The people shut out of COP must still be heard

The people shut out of COP must still be heard

  • Text by DESCO
‘Solidarity is not a slogan‘ — As COP26 approaches, Ramiro and Jaime from Peruvian NGO, DESCO, explain why they will not be attending the UN climate conference, the commitment required from world leaders, and how they continue to take action.

Ever since we were first established 56 years ago, DESCO has promoted social development, working with grassroots organisations, political and state bodies. In the urban team in Lima, Peru, we have been working on disaster risk management and climate change for over a decade, strengthening local leadership – mainly in those areas of the city that lack basic services – raising awareness and influencing public policy on the environmental problems such as air pollution, water pollution, soil erosion and pollution, and deforestation that affect many families in Lima.

Because of the ongoing pandemic, we’re sadly unable to attend this year’s COP. Whether it’s a dire lack of vaccine access across Latin America, Peru being on the UK government’s red list or astronomically high travel costs – we’ve found ourselves shut out of the process. But this is only a small part of our lack of involvement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) processes. 

We have a long history of grassroots activism against climate change, working hand in hand with communities that have been dealing with impacts of the climate crisis for years now. Our voices are desperately underrepresented at COP. We already have the solutions to fighting the climate crisis, but too often world leaders would rather ignore our expertise and lived experience to debate solutions instead on the world stage which hardly ever results in concrete action that improves the lives of communities like ours. 

We’ve participated in previous COPs and are already quite critical of its processes. Events can be closed and the people most affected by climate change, and everything that the climate crisis implies, are not, in general, on the inside of negotiations. Government officials do attend as our elected representatives, but they often only represent corporate and private interests. 

Our priority for any negotiations at the COP is always that developed countries’ existing commitments are met. Too often, commitments are made and then slowly reneged on years later, letting communities down. At the UN climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark in 2009, all developed countries agreed to provide US$100 billion in public and private finance each year by 2020 and through to 2025 to help developing nations tackle climate change. It’s been made clear in recent months that this deal is now dead in the water. Financial commitments are critical to any attempt to fight the climate crisis. This kind of abandonment from the richest nations in the world is an insult to the suffering that low-income and developing countries are going through, whilst the West pushes on with investments in fossil fuels and the deforestation of our remaining rainforests

Sadly, there is already a feeling of abject hopelessness regarding the COP process itself. There are always so many agreements but such little compliance with no consequences. Industrialised countries have produced the vast majority of the world’s CO2 emissions, yet it is our countries that are the ones that are most affected. That’s why we are emphasising the concept of climate justice. We are not asking for a favour, we are asking for justice. 

What happens in Glasgow will have consequences for everyone. There must be concrete measures that the United Nations and governments can begin to apply practically. We have to see strategies and much greater coordination for action at a community level, such as reforestation in urban areas, or technological innovation to sustainably manage water resources in those communities. This is local-led sustainable development, and it can happen with the right funding – we don’t need consultants to come to our communities and tell us what we need to do to fight climate change. We need the existing barriers removed that leave us incapable of financing our own grassroots solutions. 

The amount of money the developing world receives in aid simply pales in comparison to the amount it ships out in global debt repayments to the already wealthy West, rich from its continued neo-colonial exploits of low-income countries. Sudan, for example, owes Britain nearly £900m, 80 per cent of which was accrued through interest, meanwhile the country will receive £44m in British aid this year – who is aiding who in this relationship?

On top of this, tax havens are estimated to cost low-income countries $200bn each year. But the combined amount of aid, which is also expected to help tackle climate change, given by all wealthy nations in 2019 was $153bn

The UK government, as hosts of this year’s COP, has cut their foreign aid spending from 0.7 per cent to just 0.5 per cent – widening that equality gap to unfathomable proportions. Too often, negotiations at COP are presented as if the World’s nations are on an equal playing field – but the reality couldn’t be further than the truth. 

The industrialisation of low-income countries such as Peru often means that entire communities rely on the investment and employment fossil fuel industries bring. Without proper investment and the fulfilment of financial commitments by wealthier nations, it places communities across the world in a catch 22 – having to choose between having food on the table and fighting devastating and deadly climate change. It’s why the idea of climate justice, with a just transition away from fossil fuels at its heart, is vital to any efforts to decarbonise our economy. 

Although we can’t travel in person to the COP it is important to ensure we are still involved as the voice of the people, in this case of people and families who are impoverished by the economic model we have. Our voices must be heard by the world’s leaders, directly, not through intermediaries, and our concerns be incorporated into global debates. We are not talking about ‘problems’: we are talking about suffering, living on a few litres of water a day, having to ration to survive. This suffering is already being experienced on the fringes of cities and has been exacerbated by the pandemic. 

We shall be participating virtually in the People’s Summit (7-10 November) alongside the main COP, where we are organising an event on climate justice and the basic human right to adequate housing – we need them to stop being a slogan for these events. And we encourage everyone to get involved in the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on 6 November, whether in cities, in groups, or with your family or friends. 

We must see meaningful change delivered at this year’s COP. At DESCO, we will work to build local and global relationships and strategies and to learn from each other – but we call on world leaders to at least commit to do the same. 

Our basic premise is that together we will be stronger. For us, solidarity is not a slogan, it is something that has always been a principle for grassroots organisations, NGOs and social movements. Arguing separately is not going to get us anywhere. The time to act is now.

COP26 takes place between 31 October – 12 November 2021. Keep an eye out for Huck’s live coverage of COP on our Twitter and Instagram

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