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The Global Challenge of COP26

From Labour Outlook

The Global Challenge of COP26 – Roger McKenzie, Liberation

“There is an urgency to move beyond the usual fake promises and half-hearted commitments that usually accompany these events. For the people of the Global South COP26 represents one of the last remaining opportunities to save their lives.”

By Roger Mckenzie, general secretary of Liberation, and long time union and anti-racist organiser.     

Last year was the warmest year on record in Asia. Temperatures were 1.39 degrees above the average for 1981-2010. Cyclone Amphan, one of the strongest cyclones ever recorded, struck the Sundarbans region in India and Bangladesh in May 2020. As a result India and Bangladesh both saw many thousands killed and around 2.5 million people displaced.

Monsoons across South and East Asia were more active than usual during 2020 with frequent tropical cyclones causing regular floods and landslides and, of course, loss of life.

Heatwaves have killed more than 17,000 lives in India since 1971. Temperatures routinely reach 40 degrees with 50 degrees no longer being unusual.

The Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, based in Brussels, reported that 195% more African were affected by extreme weather events during 2019. More than 16.5 million people were affected by natural disasters in 29 of the 54 countries on the continent. Seventy nine per cent of these events – droughts, wildfires, floods, landslides, extreme temperatures, fog and storms – were accounted for in Zimbabwe, Kenya, Mozambique, Tanzania and Somalia.

These rising levels of extreme weather incidents underline the importance of achieving real and meaningful progress at the COP26 UN led summit beginning in Glasgow, Scotland on 31 October. There is an urgency to move beyond the usual fake promises and half-hearted commitments that usually accompany these events. For the people of the Global South COP26 represents one of the last remaining opportunities to save their lives and the survival of our planet as we know it.

The World Health Organisation estimates that between 2030 and 2050 the climate emergency is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths each year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

Areas with weak health infrastructure in the Global South will be least able to cope with the extreme challenges caused by the climate crisis. Reducing the emissions of greenhouse gases is not a mere academic debate in the Global South. It is literally a matter of life and death.

So who will decide who lives and who dies? The richest and most powerful nations on the planet will once again be leading these discussions. These are the same nations that have blocked the waivers that have allowed Big Pharma to continue to make extreme profits by not sharing their intellectual property on COVID-19 vaccines. Effectively blocking the ability to get more vaccines into more arms in the Global South in preference for eye-wateringly high profits.

It hardly fills one with confidence that these nations will suddenly place the interests of people over profits. The nations of the Global South will, once again, be expected to dance to the tune of the rich and powerful nations – who themselves are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases.

Nations, such as India and China, argue that they are now having their industrial revolution whilst the others have already had theirs. They want the opportunity to develop and believe that they are being held back so that others can continue to maintain their economic and financial dominance. At one level they have a point but in the meantime, without a fundamental improvement in the emission targets of these and all other countries, the planet will continue to hurtle headlong past the point of no return.

All of this makes the civil society organising and campaigning activities that surround COP26 to be even more important than ever. We know that organising, campaigning and protest makes a difference – because its the only thing that ever has! So who will be taking part in the civil society organised events in Glasgow?

I know that efforts are being made to ensure there is representation of the Global South in Glasgow. War on Want and other important organisations are co-operating to make sure that the conversations include those at the sharpest end. This is vitally important as organisers and campaigners also should not think that they have permission to speak on behalf of the Global South in the same way that the rich and powerful nations do.

COP26 is, in many ways, the last chance saloon. At Liberation we believe that a strong international political and social movement is required to make a real difference. This movement for change must recognise that meaningful progress will not be possible without a fundamental and irreversible shift in favour of working class people across the globe and away from the interests of the global ruling elite.


  • Roger McKenzie is the general secretary of Liberation, former Assistant General Secretary of UNISON and a long time union and anti-racist organiser. You can follow him on twitter here.
  • You can follow Liberation on Facebook and twitter.

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