From an activist perspective, looking beyond COP 25

Pedro Perez is a climate justice activist with a background in Human Rights and working with indigenous  Communities in Latin America.   He was in Madrid for COP 25 – in this article he reflects on the recent COP and considers the implications for COP26 in Glasgow.

This paper is a reflection of my experience during COP25 in Madrid:

COP 25 will go down in history as one of the most inconsequential conferences on climate change. A summit characterized by disagreements, a lack of consensus, and no significant agreements being reached to respond to the climate crisis. Civil society and social organizations that demanded climate justice and more action from industrialized countries, could not hide their disappointment and frustration at the end of the summit. There were those who considered COP 25 as shameful, while others described it as a failure.

The outcome of COP 25 is yet another reflection of how these large conferences have been organized and managed. Hosted by the United Nations, they are under the leadership of the countries of the global north and in part are financed with funds from large corporations.

The domination of the industrialized countries is clearly evident; they are the ones who lead and benefit from the summits. In practical terms, it could be said that COP 25 was a failure because significant agreements were not reached to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. From a media perspective, the summit represented a success for industrialized countries and large corporations, which, exercising control over the media, used them to greenwash their image and continue to manipulate society with false messages. They took advantage of the summit, as a sporsor, to give the impression they are committed to respecting the environment and nature while their economic activities continue to destroy the planet, causing climate, social and economic injustice.

Corporations such as Nestlé, Coca-Cola, the energy sector and the financial world welcomed COP25. This double standard was evident in some of the publications (newspapers) on COP25 financed by Spanish corporations in the energy sector and distributed free of charge. Articles on climate change, had adverts from a travel company offered discounts on airline tickets. In another, Coca-Cola subtly transferred to the consumers of its products, the responsibility of recycling the millions of plastic bottles that the company produces every day.

At the initiative of Spain, COP25 was divided into two Zones, next to each other: the Blue and Green. zones. The Blue Zone was reserved for meetings of the scientific community, politicians and representatives of countries, corporations and, as observers, the accredited civil society. It is here that the countries of the global north and corporations assert their interest by creating powerful lobbies, which divides and creates blocks of countries, making it difficult to reach consensus and agreements on fundamental issues.

The Green Zone was a space open to the public in which Spain wanted to facilitate the participation of civil society from the global south and north and create a space to raise awareness and promote education on environmental issues related to climate change. However, the sponsors also had space here and took advantage to greenwash their image and present themselves as the standard bearers of innovation, science, transferable technology, capacity building and nature-based solutions. To show themselves as the leaders of the growing renewable energy market in the context of the neoliberal capitalist economic model which is beginning to be monopolized by energy corporations. That was a priority for Spain and an important area of ​​the Green Zone was used for that purpose.

In the Green Zone, social issues such as environmental justice and the agenda of the peoples of the global south were secondary, consigned to the background. While for example, the indigenous representatives of Chile, the host country, did have a presence here, it was not the most appropriate space to address the agenda of indigenous communities in any meaningful depth.

Spain’s lack of genuine interest in the agenda of the peoples of the global south and the demands of the movements and social organizations of the global north, led to the organization of a counter-summit, an alternative summit, the Social Summit with the support of environmentalists. The UGT union and the Complutense University of Madrid provided the spaces for it to take place.

The Social Summit for Climate convened a large demonstration in which thousands of people took to the streets of Madrid. It was attended by the Indigenous “Minga”, young people inspired by Greta Thunberg, human rights defenders, activists of the ecological movements and civil disobedience platforms, like Extinction Rebellion. The purpose was to draw the attention of governments and corporations, to the urgent need to assume a change in attitude and behavior, so that they recognize and assume responsibilities for the climate crisis that is caused by their economically motivated destructive activities. With a demand for environmental justice.

In the alternative summit they discussed among other issues: the causes that are giving rise to the climate crisis; the hidden face of the energy transition – the increase in the damaging extraction of the natural resources necessary for renewable technologies. The oil and gas fracking that remain the cheapest options to maintain economic “growth” and unlimited “progress”. False solutions such as carbon markets and REDDs; the neoliberal, patriarchal and neo-colonial capitalist economic model responsible for the environmental crisis, in which the solutions offered in the Blue and Green zones disastrously remain.

The alternative summit, which did not attract the attention of the official media, in practical terms was a success. Being a space for meeting and exchanging experiences, living together and joining the bonds of solidarity between the movements of the South and the global north. Strengthening the cohesion of the social movement that is growing significantly globally. A space for initiatives, of new plans and strategies to promote more ambitious actions ahead of COP26.

COP 26, Glasgow 2020 will have to assume the climatic emergency; pay attention to the gap between the global north and the global south that is widening significantly; respond to the social movement that is growing globally and that demands social justice and a more ambitious action to face the climatic emergency.

While the topics that will occupy the official agenda of the COP26, will be marked by a strengthening of the Paris Agreement that makes its implementation possible and has the capacity to assume the commitments of the Kyoto protocol that reaches its completion. But also, carbon market, update the NDCs and set new decarbonization goals.

COP26 in Glasgow will be the reflection of the commitment to the climate emergency and society. Its ambition will depend on the spaces assigned to civil society. COP26 can’t be used to greenwash the image and promote the lucrative interests of the corporations. It must be a space for radical approaches to climate and social justice and equality, diversity in participation of communities in the global north and genuine inclusion of the global south agendas and dialogue between all to create actions and solutions.

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Image from WikiMedia