A week at cop

A typhoon hits, flood waters rise, crops are destroyed, the roads are blocked by trees, your house is flattened and dead bodies float. No aid can reach you, no money can help you, no interest is shown. You have no access to education for half a year. Your family slowly rebuild their home only for another disaster to hit.

This is not projection or fantasy or fiction. This is Marinel Ubaldo, who I met this last week, whose life was turned upside-down by Typhoon Haiyan hitting the Philippines in 2013. In her words, she lost her childhood. The 8 year anniversary of this event was marked during COP26. It is not a past tragedy, the aftermath of the typhoon is the lived present for entire communities.

Climate change doesn’t feel real until water rushes by with such fury that your thoughts turn to what it might be like to be swept away, which family members might search for you, and how long it would take for your death to be added to the tally count of bodies recovered.

I do not live on permafrost like Katarina Kuhnhert, and I do not need to evacuate my parents from their home each year because of forest fires like Pastor Danielle Parish (two more women here at COP): I do worry about spending my life watching as areas of the globe suffer heat stress and drought, becoming uninhabitable slowly then all at once. Greed will be the death of us.

This week has felt gruelling. One of the most difficult parts of being present at COP has been watching the professionalism and patience of negotiators working to strengthen wording while being dismissed by the those countries who are lauded most on the international stage.

It is jarring to have an international conference which accepts on face value the urgency of action but which simultaneously refuses commensurate action, and cannot mention without caveats fossil fuel phase out as a solution to a problem caused by too much burning of fossil fuels.

With so much at stake, it is difficult to listen to corporate panellists say that fossil fuel expansion is a necessity because ‘the world needs energy’, and it hurts to hear suggestions that adopting a negative tone is ‘bad psychology’, to know that people deem the war-mongering of climate delay ‘successful’.

All the way through there has been an insistence on justifying the way COP works, as if the deprivation of sleep and daylight from delegates in a sanitised conference centre, who must wrangle around the clock for mere increments of justice, could be anything other than a farce. This is not the way you would design a gathering for the stated intended purposes if you wanted the right outcomes: the wrong people are here, for the wrong reasons, and some of the right people have been kept away.

Speaking on a personal level, I have found the week tiring, tumultuous, alienating, and alarming.

I feel betrayed that the Green Zone at this COP has felt like an exhibit a city council might put on for a half term, and that civil society has been squeezed into 10 stalls which they have been permitted to have for a mere day each, while ‘principal partners’ have been able to monopolise the largest hall with showy nothingness.

I feel betrayed that this COP has been a platform for star power and celebrity, for Obama to gain plaudits and headline while offering no apology for a dismal track record and taking attention away from the day when finance was on the agenda.

I feel betrayed by my own government which has co-opted language and rhetoric and yet has consistently declined to give time to requests from developing countries, has caused issues in the way it has drafted the texts, and has failed to join in with the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance (BOGA), all while maintaining its disappointment that other countries are not announcing greater ambition.

I also feel betrayed by the suggestion that my anger and criticism is unreasonable or ungrateful. I do not feel able to be content when the absences from the COP text are so blatant and such an affront to so many.

I have come to the conclusion that the only way COP makes sense is to understand that countries like the UK are only interested in decisions which can accommodate the status quo. It doesn’t matter that more and more of the globe will need to be sacrificed over the coming decades for this to be possible. This should have been the COP to prove the concept of the Paris Agreement, to increase ambition in line with stated ambition and to meet previous promises in full – not least on the $100bn goal for adaptation and partial framework of loss and damage: none of these things have happened.

Following this COP, 1.5 degrees is out of reach.

Being unequivocal about this is not to deny the possibility of change and the certainty of hope. It is just to call a betrayal and a moral failure for what it is, and to keep in sight the demands of justice as we prepare for the journey ahead of us.

Wealthy nations are refusing to pay the ransom on the kidnapping they have orchestrated.

We should hold them to account for this.

From the Informal stocktaking plenary by the President, Friday 12 November 2021

“The text before us is the bare minimum” – Grenada

“We are negotiating our very existence” – Bangladesh

“It is not fiction. It is not projection. Tuvalu is literally sinking” – Tuvalu

“We bleed when it rains, we cry when it doesn’t rain – 1.5 degrees is not a statistic, it’s a matter of life and death” – Kenya

“Everyone must do more, if survival of humankind is our goal. We must keep fossil fuels in the ground… 1.5 degrees is not a choice, it’s a necessity, a moral obligation, a lifeline” – Panama

“For two weeks in Glasgow we have sat in rooms and listened to debates about full stops and commas… It takes us years to access funds. For one project we were asked for 30 years of scientific data on the ways our islands are eroding. We cannot put our survival as collateral.” – Maldives