It wasn’t all blue skies at COP26: A look at the conference from the eyes of activists

Blog Contributors: Alexandra Cotrufo and Madison Lepp

Introduction

COP26 – the conference aimed at tackling current environmental, social, and economic challenges which took place earlier this month – was an event that started with hope and ambition but ended with anger and disappointment for many. For a more thorough review of what happened over the two-week period, you can read our What Happened at COP26? The Summit in Review blog post. The annual conference aimed to bring world leaders together to agree on promises to reduce environmental degradation and provide relief and support for our most vulnerable communities. Concerned citizens and climate activists were hoping COP26 would be an opportunity for leaders to finally commit to ending the burning of fossil fuels by 2030, a critical decision needed to prevent global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C according to the IPCC special report. Instead, powerful governments settled on compromises which put the interests of the fossil fuel industry ahead of the survival of humanity.  

From the very first day of the conference, activists were on standby inside and outside the front doors of the Scottish Event Campus to hold government leaders accountable for their actions and past promises. Over the following eleven days, many protests broke out on the streets of Glasgow in response to the lack of action being taken toward climate justice, the failure to provide accessibility to the conference, and the prominence of greenwashing. 

Problems

Many delegates and activists travelled long distances to get to COP26. To their surprise, many barriers came in the way of them entering the venue. Organizers, who issued accreditation for 39,000+ people to access a 10,000-person capacity venue, were criticized for not accommodating the capacities. Participants who traveled far distances were told to return to their hotels and watch the event from the online broadcast. Although the organizing groups blamed the pandemic, those who planned to attend the conference virtually were also let down by the limited opportunities to interact in the various events. Participating virtually only allowed for viewing and did not allow for the raising of hands or asking of questions. This limited the number of members who were able to participate from the Global Southparticularly Indigenous communities. Furthermore, despite the conferences promotion of ensuring inclusivity, little work was done to uphold this. With no wheelchair access and no sign language interpreters on stagemany accused the conference of being exclusionary and ableist. 

Marginalized groups and minority communities are those most hit by the harsh effects of climate change while also being the least responsible for it. For this reason, their voices should be at the center of climate action. CNN interviews with dozens of underrepresented groups revealed the harsh truths of COP26Throughout the conference, underrepresented groups were placed at the back of auditoriums and were asked to leave the rooms when capacity levels were reached. A representative from the Indigenous Peoples’ Caucus was asked to leave negotiations on carbon markets – the very issue that impacts their lands the most. Many felt they were being tokenized, given the observer status to perform dances and prayers, but unable to voice their opinions when negotiations started. 

Not only was the presence of country delegates outnumbered by the presence of fossil fuel industry membersit was also clear that members of this industry had an agenda – and this agenda involved a lot of greenwashing. Within the exhibitions, many noticed that the European Union’s events were being run by lobbyists. Examples include events such as Global Guarantees of Origin for Clean Hydrogen” which was run by Hydrogen Europea lobbyist group with members including the likes of Shell, Total, and Equinor. And the European Union (EU) was not the only one, further events were being run by gas giants in the attempt to employ a key strategy of the fossil fuel industry. 

Protests

Large protests broke out over the course of the conference in response to the lack of accountability and action being taken toward the climate crisis, as well as the presence of fossil fuel lobbyistsWell-known youth activists such as Vanessa NakateDominika LasotaMitzi Tan, and Greta Thunberg released an open letter, which has received more than 1.8 million signatures, urging political leaders to step up and use their position of power to make the decisions needed to save the planet from further devastation. Just a couple days later, hundreds of protestors gathered outside a nearby shopping center to demand that companies take ownership for their contribution to rising greenhouse gas emissions and end greenwashing tactics. This protest came after the news that since 2010, a large portion of the $1.1 trillion invested in the energy sector went towards funding the fossil fuel industry. 

A mass rally of over 10,000 people was also held by the Fridays for Future Scotland activist group on November 5th, where protestors marched throughout the city’s west end to call for immediate action from world leadersThis was one of the largest protests that took place in response to COP26, and activists from all over the world gave speeches about how climate change is affecting the places they call home, including Greta Thunberg who called the conference a failureMany students skipped school to join the protest in an effort to bring discussions about climate change out from enclosed spaces and onto the streets. 

An even bigger protest took place the following day, which included more than 100,000 participants according to event organizersDespite the rainspirits were strong among the crowd as banners were held high and bagpipes were playedPeoples from Indigenous communities from North and South America joined the march, many of whom did not have adequate representation inside the conference, to fight against the environmental destruction caused by mining and deforestation.  

These are a few examples of the many protests that took place in response to the events at COP26. Activists fought to make leaders aware that they are not backing down in the fight toward climate justice and they will continue to push back until promises are turned into progress. 

How You Can Take Action

Every one of the climate promises to come out of COP26 must be kept if we are going to have a chance at restoring the Earth. You may be thinking “how can I help Canada and the world stay on track to meeting these promises?” Here are some ways you can take action in the fight for climate justice: 

Follow “on the ground” activists

Ensuring the right voices are being heard is paramount to winning the race against climate change. Supporting activists that are doing the work through following and spotlighting their actions is something we can all do. Our Instagram post has highlighted various pages and activists who deserve attention and support. 

Get active where you can

Throughout history, social groups have created transformational change. Protests have played a vital role in laying the groundwork for systematic change. If you haven’t already, reach out to organizations in your area that host these rallies and find out how you can get involved 

Sign petitions

Signing petitions can be an effective way to raise awareness on climate issues and communicate public opinion to leaders and decisionmakers. Join millions of others in signing the emergency appeal for climate action! 

Remind your leaders

One of the most impactful ways of reminding the Canadian government about their climate and social promises is through your local MP – so take a minute out of your day and let them know about the issues you believe deserve greater attention. If emailing your MP seems a bit dauntingWWF has created an easy template to help you craft and send an email to newly elected officials.