Why have a small group of Spaniards decided to walk almost 1,000 km, braving the British weather?

Recently we have all read about the severe degradation of ecosystems and the daily extinction of over 150 species. Also we have heard that ‘climate change is widespread, fast, and intensifying’ according to the latest IPCC report. Some 11,000 scientists have warned that unless we make major transformations and significantly cut carbon emissions, the world faces ‘untold suffering’.

Although it is the countries of the global south that are unjustly facing the worst consequences, the extreme climate events of recent months have highlighted that we are all at risk. Furthermore, COVID-19 has underlined the link between the degradation of the natural world and our health.

Grupo de caminantes bajo la lluvia

To a large extent, the future of humanity depends on the outcomes of the Climate Change Summit (COP26) which will be held in Glasgow in November 2021.

We need ambitious and binding commitments to avoid any worsening of the environmental crisis and to achieve a just transition towards a low-emission global economy. A small minority of the wealthy emit disproportionate levels of CO2, while it is those who have the least who pay the price.

Despite the feelings of fear, rage and anxiety that the crisis inspires, we are convinced that the changes we need can only be achieved through people becoming engaged, and mass mobilization.

Simply leaving everything in the hands of the large companies and political elites is not the great idea that they would have us believe.

Tragically, there are still today groups that deny or play down the problem, in an attempt to confuse public opinion. These are often funded by private interests.

In light of this scenario, we believe it is our duty to make this small symbolic sacrifice if it can help raise awareness about all that is at stake in Glasgow. It is our future that is on the line. The project started in Zaragoza, Spain, and is co-organized by Extinction Rebellion, Ecologistas en Acción and the Alianza por la Emergencia Climática.

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This section provides a synthesis of reports by renowned scientists and international institutions: What is happening to our climate? What is at stake at the COP26? What social and economic measures should be taken? And what can YOU do?

1. What is the COP26?

The COP (Conference of the Parties) is widely regarded as being the most important international climate conference. Each year, hundreds of world leaders meet to negotiate and reach agreements on climate change. From 1–12 November 2021, the COP will be held in Glasgow and it will be the 26th edition, hence the name. 

The official part of the COP takes place within a cordoned-off area, where delegates carry out their negotiations. Representatives of civil society, organizations and the media can also attend. Activists usually stage parallel counter summits, featuring activities such as workshops, presentations, debates and protests.

At the COP26, countries have perhaps the last opportunity to adopt the binding and ambitious commitments that will allow us to avoid the collapse of the climate and to stabilize our Earth.

2. Where do we stand today?

Until now, efforts of governments, international organizations and large polluting companies to control emissions and ensure that we stay within the 1.5ºC warming (by 2100, relative to pre-industrial levels), which is considered relatively safe, have been a categorical failure.

The graph below shows how temperatures have risen since 1850.

We are already nearly at +1.5ºC and if we do not make major changes we will reach +2.7ºC by the end of the century.

From an increase of 2ºC we will very likely have reached the point of no return, with temperatures skyrocketing by 3, 4 or even more degrees (a catastrophe). At this point we would be unable to do anything about it because of positive feedback loops such as the reduction of ice cover (albedo) or the release of permafrost in the Arctic.

The thick blue line in the graph below shows the path we are on, reaching a lethal 2.7–3.1 degrees increase by the end of the century. The green line shows the dramatic drop in emissions that is necessary to stay within the Paris agreement objective of 1.5 degrees.

The following graph is another way of presenting the scenarios, but both graphs come to the same conclusion: we need to cut our emissions as quickly as possible.

3. What are the consequences of rising temperatures?

Every tenth of a degree means life or death for thousands of people.

This is not a future problem.

2021, probably one of the coolest and most stable years we will live through, has heralded devastating, climate-change-related meteorological phenomena. If we fail in Glasgow, the climate will become hotter, more unpredictable and more violent.

The graph below shows that as the average temperature rises, heatwaves will become increasingly common and intense. Every tenth of a degree increase results in a more extreme climate.

We are not just talking about heatwaves, but also hurricanes, torrential rain and droughts. These will not only kill thousands of people through natural disasters but will also jeopardize future harvests and the lives of those who depend on them. 

The graph below shows that due to the higher levels of energy in the earth’s climate system, warm and cold air masses are much more mobile. As they move into other areas they create climate anomalies, such as the recent sweltering temperatures of 50ºC in Canada and 49ºC in Italy or the forest fires in Greece, incurring terrible human and economic costs.

4. Why is the climate crisis profoundly unjust?

We do not all produce the same levels of emissions: The richest 1% of the world’s population emits more than double the CO2 of the poorest half of humanity, meanwhile, the poorest 50% of the population generates only 7% of emissions.

The following graph shows that if the richest 10% reduced their emissions to the EU average, global emissions would drop by almost one third.

Of course it is the poorest people in the world, those who have least contributed to climate change who are facing the gravest consequences. They are becoming climate refugees or even losing their lives due to natural disasters or food insecurity.

However, the misconception that climate change only affects poor and vulnerable countries is a grave error. No one is safe and extreme climate events are already affecting the wealthiest countries. 

Recent studies estimate that 83 million people could die from heatwaves in this century alone. In addition, the World Bank forecasts that ‘up to 132 million people will be pushed into extreme poverty by climate change by 2030’.

Tim Gore, the Head of Climate Policy at Oxfam sums it up, ‘The over-consumption of a wealthy minority is fuelling the climate crisis, yet it is poor communities and young people who are paying the price. Such extreme carbon inequality is a direct consequence of our governments’ decades-long pursuit of grossly unequal and carbon intensive economic growth’.

Find out more in the Oxfam report ‘Confronting Carbon Inequality in the European Union’ (PDF).

5. How does climate change affect our health?

How does climate change affect our health?

The World Health Organization states thatclimate change is potentially the greatest threat to health of the 21st century; it has a major effect on social and environmental health determinants, such as clean air, drinking water, food and housing.

Climate change can aggravate certain health risks and creates new challenges for public health: the WHO expects 250,000 deaths a year from health problems directly linked to climate change.

More information: WHO – Climate Change and Health

6. What is at stake at the COP26?

Until now we have been sold the illusion of climate action while, in actual fact, measures have been postponed and greenhouse gases have not stopped increasing since the IPCC (the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) was founded in 1988.

Wealthy nations also committed 100 billion dollars a year towards helping the poorest countries reduce their emissions and protect themselves against climate impacts. The worst affected countries are yet to receive this money.

A firm agreement on all of these issues is essential. But for the COP26 to be truly successful, the leaders must go above and beyond the commitments they have already made, and make good on their promises through specific plans and investments. A good starting point would be to cancel all new fossil fuel projects straight away and to stop burning coal.

Although some of the effects of climate change are already inevitable, we still have time to slow, and possibly reverse the rising temperatures. In order to do this, firm global actions must be implemented to halve global emissions and reach net zero emissions by 2050.

7. What do scientists say about our capitalist-growth economic model?

Scientists in the IPCC are extremely concerned about the current emergency. Fearful that the conclusions of their reports will be distorted when published, some have leaked their reports so that the public get the full story.

Specifically, the first draft of the Group III summary, on analysing how to reduce emissions and mitigate the impacts, warns,

Life on Earth can recover from a drastic climate shift by evolving into new species and creating new ecosystems…humans cannot’.

In the leaked reports, scientists state that we must abandon capitalistic economic growth based on a limitless expansion generated from fossil fuels.

The group Scientist Rebellion states the following: 

‘We have leaked part III of the upcoming IPCC report. There’s no time to wait around, there’s no time for continued inaction – the people deserve to know NOW what our corporate owned politicians have done to them.’

‘We leaked the report because governments – pressured and bribed by fossil fuel and other industries, protecting their failed ideology and avoiding accountability – have edited the conclusions before official reports were released in the past. We leaked it to show that scientists are willing to disobey and take personal risk to inform the public.’

The report explicitly states that incremental change is not a viable option. It states that individual behavioural changes alone are insignificant. It states that justice, equity and redistribution are essential to climate policy. It implicitly accepts the fact that mitigation scenarios will entail a drop in GDP. Finally, it reiterates the findings of a recent European Environment Agency report which states that economic growth is incompatible with the preservation of the natural environment and human health.

As the Spanish scientist Fernando Valladares explains, to cut our greenhouse gas we must slow the current model of economic development, reorganize and limit energy generation, completely rethink the transportation of goods and people, reduce intensive agriculture and livestock farming, and redesign our cities. On the last point, aspects such as insulating houses and managing traffic and waste are key.

In conclusion, a huge investment is required to maintain our civilization within the biophysical limits of our planet. It requires a complete transformation of systems including energy, transport, industry, land use, agriculture and housing. To avoid climate collapse we must abandon our blind reverence for the predatory economy.

8. What can we do?

To make the drastic reduction to emissions around the word that the situation demands, we cannot continue business as usual. 

Deep and systemic changes are required and we must culturally dissociate a high quality of life from an energy-intensive, high-emission life. To do this we need new narratives that value a calmer, more-balanced life, with less consumerism and more free time.

Ultimately, we should ask ourselves whether we can make this effort to ensure the continuation of our species as well as the lives of the thousands of other species that we share the planet with.

We urge you to stand up and take part in non-violent resistance actions or get involved in any way you can. The Glasgow Agreement is an alternative tool for action that has the backing of many social movements. It is based on civil society proposing its own plan of action, no longer waiting for governments and international institutions to do so.

We invite you to join Extinction Rebellion or the climate group of your choice and to act now! We must mount pressure on this genocidal system and vanquish it before it takes us down with it.

You can also join our march or make a donation.