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Lost in discussion - War against climate change

A most important criticism that governments and climate change crusaders have been facing for the longest time is 'all talks and no action'.

Credit : Prathmesh Patil

The Conference of Parties (COP)27 climate summit held in Egypt this year was believed to have begun on a relatively positive note for the fight against climate change. After a year of natural disasters, environmental crises for the entire world, the summit included the much-discussed, much-demanded topic of ‘loss and damages’ on its finance agenda. While there were certainly more expectations from the conference in terms of setting better environmental goals and ensuring climate assistance, many have been left disappointed. What happened at the discussions, who was part of these discussions and what was or was not their outcome has a huge part to play in this disappointment.

It has been almost three decades since several poor nations have been demanding financial assistance from rich, developed countries, to face the worsening consequences of climate change. However, the hot topic, that the rich countries have been resisting for years, did not meet a desirable conclusion for many. The discussion on the most talked about agenda continued two days later than the scheduled end of COP.

This brings us to one of the most important criticisms that governments and climate change crusaders have been facing for the longest time - all talks and no action.



Why was a loss and damage resolution important to climate change action this year? Last year opened the eyes of the world to some of the most unprecedented weather events. La Nina over the Pacific Ocean has brought at least four flooding events to East Africa this year. India and Pakistan faced severe heatwaves in the months of March-April, followed by an erratic monsoon again. Pakistan faced a never-before kind of flooding event that inundated one-third of the country and affected over 30 million people. The Horn of Africa is facing a fourth consecutive monsoon without rainfall, leaving countries like Somalia, Ethiopia on the verge of famine. Europe recorded unprecedented levels of high temperatures in the summer months of June-July leading to heatwaves and drought.

The consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, global warming, climate change that several researchers, reports have been talking about over the last couple of decades have reached everyone’s doorsteps now. They have entered and occupied the homes of several, forcing them out, and claiming their lives and livelihoods. And as this continues to happen, the developing countries that have contributed the least but are facing the brunt of this climate change the most, need assistance to mitigate and adapt. As rich countries resist liabilities and poor countries continue to demand, climate change action continues to remain in the documents and headlines.

Since the last few weeks, climate activists throwing soup at the famous works of art at different museums in Europe have been making headlines. Soup, mashed potatoes, cake, etc. has been thrown upon several famous artworks by Leonardo Da Vinci, Claude Monet, Van Gogh, etc. The series of these so called ‘attacks’ so far have not destroyed any of these artworks, as the food was thrown over the paintings that were protected by glass cover.

So why are they throwing food on the artwork? The activists have time and again said that their actions are aimed at calling attention to the environmental crisis looming over us. The four activists from Ultima Generazione (English: Last Generation) released a statement saying "everything that we would have the right to see in our present and our future is being obscured by a real and imminent catastrophe, just as this pea puree has covered” the painting. Activists from Just Oil who threw tomato soup over Vincent van Gogh’s Sunflowers at London’s National Gallery said “What is worth more, art or life?”



The concern that the activists have said they mean to raise through these protests is that just like the world pays attention to the news of the destruction of a piece of artwork, it should pay equal attention to the destruction of the environment taking place on a daily basis and hold those responsible accountable for it. The point of these acts, the activists say, is to trigger discussions on climate change, the damage inflicted by fossil fuel consumption and the doom that looks over the earth.

But the question that remains is where are these discussions taking place. While conferences, summits, meetings and agreements are important for setting goals and discussing cooperation, they are worthless if the talks do not translate into positive actions, legislations and concrete change (pun intended).

However, climate summits, the protests like these are losing their credibility and relevance in the minds of the common people over the years, as their scope continues to shrink instead of expanding. Worldover, indigenous communities, farmers, those engaged in a variety of traditional occupations, workers are fighting to keep the natural resources intact. The communities traditionally dependent on nature for their livelihoods have been known to be playing an important role in conserving them. However, the inconsequential reality of the climate talks does not provide any support to these communities, who are actually facing the brunt of climate change and trying to do something about it.

In fact, even at COP27 this year, the indigenous protesters, climate activists from poor, vulnerable nations complained that their voices were not heard, that they were humiliated. Many civil society and climate activists said that they were intimidated by being monitored, photographed by the Egyptian authorities during the summit. The conferences in the earlier years have been accused of being non-inclusive has indigenous communities have reported facing language barriers, racism and intimidation from their richer counterparts. However, this COP was advertised as being different, as it was held in Africa. Sadly, that was not the case. On the other hand, while reducing emissions had been ‘the’ agenda of the climate summits for long, an unnerving number of (over 600) fossil fuel lobbyists were reportedly seen “crowding” COP this year.



Earlier this year, BBC reported that some 2,000 islanders in Guna Yala were becoming one of the first indigenous communities in Latin America to relocate because of climate change. Communities, especially those living on islands, have been facing the threat of displacement for years. The threat is now becoming a reality for many, be it the indigenous people of small Pacific island nations losing land due to rising sea levels or the residents of Sunderban delta losing homes due to subsiding land, constant erosion and cyclones, it is the poor who are in the middle of the falling chaos.

Are the discussions in the air-conditioned rooms reaching them? Are they changing their lives? The outcomes till now have proved otherwise. Last year, during the COP 26 held in Glasgow, Scotland, Simon Kofe, foreign minister of Tuvalu, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean, made speech to the leaders at the conference standing knee-deep in seawater to assert that his country is in the front line to face the irreversible, adverse consequences of climate change. 

Pacific islanders, for long, have been demanding immediate action going beyond discussions. However, while emission goals were set last year (in COP26), the COP27 agreement failed to go beyond the 2021 Glasgow climate pact’s promise to “phase down unabated coal power”. No new commitments were made, neither were any new targets set. The loss and damage fund that was discussed vehemently for two extra days after the scheduled end of the conference did find a breakthrough in the end. It was decided that a loss and damage fund is to be set up, but the specificities of the fund, what will be its extent and who will pay for it, have not been determined.

Meanwhile, as the governments of the poor countries are fighting the rich, developed countries to lead the fight against climate change, on one hand, their approach towards their most marginalised communities who would likely be the first victims of climate change is seldom supportive. In many countries, the indigenous, the marginalised communities are fighting one battle or another against their own governments.

The discussions around climate change are falling short of reaching out to the people, to the communities that are at the core of the issue. Only when the activists, the international organisations and the governments listen to the people, support the demands on the ground and back the protests of the grassroot communities, is a change possible. Even at COP27, indigenous activists present had indicated that their voices were not being heard with equal respect at the conference. Until the talks start translating into true policy differences for them, climate change is a demon hard to exorcise.