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Interview - Issue #8

COP26: The Power of the People

An interview with Dominique Palmer

Where the Leaves Fall contacted global changemakers for their thoughts and responses to this year’s COP26 - the UN Climate Change Conference. Dominique Palmer is a UK-based climate justice activist. An organiser for Fridays for Future International and the UK Student Climate Network, and launch coordinator for Climate Live across the UK and internationally, she campaigns for bold and systemic action for people and planet. She studies Politics and International Relations at Birmingham University. She spoke at the UN Climate Change Conference in 2019 (COP25) and features in the Forbes 100 UK Environmentalists list. You can read the edited interview that was published in the print edition of Where the Leaves Fall here.

Where the Leaves Fall What do you feel are the most pressing issues for COP26 to address and why?

Dominique Palmer COP26 needs to outline serious commitments for the most polluting countries in line with the latest climate science from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report. This can happen in the form of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC), or a new system. We need binding carbon targets, not distant net-zero targets that simply pass the issue onto the next generation. These targets must cover everything including imports, which countries like the UK conveniently leave out of emission stats.

It must also tackle climate finance for countries that have experienced the worst climate impacts but have contributed least to the climate crisis, particularly those in the global south and for the most affected people and areas. The highest polluting countries, which are also the richest, have not even delivered on climate finance promises made at COP15. This must be high on the agenda, now.

They must tackle climate and environmental justice, and seriously address the issue that social inequalities and exploitation are inextricably linked to the climate crisis. Policies must tackle this and not leave anyone behind. 

And, of course, renew their Paris Agreement pledges.

‘We need binding carbon targets, not distant net-zero targets that simply pass the issue onto the next generation.’

— Dominique Palmer

WtLF What outcomes (and practical measures) would you like to see emerge from COP26?

Dominique The Paris Agreement pledges need to be re-signed, countries need to submit new NDCs, plans should be laid out for binding carbon targets in line with the science, climate finance for disproportionately impacted countries seriously addressed, and climate and environmental justice should be high on the agenda. 

WtLF How optimistic are you that COP26 will deliver positive change, and why?

Dominique I have been reflecting on this a lot lately and it’s hard to tell. I am not expecting incredible things to come out of COP26, but I am trying to be optimistic in the bare minimum outcomes for climate action. The reason I am not overly optimistic is by looking at the results from previous COPs, attending COP25 myself, and by engaging in countries’ current policies, which do not line up with the science at all. For example, the UK, which is hosting COP26, is set to approve the new Cambo oil and gas project [drilling for oil in the North Sea], just months before the crucial climate talks. Not only does it completely ignore the Paris Agreement and climate science, but also the UK’s own climate targetsOn top of this, the major climate criminals, aka the fossil fuel industry, are being given space at COP26. 

It is hard to be massively positive when actions global leaders are taking are not in line with climate action but accelerating climate breakdown, simply for profit, cosying up with oil lobbyists. I want to see the end of all talk and no action.

However, the positive change I see coming from the people, and from mobilisation around COP26 is incredible. The climate movement has managed to place immense pressure on global leaders, particularly in the last couple of years, and we have seen results in the climate being elevated on the agenda and raised in the public consciousness. The power of the people is truly monumental, and after a long time of only being able to do digital actions, the level of physical mobilisation will be incredible. It is also a moment for the climate movement to reconnect, re-energise, and get back out there in pushing climate action. For me, the most hope I have does not come from politicians or lobbyists who have continually let us down, it comes from the people.

‘You don’t have to be perfect - none of us are. If you’re able to, you just have to do something, anything, and start today.’

— Dominique Palmer

WtLF What do the world leaders, and everyone else, need to change on a personal level?

Dominique On a personal level, world leaders need to stop playing the political game, they need to put words into action and use the personal power that they have to enact change. 

For the general public, there is so much we can all do in terms of individual and more sustainable lifestyle changes and using the power we have as individuals to join the global climate movement. At this crucial point, one of the most impactful things you can do is to join us in applying pressure, because we are running out of time.

Never underestimate the power of the people, and what you can contribute. It doesn’t have to look like what I do, or like other activists you see, it doesn’t have to look like any one person because there is not just one type of activist. There are so many different roles and groups. This is all a massive puzzle and we fit into different pieces with our varying skills, knowledge, and experience.

We need creatives, those who inspire others, who are great at outreach, those who can coordinate a group, who can educate others, the strategy planners, those good with logistics, the visionaries, those who show up at protests, the list goes on. Even just using your voice - particularly those from marginalised communities - even your life experience is valuable here to create an equitable future.

You don’t have to be perfect - none of us are. If you’re able to, you just have to do something, anything, and start today. Join a local activist group or environmental organisation, support campaigns physically and online, show up to protests, and share resources online.

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