Dear Climate Activists,
I have been attending COPs since 2005 in Montreal, so at this point I feel like I have seen it all. Perhaps that is why people keep asking me – do I believe that COP26 was a failure? That is the big question, and I believe it takes some context in order to answer fully.
Climate writer David Roberts described the COP process as “a giant camera flash, revealing where everyone stands… It can only illuminate what is being done.” What he is getting at is that while COP helps to illuminate the state of the movement, it is fundamentally not a place to expect major government action because that is outside of what the UNFCCC is capable of doing. At its core, it is a place where voluntary commitments are taking place.
As an organization committed to storytelling and changing the discourse on climate action – we see this as an opportunity. And the success of this moment is not limited to the resulting document. We measure our success at COP by the stories that are told, and we helped shape those stories. We used our platform to elevate the voices of people around the world who are the most impacted by the climate crisis – including sending over 20 activists (including our team of Pacific Climate Warriors) to Glasgow in person to tell their own stories.
And while the politics of COP kept the climate movement outside of the decision-making spaces, we still made our voices heard. The general understanding that came out of COP26 was: the outcome is not enough to meet what science is saying, the fossil fuel industry was part of the reason for keeping it that way, and many of the commitments made were not fully meaningful. And if our movement’s voice were not so strong, those would not have been the narratives that emerged. So I think that’s a very important way to understand success.
For those two short weeks, the whole world paid attention to climate in a different way, and that is always going to be an opportunity, but it is not the main venue where action will happen. Our fight for climate justice goes far beyond those two weeks per year, and we are so grateful to have you as partners in this work.
Thanks for all you do,
P.S. Reminder that we have a new mailing address: 350.org, PO Box 843004, Boston, MA 02284-3004. If you have any questions, or want to reach out, you can always email email@example.com!
People Power From the Beginning: Pacific Climate Warrior Brianna Fruean Delivers Opening Speech at COP26
Brianna Fruean is an incredible climate activist who helped start her local 350 chapter in Samoa at just 11 years old. With your support, we were able to bring her to COP26, where she addressed world leaders at the beginning of the summit with this incredible speech. She reminded them that their words have power (“Even stones decay, but words remain”), and that they need to listen to those most affected by the climate crisis, who are fighting, not drowning.
Later that week in her interview with BBC, Brianna perfectly summarized how the climate movement sees COP as an opportunity, but does not rely on its outcome to succeed, when she said “COP is like a compass… and if we’re able to get COP right, then we can be pointed in the right direction. But at the end of the day, my ancestors traveled the oceans without compasses. So if COP doesn’t work, the people will.” These are the words we kept in mind as we processed the results of the summit this week.
They tried to shut the people out, but we pushed to the front
This was the most exclusionary UN climate summit in history, as the UK chose to push ahead with the conference while so many in the Global South could not make it due to Covid-19 spread and lack of vaccine acces, visa complications, and constantly-changing quarantine rules.
But the people raised their voices louder to make sure they were heard. On November 6th, over 200,000 people marched in the streets of Glasgow, demanding that governments move from climate inaction to climate justice. And they were joined by over 300+ demonstrations on the same day from every corner of the world, on every continent.
COP26 Coalition spokesperson Asad Rehman stated “Today the people who have been locked out of this climate summit had their voices heard – and those voices will be ringing in the ears of world leaders as we enter the second week of negotiations.” The power of the people rings loudly indeed!
Take it from these global climate activists: when you are ignored, get creative
Activists around the world inspired us with the creative ways they made their voices heard. Migration activists constructed an 11+ foot tall puppet of a young Syrian refugee (named Little Amal), who walked from the Syrian border to the UK in search of her mother, and appeared at the Gender Day high-level event at COP26. 350’s Kim Bryan explained why it was important to highlight journeys like Little Amal’s: “Migration is barely on the agenda at the UN climate summit, yet as climate impacts escalate, more people will be forced to leave their homes in search of safety and dignity.”
Also, 350 Türkiye created this incredible video to emphasize the power of hope in the face of the greatest effects of the climate disaster, stating “No matter how much the darkness surrounds us, as long as we continue to fight, as long as we keep up the pressure, there is hope. Because we are hope.”
Looking for even more creative inspiration? For the November 6 Day of Action, youth activists across Asia had genius ideas for ways to get the point across that they need leaders to take real, immediate action on climate. This ranged from activists in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia dressing as wounded koalas outside of the Australian embassy to 350 Pilipinas volunteers using eye-catching holograms. They are refusing to be ignored, and their methods are working.
So, you ask, what were our takeaways of COP26?
World leaders let us down, yet again, with COP26’s resulting document. However, it was not a complete failure, and it takes way more than that for us to lose hope.
In fact, there were some victories on the international level. For example, Costa Rica and Denmark officially launched the Beyond Oil and Gas Alliance!, the world’s first diplomatic initiative focused on keeping fossil fuels in the ground.
As our Head of Public Engagement, Nama Chowdhary, answered when asked if COP26 was a failure: “It was both a failure and a reinvigoration of the movement.”
The carefully formulated language of the COP26 decision makes no difference to the real climate action happening already all over the world. The global climate movement keeps standing, in its full power and resilience, and we are leading the way. With or without a COP decision, the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a clean, just, renewable future is going to happen. Hope is people, and people have had enough.
Our conclusion: People power will deliver what historic polluters are not.
COP26 is over, but the fight for climate justice and an end to all fossil fuels lives on with the people. Our Associate Director of Global Campaigns, Cansin Leylim, captured it perfectly by saying “Things are starting to move in the right direction, but we need to accelerate…The challenge is now to make sure that these commitments are implemented bigger and faster. Today, as in the past decades, true leadership resides in the climate movement.”
Our on-the-ground activists summarized their reflections on the summit in this powerful video. COP26 is only two weeks out of the year, but we will continue to show up every. single. day. We are so grateful to have you standing with us in this fight.