwide. Drafts of negotiations moved closer to setting a deadline for phasing out fossil fuels, but, unfortunately, the largest polluters — militaries — are excluded from any commitments on fossil fuel reductions. And the final draft, negotiated in overtime, still does not mention any phase-out of fossil fuels.
It’s important to remember that the climate crisis doesn’t exist in a vacuum.
Backdropping the conference, refugees and migrants stranded at the Belarus-Poland border highlight the rise of xenophobia. The current trials for Kyle Rittenhouse and Travis McMichael, Gregory McMichael and William Bryan Jr. remind us all that our injustice system is on the verge of collapse. And with the cold weather upon us, COVID-19 cases are surging once again.
Every social justice issue sits atop the climate crisis. The excruciatingly weak results from this global conference have the potential of locking all of us into a destabilized world with stronger storms, deadlier heat, crop failures and, of course, conflict and violence.
So what to do? Former President Barack Obama, in a closed session, urged voting, despite proudly taking credit for the U.S. oil and gas boom.
Voting, however, is merely a tool, not a solution. Many young people who put lots on the line to elect climate-friendly politicians in 2020 are now feeling betrayed by our current leadership. At this point, the only path forward is direct action and support for frontline and indigenous communities in the struggle for liberation.
Fossil fuels are killing us, and any investment in fossil fuels is climate denial.
Nik Evasco is the Youth Climate Organizer and Program Manager with 350 Bay Area.