Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Climate Summits Won’t Save Us: We Need to Protest COP26

For the past three decades a select group of world leaders, scientists and environmental NGOs have regularly met at such international gatherings. Yet despite all the discussions global emissions have continued their relentless rise.

Xavier Dupé

October 7, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share
Activists protesting outside IFEMA, where UN Climate Change Conference COP25 is being held on Dec. 13, 2019.
Photo: Marcos del Mazo/ Getty Images

Originally Published in Red Flag


What might Greta Thunberg say about the upcoming United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP26) summit being held in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November? Probably—if the recent speech she gave at the UN Youth4Climate conference in Italy is anything to go by—it would be something like: “blah, blah, blah”. “They’ve now had 30 years”, she said, “of blah, blah, blah. And where has that led us? Over 50 percent of all our CO2 emissions have occurred since 1990, and a third since 2005.”

For the past three decades a select group of world leaders, scientists and environmental NGOs have regularly met at such international gatherings. Yet despite all the discussions global emissions have continued their relentless rise.

The history of UN climate conferences isn’t really one of failure. These summits were always as much about greenwashing the status-quo as anything else—providing a way for the people who created the climate crisis to present themselves as being part of the solution. In this, unfortunately, they’ve been very successful. Political leaders have learnt how far a bit of green-sounding rhetoric will go. And they know they can rely on the mainstream media to faithfully report, as Thunberg noted in her speech, “on what leaders say they’re going to do, instead of what they’re actually doing”.

The annual Conference of the Parties was started in 1992 under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. The main achievements of these UN sponsored climate talks have been the Kyoto Protocol, which was adopted in 1997 and went into force in 2005, and the 2015 Paris Agreement. The goals of the Kyoto Protocol were modest, to say the least. For many developed countries, it didn’t require any emissions cuts at all until at least 2013, and the world’s biggest emitter at the time, the United States, never ratified it.

The Paris Agreement looks more impressive on paper. It set the goal of limiting global heating to 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius, and to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. But it allowed countries to set their own targets, with the predictable results. Australia’s 2030 target, for instance, is a 26-28 percent reduction in emissions from 2005 levels. And that’s taking into account the highly dubious use of “land use change” (which measures emissions from changes in the rate of deforestation, as well as reforestation where that occurs), which accounts for almost all of the Australian government’s claimed emissions reductions since 2005.

The Agreement hasn’t yet resulted in any actual drop in global emissions. Between 2005 and 2019, global carbon emissions increased from 29.42 billion tonnes to 36.45 billion tonnes, a rise of 24 percent. And according to the UN’s own forecast, based on existing commitments made under the Agreement, global emissions will still be 16 percent above 2010 levels by 2030. To have a good chance of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees, scientists think, we need a cut of at least 45 percent in global emissions by then. Our current trajectory puts us on course for a much greater temperature rise.

It was clear from the start that the Paris Agreement wouldn’t live up to the initial hype. In place of the kind of radical, transformative change we need to avoid climate catastrophe the commitments made under the Agreement merely provide the appearance of action. COP26 will, according to the summit website, “bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change”. But this isn’t anything much to boast about when the goals themselves are so utterly inadequate to the task at hand.

It’s futile to place our hopes in yet more international talk-shops like we’re going to see at COP26 in Glasgow. As Thunberg suggests, instead of focusing on the green rhetoric and long-term targets, we should be focusing on what global leaders are doing in the here and now. On that level, it’s clear: not only are major global emitters like the US and Australia failing to meet their obligations, they’re not even trying.

The Australian government has its sights set on the indefinite prolongation of the country’s current coal and gas boom. A recent study in Nature found 95 percent of Australia’s coal reserves must remain in the ground if we’re to meet our obligations under the Paris Agreement. Yet everything the government is doing points in the other direction—from its determined support for the opening-up of the giant Galilee Basin coal reserves in northern Queensland, to its recent approval of three new coal projects in the space of a month.

It’s possible that international pressure will lead, at some point, to Scott Morrison adopting the (effectively meaningless) target of “net zero by 2050”. But that won’t change the facts on the ground. And the same is true of US President Joe Biden. Much has been made of his supposed green credentials. But in practice since his election it has been business as usual for the US fossil fuel industry.

If we allow ourselves to be sucked-in by the media hype surrounding COP26, then we’re inviting another decade, or more, of inaction. Instead, we need to protest. As Thunberg put it, “We can no longer let the people in power decide what is politically possible or not. We can no longer let the people in power decide what hope is. Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.”

In Australia we will have a chance to generate some of that hope for ourselves, when we join others around the world in taking to the streets on Saturday 6 November for a global day of action for climate justice. The protests here are being organised by Uni Students for Climate Justice. I urge you to join us, because no one is coming to save us except us.

Facebook Twitter Share

Guest Posts

National Guard Seeks to Double Size of its Largest Training Site

The National Guard is proposing to more than double its Camp Grayling training site in Michigan. The super polluter seeks to deepen its ties with private contractors and develop tools of surveillance and punishment.

Joe Garofalo

January 24, 2023

Class Independence and the Broad Parties: A Response to Left Voice

As part of ongoing debates on the Left about building independent political parties, we are publishing the following response to Nathaniel Flakin by Andrew Sernatinger of Tempest.

Andrew Sernatinger

December 31, 2022
Martha Menefield sitting on her couch

Who Do the Cops Protect? 82-Year-Old Alabama Woman Arrested for Overdue Trash Bill

Neighbors expressed outrage at local Alabama police for arresting an 82-year-old Black woman for not paying her trash collection bill. The police chief, mayor, and local court system continue to say it was justified.

Daniel Werst

December 23, 2022

No U.S./NATO Arms to Ukraine!

As part of the ongoing debates among socialists on the war in Ukraine, we publish this statement by the Revolutionary Socialist Organizing Project, Denver Communists, and Seattle Revolutionary Socialists.


A horizontal testing scantron with almost all of the bubbles filled in

The Changes to AP African American Studies Are “Absolutely Political”: A Former College Board Worker Speaks Out

A former College Board worker explains how the company's "apolitical" pedagogical approaches privilege right wing ideas, even as the right wing accuses them of spreading "wokeism."

Jess DuBois

February 4, 2023

The Strike Is Our Most Powerful Weapon, We Need to Use It against the Police!

Workers have the opportunity and ability to shut down the system. This is why Democrats, Republicans, and even the Squad broke the strike of the railroad workers. If we use our workplaces as organizing tools against racism and police murder, we can build the power to take control and shut them down! 

Julia Wallace

February 3, 2023

Dispatches from the Picket Lines: All Out for the Temple Graduate Workers Strike

A Temple faculty member reports.

Jason Koslowski

February 3, 2023

Massive Looting of Public Resources at Stake in District Detroit Redevelopment Scheme

Billionaire developers in Detroit have proposed capturing almost one billion dollars in public money to fund their newest project. The deal is far from sealed, but organized community opposition will be necessary to prevent approvals from sailing through.

Rita Singer

February 3, 2023