Cop26 will be the whitest and most privileged ever – it should be a source of great shame to everyone

Our best guarantee against a climate apartheid world is for richer countries in the global north to take radical action now

Diane Abbott
Monday 08 November 2021 15:14
'Cop26 doesn't go far enough', says Labour MP Zarah Sultana amidst London climate protest

It is a source of great shame that Cop26 will be the whitest and most privileged ever, with thousands who intended to travel from poorer countries excluded. A hostile environment from the Home Office to those travelling from countries in the global south (especially those from Africa), high costs of accommodation and a failure to deliver on a pledge to offer Covid vaccines to all delegates has excluded many of those who face the worst of the climate crisis every day.

Having broken the promise of offering Covid vaccines to all delegates, it is unsurprising to then see that rich countries will be three years late in putting together the $100bn climate crisis fund that was promised for poor nations at the Paris talks in 2015. Without these vital funds, the global south stands little chance of tackling the climate crisis and the delay is costly. Even if the funds are provided in full by the new date of 2023, much of the damage is already set in stone.

As the effects of the climate crisis intensify, the number of climate refugees from the global south will also increase. A report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that in 2020, 30 million people were forced to move within their own country, more than three times the number displaced because of violence and conflict.

The plight of these refugees is ripe for exploitation, both by right wing populist politicians and by criminal gangs who can exploit these refugees and take them on increasingly precarious routes across the English Channel, Mediterranean Sea or New Mexican desert because of the absence of safe and legal routes.

Western governments know that failure to drastically change course will involve the displacement of millions of climate refugees and they have already started to plan for it. As early as 2003, the Pentagon was warning that the US would need to create “defensive fortresses” to stop “unwanted starving migrants” from countries like Guatemala and Haiti if its worst projections on the climate crisis were realised.

Unlike the impoverished populations of the global south, the governments of rich western countries have a choice. They could invest in tackling climate change, waive intellectual property rights on vaccines and green technology, increase funding for the global south to fight climate change and cancel punitive debts.

When it comes to debt alone, lower income countries spend five times more on debt than on measures to tackle the climate crisis. Former Maldives president, Mohamed Nasheed, says: “The untold story, and challenge, of climate adaptation lies in the economic predicament of climate-vulnerable countries who are trapped in debt.”

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Closer to home, western governments can end new fossil fuel extraction. If Boris Johnson was serious about his newfound commitment to environmental issues, Britain would not be going ahead with the Cumbria coal mine.

Sadly, all the evidence is that the supposed commitment of Boris Johnson and his fellow world leaders to climate change is all hot air. They are more concerned with fighting immigration than fighting the climate crisis.

The Transnational institute recently revealed that “seven countries in particular – responsible for 48 per cent of the world’s historic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – collectively spent at least twice as much on border and immigration enforcement (more than $33.1bn) as on climate finance ($14.4bn) between 2013 and 2018”. So desperate people are forced back to uninhabitable land by an increasingly militarised border force or their dead bodies are simply left to wash up on shore.

Our best guarantee against a climate apartheid world is for richer countries in the global north to take radical action now to avoid disaster. Now is the time to demand climate justice for the global south.

Experts agree that countries in the global south, which includes Africa, the Caribbean and Latin America, will suffer much more from climate change in decades to come than wealthy white countries like Britain and America. These countries are already experiencing the effects of climate change with extreme weather and rising waters.

And the damage caused by extreme weather, such as flooding, is much worse in the global south because of the additional pressures of poor infrastructure. Imagine trying to escape or provide relief during a natural disaster when the roads are no more than dirt tracks. The fact that the global south is suffering so much more from climate change is a massive injustice, when these countries have contributed little to the world’s historic greenhouse gas emissions.

For instance, Bangladesh produces just 0.015 per cent of historic greenhouse gas emissions. But in 2020, 4.4 million Bangladeshi people have suffered from rising waters and climate related displacement. In the same way, countries such as Somalia and Tunisia are suffering from severe droughts, floods, cyclones and swarms of locusts, which starve countries and destroy swathes of farmland. And this is all as a result of the climate crisis. But neither of these countries has produced even half a percent of the world’s historic emissions.

Compare the plight of the global south with the culpability of rich white countries such as America, Germany, Japan, Britain, Canada, France and Australia. These are collectively responsible for 48.3 per cent of historic emissions. America alone is responsible for 30 per cent of historic greenhouse emissions.

These countries have built their vast wealth by burning an incredible amount of fossil fuels and in the process, they have brought the world to the brink of disaster.

For this simple reason, the global north and the world’s richer countries owe so much more to the global south.

Diane Abbott is the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

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