Mentioning fossil fuels at the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP), which takes place between all the countries that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), would seem like a big deal. However, considering that 26 years of climate change conferences have occurred, that mention seems like it’s too late. Indeed, it’s insane that world leaders have meetings on climate change, but fail to mention fossil fuels on a yearly basis, especially when the science linking the two has been clear since the 1970s, and even earlier. In fact, it would seem that various fossil fuel entities tried to stop any sort of mention this year also. The delegates from fossil fuel industries simply outnumbered the number delegates that any single nation sent to represent them. Countries that already developed, and historically spewed massive amounts of greenhouse gas emissions, also failed to take any sort of responsibility and initiative during the meeting, with any sort of “loss and damage” fund failing to reach the agreement. “Loss and Damage” is a phrase that refers to the damage that climate change is already wreaking on the lives, infrastructure, and livelihoods of people, mostly people in the developing world. Those people most affected by climate change are also people of countries that contributed little to the crisis. Hence the need for funding that compensates people for the damage brought by climate change, and also helps fund countries to develop sustainably.
In a sense, these meetings show how entrenched fossil fuel interests are in global institutions, and how persistent the global neoliberal order is that seeks to ensure that economic and political systems don’t fundamentally change. Paris, I think, showed that quite clearly: the neoliberalization of global climate agreements. The Paris Agreement, which seemed monumental in 2015, did have a lot of problems, mostly problems that dealt with an ambition gap of climate action, a lack of transparency in reporting, and an equity gap where developed nations didn’t do nearly enough to halt future emissions. In what was seen as the most important meeting after the Paris agreement, a meeting that sought to keep the commitment of limiting warming to 1.5℃ alive, it wasn’t at all clear whether COP26 did much to allow that commitment a chance to breathe and fully become real. Besides what seems like an acknowledgment that more has to be done in this decade by delegations of the U.S. and China, the world is still on track to reach 2.4℃ by 2100. This amount of warming, if people haven’t been aware, will mean dangerous consequences for the planet, its species, and the most vulnerable people among us. It will mean more drastic weather effects and fluctuations, more crop yields that decline due to droughts or extreme weather, and more political instability that can stem from those effects. With that instability, it will also mean more climate migrants, and also loss of life of the people who won’t be able to insulate themselves from the effects.
If I can be frank, putting into words some kind of analysis, or some words of encouragement, or even thinking of COP26, has been extremely difficult to say the least. This was the most important meeting after the Paris agreement, as was said over and over, but it seems that the world is on track to go beyond that 1.5℃ mark. And, the sad thing is, the richest and most powerful people among us don’t seem to care; instead, they seem content with gaslighting youth activists, probably thinking of them as mere inconveniences at worst, or giving them speeches about voting, which hasn’t proved to change the status quo at all. The global north, which is massively responsible for climate breakdown because of past emissions and dirty industrialization, seems to do everything to make sure they don’t have to reckon with their pasts, merely looking at vulnerable countries in a contemptuous way. All the while, activists and people in vulnerable countries are merely trying to fight for their lives.
The most egregious thing about these conferences, which is even worse than the lukewarm agreements that they spur, is that these powerful world leaders don’t even have the decency to look at the people fighting for their lives in the eye. These meetings never seem to occur in the places that would be the most affected by climate change; they never seem to give the people of those countries the largest voices. The “rich” countries genuinely seem to go on with their lives, achieving minor reductions in emissions, if at all, while actual solutions are available and have been talked about for years. In all, these conferences seem to do a great job at not inconveniencing fossil fuel executives; instead, they actively give them, and the politicians that back them, a seat at the table. A clear conflict of interest; however, it doesn’t get treated like one. The most important issue of our time, the issue that directly deals with the habitability of the planet to humans and other species, is an issue that doesn’t get taken seriously. A perpetual can that constantly gets kicked further down the road.
The agreement that came out of COP26 is disheartening, and it’s becoming impossible to hold onto hope, even though I try to constantly. I think it’s safe to say that we can’t keep trusting politicians to act on this issue; we have to forcefully take our planet back from the many types of reactionaries that strive for endless profits and self gain over anything else. In a sense, it’s a time for all of us to engage in more direct action, to fight in our communities to hold politicians accountable. That will also mean that we must go beyond voting, and actively engage in acts that keep fossil fuels in the ground — acts that include protesting against pipelines, and protesting against any other fossil fuel infrastructure that might get built in our communities, or even beyond. We must actively disrupt that infrastructure, make sure it doesn’t come online, and we must make our politicians scared of us. This also means we must be willing to disrupt their meetings, to ensure that our voices can be heard. As Asad Rehman, a climate justice organizer noted, without activists and people lobbying, marching, and targeting their spin, the outcome of the meeting would have been much worse.
Which brings me to perhaps the most important thing: what actions we can take in our own communities to fasten the transition to a more sustainable future. Ultimately, we can take action to affect what happens in our communities, allowing for the greatest impact to be felt in them. One action that we can take, and this is perhaps one that we can all do to a certain point, is to be climate advocates for our communities, and communicate the severity of this issue to the members. On top of that, we also have the power to organize directly in our neighborhoods to force local governments and municipalities to act. March and disrupt their sessions; let your voices be heard every time they convene a meeting; make them understand what the consequences will be if they refuse to act.
Also on a communal level, organize funding drives that allow for clean energy to be affordable and accessible to everyone in your neighborhood. Create community gardens so that everyone in your neighborhood has access to fresh and nutritious food, and create mutual aid networks so that nobody in your neighborhood feels like they have to struggle alone. And, above anything else, please learn to take care of yourself. With everything that’s going on in the world, it can be easy to forget that you deserve a break, and deserve to get help if you need it. The task ahead is a hard one, and I would be lying if I don’t say that I’m pessimistic. That still shouldn’t stop action, however. We still need to keep a certain optimism of our will alive, especially if we want to take back our planet.