The United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), delayed a year, will finally get underway in Glasgow from October 31 to November 12. Camille Barbagallo from the COP26 Coalition in Britain spoke to Green Left’s Susan Price about the organising efforts to achieve climate justice. The COP26 Coalition is hosting the People’s Summit for Climate Justice, from November 7‒10, and has called a global day of protest action for climate justice on November 6.
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Officially, COP26’s purpose is to bring countries together to state their commitments to achieve the Paris Agreement goals for 2030 on the way to reaching net zero by 2050. The stakes are high. But, as Barbagallo told GL, even with ambitious emissions reduction targets, climate change will worsen before it improves. Millions, mostly those in the Global South, will impacted by sea-level rise, floods, drought and other extreme weather events driven by climate change.
The COP26 Coalition involves more than 100 trade unions, grassroots organisations, NGOs and faith groups, Barbagallo said. They play an important role as observers and delegates “inside” as well as “on the outside”. Environment groups, including 350.org, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace and Rising Tide, will be joined by unions and organisations including UNISON, Unite Union, the Global Ecosocialist Network, RedGreen Labour and Anticapitalist Resistance.
“The COP26 Coalition is under the leadership of folk who have been engaging in the COP process for over 20 years,” Barbagallo said. “They have been working in solidarity with movements predominantly from the Global South, but also indigenous movements and frontline communities across the world, which have been arguing for system change … and pushing for a climate justice framework.”
The coalition is also dedicated to building the climate justice movements to “build the public pressure on nations that will be gathered at the COP but also to build our power on the streets”.
Because of the COP26 postponement, the Coalition has already hosted two global online gatherings: in November last year and in April. “The People’s Summit really continues a lot of the conversations that we’ve already been having,” she said.
Last year, some 8000 people registered for the global gathering. Barbagallo said this year’s People’s Summit is being organised so that activists from the Global South “who happen to be in all the countries on the British immigration ‘red list’ [countries that Britain is imposing stricter COVID-19 quarantine restrictions on travellers arriving from those countries]”, can participate.
The “in-person” event in Glasgow will take place across 13 venues to maximise COVID-19 safety. There will be a digital program, allowing international participants to “tune in” to the panels, workshops and training sessions.
According to Barbagallo, “one of the most important aspects of the People’s Summit is the bringing together of different movements to sit around the same table … and listen to what is happening in different communities around the world.”
The COP26 Peoples Summit program is impressive: 90 events are grouped around four themes: “Multiple Crises”; “Strategies and Tactics”; “The More than Human World”; and “Visions for the Future”.
“What we know is that the climate crisis is here, well and truly ... and so the People’s Summit brings a certain urgency to accelerate our campaigning and our organising efforts,” said Barbagallo.
However, she warned that “racing ahead and ending up with authoritarian — usually quite racist — solutions” to managing the crisis now and in the future would not work. Given that COP26 is not going to deliver the commitments needed to avoid more climate disasters, she said the focus must be on building a movement powerful enough to force governments to act. This requires action at the international and local level.
“I don’t think we have any excuses anymore: we have to build an international movement. We can’t solve the climate crisis in one country.”
However, she said activists should “start to work on how different national economies and production processes are contributing” to the crisis. “There are many campaigns in Australia trying to stop fossil fuel extraction and I would hope to see a lot of those discussions from the Pacific region happening, both in Australia and at the People’s Summit.”
She also hopes people take to the streets on November 6. “Global problems require global solutions and we cannot leave coordination and cooperation to the leaders of nation states, especially when your leader is someone like Scott Morrison.
“I think the COP26 really throws a light on the role of social movements and also our responsibility. Now is not the time to leave these questions up to governments who have a vested interest in fossil capitalism.
“The Earth is getting hotter: we’re now locked in to some pretty catastrophic levels of global warming. In saying that, it doesn’t mean that it is ‘game over’. It’s the difference between whether or not it’s disastrous or whether or not it’s catastrophic.
“The leaked International Panel on Climate Change information shows that if we were to follow all of the commitments that are currently on the table, we would be locked into a 3⁰C warmer world. That’s not a liveable scenario for the vast majority of people — in Australia, nor communities to the north and around the Equator.
“We have a really complex situation. We have to maintain some level of hope that, I think, comes through building solidarity and understanding how powerful we really are.
“It’s not a foregone conclusion what happens after fossil capitalism … We have to build movements that are strong enough to intervene in the changes that are coming.
“There are literally millions of people in the Global South who are already struggling, already fighting and are waiting … for the Global North to catch up and to start acting with a degree of coordination that means we might actually get out of this being an absolute catastrophe.”
The other key ingredient is for working people to lead the transition in production and consumption. “In Britain, we know what happens when workers are not in control of transitioning economies.
“The miners’ strike of the 1980s is a classic example of when governments and industry control the decommissioning of industries. Across the north of England we saw the impact: the abandonment and neglect of working-class communities who were thrown on the scrap heap.
“We need a worker-led transition and, quite frankly, we can start doing that now. We don’t have to wait for governments, because it’s us that take the fossil fuels out of the ground. It’s us that manufactures them, and it’s us that transports them around the world.
“The working class can, literally, produce the change that we need very quickly.
“The [Australian] Builders Labourers Federation of the 1970s … understood very clearly that working-class people have an immense amount of power to create change, outside of their wages and conditions. It’s that kind of confidence, clarity, ability and willingness to act that we need in Australia and across the Global North.”
Barbagallo was scathing about various geo-engineering “solutions” being peddled by advanced capitalist governments, including nuclear energy or “asteroid mining”. They are not going to solve the climate crisis, she said, adding humanity needs to heal the rift with nature.
“Our relationship with the ‘more than human’ world has to be transformed and we have to stop thinking of ourselves as separate from the world in which we live and are dependent on.
“Learning from Indigenous communities and thinking about how we are custodians of it offers a much brighter future than some kind of green capitalist dystopian world.
“It means that we have a relationship with the food that we … eat and produce. It means we have a relationship to our energy production. It means that we don’t just think that there’s an unlimited, unbounded amount of resources for us to plunder and exploit. It means we have to reimagine what progress means.
“That’s the exciting part,” Barbagallo concluded. “That’s where revolutionary ideas come from.”