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COP26: Voices from The Streets

Updated: Feb 14, 2022


My COP26 experience was comparable to playing 3D chess without the rulebook. It started in the Blue Zone, shifted into Green Zone and concluded with protests on the mean streets of Glasgow. The change in atmosphere was similar to travelling across countries, if not continents.

The Blue Zone was an unparalleled spectacle. An exclusive platform for global leaders, CEOs, Indigenous groups, social movements and NGOs. At its heart, a forum for the rich and famous, actively excluding the voices of the global majority. And still this island of power represents our best hope of climate justice. Where dedicated negotiators work around the clock to strike deals and reduce carbon emissions. The Green Zone feels more like a public exhibition. A curious assortment of talks, film screenings and corporate exhibitions - aptly situated in the Glasgow Science Centre – featuring companies with bold commitments and others openly greenwashing. Then we have the street protests. On Saturday, more than 100,000 people marched in torrential rain demanding climate action. The protest was the real deal. It was raw, rugged and unfiltered. Away from the carefully negotiated texts of the Blue Zone and curated corporate narratives of the Green Zone, I could hear the voice of the voiceless. The demands of the people. Waving signs like: “Smash Capitalism”, “I don’t want to be extinct” and “we are watching you”.

The climate conversation is not representative of the rich cultural history of the 7.9 billion people who inhabit our planet. We are deliberately preventing the global majority from sharing their views, demands and solutions. If we want to achieve climate justice, we have to make climate change communications more accessible. In other words, we need to speak the language of ordinary people. At present, climate change discourse feels like an exclusive book club discussion on a 600-page French post-modernist sociology book. Our indulgence in overcooked, academic jargon comes at the expense of real-world action. As reflected in science, where 90% of the most cited climate research papers are affiliated with academic institutions from North America, Europe or Australia. Meanwhile, indigenous communities protect 80% of global biodiversity. We need to listen lived experiences communities on the frontline of the climate crisis from Bangladesh to Madagascar. Their perspectives are not anecdotal stories, but vessels for collective progress.

Recognise the systemic connection between the climate crisis and several social fights"

Normel, 25, Phillipines

Modern life has become disconnected from nature. We have lost touch with the magical world that sustains us. The world’s urban population is expected to increase from 55% in 2018 to 68% by 2050. Our relentless desire for “growth” is killing the planet. Planet Earth has been reduced to a source for extraction. We consume limited resources without giving back or maintaining for future generations. In short, we are cutting the trees without planting seeds. At the same time, wealthy countries – with a history of colonialism: seizing land, labour and resources to fuel their industrial revolutions – are mostly responsible for climate change, but least affected. The richest 1% of the world’s population are responsible for more than twice the carbon pollution as the 3.1 billion people who make up the poorest 50% of humanity. Developing countries and corporations need to compensate developing nations and communities most affected and least responsible for climate breakdown. Even the broken promise of $100 billion of climate finance from rich nations to developing countries is wretched when compared to G20 nations spending £3.3 trillion on fossil fuel subsidies. We need to redirect financial flows and channel them towards cutting emissions.

"I demand that countries and corporations that have contributed to most of the escalating climate crisis do whatever they can to mitigate, and also help the communities on the frontlines adapt and take control of their own lives."

Joseph, Kingdom of Tonga

While we are all participants in the climate emergency, our responsibility is not evenly shared. Multinational corporations are the biggest contributors to global greenhouse emissions. In fact, 100 companies are responsible for 71% of carbon emissions. If we have any hope of keeping the 1.5 degrees goal alive. We need to transform our relationship with consumption. We need to buy less stuff. Something rarely mentioned in climate discussions.

Unrestrained consumerism is the elephant in the room or should I say the Amazon in the room. Household consumption is 60% of global of global GDP. Hyper-consumption is the engine of our global economy. If consumption declines, GDP will decline accordingly, and we would stop “growing”. But maybe it’s time to reconsider how we measure human progress. Beyond how much stuff we buy and sell.

“The main point of action for me would be to hold corporations and governments responsible for all the carbon emissions” –

Shagun, 16, India

Just like COP26, the climate crisis is complex, messy and multidimensional. There is no easy way out. And just like the climate protests on the streets of Glasgow, there is no single narrative. Climate justice requires unity and collective action. To quote the poet Saadi, inscribed on the entrance of the United Nations: “Of one essence is the human race, thusly has creation put the base. One limb impacted is sufficient, for all others to feel the mace.”


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