December 07, 2021

Mercy Global Action Reflects on COP26 Participation

In November, a Mercy delegation, consisting of Mercy International Association staff, Mercy Global Action staff, and members of the MGA Task Force on Climate and Water, attended COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland.  Delegates included Cecilie Kern (MIA MGA), Leah Schiffman (MIA MGA) and Siobhan Golden (MIA). 

The Mercy delegation arrived in Glasgow prepared with a range of advocacy materials, including a Position Statement, spotlight flyers highlighting experiences from around the Mercy World, and a social media campaign. Despite claims from the UK Presidency that COP26 was the “most inclusive COP ever,” the Mercy delegates did not find this to be the case. Cost and travel barriers excluded many voices which should have been central to these discussions, particularly those from indigenous communities and from the Global South. The highly-technical nature of the COP, and the limited opportunities for civil society engagement in the negotiation spaces meant that grassroots civil society voices were largely on the peripheries – in side events which were only accessible on the online platform, or in events in the Green Zone – the public space, across the river from the UN venue. 

Mercy gravitated towards those spaces at the edges of the COP, which amplified the voices of women, young people, indigenous people, migrants – those at the grassroots who are most impacted and most engaged in the day to day work of climate action. There we heard about the realities on the ground for many vulnerable communities, as well as the leadership that climate activists have taken in absence of government action. Recurring themes of climate colonialism, gender justice, and the need to center indigenous experiences and solutions and minimize the influence and power of fossil fuel interests echoed throughout these spaces.

For many, COP26 was seen as the defining moment to take bold decisions for setting us on track to stay below the 1.5°C goal of avoiding the worst climate changes in the next decade. Real ambitious action and transformation are necessary for our continued existence, especially for communities in poor and vulnerable countries. Many media organizations have created accessible information about the outcomes of COP26, including commitments on emissions, coal, fossil fuel subsidies, developing countries, deforestation, and more. (BBC, NPR, NYT, The Age, The Guardian). Current national pledges to address climate mitigation only put us on track for a global warming of about 2.4°C and with each year of delay in actually reducing global emissions, this task will get more difficult, and costlier for all of us. 

This COP could have been the place for rich countries to step up and take the right decisions towards climate justice, which is inextricably linked to the colonizing and extractive economic model that has been fueling the climate crisis, but instead, it failed to deliver what is needed. It was a missed opportunity to change course and reach an inclusive economic system that supports healthy and thriving ecosystems and protects human rights and dignity for all. 

Despite this outcome, there were still moments of hope, particularly emerging from movements of indigenous communities, human and environmental rights defenders, and climate vulnerable people. A major highlight COP26 was the Day of Action, where Mercy participants marched with 100,000 other climate activists through the streets of Glasgow. Another source of hope was the leadership and dedication of youth, who were outspoken and persistent in the face of uninspired government promises. It is important that governments take action now, and don’t pass the buck and place the burden on the shoulders of future generations. We have to keep holding national governments accountable for their commitments and remind each other of our responsibilities to care for the earth and inspire collective climate action as a matter of justice. 

Our attention is now towards COP27 in Egypt and we hope that this will be an important opportunity to bring about the real transformation that is deeply needed.  Many of the goals in this year's plan will be followed up on at that time. Between now and then, civil society will mobilize to discuss and implement actions, especially at the national level, to influence and pressure governments to be accountable for their commitments, and to be more ambitious in the future. 

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