The Problem with the COP26

From October 31st to November 12th of this year, over 190 world leaders and close to 40,000 delegates gathered in Glasgow UK for the COP26 (the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties). This year’s summit aimed to promote further action to reach the goals set out in the 2015 Paris Agreement, encourage countries directly affected by climate change to protect communities and ecosystems, and raise funds for climate action. Many, however, condemn the governments and corporations’ failure to back the commitments made with meaningful climate action. In a series of demonstrations in Glasgow with the largest attracting thousands of protesters on November 6th, young individuals expressed their discontent with the way the climate crisis is currently being handled. 

The protester’s main goal was to call for drastic action on the part of governments as the current measures have proven themselves insufficient to handle such a crisis. In 2015, the Paris Agreement adopted at COP21 was considered a victory. Now, six years later, the goal of limiting the increase in global temperature to 1.5 °C is still far from global reach. Greta Thunberg’s words express perfectly the summit’s shortcomings: “It should be obvious that we cannot solve a crisis with the same methods that got us into it in the first place.” Indeed, there is no hope that a meeting between colonial governments and capitalist corporations can lead to solutions that will prioritize the wellbeing of the planet over profit. To address the climate crisis in a way that will make a difference, the issue needs to be tackled at the source. 

Despite this year’s COP being described as a crucial moment for the future of our planet, the event’s organization did not reflect its self-proclaimed importance. Many delegates were unable to attend events due to incredibly long and COVID-unsafe lines to enter the conference buildings. Karine Elharrar, an Israeli minister, was unable to enter the conference after having waited for two hours due to the absence of wheelchair accessibility. Alok Sharma, the COP President-Designate, wrote in the introduction to the summit: “Indeed, one of the reasons we are determined to hold COP26 in person is to ensure the voices of these countries are heard and acted on.” This year’s setting for the conference, however, had an adverse effect. Many delegates and activists from marginally disadvantaged countries were unable to attend because of the incredibly high prices of hotels during the summit and very strict COVID-19 visa restrictions. Asad Rehman, a spokesperson for COP Coalition, a civil society coalition organizing climate action during the COP26, deemed this summit the “least accessible climate summit ever.” 

Not only were lower-income countries dramatically underrepresented during this year’s conference, but the measures that have historically been implemented in their favour do not adequately promote their development. The funds provided by the global north to the global south with the goal of helping them in the face of climate change are highly problematic. As activist Vanessa Nakate said during her speech at one of the protests: “Historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions and yet Africans are suffering some of the most brutal impacts fuelled by the climate crisis.” Despite the fact that economically-advantaged countries are responsible for most greenhouse gas emissions, they have failed to fulfill pledges made in 2009 to provide $100bn a year to the countries that bear the brunt of the consequences of the global warming caused by those emissions. Moreover, three-quarters of the money currently being provided by colonial governments to countries from the global south take the form of loans. Developing countries, disadvantaged as a result of colonization and exploitation, are further indebted, cementing already highly problematic relationships of exploitation and dependence. 

The COP26 can be considered a perfect example of greenwashing, a marketing technique that consists of spending more money to convince the public that an organization is environmentally friendly rather than funding actual policies to protect the environment. The COP26 saw an alarming number of fossil fuel lobbyists participating, a number surpassing the number of delegates from any one country, lobbying against effective climate action in favour of profit. The population’s demands to end the use of fossil fuel are not being taken seriously by the authorities who continue to prioritize profit. 

In Washington, D.C. last month, the state saw 530 arrests during Indigenous-led protests against fossil fuel use that included the following demands: “the abolition of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, restoration of 110 million acres of land taken away from Native nations, the return of Indigenous children buried at residential schools, and no new leases for oil and gas or extractive industries on public lands.” Not only are governments still listening to fossil fuel lobbyists over climate change activists, but, when it does not conform to their capitalist mindset, they are also actively preventing people from advocating for real change. 

This is just one of many instances in which Indigenous voices are censored with regards to the climate crisis. Indigenous initiatives tend to spark more meaningful change than previous COPs despite a lack of government promotion and increased oppression from authorities while protecting land and resources. The 2021 Report by Indigenous Environmental Network and Oil Change International calculated that Indigenous resistance against carbon in the U.S. and Canada was responsible for stopping close to one-quarter of these countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Based on this report, there is an undeniable link between the fight to save the planet and the Land Back movement. Despite the COP26 including more Indigenous delegates, Indigenous voices advocating for climate action year-long are not only ignored but criminalized. 

Nevertheless, there is a major advantage provided by events like the COP: it brings visibility to the environmental crisis. Environmental issues rarely make the front page of newspapers, but a conference such as the COP26 does. This, in consequence, amplifies the various protests calling out governments and corporations for their refusal to take action, as well as their failure to fulfill promises. Hopefully, the disappointing nature of the COP26, one that caused delegates to stage a walkout on the last day of the summit and join Fridays for Future and Extinction Rebellion protestors, will serve as a reminder to governments that their empty words do not pass under the radar. People demand action to protect our planet.

Feature image by rafapress /

By Talia Pirsch

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