Despite the fact that the outcomes of the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26), 2021, are still being debated around the world, activists have come to a consensus that it was largely a failure. There may be some hope in the future, however, because coal appears to be on the way out and grassroots pressure is increasing to transform climate policy.
Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace International’s executive director, attended COP26. She witnessed firsthand the power of the protests in the streets. This, she said, was the true leadership displayed in Glasgow. This exclusive interview is with TruthoutMorgan shares what happened in Glasgow, what mechanisms are possible to end fossil-fuel use, and how capitalism can be challenged by the end of the fossil fuel economy.
C.J. Polychroniou – I would like to start by asking you your thoughts about COP26. What was the result? Are there any reasons to believe that leaders will keep their word?
Jennifer Morgan: Glasgow was meant to deliver on firmly closing the gap to 1.5°C and that didn’t happen. The final text was meek, weak and the 1.5°C goal is only just alive, but a signal has been sent that the era of coal is ending. That is important. Despite acknowledging the need to reduce emissions in the next decade, the deal has been delayed until next year.
There was progress in adaptation. The developed countries began to respond to the requests of the developing countries for financial resources and funding to help them cope with rising temperatures. There was a recognition that vulnerable countries are suffering real loss and damage from the climate crisis now, but what was promised was nothing close to what’s needed on the ground, and this issue must be at the top of the agenda for developed countries.
Even though the mention that fossil fuel subsidies and coal should be phased out is weak and compromised it is still a major breakthrough. The call for emissions reductions of 45 percent by the end of this decade is in line with what we need to do to stay under 1.5°C and brings science firmly into this deal. What we really need is for governments and companies to take concrete and meaningful action towards it.
Unfortunately, while some of the worst bits have been removed, the offsets scam still got a boost in Glasgow, and there are still risks that this deal will support a greenwashing scam for the biggest polluters, with loopholes that are too big to tolerate, endangering nature, Indigenous Peoples and the 1.5°C goal itself. The UN Secretary General announced the appointment of experts to examine offset markets. However, much more work is needed to stop cheating and greenwashing that allows corporations and big emitters to get away without being investigated.
COP26 was a demonstration of where real leadership is. Only because of the efforts of youth, Indigenous leaders, activists, and countries on the frontline for climate change, we were able to get to Glasgow, where we reached our goals, was it possible? These climate talks would have failed completely without them. Young people who’ve come of age in the climate crisis won’t tolerate many more outcomes like this. We must mobilize immediately to create irrepressible pressure on world leaders to take action.
The climate emergency must be stopped by those who are at the forefront of the fight. What policy mechanisms are necessary to achieve this, and what role does Greenpeace International play in making this happen?
The end of fossil fuels is not only necessary but also inevitable. Case in point, the compromise in the Glasgow Climate Pact on phasing out coal and fossil fuel subsidies is definitely not where we want it to be, but we have to acknowledge that it is a small victory in the sense that it’s the first time a call for coal reduction appeared on a COP final text.
But as this is a fundamental systemic change, we need all of the governments to be on board to make sure that this extractive and exploitative business of fossil fuels is well and truly choked off, and we transition as quickly as we can to sustainable sources of energy — in other words, no more money should be allowed for dirty investments.
Between 2015 and 2019, 33 large global banks collectively invested $1.9 billion in fossil fuels. To achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Paris Agreement, the world will need $90 trillion over the next decade. Nearly three times as many subsidies and investments are being made in fossil fuels than the solutions. Just 10 percent of these regressive subsidies could pay for the transition to a clean energy revolution — only 10 percent of the money we are dumping into outdated fossil fuels. This is why the governments must create, then properly and effectively implement policies so that no amount of money — subsidy, funding or bailout should ever reach the fossil fuel companies again.
As governments become more aware of the seriousness of our climate situation, they are taking further action. In East Asia and Southeast Asia, we’ve been running campaigns against state-backed public development banks (PDBs) in China, Japan and South Korea to shift their overseas energy investments, and all three countries have announced [they will]End or phase out all overseas coal investments by the end the year.
And through our latest Money for Change campaign, we’ve been targeting the European Investment Bank — the biggest public lender still financing fossil gas projects and some of the dirtiest companies in Europe while funding motorway expansion — by denouncing their hypocrisy and greenwashing.
But most importantly, we need to ensure that all policies have just transition at heart, and make sure we’re moving toward a more sustainable economy in a way that’s fair and inclusive for everyone. So, just as we’ve always done, Greenpeace will continue to put unyielding pressure on leaders all around the world to quit putting profit over people and the planet, as there is no money in a dead world.
Recent research revealed that most people from China (93%), the European Union (81%) and the U.K (74%) identified climate change as the greatest challenge facing the planet. However, they do not trust government officials with implementing the necessary policies to combat global heating. Do strong grassroots activism and Greenpeace International’s work increase the likelihood that governments will prioritize climate change?
The short answer is yes…. To reiterate what I said earlier, the true leadership at COP26 was the youth, Indigenous Peoples, countries bearing the brunt the climate crisis and all other activists. They were crucial to the small victory that we saw. There is power in numbers and governments can only ignore the truth for so long.
Many examples are proof of the power that people possess. Climate court cases brought justice to the most affected by movement-led climate court cases. In three years, climate litigation cases nearly doubled. Only last year, an unprecedented amount of key judgments having potentially far-reaching consequences were issued, including the Shell and Germany cases.
In 2015, the world’s first investigation into corporate responsibility for the climate crisis, The Climate Change and Human Rights Inquiry, was launched in the Philippines to probe into the possible human rights violations of the 47 “Carbon Majors” — the biggest fossil fuel and cement companies. This inquiry was initiated by victims of typhoons and civil society groups. Depending on the outcome, it could have a huge impact by placing the responsibility of protecting human rights and achieving climate justice upon the Carbon Majors and other corporations, as we continue to face the climate crisis they have greatly contributed to.
You can also see how Indigenous-led movements are going against all odds and putting everything on the line in countries like Brazil, where the government is actively threatening Indigenous Peoples’ rights, to demand their lands and lives be protected. And [successful efforts] stopping pipelines in the United States and Canada — where 21 fossil fuel projects have been prevented or delayed — were all due to Indigenous-led resistance. This pressure works. It highlights the efforts and struggles of those affected and impacted, while also exposing the systemic injustices of the current system.
Greenpeace has just celebrated 50 years of peaceful activism and protest to bring about positive change. Our campaigns have been successful because of our nonviolent direct actions. We know that we will continue to see courageous activism in the wider global climate movement.
Many analysts, commentators, and policymakers believe that the end to the fossil fuel economy will lead to a transformation in capitalism. How could this be?
Many people today believe that everyday life is about survival and not progress. After centuries of exploitation, the colonialistic mindsets and practices that have dominated our lives for centuries continue to threaten biodiversity, the lives and well-being of Indigenous Peoples and vulnerable communities as well as the global climate.
It’s the dark, sad truth that today’s profit-driven, extractive economic model works for the profit of corporations and the wealthy, urges destructive infinite growth, and is completely reliant on limitless extraction of natural resources.
The chaos and confusion that accompanied the COVID-19 crisis has exposed some unavoidable truths about human behavior. It’s shown us how vulnerable, interdependent and interconnected we are. It’s clear that we can no longer continue to let a handful of the rich, including the extractive fossil fuel industry, become richer at the expense of the rest of the planet. We have the rare opportunity to rethink and reimagine our future. We can finally move away from the monocultural Western development and growth lens and have a future in which life is not commodified and where well-being and empowerment of individuals and communities are at its core. [as]Against infinite growth and the profit of the few. This world would be characterized by collaboration, solidarity and solidarity as well as equality, dignity and adaptability.
To inherently undermine the current neoliberal system and prioritize people, planet health, and international collaboration, we must create a new socio-ecologically focused system that puts all living beings at its core. We must stop seeking short-term economic growth for a few. This is clearly illustrated by the current fossil fuel industry. The environmentalism cannot be separated form people, politics, and the economy.