Mahir Ilgaz

It’s maddening: to hope for the bare minimum, after thousands of scientists have been metaphorically (and sometimes literally) screaming at the top of their lungs, after years of campaigning, and after devastating climate impacts – and then have even the lowest of expectations disappointed.

But here we are: for the first time ever, the UNFCCC got tantalisingly close to a decision putting fossil fuels at the center, as the main culprits of the climate crisis. Then, they didn’t.

The actual text about fossil fuels, in the final agreement adopted by the COP26 today, started mealy-mouthed in the first draft and ended up a complete disgrace, calling weakly for a “…phase-down of unabated coal power and a phase out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies…’. It’s completely understandable that many movement partners are finding it hard to celebrate – indeed, are calling this a betrayal.

We came to Glasgow expecting little from the people who call themselves our “leaders”. The carefully formulated language of the COP26 decision makes no difference to the real climate action happening already all over the world. The global climate movement keeps standing, in its full power and resilience, and we are leading the way.

The strength of this movement for climate justice is built with blood, sweat and tears of countless frontline communities and individuals. It’s build by people who have put their bodies on the line against fossil fuel projects in every part of the Earth. By the people of the ‘first adapters’, still resilient after devastating climate impacts. By the Indigenous Peoples of the world refusing to be subjugated by the fossil fuel industry. By the youth taking to the streets to demand a future. By the campaigner who spent half her life on this; it’s the organizer who grinds tirelessly day after day, year after year. By the comms expert subsisting on coffee and a half sandwich for days at an end, coming up with the most perfect, powerful lines.

It’s built by every single one of us.

COP26 is, once more, a disgrace. But the failure of our governments makes the true climate leadership stand our sharply in contrast. With or without a COP decision, the transition away from fossil fuels and towards a clean, just, renewable future is going to happen. Hope is people, and people have had enough.

From tomorrow, our work is beginning anew. In almost everything of substance, governments at COP26 have shirked responsibility and kicked the ball down the road for the 26th time. But COP is only 2 out of 52 weeks in a year. From tomorrow, we get back to to fight to keep ALL fossil fuels in the ground. We keep working to dismantle all the false solutions: the buffers, the credits, the offsets, all the loopholes politicians and fossil fuel lobbyists have built into these decisions. We loudly demand for ambition to do what climate science dictates.

The challenge is now to make sure that critical climate action happens bigger and faster. Today, as in the past decades, true leadership resides in the climate movement – and we’re going to drag the laggards in our government with us, whether they want to or not.

Together, we have to make sure that those who caused the climate crisis do not dump their historical responsibility to fix it on developing countries, and stifle their potential to grow by creating new dependencies on fossil fuels. The world we’re building must be built on justice for all.

We will keep fighting for rich countries to first meet the inadequate promises they already made about providing climate finance – promises so far unfulfilled. We will work to make sure that the developing world can leapfrog to renewable energies. This requires a mobilization of resources at a massive scale. A mobilization which pales in comparison with the amount of money that’s already flowing into the fossil fuel industry year by year.

We also must make sure that countries already suffering the impacts of the climate crisis have access to funds that help them adapt, and also compensate for losses and damage incurred by those impacts. We need to fight for it, because rich countries do everything in their power to avoid responsibility and keep delaying action. We have to make sure that the money provided for adaptation or loss and damage are not made conditional on mitigation efforts.

These countries did not cause the climate crisis. They should not be made to pay for it. If anything, they are owed a life. And a debt. A huge debt.

It’s time for the historic polluters to pay up – and we’re coming to collect. It starts with a simple thing: keep it in the ground.