“Never trust a COP” “You will come back more exhausted than you’ve ever been” “COPs are the materialisation of our failure as a society to address the climate crisis” “COP will break you down”
Six months ago, I applied to join the UK Youth Climate Coalition delegation to the annual UN climate talks, taking place in Marrakesh this year. The following months, the newly formed delegation met for weekly skype calls and monthly team weekends. We trained ourselves on the complexity of UN climate policies and negotiations, skilled up on communication and lobbying, learned to work together as a team and to look after each other, building up this UKYCC family I had heard so much about.
These few months went by in the blink of an eye, and there we were, in Marrakesh, ready to take on COP22. And it was all true – COP was one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had. It’s tiring, frustrating, revolting sometimes. But it’s also so much more.
I decided, during the two weeks I spent in the conference centre, to invest most of my time and energy outside the dark walls of negotiating rooms and plenaries. I met dozens of true climate warriors from all around the world, organised actions to highlight the urgency and scale of the climate crisis, discussed ways to move forward together as a climate justice movement in the face of our governments’ constant failure to take us away from the path of a world unfit for human life as we know it.
The paradox of COP
COP22 was meant to be the “COP of action”, and although we weren’t fooled by grand promises we’ve heard before, we followed progress made within the negotiating rooms closely. So what did happen at COP22?
Well, not much. While the urgency of the climate crisis becomes more evident every day, negotiations falter at the same usual stage. This was not a COP of action, this was a COP of broken promises.
We still fall well short of the $100 billion of climate finance promised in Copenhagen as developed countries have failed to commit proper money towards this goal. The Roadmap proudly presented by Australia and the UK, when analysed more closely, only provides a timid $18 to 34 billion, as countries use the usual tricks: double counting, loans, private money… We need new and additional money, we need to provide the finance needed for the Adaptation Fund to work, and we need funding for innovative projects such as the African Renewable Energy Initiative (AREI).
As the window for staying below 1.5 degrees global temperature rise is rapidly closing, governments wasted precious time at COP22 congratulating each other on ratifying the Paris Agreement, while the Doha amendments – which lay the groundwork for pre-2020 action – still haven’t entered into force. The pledges made in Paris, aside from their inadequacy in meeting the 1.5 degrees target, don’t start until 2020. But we cannot wait four years if we want to achieve this goal. We need developed countries to ratify the Doha amendments, commit to the second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, and do their fair share to achieve the 1.5 degrees target.
The issue of Loss and Damage is still making very slow progress, as the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) was being reviewed this year. One of the aspects of Loss and Damage that has caused growing concern among civil society is the issue of climate-induced displacement. Hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced every year because of the impacts of climate change and while Europe is already failing to cope with the current refugee crisis, one can only wonder how the international community will address up to 250 million people predicted to be displaced because climate change by 2050. But the urgency of the situation doesn’t seem to bother governments very much as the issue didn’t get much profile outside of civil society.
And these are just a glimpse at the scale of the inaction witnessed at COP22. But how can we expect more from international negotiations when the UK climate minister tells you he doesn’t believe fracking is a climate issue? When Trump is elected as the next President of the United States? When the COP president goes on for half an hour during the closing plenary about the flight he needs to catch?
Why do we bother?
Reflecting on all this, one can wonder: why bother? Why travelling all the way to COP and spend two weeks working 10 hours a day? And why even bother trying to fight for something that seems almost unachievable?
In my short experience in the climate movement, I have seen many campaigners and activists burn out, exhausted by a fight for something they believe in, but gets harder with every passing month. Challenges get more frequent, obstacles get bigger and victories are rare and fragile. The scale and urgency of the climate crisis doesn’t leave much space for those who fight against it to think about their wellbeing and take a breath once in a while. It is overwhelming.
But instead of suffocating me or bringing me down, the two weeks I spent at COP22 gave me a renewed energy and determination to fight for climate justice. COP is an opportunity to gather as a movement, share our struggles and our experiences and think about ways to move forward together. I felt inspired by all the people I met and the strong sense of solidarity that instantly develops when we share experiences of our local struggles. It is a bubble of inspiration and an amazing opportunity to learn from each other.
After two weeks at COP, I’m an ever stronger believer in people power and our ability to take on the huge challenge that climate change poses to our society. The world we live in is worrying and the future we’re looking at is scary, but I have so much faith in the climate justice movement and every single person that fights in it.