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Glasgow Pact Slammed for Betraying the Global Poor Who Suffer Most from the Climate Emergency

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The U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, Scotland, ended Saturday with over 190 nations agreeing to the Glasgow Climate Pact, which calls on governments to return next year in Egypt with stronger plans to curb their emissions and urges wealthy nations to provide more funds to vulnerable countries in the Global South. It also pushes countries to phase out fossil fuel subsidies and reduce the use of coal, but activists say the final language of the agreement is too weak to meaningfully reduce emissions and limit global heating to 1.5 degrees Celsius, which scientists say is needed in order to avoid the most catastrophic consequences of the climate crisis. “There has been no real progress,” says Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a youth climate justice activist from the Philippines. “Once again, the U.N. climate summit just prioritized the voices of the privileged and not those that are most affected by the climate crisis.” We also speak with Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, who says rich countries are scapegoating India and China for blocking stronger action on phasing out fossil fuels, while still growing their own oil and gas projects. “The real climate criminals are the wealthy countries,” says Wu.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Climate Countdown. The U.N. climate summit ended Saturday as close to 200 nations agreed to a watered-down deal to address the climate emergency. COP26 President Alok Sharma praised the deal as historic.

ALOK SHARMA: But I’m very pleased to say that we now have in place the Glasgow Climate Pact, agreed amongst all the parties here. … I would say, however, that this is a fragile win. And we have kept 1.5 alive. That was our overarching objective when we set off on this journey two years ago, taking on the role of the COP presidency-designate. But I would still say that the pulse of 1.5 is weak. And that’s why, whilst we have reached, I do believe, a historic agreement, what this will be judged on is not just the fact that countries have signed up, but it will be judged on whether they meet and deliver on the commitments.

AMY GOODMAN: Earlier drafts of the deal called for coal to be, quote, “phased out,” but in the final agreement nations agreed for it to be, quote, “phased down.” Countries also agreed to meet next year to make new pledges to cut carbon. Based on current pledges, global temperatures are on track to rise 2.4 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. The Glasgow Pact also calls on wealthy nations to double the amount of money it provides developing nations to help them adapt to the climate crisis that they largely did not cause.

While conference leaders describe the deal as a historic one, there was a sense of deep disappointment among many nations, scientists and activists over the final deal. Asad Rehman addressed the closing plenary on behalf of the COP26 Coalition, which had organized last weekend’s major climate justice rally in Glasgow.

ASAD REHMAN: I’m finding it difficult to convey our anger and frustration at this utter betrayal of people, hollow words about climate emergency from the richest countries, an utter disregard about — of the science and equity, false ambition and disdain for justice, a license to pollute with net zero 2050 and carbon markets. You have made decisions, as one party acknowledged, decisions about life and death for millions. Yet 500 years of colonial rule and white supremacy, looting the wealth of the Global South, and you still value your profits over the lives of Black, Brown and Indigenous people. The rich have refused to do their fair share. More empty words on climate finance. You’ve turned your backs on the poorest, who face a crisis of COVID, economic and climate apartheid, because of the actions of the richest.

It’s immoral for the rich to talk about their future children and grandchildren when the children of the Global South are dying now. We needed concrete solidarity and cooperation. The rich offered more empty words. You are not keeping 1.5 alive. You’re setting us on a pathway to two-and-a-half degrees. You’re setting the planet on fire and claiming to act. Your greenwashing kills, and no amount of spinning will mask that. But we are not without hope. It just will not rest with you, but with us. And we don’t compromise on justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Asad Rehman of the COP26 Coalition, speaking at the closing plenary of the U.N. climate summit Saturday.

We’re joined now by two guests. Brandon Wu is with us, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA, just wrote a piece headlined “Fossil Fuels in the COP Decision Text: Why the U.S., not India, is the problem.” And we’re joined by Mitzi Tan, a Filipina climate justice activist who was in Glasgow but is now in the Netherlands, headed back to the Philippines. She’s a spokesperson for Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines and an organizer of Fridays for Future.

Mitzi, let’s begin with you. Your response to this summit?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: Honestly, as Asad Rehman mentioned, this summit was betrayal. It is painful for me, knowing that the Philippines is such a vulnerable country for the climate crisis and that we know that we are hit year after year, month after month, with climate impacts, and all the world leaders are talking about are five to 10 years from now. All they’re doing is pointing fingers at the Global South countries, erasing the accountability that they have and the historical exploitation and ongoing exploitation of the Global North. There has been no real progress in terms of loss and damages and climate finance and adaptation, and also definitely not in terms of drastic carbon dioxide emission cuts, as we see that there is a strong focus on carbon offsetting, which is really just an excuse to keep business as usual, to keep polluting and to keep killing people today.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about who actually shaped this agreement? I mean, activists who could get to Glasgow, many say it was the whitest and most privileged summit, because you had, of course, vaccine apartheid, this in the midst of the pandemic. But who is this serving? And who is this condemning, in terms of condemning to catastrophe?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: It’s funny and ironic, actually, that on the COP26 website, they said they were aiming this to be the most inclusive COP ever, and I think this might have been the most exclusive one. Aside from having all those difficulties and obstacles to actually get to Glasgow, when we get there, COVID was used as an excuse to not let observers come into the important negotiations, yet the fossil fuel industry, the fossil fuel lobbyists, with over 500 delegates, which is more than any other country, was always welcome, was always given the platform, was always given space. And so you can really see that, once again, the U.N. climate summit just prioritized the voices of the privileged and not those that are most affected by the climate crisis.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this whole issue of coal, instead of “phasing out,” “phasing down.” You’re going back to the Philippines, your home. Can you talk about the role of the banks, for example, Standard Chartered Bank funding fossil fuel companies in the Philippines, and beyond, as you always have this global focus?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: I definitely think that all countries at this phase should be phasing out the fossil fuel industry. That doesn’t just stop at coal, but also oil and gas, which the U.S. and the U.K. conveniently took out of the text, while putting all the blame on India, the “phase down,” by calling it “phase down” instead of “phase out.”

But it gets rid of the accountability that when we’re phasing out the fossil fuel industry, there has to be reparations from the Global North countries, who are historically responsible, so that countries in the Global South, like the Philippines, are able to adapt and transition without having that burden of going into debt to these Global North countries and banks like Standard Chartered Bank, which is the greatest funder of fossil fuels in the Philippines. They also fund Adani in India, and they also fund fossil fuel companies in Indonesia. And these banks, they should be the ones who are — instead of funding the fossil fuel industry, but really supporting the transition in our countries, not just for renewable energy but also for adaptation and to help minimize the loss and damages to their markets also.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to COP26 President Alok Sharma. He blamed India and China for watering down the text on coal.

ALOK SHARMA: For the very first time in any of these conferences, the word “coal” is actually reflected in the text. That, again, is a first. Yes, of course, I would have liked to ensure that we maintain the phaseout rather than changing the wording to “phase down.” But, you know, on the way to phasing out, you’ve got to phase down. But, ultimately, of course, what we need to ensure is that we continue to work on this deal, on the commitments. And on the issue of coal, China and India, of course, are going to have to justify to some of the most climate-vulnerable countries what happened.

AMY GOODMAN: Brandon Wu’s response, director of policy and campaigns at ActionAid USA. You wrote this piece, “Fossil Fuels in the COP Decision Text: Why the U.S., not India, is the problem.” So, your response?

BRANDON WU: I find that statement from Alok Sharma just absolutely outrageous, to point the finger at India and China at the time when the United States, in two days, is about to open the largest lease sale for offshore oil and gas drilling in the Gulf of Mexico in the country’s history. I mean, let’s look at the real climate criminals here. And if you look at that decision text that talks about phasing down coal, it talks about phasing down, quote, “unabated coal,” and it doesn’t mention oil and gas at all. It leaves open these enormous loopholes, again, for the oil and gas industries, particularly in rich countries, and for potentially public financing for things like carbon capture and storage, or what might be called abated coal, and those are technologies that — well, we know they don’t work, but they’re also incredibly expensive at scale, and so only really accessible to rich countries.

And it’s interesting that a couple days before that closing plenary, India actually suggested stronger text on fossil fuel phasedown or phaseout that would cover all fossil fuels in an equitable manner. And that last bit is the key part, because it would mean that rich countries have to take action fastest and first, as we all know would be the globally just thing to do. But for the history of the U.N. climate negotiations, the United States has always been opposed to equity in that way, and so that stronger text was basically doomed from the start because of U.S. opposition. And so, instead, we got some finger-pointing at the end towards India, but I would argue they’re really not who we should be focusing on. The real climate criminals are the wealthy countries, like the United States, that are trying to look like heroes, scapegoating others, and still planning massive oil and gas expansions behind everybody’s back.

AMY GOODMAN: President Biden is going to be signing the bipartisan infrastructure bill today. A lot of the media is completely focused on the rising gas prices and saying that it’s partly the reason why Biden is at an all-time low in popularity. What should he do about this, Brandon?

BRANDON WU: I would argue that the reason that Biden is not popular right now is because his administration and the Democratic trifecta have not delivered anything concrete for the American people in terms of the infrastructure package that our country really needs, right? So, the original Build Back Better agenda was $3.5 trillion. We knew that that wasn’t enough. And instead, all we got was this bipartisan deal, which was watered down drastically even from that.

And so, what we need is that full Build Back Better agenda as a stepping stone to something even more. There is actual climate legislation in that package. That is the stepping stone we need. That’s not anywhere close to the U.S. fair share of climate action globally. That is not global justice in itself — right? — if we pass the full agenda. But that is something that would actually deliver meaningful and immediate benefits to the people of this country. And that is what this administration needs to get its popularity up.

AMY GOODMAN: Supposedly, they’re setting Friday to have a vote on the Build Back Better portion of the infrastructure bill, the social safety net infrastructure. But I wanted to get your comment on John Kerry’s comments, the U.S. climate envoy, responding to the Glasgow Pact Saturday.

JOHN KERRY: So, I would say that, you know, Paris built the arena, and Glasgow starts the race. And tonight, the starting gun was fired. We have about nine years within which to make those critical decisions we were warned about in 2018 by the IPCC, and we have the years in this decade, the decisive decade, in order to cut 45% of global emissions to hold onto the 1.5.

AMY GOODMAN: Kerry was secretary of state at the Paris Agreement under Obama. Your response, Brandon Wu?

BRANDON WU: That Glasgow was the starting gun of climate action just erases two-and-a-half decades of rich country inaction. We’ve been at these negotiations for 26 years. And for 26 years, wealthy countries like the United States have failed to reduce our emissions, even though we know that’s what we must do to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. And so, what Kerry is doing by saying, “This is the starting gun right now. We have 10 years, starting now,” is he’s erasing history. He’s erasing a history of climate colonialism in which the United States is the primary culprit.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you talk about this night’s virtual summit that’s planned between the Chinese leader and the U.S. leader, between Biden and Xi, and what you want to see happen?

BRANDON WU: I want to see cooperation, and I want to see solidarity. I want to see the United States making clear that we are actually willing to take steps to do our fair share — and I’m talking specifically about climate here, right? I think U.S.-China cooperation — these are two major economies. There’s so much saber-rattling and xenophobia in the discourse among U.S. politicians about China. And if the Biden administration can actually diplomatically engage with China in a responsible way, that can only be a positive step.

But we have to be able to come forward with real commitments that are appropriate to our fair share as the world’s largest carbon polluter, as the world’s massive military superpower. And we cannot just continue to engage in — we can’t continue to see China as an adversary, right? Not just an economic adversary, but a security threat is the way that China is being framed by a lot of American politicians, and that’s incredibly dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to end with Mitzi Tan. Mitzi, you’re in the Netherlands. You’re heading back to the Philippines, where climate now is usually right around — I mean, this was early for the climate summit. It’s always devastating the Philippines at around this time. You’re a spokesperson for international Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines. What are your plans for this year? Next year the COP is supposed to be in Sharm el-Sheikh, in Egypt. What are your plans for this year? How do you get these COPs not to fail every year?

MITZI JONELLE TAN: It’s an interesting climate summit that will be happening next year in a country where striking and protesting is not exactly very welcome. But it can be sure that the youth will continue to mobilize, because we understand that changes will not happen within this U.N. climate summit, because these summits are also just a product of the imperialist, colonialist, profit-oriented system that we’re in today. And in order to get rid of the climate crisis, we have to get rid of the system that has brought this upon us.

And that is only going to happen as long as the people keep uniting, showing solidarity and coming out together on the streets in whatever we can to fight for climate justice. And that is exactly what the youth climate movement will have for the next year, for the year after that, day after day, month after month. We will keep connecting with the most marginalized sectors of society and amplifying the voices of our environmental defenders. And that is what is all that is needed. That is collaboration, coalition and unity, something that our world leaders should be doing but aren’t doing right now.

AMY GOODMAN: Mitzi Tan, I want to thank you for being with us, Filipina climate justice advocate, international spokesperson for Youth Advocates for Climate Action Philippines, organizer with Fridays for Future and Fridays for Future Most Affected Peoples and Areas, speaking to us from the Netherlands, and Brandon Wu, director of policy and campaigns, ActionAid USA. We’ll link to your piece, “Fossil Fuels in the COP Decision Text: Why the U.S., not India, is the problem.”

Next up, we speak to an Indigenous leader from the Ecuadorian Amazon who attended Glasgow, and then the Reverend William Barber, why scores of Black pastors are headed to Georgia, as one of the defense attorneys in the Ahmaud Arbery case, the trial of the three white men who murdered the Black jogger — why this defense lawyer said Black pastors in the courtroom intimidate the jury. Stay with us.

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