Jon Bonifacio was a delegate to the recently-concluded Conference of Parties 26 (COP 26) UN climate summit in Glasgow, who represented YACAP alongside two others. He reflects on his experiences in the piece below. You can also check out the pieces of Chito Arceo and Mitzi Jonelle Tan.
Nearly every day that I entered the COP26 conference grounds in Glasgow, the ambient chatter from delegates in line would be punctured by different sounds coming from the other side of the perimeter fences surrounding the venue. Whether it was some driving percussion from an ensemble of snare and bass drum players, or chants from protestors hailing from different parts of the world, the vibrant music and spirit from the outside was a clear point of contrast to the rather monotonous vibe of the halls and walkways chock-full of mumbling suits inside.
Two weeks’ worth of deliberations led by these mumbling suits has resulted in a document called the Glasgow Climate Pact. This being my first COP, I was genuinely surprised that this was all they could muster — a few pages of the most peculiar and conservative language I have ever seen. In this document, it was “note[d] with deep regret” that the decade-old $100 billion/year pledge for climate finance had not been met; it “stresses” the urgency of action around mitigation and adaptation; the list goes on. Graphs were produced to compare word frequency in the document. Discussions were held about whether the word “urges” or “requests” should be used in this or that paragraph. There were last-minute debates if it should be a “phase-out” or a “phase-down” for “unabated coal power”. This squabbling over words was what drove the COP into overtime, spilling over for an extra full day of deliberations.
It should be clear at this point: the COP is a game that we are being forced to play. It is a game for people who like to play pretend; it is a game for people who have the time. Here and now, millions are suffering and dying from massive floods and record heat waves around the world. Droughts are driving nations into unprecedented food crises. Such spineless, roundabout phrasing on a few sheets of paper can hardly be called the pinnacle of climate action, and has no place in our era of crisis and emergency. The core problem of the COP is captured succinctly in two words that appear in the final text of the Glasgow pact: how it recognizes the importance only “for some” of the concept of climate justice.
If we are going to play this game of theirs, then these documents should at least reflect what actually needs to be done. To suggest a few improvements: call out historic polluters — the US, UK, Canada, and many countries in the EU — for their gross inaction and continued, willful destruction of people and planet; demand immediate, genuine (i.e. grants, not loans), and adequate reparations alongside financial and technical support for the Global South from the Global North; push for a just transition from fossil fuels to more sustainable energy sources, with more immediate time-frames for industrialized countries. The People’s Agreement of Cochabamba, released over a decade ago, is a strong example of what could be achieved with more progressive international summits.
Yet at the end of the day, meaningful climate action is largely situated outside of conferences like the COP. The COP as it exists today will never find a solution for small farmers in the Philippines who are tackling climate change in the context of widespread landlessness and other forms of semi-feudal oppression. It will never specifically address the worsening floods brought about in part by quarrying and deforestation in the Marikina Watershed and elsewhere in the country. All of these are points of intervention when it comes to the climate crisis — these are issues that we can and must work on to help in the fight for global climate justice. The COP, with all its severe limitations, is simply another point of intervention, and one that we must also maximize because the lives of billions are on the line.
We must come into the COP with this in mind; otherwise we are only setting ourselves up for disappointment. We are all aware, now more than ever, that hope and victory lie with the people standing united across the globe, and not with these so-called world leaders. Let the drums and the chants from outside be a constant reminder that there is a whole world beyond these conferences, on the other side of security, and that is the world where we can build something new.