People Power must be at the heart of Glasgow COP26

Nov 3, 2021

Friends of the Earth Asia Pacific demands deep carbon cuts from rich nations at summit 

With many groups from the Global South unable to attend, the 26th Conference of Parties (COP26) opening this week in Glasgow, Scotland, will likely fall short of its mandate, Friends of the Earth warned on Monday. Due to a combination of vaccine apartheid, high costs, and ever shifting rules around quarantining and entry to the UK, Southern voices will be muted considerably throughout the two-week climate summit.   

“The UK is on course to deliver the most exclusionary COP ever, pushing ahead with the summit while Covid-19 still ravages and so many in the Global South can’t get a vaccine or visa. It is hard to see how COP26’s outcomes could be considered fair and legitimate with those on the frontline of climate impacts unable to make their voices heard in the streets of Glasgow and in the halls of the COP,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, climate justice and energy program co-coordinator for Friends of the Earth International.  

“We are extremely concerned that rich countries and polluting corporations will push through a dangerous and damaging agreement on carbon markets, claiming themselves as climate champions while ignoring their historical responsibility and the urgency to cut emissions now,” Bathnagar said. 

For Friends of the Earth, this agreement could only work if it uses a climate justice approach. Framing it as a justice issue especially resonates with Friends of the Earth member groups from Asia and the Pacific, a region that, while polluting the least historically, will be most affected by climate change. 

The lens of climate justice will help COP26 decide on sticky technical issues carried over from COP25 in Madrid, which include loss and damage, USD100B financing, carbon markets, nature based solutions, and common timeframes.    

For Friends of the Earth, tackling the climate crisis requires a radical and immediate shift away from fossil fuels and other dirty and harmful energy, industrial agribusiness, and large-scale deforestation. Climate justice also means addressing the systemic root causes, inequality and inequity at the core of the climate, Covid-19, and ecological crises. 

“For COP26 to be a success, the UK COP presidency must urgently step up and show real leadership by committing to its fair share of climate action, cutting emissions as close to real zero as possible over the next decade and paying its carbon debt to the Global South,” said Mary Church, head of campaigns for Friends of the Earth Scotland. 

But a climate justice approach could be undermined by other false solutions that will be pushed by corporations and rich nations at COP26. 

In a recent op-ed, Meena Raman, of Friends of the Earth Malaysia, sounded the alarm on one such false solution, the so-called ‘net zero’. “Instead of undertaking real deep emissions cuts to real zero by now, developed countries are announcing distant net-zero targets with 2050 as the target year, which again reflect reductions which are too little too late and that will exhaust the remaining carbon budget very soon. Hence, we must demand real and rapid zero from developed countries, not distant targets. Moreover, net zero targets mean that there will be reliance on carbon-offsets, where developed countries will pay developing countries to do the emission removals, which will then go to the credit of developed countries,” Raman said. 

Friends of the Earth also cautions against nature-based solutions (NBS), a smokescreen strategy being pushed by the UK presidency and corporations at this year’s negotiations. Friends of the Earth believes that adoption of the idea is only likely to prevent real action to reduce fossil fuel emissions at source, and will cause grave harm to communities in the global South. 

Nature Based Solutions is a bad idea dressed up in acceptable terminology and beautiful imagery — a sheep in wolf’s clothing. The term sounds good but is so broad and vague that it can refer to anything – from real solutions such as indigenous-based ecosystem restoration to damaging activities like monoculture tree plantations. Much of what is being done in the name of Nature Based Solutions is little more than a repackaging of previously discredited market-based approaches,” says Sara Shaw, Friends of the Earth International’s climate justice and energy program co-coordinator.  

The costly, risky, and unproven technologies, dressed up in catchy phrases, can potentially result in devastating impacts and lead to land grabbing, human rights violations, and destruction of forests in the Global South. They only galvanize corporate power, deflect responsibility from rich historical polluters, and stall radical and urgent action on climate change. 

Beyond the climate crisis, the planet is facing multiple, inter-related social, political and economic crises, at the heart of which sits an unsustainable economic system that enriches only a few. For Friends of the Earth, only with system change — a radical transformation of our energy, food and economic systems — can we prevent global average temperature rises exceeding 1.5 degrees. There are real solutions to the climate crisis; people power is the key to unlocking them. 

“In Asia, we are seeing grassroots communities, cooperatives, and movements recasting the world in small but more equitable and ecological ways. In Palestine and the Philippines, communities are building micro-grid energy systems that follow the principles of energy sufficiency and sovereignty. Indigenous peoples and small-scale farmers practice agro-ecology in growing food in Sri Lanka and Nepal. And grassroots environmental defenders are protecting and managing forests sustainably in Indonesia and Malaysia. There is no doubt that people power will play a major role in reimagining and reshaping the world,” said Mai Taqueban of Friends of the Earth Philippines.