Our Burning Planet


‘Alternative COP26’ highlights ‘failures and broken promises’ of the negotiations in Glasgow

‘Alternative COP26’ highlights ‘failures and broken promises’ of the negotiations in Glasgow
Komati Power Station. Komati, Mpumalanga. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

On Saturday, 6 November, the Climate Justice Charter Movement (CJCM) hosted an 'alternative to COP26', which highlighted what attendees called the hypocrisy and exclusivity of the climate crisis negotiations in Glasgow, Scotland.

‘COP26 has arrived and as many get lost in the pageantry and theatrics of COP the CJCM will hold its alternative to highlight the failures and broken promises,” the Climate Justice Charter Movement said in a statement.  

The hypocrisy of COP 

“COP26 was meant to be ‘the COP that matters’, but activists and others present say it’s the most exclusive COP to date,” youth climate activist Gabriel Klaasen from African Climate Alliance (ACA) told Our Burning Planet

During the virtual webinar of the “alternative COP26”, streaming all the way from COP26 in Glasgow on Saturday 6 November, Alex Rafalowicz, the director of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative, spoke about the need for fair and real deals made openly and in an accountable way. 

“I’m speaking to you from the halls of the COP,” said Rafalowicz. “I’m about to leave and join our comrades on the street who are marching. It is one of the biggest storms I’ve ever seen… but that will not deter the people from taking to the streets and marching against the false solutions being promoted inside this COP and against the spin, the greenwashing and the lies that we’re seeing here.” 

Rafalowicz said that as someone who has followed the international climate process for more than a decade, it had been concerning to see what he called the complete deregulation of the international rule system on climate change. 

He said that in the early 2000s the Kyoto Protocol, which, although flawed, had binding, quantified commitments that countries needed to meet, keeping them accountable. 

But then, he said, under the Obama presidency, things changed when the US government wanted to be seen as a leader on climate change. 

“They knew they couldn’t agree to binding international legal rules, because they didn’t want to have to accept the historical responsibility for causing the problem,” said Rafalowicz. 

“And they didn’t want to have to accept an international rules-based system. And so they advocated a different approach, which became the Paris Agreement… instead of having a binding legal commitment under international law, countries would come to the UN with a pledge, with a promise to do something, and then later, that would be reviewed.” 

COP26 was meant to be one of the first examples where pledges were reviewed. 

“Instead of there being a review, we’re simply getting announcements. Under the rules-based system, governments led by the UK government as the chair, are simply making announcements on the fringes of the process… there’s no forum in which they’re accountable. 

“And so we’ve gone from binding commitments to pledge and review, to announcements and… nothing.” 

One of the achievements that came out of COP26 was the R131-billion finance deal with developed nations to help facilitate a just transition in SA away from coal. 

“I don’t know anyone who can tell us where the money is coming from,” said Rafalowicz. “Is it a loan? Is it purchasing carbon credits? People don’t know where it [the money] is going. We don’t know, and I think that is quite indicative of where these negotiations have been going.” 

A fair and real deal

Something to come out of the “alternative COP” was the need for a fair and real deal, negotiated in the open with detailed transparency regarding how decisions are agreed upon by world leaders. 

“The current focus on the negotiations, if you’re in Glasgow, has been… on this idea of carbon markets, which is the idea that if we can account and work out a way to create a number for the amount of CO2 that’s avoided by doing a particular thing – whether that’s installing a new solar panel or planting a tree – then we could sell that credit to somebody else, so that they can count it against the obligation that they were supposed to fulfil.” 

There is a campaign to start a new treaty that would have legally binding commitments around the production of fossil fuels – that isn’t focused on carbon markets or the end result of CO2 emissions, but on concrete realities. 

“To focus on getting an agreement to end [new coal, oil and gas] production… and getting agreements to reshape our international financial system, so that it doesn’t continue to perpetuate the problem. 

“And instead of having those deals made on the sidelines of UN talks by representatives of Eskom and the US government, it actually has to happen in an accountable way before the United Nations.” 

The power of storytelling 

The concrete realities of South African communities most affected by the production of coal were brought to life at the “alternative COP26” by photojournalist Daylin Paul. 

Paul’s photographs demonstrated the power of storytelling, of describing the reality of someone’s lived experience, and how that can raise awareness about communities and realities that are usually ignored during the climate discussion.  

Paul said that what motivated him to start this project, which was six years in the making, was the notion of brokenness, which is all too fitting in the discussion of broken promises. 

“I was… driving from Marikana back to Johannesburg, and I noticed that there was lots of sort of cracks in the earth where there had been drought, and the thought crossed my mind that… in order to get to extractives, you have to break the ground, you have to break the earth apart. 

“You’ve got to break your connection to the land, you’ve got to break your kind of understanding of what the land is, and what it does for us. 

“And I think that is the kind of relationship that we’re supposed to have with the land – a relationship that… indigenous people – before the colonial event, and the preceding capitalist events – had. A symbiosis and not a parasitic relationship.” 

Paul then displayed a photograph of Cina Ndlovu, a woman in her mid-70s, collecting firewood by the roadside, as she has no electricity at her home in Arbor, Mpumalanga.

Cina Ndlovu gathers firewood at the roadside as she has no electricity at her home. Arbor, Mpumalanga. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

“She said that in her life, from during apartheid to the present day (2018), nothing had changed. And that’s quite something,” reflected Paul. 

Paul showed a photograph of two men, Aaron Ntonsi and Armand Thusi, sitting outside their home at a settlement near Komati Power Station, Komati, Mpumalanga.

Aaron Ntonsi and Armand Thusi, residents of Big House, a settlement near Komati Power Station, Komati, Mpumalanga. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

“I think this highlights the inequality,” said Paul. “These people have never ever had electricity. They live right next to the power station.” 

Next, Paul moved to a photograph he took of a miner inspecting coal in a community-made mine near Ermelo, Mpumalanga.

An artisanal miner inspects coal in a community made mine near Ermelo, Mpumalanga. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

“This is underground with the so-called Zama Zamas [people who illegally mine abandoned mineshafts],” said Paul. 

“It’s a travesty that what they’re doing is considered illegal… in the Freedom Charter, the mineral resources in the land are meant to belong to all the people.” 

The youth feel betrayed 

Another thing to come out of COP26 was an overwhelming sense of betrayal felt by young people regarding the negotiations and lack of accountability.  

Lindsay Majola, 13-year-old activist and head prefect of Greenbury Primary School in Phoenix, KwaZulu-Natal, spoke about the underwhelming nature of the UK government’s 25-year plan for the environment during the webinar, and the importance of youths’ voices. 

“The 25-year environmental plan gives us some idea as to the government’s nature protection plans. But none of these policy commitments are underpinned by law,” said Majola, streaming from her classroom in KZN.

“So, after so many years, and after so many broken promises, the Earth is still in danger. Right now we’re up against the biggest environmental threats that our generation or any generation has ever faced. 

“As climate change gets worse, it is us, children and young people of today, who will face the worst effects. But instead of being seen as victims, we have stood strong and began to fight back climate change. 

“We must demand a greater involvement from the government to fight climate change. Whether through education, technology, science, or law, young people from all over the world have stood strong to fight climate change. 

“There are many broken promises, but it is our chance to make them come true. This is our planet and this is our job to protect it.” 

Janice Nair, a youth representative from Active Citizens Movement said, “The youth sees the hypocrisy, where our government continuously promised to take climate change issues seriously, but have been pushing our estimated goal dates further ahead, which shows their lack of commitment to our future.  

“And in our schools, we need to be taught the truth of the matter. And the truth is that the global economy or the global north is the greatest contributor to carbon emissions, not the populations of Africa. 

“We used to be taught about the dangers of capitalist ideas without regulation, we need to be taught to spot propaganda that seeks to further and support corporations’ goals. We need strong regulations and laws on those who go above normal amounts of environmental harm. And to normalise criminalisation of those who basically kill the planet. 

“We have to ensure that our government, which is plagued by corruption, does not mess up these opportunities for us. And we have to stay in the loop and push them to focus on viable green energy science and innovation.” 

Nair also spoke about the importance of integrating climate understanding into school syllabuses, with an emphasis on natural and indigenous solutions to climate problems.  

The ACA’s Klaasen spoke about the broken promises of a just future that would consider young people’s environmental, social and economic rights.  

“We’re told that our voices matter, but then we’re left away from the conversations,” said Klaasen, reflecting on how even when young people are provided the opportunity to engage, as at COP26, many young, black, indigenous and people of colour are excluded (either financially or socially).  

“And I think that’s something that’s very telling, the fact that for the world to move forward, with a just future with system change… we have this notion that we’ll actually achieve it, but no one in power, no decision-makers, are actively making efforts to ensure that young people’s voices are heard.” 

Vishwas Satgar, co-founder of the Climate Justice Charter movement and associate professor of international relations at Wits University said, “I agree that we must delegitimise the COP. Many of us reached the conclusion a long time ago that the national terrain of struggle is where the climate struggle is. COP26 is just confirming that.”  

The last image Paul showed at the “alternative COP”, and the image that encapsulates the essence of his Broken Land project and that of the realities of the climate struggle, was of a young boy playing with a ball near a veld fire in Phola, Mpumalanga.

A child plays with a ball near a veldfire in Phola, Mpumalanga. (Photo: Daylin Paul)

 “I think it kind of sums up our situation,” said Paul. DM/OBP

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