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Rich Countries Bring “Tough Talk on Climate” to COP26 But No New Plans or Money to Curb Global Emissions

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As U.S. President Joe Biden and other world leaders gather amid massive protests in Glasgow for COP26, the U.N. Climate Change Conference, we look at the growing pressure on countries to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius and avert the most damaging effects of the climate crisis. Leaders of the G20, representing the 20 wealthiest nations, gathered ahead of COP26 and pledged to do more to curb emissions but offered few specifics on reaching that goal, despite representing the countries responsible for about 80% of greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere. “What we’re seeing here is lots of tough talk on climate, but lack of plans, lack of policies and refusal to put money on the table,” says Asad Rehman, executive director of War on Want and lead spokesperson for the COP26 Coalition. Rehman also gives an overview of the demands from protesters, and plans for the next two weeks.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Glasgow, Scotland. President Biden and 120 other world leaders are gathering in Glasgow for the start of the U.N. climate summit. The head of the summit, Alok Sharma, said this marks, quote, “our last best hope” to address the climate emergency and to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Sharma spoke Sunday as the summit began.

ALOK SHARMA: The IPCC report in August was a wake-up call for all of us. It made clear that the lights are flashing red on the climate dashboard. That report, agreed by 195 governments, makes clear that human activity is unequivocally the cause of global warming.

AMY GOODMAN: Leaders of the Group of 20 wealthiest nations, which together are responsible for 80% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, met in Rome ahead of the COP26 climate summit. The G20 leaders pledged to try to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius bit did not offer specifics on how to achieve that goal. A recent U.N. Emissions Gap Report showed current contributions and commitments by nations to reduce emissions are not nearly enough to avert a planetary catastrophe.

Some 30,000 people are expected to take part in the two-week summit, but many warn Glasgow will be the whitest and most privileged climate summit ever, with thousands from the Global South unable to attend because of lack of access to COVID vaccines and visa issues. Climate activists are planning two weeks of actions, including a major rally on Saturday.

In London, climate activists, including Greta Thunberg, rallied outside the offices of Standard Chartered Bank on Friday to protest financial institutions funding fossil fuel extraction. This is Filipino climate activist Mitzi Jonelle Tan.

MITZI JONELLE TAN: The Philippines is one of the most climate vulnerable countries in the world to the climate crisis, and Standard Chartered Bank is fueling most of that destruction in our country. They are the biggest international bank that is funding the most fossil fuel companies in my country, the Philippines, which is ravaged by typhoons year after year. They’ve brought destruction to our doorstep, so we’re here at their doorstep to demand for justice and to demand them to defund the climate chaos.

AMY GOODMAN: For the next two weeks we’ll bring you comprehensive coverage of what’s happening in Glasgow, as we have for every U.N. climate summit since Copenhagen in 2009, featuring voices inside the COP — that’s the Conference of Parties — climate activists protesting outside, and advocates from the Global South, who couldn’t travel to Scotland during the pandemic. Think of this as your global climate kitchen table, where we all gather around and discuss these critical issues.

We begin our coverage by going inside the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow to speak with Asad Rehman. He’s the executive director of War on Want and lead spokesperson for the COP26 Coalition, which is hosting a counter-summit next week in Glasgow.

It’s great to have you with us, Asad. Can you start off by setting the scene for us? In just a few minutes, right after the broadcast of Democracy Now!, President Biden will be addressing the global summit. The opening is happening as we speak right now. Lay out what the COP26 is all about and what you want to see come out of it, not to mention what happened with the G20.

ASAD REHMAN: So, this climate summit has been billed the 1.5 degree climate summit. And as we’ve heard, the window is closing on that target, which, if we breach, will spiral us into catastrophic climate change. But the reality is, is world leaders, particularly the richest countries, are coming with such weak pledges that this might as well be called the 3 degree summit.

Not only are they not bringing the ambitious and fair share reductions that are needed to meet that target, but we’ve still — and you were there in Copenhagen over a decade ago, when Hillary Clinton made the promise on behalf of rich countries that poorer countries would have support $100 billion each and every year by 2020. They’re coming to this table with basically one-fifth of that on the table. Of that, 80% is in debt-creating loans. They’re moving the goalposts on finance. They’re refusing to accept liability for the impacts of their pollution on the rest of the world. And, you know, what we’re seeing here is lots of tough talk on climate, but lack of plans, lack of policies and refusal to put money on the table.

So this is a very, very hugely disappointing climate negotiations, and especially now with many of the Global South locked out of this negations in the first place, because we’ve seen how rich countries have responded to the global pandemic. And there’s a lot of mistrust here. And I’ve been speaking to negotiators from many developing countries who are saying, “Look, if rich countries won’t even allow us to access and share the COVID vaccine, when 10 million people have lost their lives around the world and hundreds of millions of people have been infected, when we’ve been spiraling into debt and they won’t even take [inaudible] crisis, which is overwhelming us, how would we to trust them that they will take action on climate change?”

What we’re seeing here is really a lot of effort by the richest countries to want to carry on polluting. The U.K. and the U.S. is coming here expanding its fossil fuels. Here in — we’re in Scotland. The U.K. has announced a massive expansion of North Sea oil and gas. It’s got about another 36 projects in the pipeline. Those will triple the U.K. emissions. And similar story with the United States. It’s very much a case of rich countries saying, “Don’t do as I am doing. Do as I say,” and trying to put the responsibility onto poorer countries to solve a crisis obviously they didn’t cause, but that they’re overwhelmingly being affected by.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what the COP26 Coalition is, that you are heading?

ASAD REHMAN: So, the COP26 Coalition has been the broadest and most widespread coalition that’s ever come together here in the U.K. It’s brought together labor unions and faith organizations, from Black Lives Matter to climate strikers, yes, and the environmental and climate justice organizations. But what it’s trying to do is build a movement of movements, to recognize that the climate crisis is not simply an environmental crisis, it’s an economic, social and racial and gender crisis, as well.

We know that the solutions to each of these crises are the same solutions, that we need to transform our energy and food systems away from systems based on exploitation and profit towards equitably sharing them. We need living wages and social protection, public services. We need to center the realities of the Global South in the urgency and the ambition. And this movement has been building for the last two years, really calling for a climate justice response, both here in the negotiations but outside.

And as your report mentioned, on November 6th, there’s a global day of action with tens — with literally millions of people marching all over the world very much with the same message: The era of injustice is over; we are calling not just on our leaders to act, but we want action that delivers justice. And there will be countless protests taking place here in the U.K. and a massive one in Glasgow, but also similar protests in every corner of the world.

Look, this fight around the climate crisis is not going to be won or lost here in this one summit. We’ve heard this before. As you said, in Copenhagen over a decade ago, we were told that was the most important COP. We’re now told that this is the most important COP. We know that this transformation that needs to take place around the world is urgent. We know change is coming. The only now fight is: What kind of change will it be? Who will pay the heaviest price? And will it actually deliver justice? And that’s a fight that goes beyond this climate summit. It goes back to our local communities, into our workplaces, into our national contexts, but it needs to be connected and united in a much broader transition, so we have a justice transition for everybody who’s being impacted and affected.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to the Ugandan climate justice activist Vanessa Nakate, who spoke recently to Time magazine.

VANESSA NAKATE: This is a country that has one of the fastest-changing climates in the world. Because of the rising global temperatures, the weather patterns keep changing. And my country, Uganda, heavily depends on agriculture for survival for many communities, especially those in the rural areas, so it means a lack of rain means hunger, starvation and death for very many people. And extreme rainfall also means destruction. It means hunger. It means starvation and leaving many people homeless.

Historically, Africa is responsible for only 3% of global emissions, and yet some Africans are already suffering some of the worst and brutal impacts of climate change. So, what we really want is a future that is healthy, that is sustainable, that is clean, that is livable and equitable for all of us.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Vanessa Nakate of Uganda. Her book, A Bigger Picture: My Fight to Bring a New African Voice to the Climate Crisis, is being published in the United States tomorrow, and she is the cover of Time magazine, which is called “The Activist: Uganda’s Vanessa Nakate Dreams of a Green New Deal for Everyone.” If you could talk about what that means? And earlier you mentioned, Asad, the issue of people not getting in. Can you talk about the visa process and how difficult it is from the Global South? We’ll be talking with — we’ll be talking in just a few minutes — we’re going to be going to Mozambique and talk more about this.

ASAD REHMAN: So, I think this is one — will go down as one of the poorest-planned climate summits. It’s been a summit that global civil society called for it to be postponed because we’re in the midst of a health pandemic. We’ve seen the U.K. government, as the host, literally pay very, very little attention to the realities of people in the Global South. We’ve seen many people unable to attend because, of course, the pandemic, be able to navigate their way through a hostile environment, immigration system here in the U.K. And it’s been left to civil society, to the COP26 Coalition, to intervene to try and bring people over, to help meet the extortionate costs of now attending here in Glasgow, from price gouging on accommodation to quarantine hotels, that were paid for and weren’t paid for. I mean, literally, the U.K. government has moved the goalposts every single day. And if you saw the pictures outside of the summit this morning, it’s absolutely chaotic, with people queuing for hours and hours to get into this summit. It’s been poorly planned. There’s been very, very little political leadership from the U.K. government.

And what the U.K. government has brought to the table actually is a response to the climate crisis which actually fuels the climate crisis. A few days before even this summit began, the U.K. government announced its own budget plans, and those budget plans included a massive expansion of aviation, a massive expansion of public subsidies to fossil fuel industries, more road building, when we actually needed the investments both in the U.K. and, as a country which has cut its own aid budget earlier this year, desperately the finance that is needed for the Global South, as Vanessa said, so we can actually have a global Green New Deal, one that goes beyond our nation-states, that isn’t built on the same logic of extraction and exploitation, of rich countries onto the poorer countries.

It’s all possible. And that’s the voice of movements outside, the ones that have been locked out and those of us from climate justice organizations who are in the inside. We are the ones who are going to be turning the dial. It’s now up to people. It’s people power, is the only solution that’s left. We’ve been here for 26 different climate summits. We know government leaders are still dragging their feet, because filling these halls are not people from the Global South. Filling these halls are corporate lobbyists, are big business still peddling sort of fictitious solutions like carbon capture and storage or unproven and risky technologies to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Their message is carry on polluting, and at some time in the future we’ll work out the solution. The reality is millions of people are already dying, the food systems being impacted. We’ve seen sea level rises. We’ve seen people being displaced. We can’t bank on the business as usual. We need a massive transition. We need a huge change in the way that we approach this. And it can be a better, fairer and more equal world for everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Asad Rehman, and then we head to Mozambique, outside, but as we broadcast, we are showing live images. President Biden just came in; your prime minister, Boris Johnson. Prince Charles is also there. What is your message for them and those who aren’t there, like China and Russia?

ASAD REHMAN: Look, simply by world leaders turning up is not going to solve the climate crisis. What matters is their actions and their policies. What we’ve seen in the United States, of course, following the Trump administration, it’s rejoined the Paris Agreement. But it’s brought to the table here an increase in its finance pledges, from three days of military spending to six days of military spending. It’s licensing at home a massive expansion of fossil fuels. It’s refusing to actually say, “We need to shift away from our fossil fuel addiction.” Yes, these are small steps. But the reality is, winning slowly on climate is the same as losing.

We need much bolder, more ambitious positions and plans and policies. And that’s what matters when these leaders come here, not the photo opportunity, not the claiming of the climate leadership mantle. And that’s what we’ve seen with President Biden, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Really, the only moral call that’s coming here is from the pope and from the U.N. secretary-general, who, time and time again, have called out this lack of action, have called out this lack of — of just empty promises, and are urgently saying, “We have to respond. The lives of millions and billions of people are going to be impacted. And what we’ve got on the table here is far from what we need.”

AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman, we want to thank you for being with us, executive director of War on Want, lead spokesperson for the COP26 Coalition, standing inside the COP26, the U.N. climate summit.

Next up, we’re going to Mozambique to speak with a longtime climate campaigner, Dipti Bhatnagar, who had to stay home. We’ll talk about this whitest and most privileged climate summit yet. Stay with us.

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Many Voices from Global South Shut Out of U.N. Climate Summit as Vaccine Apartheid Limits Travel to U.K.

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