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Friday, December 3, 2021

COP26 climate deal: ‘It won’t save us from drowning’


The climate deal struck in Glasgow plans to reduce the world’s reliance on coal and promises more money to help poorer countries cope with the impacts of a warming planet.

Campaigners on the frontline of climate change have been speaking to the BBC what that means for them.

Largely pessimistic about the outcome of the summit, they passionately explained their fears that political agreements aren’t enough to save their homes and cultures.

Pacific Islands: ‘It won’t save us from drowning’

Elizabeth Kité is a youth leader in Tonga’s Nuku’alofa. According to her, the agreement does not go far enough to save her home in the Pacific islands from drowning. Their island’s survival is at stake.

She describes the summit as a platform for large countries to “flex how much they can pay small nations.” She wished to hear developed countries accept responsibility for historic greenhouse gas emissions. “But they act as if promising money is a favour for us, which it isn’t,” she says.

She broke down in tears as she described how proud she was to see Pacific Island negotiators fight so hard at the summit. Tuvalu’s Foreign Minister, Simon Kofe, held a press conference standing in the sea last week to highlight rising sea levels.

Elizabeth Kité doesn’t think the deal goes far enough to help countries like hers

“We are a friendly and peaceful group of people. It’s unnatural for us to come out so strong – and I’m disappointed that the deal doesn’t reflect how hard we worked “She elaborates.

She is dissatisfied with what she perceives as a lack of urgency and immediate action: “It’s as if rich countries are saying, ‘Yes, we’ll let the islands die off and figure something out along the way.'”

She does, however, see signs of progress. It is the first time that the words “fossil fuel” and “coal” have appeared in the texts. She also believes that the agreement to discuss separate funding for loss and damage – money to help countries pay for the damage caused by climate change that they are unable to adapt to – is a step in the right direction.

Bangladesh: ‘Youth finally got a voice’

Sohanur Rahman, 25, is a founder of the Friday for Future movement in Bangladesh. He guides young people as they grow up in a low-lying country that is extremely vulnerable to climate change and is already experiencing dire consequences.

As the agreement was announced, he stated that for the first time at COP, youth were recognised. However, he came to the conclusion that “the end result is nothing.”

He was in Glasgow for two weeks and hoped to bring good news to the hardest-hit communities. He is leaving, however, with feelings of helplessness and betrayal.

“These empty pledges will not protect our people from crisis,” he explains.

He welcomes the news on loss and damage, but he says the voices of the most affected people were silenced. He blames the fossil fuel industry representatives at the summit.

Children in Bangladesh will still be forced out of education and communities will be displaced by rising sea levels, he fears.

Uganda: ‘No change for my community’

In Uganda, Edwin Mumbere lives in the shadow of the Rwenzori mountains, where glacial melt and flooding are threatening rural communities. When he saw the snow disappearing from the high ground, he became an activist at the age of 29.

As a pipeline is built nearby, he works with communities to bring solar power to the area and educates them about their rights.

He considers the Glasgow agreement to be disappointing for Uganda and believes it will make little difference to the 100,000 people in his communities.

“Despite our proving to them that climate change is real,” he says, “real solutions have not been put in place.”

The lack of urgency in reducing greenhouse gas emissions is his main concern. He sees new oil and gas exploration in Uganda and other parts of Africa and claims that the Glasgow agreement will not prevent this.

“Pledges to give money are made, while the same countries invest in projects that significantly increase carbon emissions – it’s truly a double standard,” he says.

Philippines: ‘We will keep fighting’

Jon Bonifacio, 23, studied biology before becoming a Metro Manila, Philippines, activist. “It’s a lot of ‘one step forward, two steps back,'” he said of the transaction.

With 197 countries represented at the UN summit, compromise between countries with vastly different priorities is the only way to reach an agreement. However, he claims that this compromise is “completely unjust” to countries on the front lines of climate change. “We will continue to feel the acute and long-term effects of the climate crisis,” he says.

He is sceptical of the language used in the text about coal and fossil fuels because he believes it gives the biggest polluters a way out.

He, like many other activists who have long advocated for increased aid to developing countries, believes the promise to increase aid to poorer countries is a step in the right direction.

He plans to return to Manila to continue fighting for change: “Even if it was a perfect agreement, it’s still up to citizens and activists to pressure their governments into action,” he says.

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