Without a doubt, the climate crisis is one of the most pressing global issues of our generation. Climate change is causing extreme weather events, putting a strain on resources and impacting livelihoods. To avoid the worst possible effects, the temperature of the planet must not increase by more than 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. However, we are currently on track to exceed 2.4C of warming by the end of the century. This will have, and already is having, a profound effect on the world’s most vulnerable communities.
It is almost universally agreed that climate change is an emergency, with a poll finding that 81% of Brits agree with this statement. Over the last two weeks, world leaders gathered in Glasgow for COP26 with the aim to agree plans to reach net zero by 2050. It is simply an opportunity for world leaders to swan around as heroes, with Greta Thunberg calling the event a “Global North greenwash festival.” In his press conference, Boris Johnson proclaimed that “we need to act now,” but his lack of action shows that COP26 is a PR stunt.
The contradictions started before the conference even began. World leaders arrived at the climate conference by private jet. Since most G20 leaders were previously in Rome, the BBC calculated that the carbon emissions associated with this journey is equivalent to 1.2 tonnes of emissions per passenger on a private jet compared to less than 0.25 of a tonne on a commercial flight. Outrageously, they even flew their cars in using cargo aircrafts. Given plans to reach net zero by 2050, this is hardly a positive example to set. It was particularly embarrassing that, as the host nation, our Prime Minister decided to arrive in a private plane with ‘United Kingdom’ and a union flag on the side. The blatant disregard of emissions is almost funny and puts into question the sincerity of Johnson’s commitment to the environment. How are we expected to believe our leaders pledge to take climate change seriously, when they do not even consider the implications of their actions?
Another world leader hiding behind a pro-climate public image was President Joe Biden. One of the first things Biden did as president was to re-join the Paris Accord. Did Biden just want to be seen as a green knight in shining armour? Having previously paused the leasing of offshore oil and gas reserves, Biden reopened areas for oil and gas exploration in August 2021 including 80 million acres of water in the Gulf of Mexico along with potentially hundreds of thousands more onshore. Biden also turned up at COP26 with a staggering 21 car motorcade. The cherry on top was the USA’s resistance to end the sale of polluting cars by 2035 and opting out of an agreement between 40 nations to phase out coal power. Biden talks a big climate game but I’m not buying it.
Why was Jeff Bezos given a platform? The Bezos Earth Fund pledged to spend $10bn to the fight against climate change, but this is a drop in the ocean in comparison to his $200bn net worth. He wouldn’t even notice the difference. I do not think that anyone arriving to a climate conference on a private jet having just flown a rocket to space deserves a hero’s welcome. Bezos claims to have learned the vulnerability of Earth when up in space, but most people would not have needed a rocket launch producing 300 tons of carbon dioxide to understand this. Given the carbon footprint of Amazon, you will not convince me that Jeff Bezos really cares. Not really.
Giving Bezos a platform took away the opportunity for other people to speak. Notably indigenous communities who routinely have their knowledge overlooked. Despite only making up about 6% of the global population, Indigenous people protect 80% of the biodiversity in the world. No other community is more connected to the environment or impacted by climate change, yet world leaders are not listening to them. Climate change threatens the way of life of indigenous communities in a way that Global North leaders will not be able to understand. They are paying for our mistakes and not giving them a platform is not allowing indigenous communities the opportunity to advocate for themselves.
While $1.7bn will be given to compensate indigenous people for protecting the environment, it is not clear what they are meant to do with it. This is exemplified by Chief Ninawa Inu Huni Kui of the Huni Kui People’s Federation of the Brazilian Amazon who said “Our vision is very different to those who make the decisions at COP. We have ancestral connections to the environment and Mother Earth. These are spiritual spaces that we would never negotiate or offset for money, but the working groups don’t represent the views of our communities or explain what these carbon markets actually mean.” The exclusion of traditional knowledge has a clear historical context. Ita Mendoza from Mexico’s Indigenous Futures Collective calls it for what it is – “a continuation of colonialism.”
Until actions match words, I will not genuinely believe that climate change is taken seriously. The likes of Boris Johnson, Joe Biden and Jeff Bezos want the reward without the effort. Ignoring the voices of the Indigenous will always prevent a solution. COP26 was just a PR stunt.
Rebecca Dawson is a third-year Geography student at the University of Leicester. She is vice captain at UOL Tennis and is interested in mental health, popular culture and current affairs.