The UN climate negotiations in Madrid, COP25, have amounted to precious little. The extended talks have provided the opportunity for petrol states and developed countries to excise the red lines of developing countries from the text of the agreement.
As Dr Saleemul Huq from Bangladesh tweeted earlier: “Adding an extra day of negotiations is a tactic of the rich and powerful countries who know that the poor and vulnerable countries negotiators will not be able to stay the extra day to defend their red lines.”
After a quarter of a century of negotiations, it should come as no surprise that vested interests remain hellbent of destroying what is left of our only planet Earth.
The clues have been there all along. For instance, the original individual national pledges for emissions reductions were meant to be called ‘Nationally Determined Commitments’, but, of course, that is too, well, committing.
So instead they changed it to ‘Nationally Determined Contributions’, which sounds more like a whip-round for a restaurant tip than a serious pledge to limit the number of lives lost to ever-worsening climate impacts.
The areas of the world that are in the front lines of serious and extreme climate change are Africa, South-East Asia and the global south. This is where the majority of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people live.
Floods, droughts, wildfires, hurricanes are already occurring here. In places such as the Small Island Developing States (SIDS), the impacts are critical, with tidal surges destroying homes, agriculture and taking lives.
This is all set to worsen with some islands on track for complete destruction in terms of human and natural habitats.
Representatives from these countries attend the COP in search of equity and justice. The poorest are also the world’s least emitting nations and are not responsible for the catastrophe that developing nations are bestowing on them.
Attending a side event at the COP, hosted by the Institute for Environmental Security, I was able to record an interview with General Ghazi, a former Defence Secretary in the Government of Pakistan.
Ghazi sees the growing constraints of a resource-strapped region where cross-border disputes move from the ideological to the climatically tangible, with the potential to escalate rapidly into something far more serious.
When I asked him what concerned him most about the future he replied: “I think my biggest concern, especially in the area in which I live, is water. It is the reduction in the flows of the river Indus, on which, in my country, the people depend on.
“Through human activities they are damming or diverting water, they are making the lower riparian suffer.”
Ghazi continued: “This would be the trigger for a catastrophic conflict if the intention is to make the lower riparian suffer for geopolitical or political reasons. You know, when you have no security or livelihood left then the eventual option is to resort to arms to actually retake it! This last resort is something I see happening in terms of water threat.”
The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) delivered their severe climate report in the first week of the negotiations and this was quickly followed by IUCN’s report on the deoxygenation of the world’s oceans.
When I interviewed one of the lead authors, Professor Dan Laffoley, I asked him whether he was describing a dying ocean. He said: “We are in dead trouble. We are in dead trouble because when we look back in 30 years time, we might actually realise that the source of our woes was not the tale of one gas, it was the tale of two gases.
“At the moment we are talking about carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, quite rightly, and cutting drastically our emissions, because they are a driver of this.
We also need to worry about oxygen in the ocean. There is much less oxygen in the ocean per unit of area because it is simply the physics of a gas dissolved in a liquid compared to being dissolved in the air but that small amount of oxygen is required for so many things.
“It is not just required to support biodiversity and the benefits we derive from it. If you don’t have enough oxygen in the ocean, you start to disrupt some of the basic cycling of elements that are necessary for life on earth, like nitrogen, like phosphorous, and phosphates. So this is a real, real problem.
The goodness if there is good news out of this is that we know what to do. We know we must cut emissions of carbon dioxide, we know we must stop enriching the ocean, and we need to protect the pieces of ecosystems that are still intact, grow that estate and take the pressure off the whole marine environment.”
I also interviewed Dr Peter Carter, an IPCC climate science reviewer. Carter said: “What is happening to prevent these forest fires, droughts, severe storms, powerful hurricanes, floods? What is happening to lessen them at least? Absolutely nothing!
“Nothing is going to come out of this COP with regards to doing anything. That was decided on the first day. I heard, that the parties, under the control of the big emitters, made the decision that they are not going to look at any improvement of their national emissions targets.
“What do you call this? This is a terrible, terrible crime! It is unbelievable what these high-emitting fossil fuel companies are doing. Pope Francis who wrote an Encyclical on ecology a few years ago said that it is a sin against God, and very recently he said it was a crime. That means in moral terms it is evil, right?
“The countries that are blocking any progress on emissions are acting in the most evil way that anybody could imagine.
We are looking at the destruction of Earth, of oceans, and land!”
I saw the same busker in Madrid, once outside the Prado and another time next to the metro station Sol. On both occasions, he was playing Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ but with Spanish lyrics.
The song seems like the perfect analogy for the UN climate negotiations. With an estimated 500,000 people marching through the city crying out for change and the likes of climate youth superstar Greta Thunberg, calling out the adults running our society for behaving like children, it begs the question, who are these faceless, anonymous negotiators who year on year sanction the deaths of so much of the natural world, including human beings?
The developed countries are accused widely of pursuing climate policies that are an extension of colonial powers, subjugating the poorest and excusing the evilest acts so that a fraction of the worlds richest people can carry on killing everything that sustains us.
With 25 years of failure it should be about time that the bureaucrats running this heinous show be unmasked, and that the consequences of their failures be borne back onto them.
The whole UN climate negotiating system is rotten to the core. Even at face value it barely bothers to codify the injustice that it perpetuates.
This was best illustrated by a member of the action group Fridays For Future, Angela Valenzuela, herself from the original host country, Chile.
Valenzuela points out that it is not just climate systems that are breaking down but unsustainable social systems too. Systems of inequality where the privileged few have been, for decades, hoarding the wealth resources that allow nations to prosper.
Valenzuela explains how her government in Chile declared a state of emergency and introduced curfews to repress the protests. The protests have continued long passed the decision to move the UN talks to Madrid.
Valenzuela says there has been violence and human rights violations. In many cases, the protestors are flying the indigenous peoples flag more than the national Chilean flag. She describes this as a deeper reflection of the national identity.
Chilean people are losing faith in the systems of governance that are not equal and certainly are not able to see them through the multi-year drought and increased climate impacts that are now ubiquitous in the northern and central parts of the country.
All of this contrasts with the national government’s presence at the COP. I asked Valenzuela whether she had engaged at all with the Chilean delegation at the COP: “For me, it has been very shocking to arrive at COP and see all the greenwashing.
“All the beautiful pictures of landscapes and the names of our cities. I was aware that COP was a place for greenwashing. It has been in Poland over the last few years, one of the European countries that has the most coal plants.
“So I know about the greenwashing but what has been shocking is that I know human violations are going on in my country and it is being overseen by the government and they are really trying to stand out very well and pretend that nothing is happening.
“So, of course, I cannot really relate or have a proper conversation. Fo me they have lost legitimacy.”
These sentiments are now being seen in many countries around the world where protests are increasing and populism is on the rise.
The backdrop of climate change is an existential threat to civilisation and will challenge us in many ways.
The failure of the UN COP’s is setting the stage for more civil protest as the tide of impacts crashes the shores of all regions around the world.
With hope of international progress and adequate intergovernmental policy and cooperation fading, COP26 is doubtless going to be another greenwashing expedition, this time enacted by the UK’s newly elected Conservative party who have a terrible environmental record.
If you are experiencing anxiety arising from the climate crisis, rest assured, it is the correct emotional response.