POST-COP: WHAT’S NEXT? CLIMATE JUSTICE V CLIMATE COLONIALISM – With Asad Rehman and Nafkote Dabi
By Elizabeth Njambi
Here’s your post-COP26 deep dive! What do the outcomes mean for us all? Why were developing countries insisting on reparations? What’s the fuss about billionaire emissions?
We welcome two amazing guests from the climate justice movement who were influencing the Glasgow climate talks.
Asad Rehman is the Executive Director of War on Want, a lifelong campaigner against racial injustice and economic justice, and has been at the forefront of the climate justice movement helping to reframe climate as an issue of racialised capitalism, economic and social injustice. Nafkote Dabi, from Ethiopia, is Oxfam’s global climate change policy lead, and has taken on climate change across the African continent.
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If you’re joining us on EQUALS for the first time, tune in to our earlier interviews – from talking with the award-winning journalist Gary Younge on what we can learn from Martin Luther King Jr to fight inequality, to best-selling author Anand Giridharadas on whether we need billionaires, Zambian music artist PilAto on the power of music, thinker Ece Temelkuran on beating fascism, climate activist Hindou Ibrahim on nature, and the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Kristalina Georgieva on what comes after the pandemic.
Asad Rehman and the COPs
[00:02:38] Nabil: Asad, hi. Welcome to EQUALS. …
[00:02:56] Asad: … If there's one thing that COP26 did, it showed that there's another lens to look at both this crisis and all the other multiple crises that we're facing at this moment.
[00:03:33] Max: Well, let's get into that. I mean, how many COPs have you been to?
[00:03:38] Asad: More than it's healthy to do. It's over 10 and closer to 15, I think.
The Climate Justice Movement: Then and Now
[00:03:43] Max: Watching broadly from the outside, one of the most inspiring things has been the climate justice movement and how it's got more vibrant, but more radical over like the last decade. And you've been at the heart of that. Can you just talk us through what drove that?
[00:03:59] Asad: Absolutely. I think the center of climate has definitely changed. There was a moment after Copenhagen, where a UK minister rang my then boss in the middle of the night and told him, “Can you do something about your climate taliban? They're wrecking the outcome!"
... And now, we're not the marginal. In fact, people who are on the marginal are the ones who think business as usual and living within the system is totally possible. I think analysis has been proven absolutely correct. We are heading towards at least 2.5⁰C, 2.7⁰C warming.
… I've always said, the climate negotiations are not negotiations about climate or environmentalism. Fundamentally, they are issues about political economy. Which economy is going to dominate? Who will be sacrificed in that choice? And without that understanding, we were never going to be able to change that dialogue of both the conversation and what needs to happen. This is not an environmental fight. It's a justice fight.
Was COP a total failure?
[00:05:13] Nabil: Now, let me ask for your headlines about what actually happened at COP itself. … Was it a total failure? Did anything good come out of this COP? …
[00:05:27] Asad: … So, if on the simple criteria: did it do anything to prevent the climate crisis? Did it help people? No! The pledges on the table still lead us to 2.7⁰C warming. Catastrophic, when we need to limit it at 1.5⁰C. The unbroken promise of 100 billion, still no warm words on it. …
On the critical issue in terms of adaptation, (it's just) 'yeah, we'll talk more.' On loss and damage? 'We'll talk more'. I mean, it's literally saying, "we know your house is burning down. We can see it burning down around us, but all we're ever going to offer you is a helpline, but with no help at the end of it.” So from that perspective, in terms of what we needed to happen, absolutely, not.
But I would say, the flip side of that is, it was going to be even worse. So, what we did was not necessarily win a huge victory, but we prevented it from being even worse than it is now. Sometimes we have to understand that the COPs are also about stopping the bad things whilst we're building power and trying to transform politics, both nationally and globally.
Loss and damage
[00:06:41] Max: I think lots of our listeners will have heard a bit about loss and damage, but not really understand the importance of it from the global south and the difference between that and kind of adaptation finance. Can you just tell us a bit about that and why it's so important?
[00:06:56] Asad: Sure. So, climate negotiations have traditionally been about first, what they call mitigation i.e. cutting emissions, right? Stopping the pollution in the first place.
As climate justice groups, we've always said that needs to be done on a fair-share basis. Those who are responsible cut their emissions and provide support to poorer countries and lesser well-off countries to be able to cut their emissions because they're also of course, dealing with global poverty and inequality. But we recognize that as temperatures increase, no level of warming is safe and it's deadly.
So, we also know that we need to adapt. And so, the second pillar becomes how do we adapt to this change in temperatures? How do we adapt our food systems, our, work, all of that?
We're now in a position where we basically say we're in a world where that damage is already happening. Climate impacts are already happening around the world. They're devastating, people's lives and livelihoods, and that's what's called loss and damage. And for countries of the global south representing over 80% of the world, they made that a very central demand. It was a red line for them. So, what we need here is for rich countries to accept their liability, because they've caused this problem. And support for people and communities and nations already being overwhelmed. And as we know, we're in a moment where many nations are overwhelmed with both the COVID pandemic and the inequities there, the global recession and the climate crisis. So, each extreme weather event has a compounding effect and overwhelms countries.
So, what we needed here in Glasgow was a real commitment to create basically a third pillar and a facility, so that much urgent help could be provided to those on the front lines.
[00:08:36] Nabil: Would you say it's a proxy for reparations?
[00:08:38] Asad: Absolutely. … It's not charity. For many years we talked about, you have to pay your debt to the world. But reparations? Absolutely. It's part and parcel of that. Reparations to repair the damage that the global north has done on the global south. And reparations not just in terms of them repairing but recognizing.
A fundamental point is recognizing your responsibility. The United States, the UK, the European Union had a huge red line said, "we will not expect liability. We will not accept responsibility. We're happy for you to talk about this, but we're not going to say that we are responsible for this." And this is part of a wider push by rich countries to say, "we're not liable. Everything that's happened in the past, forget it. What we should be looking at now is everybody needs to deal with this equally."
Is India to blame?
[00:09:40] Nabil: … they seem to be pinning the blame on India, right? For the failure of this COP. What's your take on that? Do we blame India for those insertions on the text?
[00:10:01] Asad: Within every climate negotiations, you can write a press release at the beginning where it says, 'xxxx Global South country is going to be blamed'. And it's always countries of the Global South who are blamed. Never the richest countries. Never the United States, which has been the biggest wrecker of the climate negotiation. Never the UK, which presided over the unfair and unjust outcome of the climate negotiations. Never those countries. Always Global South countries.
Now look, people fixating on this one issue about India called for phased down, instead of phased out of coal. … Remember for India, they use very, very little oil. They use very, very little gas. Coal is the primary energy source for the Indian economy. So what India was basically saying there was, 'don't put the blame on us, but we are happy. We're willing to actually even cut our coal, but simply targeting coal is unjust to the global South.
Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation and Energy Poverty
[00:11:12] Max: Where do you stand on the fossil fuel non-proliferation thing and basically a demand for every single country to stop any new exploration of fossil fuels. How does that address these issues of equity? And if you're an African country, you've discovered a new gas field that could potentially be a big source of energy and revenue, are we going to tell them they have to leave it in the ground?
[00:11:40] Asad: ... I think our starting point has got to be, to recognize that there are different realities. If you're in the global South where half the world is without access to electricity or clean cooking, there is a demand from citizens saying we want energy. And it's right, that they do have energy.
And they don't want energy for one light bulb or one phone charger. They want productive energy, right? To be able to ensure that their citizens can have productive lives, can live with dignity, have the very basic necessities.
Now it's recognized in all climate discourse that the global south – who have done the least to cause this problem – can actually increase their carbon footprint by a measure of three. It's the richest countries, the 18% of the world's population who are responsible for about 60% of all of the historical emissions, - and that's at the most conservative estimate - that need to cut their emissions fastest and deepest.
So, when it comes to fossil fuels, which we all want to end, I'm not willing - and I think it's absolutely right that nobody should be willing - to say to the global south, “Well, you're poor and you're going to stay poor. You're going to be locked into energy poverty”.
What we should be saying is this is a global problem. To solve any global problem, everybody needs to do their fair share. So, the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty is a part of the equity and fair share approach. …
Anti-colonialism x Climate Justice
[00:13:27] Nabil: That's very, very powerful. And it seems to speak to the anti-colonial thinking at the heart of the climate justice movement. … It was very interesting to me to see these calls from some to say, Saudi Arabia should be ejected out of the room because of the positions they have taken. … My initial feeling is one of sympathy and at the same time there is some kind of colonial play going on here as well, in terms of who is asked to be out of the room and who isn't. What do you think of that?
[00:14:02] Asad: This language, this analysis has always been present from global south movements. Their biggest question was "where are the movements in the global north that are based on anti-colonialism? That recognize our rights and recognize our movements and the struggles that we're in. Why is our story being replaced by a story of polar bears? Why is our story, our demands, being ignored?” Problem is within the negotiations themselves. The most powerful voices are still being heard.
But outside of those negotiating rooms, amongst civil society, amongst ordinary people, I think there's a greater understanding and awareness. And that of course is really, really hopeful because that's exactly the movement that we needed. It's exactly the movement we need.
One that ties, climate to inequality, to historical injustices and recognizes there are reason why so many of the countries in the global south are locked into this situation. It's because of colonialism. You can see it both from the economic point of view, from slavery, colonialism, imperialism, to neo-liberalism, but also conceptual sort of embedded racism and patriarchy that basically allows a mindset which says it is acceptable to sacrifice people as long as they're black, brown, and indigenous, and that's just part of business as usual.
The Role of the Richest Individuals
[00:15:25] Max: What's your view on the take that it's rich people and not rich countries that are largely to blame for what's going on?
[00:15:33] Asad: We know that this is a structural problem, right? … We built an economy and a political system, which allows the rich to get richer. And if we want to solve this crisis, it's a structural answer we need.
… And the danger is that if you don't think about it structurally then your transition will just replicate the same model of extraction.
And we see that already. For example, people who think you can simply move from fossil fuels to renewable energy without recognizing, so where are all these iron and copper and the rare earth minerals going to come from? Oh, it's going to come from the same communities that we've devastated for decades because of fossil fuels.
That's not just. Is there another way? Absolutely, there is another way, which is about living within planetary limits. …
COP27! The ‘Africa COP’
[00:17:28] Nabil: Absolutely, Asad. Absolutely. ... One thing I want to ask you Asad to close, and it almost feels terrible of me asking this question straight after COP26, but COP27 is a year from now. You going?
[00:17:44] Asad: I mean, probably (all laugh) ...
but what I do want to say about COP27 is, it is the Africa COP. It will be taking place in a continent that is on the front lines and it's taking place in a continent presided over by a country that is also facing the reality in this climate crisis right now. In that situation, in that setting, will we be able to make a move on things like loss and damage; on climate finance; on an adaptation?
I'm hoping so. And I'm also hoping that this moment of this movement that we've created recognizes, changing the COP in two weeks, it's not possible. Changing the COP in 52 weeks, it's possible, because what we have to do is hold the feet of our own national governments to the fire, change the politics in our own national country. So, when they go there, not being wreckers, but actually committed to a just outcome to this crisis.
[00:18:45] Max: Asad, it's an absolute pleasure. That was really brilliant …
What did COP26 Mean For Those Already Facing Real Threats?
[00:19:27] Nabil: And Naf, so you've been at COP as well. Also, we all know about your background working on climate at the grassroots over the years. You've also been intensely involved in these negotiations. Can you give us a top line? What do these cop outcomes really mean from the perspective of the farmers who are not seeing their crops grow? The small islanders going underwater. What does this COP outcome mean for them?
Nafkote: The whole COP outcome has been so disappointing. So much rested on this COP, … but the COP hasn't delivered.
So, when everybody goes home from the COP, there are people who are going back to homes under immediate threats from flooding, droughts, wildfires, and so on. So, what is the tangible change for them? What can they tell their children about their futures? What has changed? And honestly, not a lot. It's disappointing.
Emissions of the Super-Rich
[00:20:27] Max: Naf, we did some work just before the COP, which you were really involved in, - and I'm not sure I helped with, but I tried to help with - which was about the emissions of the super-rich, you know, the top 1%. And I think a lot of people think of it in terms of rich countries, poor countries, but it's also about rich people, poor people, isn't it? So, could you tell us a bit about that?
[00:20:48] Nafkote: Our research shows how inequality is deeply part of the climate crisis and unless governments tackle the emissions of the richest, we would lose our chance to limit warming to 1.5⁰C. …
Some of our key findings from our report is that by 2030, the poorest half of the global population will still emit far below the 1.5⁰C, while the richest 1% of the global population are set to exceed this level by 30 times. And the richest 10% of the global population are set to exceed this level by 9 times. So, someone in the richest 1% would need to reduce their emissions by around 97% compared with today to reach this level.
This tells us how inequality is deeply part of the climate crisis.
[00:22:05] Nabil: That's so interesting to hear, because it seems to be there's nothing we can't blame the rich for. … How do we get the emissions of the rich down?
[00:22:28] Nafkote: So, what we need is systems change. … For example, governments need to tax and ban carbon-intensive luxury goods, such as SUVs, private jets, mega mansions, mega yachts, and now, space tourism. Governments also need to curb climate-intensive investments like stock holdings in fossil fuel industries. And above all, we need to end a system that creates extreme wealth.
[00:23:19] Nabil: And it's so interesting also Max and Naf to hear, you know, when people are talking about tackling climate breakdown, they're also talking about things like wealth taxes, which I don't think would have been heard of a few years ago, but that's absolutely necessary, isn't it?
[00:23:36] Max: Some people will say let's, let's just tax the investments in fossil fuels by billionaires. But I think people (are) saying that no, let's just have less rich people. And in order to do that, you tax wealth, full stop. So, it's seeing a general wealth tax as an environmental intervention, because unless we reduce the consumption and the wealth at the very top, we're never going to save the planet.
[00:24:00] Nafkote: Agreed. You know, for me, what I find disturbing is that we live in the same world where right now, millions of people in Madagascar don't have access to food while a wealthy person travels to space just for a few minutes of sightseeing and space. This kind of inequality has to end.
[00:24:21] Max: I can't put it better than that Naf. So, coming back to the COP. Asad said he found his strength in the movement and he saw hope there. What was your view? Is there anything out of Glasgow that gave you hope for the next few years, that inspires you to keep fighting?
[00:24:40] Nafkote: Yes. I agree with Assad completely. For me, the only positive outcome of this COP is that the public, civil society, communities impacted by the climate crisis, have rallied together and recognize that we are in a climate emergency.
And I think Greta has said it well, "When enough people come together, then change will come. And we can achieve almost anything. So instead of looking for hope, start creating it." So we can't choose to give up hope just because those in power failed us. My hope is with the people.
[00:25:17] Nabil: Wow. We've had a few hope answers.
[00:25:21] Max: That's one of the best, yeah. Stop looking for hope, start creating! …
Check out this blog by Max Lawson to learn more about COP26, carbon inequality and next steps as far as climate justice is concerned.
Elizabeth Njambi is the Producer of the EQUALS Podcast. She also manages the EQUALS Blog. She’s a Kenyan Advocate passionate about access to justice: Founder and CEO of Wakili.sha Initiative and Co-host of the Wakili.sha Podcast.
Featured Image Caption: Oxfam campaigners pose as ineffective fire-fighting world leaders on the 12th of November 2021, the final day of COP26 UN Climate Summit in Glasgow, UK. Oxfam said there are just hours left to negotiate a better deal. One that significantly increases financial support to countries and communities on the frontline of the climate crisis to adapt and address loss and damage. And one that sends.the strongest possible signal that countries’ 2030 emission reduction targets will increase next year in line with 1.5 degrees. (Image by Andy Aitchison / Oxfam)