COP26 Impressions

Awel Aman Tawe’s Eira McCallum travelled up to COP26, here she shares her experiences and what inspired her as a young person.

Published: 01.09.2023 ( 10 months ago )

Awel Aman Tawe’s Eira McCallum travelled up to COP26, here she shares her experiences and what inspired her as a young person.

‘The people that are paying the first and most brutal price for the greed, the exploitation, the domination of a handful of powerful nations, are the ones that contributed least to it and that is why we say there is climate injustice and that is why we need climate justice.’ - Kumi Naidoo

I went up to Glasgow for the two weeks of COP 26, I didn’t go to the official events, instead I went to the fringe events that were happening around the city. And because of these events, I had the privilege of hearing the voices of young activists and people from all over the world. Many of the informative and empowering discussions that I experienced were held at ‘Extreme Hangout’, recordings of which are now available for free online here.

The panel discussion ‘Young people adapting their lifestyle to build a more sustainable future’ included Charles Baldaia from Brazil and Emma De Saram from the UK. They talked about consumerism and how we can make a difference through our purchases. If we stopped buying from unethical companies, they would have to change to be more ethical. This is our power as a buyer, but we have to be aware that the companies might instead do some greenwashing; branding, to appear to be environmentally and socially ethical and sustainable - but still reap havoc on the environment and maintain poor working conditions. It is up to us to be attentive to greenwashing, to research into the ethics of the companies we buy from, and to boycott those which are destroying the planet. Emma De Saram raised a key point: it is very important while we become aware of these issues, to have a ‘just transition’. As we transition to more sustainable sources- which tends to be local sources, we have to bring people with us, and not leave them behind. Workers and consumers need to work together for a sustainable future, which comes from workers leading the way, and making the decisions that will determine their future. Charles Baldaia talked about a time when an NGO (Non-Government Organisation) came into his community, a Brazilian favela, to help them. But they didn’t include the people in the conversation of how to help them. Which meant they tackled the wrong issue. The NGO was teaching them how to recycle, and gave them different bins to separate the rubbish, but when the rubbish collectors came, it was all thrown into the same bin. If the NGO’s had talked to the people and asked what the issues are, they would say that they do not have the means to recycle in the first place, and that is where to start. He feels like it’s the same in the food and fashion industry, the consumers are taking the lead of the movement, but not talking to the workers. We need to work together to make effective changes. On a different panel, Marinel Obaldo, an activist and survivor from the typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, spoke about the white saviour complex, the idea that those from the global North feel the need to save those from the global South, rather than listen to, support and be in partnership with.

It is horrible coming to the realisation that our ecosystem is struggling, people are dying, and we need to change - for those who are suffering now, and for our grandchildren who will be suffering in the future. But we aren’t alone. Sometimes it feels like we need to come up with the solutions ourselves- so many people have asked me, ‘now you’ve been at COP, tell me what we should do?’ I don’t really know, except- to join in the discussion, to realise, like I have, how many people are in the fight. To listen to and learn from those who weren’t invited to talk at the official COP spaces but were invited to spaces like the Extreme Hangout and COP26 Coalition. There are many great minds who can figure out what needs to happen to achieve climate justice and build a sustainable future, and we need to make those people feel welcome, to support them into the spaces where decisions are made. Because the people who are truly tackling climate change wholeheartedly are those who it’s already effecting, and those who it will be affecting in their lifetime. The people who are currently in power are benefiting from the destructive system we live in. They will not fight to stop climate change, because it’s not in their interest.

Many people across multiple panels talked about how it should be people from the countries that are being affected who should be given the microphones. They spoke about how in COP26 there wasn’t true representation of people from all over the world. In many cases countries weren’t able to send representatives because of the cost, and therefore their countries were unspoken for. In some of the cases where there were representatives from these countries, they were allowed to talk briefly and be a part of photos but not brought into decision making spaces. Young people and people of colour spoke on the panels at the Extreme Hangout about how they felt they had often been included as a ‘token’ person of colour or a ‘token’ youth. A politician would take a photograph with them to make it seem like they were working together, but in reality, not including them in decision making spaces.

Charles Baldaia is working with the organisation United for Climate Action (U4CA), they raised money to get 17 people from marginalised communities inside COP26, plus translators for those who can’t speak English. During COP26 the Columbian president lied about how climate activists are treated in Columbia. One of the 17 brought in by U4CA, an activist from Columbia knew that his president was lying. He told Charles how frustrated he was that he did not have the power to say to him and everyone that he was lying. Then on the fourth or fifth day of COP26 he managed to get face to face to his president, surrounded by the press, pointed at his face and told him that he’d been lying. Charles says that this, was amazing. He saw the video, and ‘I was like, ‘I got his badge’, it was awesome. That is the power of our being here, if we did not have him (the Columbian activist) inside of COP26, this leader would just go away with his lie. Because we are here, we have the power to say to his face that he is lying.’

There is a network of people fighting climate change all over the world, in different ways. My parents have spent at least my lifetime working to tackle the climate crisis, so I felt like it was their fight, they were taking care of it for the younger generation. But truly my parents are one in a million.

I met Hannah and Guerrero, activists from Hamburg in Germany. They are around my age, 23, they are the first young activists I’ve ever met. They introduced me to a space that I want to be in, and a way to fight that suits me; a disused warehouse with art everywhere, food, conversation, and music. We work differently and will tackle climate change differently, and you can find your place by listening to what is already out there. You could start by watching even just one of the videos I mentioned at the Extreme Hangout, or taking a look at Friends of the Earth, YMCA, Green New Deal Rising, United for Climate Action or 2041 Foundation. Don’t join everything, but join something somewhere, you can’t solve climate change, but we can.

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