Last week, on a panel hosted by Project Syndicate on the topic of ‘green capitalism,’ the question was posed: “Are you optimistic about COP26 in Glasgow?”
My answer: I’m always optimistic. Optimism in the face of enormous odds is an undeniable aspect of being a climate justice activist.
However there is a lot more to it than that – and I’d like to break down four reasons to be optimistic about COP – and three things to keep an eye out for.
- Three big announcements this week. At the 76th UN General Assembly (a key pre-COP event) China announced they were stopping building coal plants overseas, President Biden announced the US is doubling its climate finance pledge, and Turkey announced it will ratify the Paris Agreement before COP26. This is BIG! This is the beginning of the end for coal funding and pushes closer to the goal that wealthy countries set to support developing countries in building climate resilience before COP26. And with Turkey joining, there are now only five countries in the world that have not ratified Paris. All of this stirs up a lot of momentum and helps set the tone for more effective negotiations at COP26.
- Inequity is too obvious to be ignored. Climate change is a problem about justice – by now most everyone knows that. But it has still been possible for elites to be quite comfortable and insulated from the worse effects of climate change. That is changing rapidly. Whether that is forest fires destroying multi-million dollar mansions, or sea level rise threatening secluded beach resorts – climate impacts are leveling the playing field. On top of that, the question of who has a vaccine is the number one topic prior to Glasgow. Many negotiators and members of civil society cannot get a vaccine and won’t make it to Glasgow – unless the UK government changes access rules quickly. The obvious inequity here should force the acknowledgement: there can be no discussion of climate action with understanding the climate justice implications.
- We know where the money is. Everyone talks a lot about how costly it will be to transform our economies away from oil, coal, and gas. Those very same industries are among the most profitable on earth, and for them, the money required to finance a just transition is a rounding error on the balance sheet. Take the $100 Billion USD pledged in assistance to get the Paris Agreement signed, that is pocket change for the oil company – add up a few bonuses and there we have it. The good news is that the movement has turned its focus to holding financial institutions responsible, and just like the tobacco companies before them – they will have to pay for the damages they’ve caused.
- Movement Power is building. Whether it is this Friday’s climate strikes, mass resistance to the Line 3 pipeline, or Amazon Indigenous peoples taking to the streets of Brasilia – movements continue to create momentum for lasting change. The pandemic has taken a tragic toll, but people are ever resilient, especially those fighting to save their homes and fighting for a future for their families. As far as COP26 goes – there will be protests in October and November focused on the role of banks who are paying to make the climate crisis worse, among many others. These protests turn up the volume for what is expected when negotiators arrive in Glasgow.
Amidst these reasons to be hopeful, keep an eye out for the following:
- Greenwashing. It’s always been an issue – but watch out for the substance (or lack of it) behind new commitments out of Glasgow. The term net zero is often used by the world’s biggest polluters to signify ambition but is a vague term that can disguise weak targets. Does a given commitment enable more fossil fuels to be dug up and burned? Then it isn’t a zero carbon solution.
- Doomerism and despair. Climate despair is the new climate denial – what if activists in movements of the past gave up on fighting on things like the ability to unionize, women’s right to vote etc? Tenacity, hope, pressure and action can (and has) led to significant shifts in policies and culture, the fight for the climate is no different. There is never an excuse to give up.
- Chumminess. Climate change can be addressed in our lifetime – if everyone takes the necessary steps. For some of us the steps have to be bigger, given our share of responsibility for the problem, but we are up against a familiar problem: elite chumminess – many of the CEOs of fossil fuel companies and banks went to the same schools, vacation in the same places, and have the same social norms as the CEOs engaged in climate advocacy. This pattern makes it hard to put the necessary pressure to bear – to make the uncomfortable changes we all must.
The Road to Glasgow will certainly be a bumpy one – so hang on to your hats and stay engaged!