What To Do When COP Flops

How can we make sure the COPs a successful event? What can you do to tackle the problems at high-profile climate meetings?

COP26, and the ideas coming from it (such as the Paris Agreement), are based on the unequal and unjust society that caused the mess of a collapsing climate. We need radical changes if we want to survive. Like it or not, our rea lity is about to undergo massive, lifechanging shifts – whether through awful impacts of climate change, or the progress required to prevent these.

Change can always be scary – but taking it into our own hands, and having agency over the changes in our lives, is a huge way to ease the fears over it…. This is why it’s important to act on the climate crisis, and to get engaged on grassroots activism.

What is grassroots activism?

This is about mobilizing a group of individuals who wish to effect change using collective action. It relies upon people driving this change from the ground-up (i.e., from a position of equity, and hearing all voices, rather than one person making decisions for everyone else). This form of activism is often most effective when it involves a said individual’s local community.

Here, I want to lay out the ways that COP26 can be improved, and how we can fight for climate justice. My first blog on COP26 featured an explanation of what COP is, and a timeline of how we got to here. My second COP26 blog delved more into the issues at COPs – a potentially depressing subject, given that many flout COP26 as a “last, best chance” to avert total catastrophe. Given this, I wanted to leave my third blog on a better note, by focusing on what we can do to make things better.

I believe that COP26 will not have a positive impact, and I want people to be prepared for the disappointment, hopelessness, frustration that will come with that. Yet, I also want people to keep on fighting for what they believe in. And most importantly, I want everyone to see COP26 as a massive opportunity to start getting involved with grassroots activism, or to continue to build momentum within their existing groups.

One of the main issues at COP26 will likely be inequality. COVID-19 will make this issue far worse at COP26, as it has been revealed that rich countries with 14% of the world’s population have secured 53% of the best vaccines. This health inequality, along with resource hoarding and over-consumption in wealthier nations, makes it far harder for the global south and marginalised communities to be able to attend COP26.

As such, we need to demand better representation and equity at all future COPs. In the past, a gender initiation increased the number of women attending through quotas, and this managed to also create a safer space for women. This could be built upon by developed nations providing the funds and resources needed for delegates from poorer nations to be able to attend. However, representation is not the end-goal; it is also necessary to build safe and accessible spaces for marginalised people.

Whilst stiving for greater representation, it will also be important to follow the processes for ensuring the right people are getting in the room. Additionally, those who are most responsible for ensuring meaningful changes are made must be held accountable, instead of allowing them to bask in the privilege that is amplifying their voice.

To ensure marginalised voices are heard, there must be space for oppressed groups to tell their own stories, without false vulnerabilities built around their narratives. In particular, youth and indigenous people should be given greater platforms and room to be involved with the negotiations. NGOs and individuals who do have privilege can help by giving up all or parts of their speaking slots to marginalised groups.

Furthermore, big polluters (of all sorts, not just the fossil fuel companies) and other major industry players can benefit a lot from stalling climate action and sabotaging this event – as such, it is imperative that such groups be banned from sponsoring and attending such events. This has yet to happen.

Another important thing to consider with COP26 is the power that the media has to influence the discourse around the climate crisis, all year round, as well as during COP. Media manipulation can be a huge problem, and right now climate change is still not being reported on in the way it should be. One thing to be wary of is problematic and dangerous proposals that are being presented as “solutions”, such as geoengineering and nature-based solutions (for more, see my blog on geoengineering). Where you do see the media reporting on “solutions” or “wins” that are actually disasters-waiting-to-happen, call it out.

To activists wishing to use the opportunity presented by COP26 to get their messages or stories out in to the mainstream, there are various options to help with this:

  • Get journalists to come outside to publicly accessible areas by offering free snacks/drinks, or conducting more unusual projects/forms of activism, or providing access to speaking to someone with key importance or expertise
  • Reach out to younger journalists open to different perspectives, and to TV/video creators who need new visions or angles
  • Try to get out to COP26 locations on slow news dates, when negotiations are progressing little and journalists have more time to wander

As much as the media has a responsibility to undo some of their damage, in failing to properly portray the brevity of the situation, governments also have a lot of work to do. Most governments should have started doing a lot more, a really long time ago. Unfortunately, the fundamental changes needed for climate action are not developed and implemented from scratch at COPs. Instead, they are thought up and researched – at national levels – months or even years beforehand. As such, the ability to influence delegates attending COP26 will be extremely limited.

In fact, it is my belief that a COP-centric approach will get us nowhere. We cannot rely on two weeks of the ear being used to “fix” the climate crisis. This issue should be worked on year-round, as a highest priority, by all who can, until it’s solved. And it is clear we cannot rely on the good of businesses and government alone.

The take-away of this, is to keep our expectations for COP26 low, but make our aims high. We do still have some time to demand that our governments give us what we want, though our window for avoiding mass death and suffering is rapidly shrinking. The strength of our country’s performance at COP26 will very much depend on the degree of the environmental movements pushing our governments to act.

Fighting for climate justice needs to take place in various arenas, using many different tactics. If you’ve not yet gotten involved in activism, find accessible ways to keep practicing it and find friends with common viewpoints. Once we all find our community and comfort in activism, we need to build on this by finding new ways to keep on building momentum. We will need this momentum, as activism should be taking place year-round, not just during COP.

The time for change was decades ago. Now, we must act very fast, which will require mass mobilizations of people who desire a world free of preventable death and oppression. Get involved!

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