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In the End, COP26 Showed Colonial Capitalism Carrying On With Business As Usual

By Petr Knava | Social Media | November 15, 2021 |

By Petr Knava | Social Media | November 15, 2021 |


Well, it’s over. The 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference, held in Glasgow over the past two weeks, wound up on Saturday night, late—as the majority of COPs tend to be—after negotionations were extended in order to reach an agreement across the 197 attending parties. The agreement reached has been, fittingly, termed the Glasgow Climate Pact. Probably its main victory was an agreement for countries to re-visit its emissions reduction plans in 2022—which is a necessary step up from the one-year intervals that we have been following up until now following the Paris Agreement—but its other main components include the first mention in any such agreement of a fossil fuel (specifically a commitment to limiting the use of coal), and a commitment to increased financial support for developing countries.

That last point is the one that really gets to the heart of why COP26 was such a failure: It sounds good on paper, and it was lauded in the corporate press as an enlightened move, but it gets absolutely nowhere near to addressing the scale of the problem that we—and specifically developing countries—face. The fact of the matter is that without addressing the colonial nature of the climate crisis—without acknowledging that it is a crisis made in tandem with the rise of an exploitative capitalism as practiced by the global North at the expense of the global South, and acting accordingly, specifically with provisions that take into account the role of Indigenous communities around the world—we are not going to be building any systems that will genuinely get us out of the worst of the catastrophe that is to come.

Developing countries came to COP26 with a quite specific plea: That those countries cumulatively most responsible for the emissions that have gotten the planet to the level of heating that it is already at (and projected to get to) should contribute fairly to the cost of averting the worst outcomes. Instead, they got crocodile tears and weak, toothless pledges: ‘Carbon markets’ that let rich countries pollute further while further financialising parts of the planet and displacing the work onto developing countries; promises by those same countries to limit funding to fossil fuel projects in the developing world while contiuning to ramp up similar endeavours closer to home; and meaningless ‘dialogue mechanisms’ for developing countries to begin to talk about the reparations and future protections that are due to them following centuries of colonial carbon vandalism rather than concrete plans to address them with the urgency that reality demands.

In other words: The colonial global North created a massive system of organised exploitation and genocidal violence, it got rich off of it at the expense of billions while polluting and bringing the planet to the brink of destruction; eventually it loosened those explicit bonds to create a world order that it could say looked in some ways ‘free’ when compared to its previous incarnation but which nevertheless operated on the same old power dynamics, now expressed through more insidious means, and when the enviromental chickens of its system of pollution and exploitation came home to roost it failed to do anything close to enough to shouldering its fair share of the burden in combating the crisis—a crisis that would hit those already suffering the hardest and the earliest.

Colour me fu**ing surprised.

Here’s how Twitter reacted to the ending of COP26:

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Petr is a staff contributor. You can follow him on Twitter.

Header Image Source: ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images