Global warming causes global swarming. In 2018, Indian Ocean cyclones hit Oman and Yemen, creating conditions for an outbreak of desert locusts. Swarms grew throughout 2019 and 2020, two of the hottest years on record. Swarms with 80 million insects have swept across Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia, and, as of last week, Kenya, consuming enough staple crops that would otherwise feed 35,000 people, every day. Scientists have linked the growth of locust plagues to climate change.
Meanwhile, in Glasgow, fossil fuel industry lobbyists are swarming the United Nations climate summit, known as COP26. This conference, called the “last, best hope” for the climate, is falling far short of what’s needed to avert irreversible catastrophe. United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) Emissions Gap Report, released just before this year’s COP, warns that, with the current pace of pledged emission cuts by the world’s nations, we are on track to see a 2.7 degrees Celsius (4.3 degrees Fahrenheit) increase in average global temperature, far above the 1.5 degree C (2.7 deg F) target set by the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Critiques of COP26 from activists both inside and outside its walls range from business as usual to abject failure. The United Kingdom’s shambolic management of the event, its strict visa requirements and its failure to deliver on its promised, pre-COP vaccination plan for attendees from nations with low vaccine availability have made this summit the whitest, most privileged COP in its 30-year history.
While widespread access challenges have prevented thousands from participating, over 500 oil, gas and coal lobbyists have been given the red carpet treatment. If they were a nation, according to a new Global Witness report, they would be the largest delegation at COP26.
“Those trying to burn down the table should not have a seat at it,” Pascoe Sabido, Researcher and Campaigner at Corporate Europe Observatory, said to the press. “This is the same industry that has spent the last 50 years denying, delaying and blocking climate action, so how on earth are they still allowed in? The only way we’re going to leave these talks with anywhere near the ambition needed is if we kick these big polluters out.”
Despite the presence of this army of fossil fuel lobbyists, some progress in the official proceedings is evident. A draft COP outcome document released on Tuesday included the word “coal” for the first time in 30 years, calling for nations “to accelerate the phasing out of coal and subsidies for fossil fuels.”
Nigerian environmental leader Nnimmo Bassey, responding to the draft text, said on the Democracy Now! news hour, “Saying they should phase out coal, then only phase out subsidies for fossil fuel, means that this COP believes that fossil fuel use…should continue.” He added, “the tendency is that a draft document may be further watered down, so that final document may actually come out to say don’t phase out anything or remove subsidies.”
Bassey was speaking on the 26th anniversary of the execution of renowned Nigerian environmental activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, who was hanged with eight others on trumped up charges to silence their effective campaigning against Shell’s oil extraction in the Niger Delta. Another plague on the planet has been the murder of environmentalists, land and water defenders, and climate justice campaigners, with over 1,000 killed just since the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
Climate scientist Kevin Anderson of the University of Manchester has long pointed out that, while the “climate glitterati” gather at the annual COPs and achieve little, the climate doesn’t negotiate. “If we are to deliver on the 1.5 degrees commitment that [U.S. President] Joe Biden made earlier this year, the math and physics tell us we have eight years for a good chance of 1.5,” Anderson said on Democracy Now! “The protesters and the civil society movements in their work, engaging more locally, all of that is much more in line with what science is calling for.”
Outside the fortified convention center, the civil society Anderson praises has been swarming as well, with a massive march of over 100,000 people and a four-day countersummit with hundreds of panels and events across Glasgow and online. The COP26 Coalition’s lead spokesperson, Asad Rehman, was actually invited to address the COP. He tore up his prepared remarks in frustration with the lack of progress, and said instead,
“The richest have ignored every moral and political call to do their fair share. Their broken promises across 26 COPs are no longer fooling anyone…We know it is ordinary people who change history, and we will change history.”