My‌ ‌Environmental‌ ‌Story‌:‌ The inconvenient truth of COP26

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My Environmental Story is a place where the discussion of one’s journey as an environmentalist, changes and transforms as one learns more about the world around them. This series will highlight individuals and their honest reflections and introspections. The goal of this column is to emphasize how every individual has a unique environmental story reflective of their different backgrounds and experiences. There will be an emphasis on people of color and their stories due to the historic and prevalent disproportionate discrimination against marginalized community members being environmentalists. Any opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and not the opinion of The Daily Campus nor the University of Connecticut. 

I am exhausted. I am frustrated. I am angry.  

I am angry with the systems of oppression that continuously work to silence those with the key value of radical love to benefit those with the ruling value of greed.  

At this year’s U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP26), I had the privilege of obtaining access to the blue zone, where delegates from around the world come together to negotiate the very existence of human civilization in regard to climate change. I acknowledge the privilege I had because, at this year’s conference, too many climate activists, who have been actively changing the corrupt systems around them, were not permitted to attend one of the most important conferences that devise a global plan to address climate change. 

At this year’s COP26 conference, I constantly asked myself, “Why do I deserve to attend this conference, a university student in a first-world country, when those who have risked their security to challenge unjust systems are considered undeserving?” On Nov. 9, I visited the green zone, a relatively public platform of COP26 where grassroots organizers share stories of daring to address global climate change. On this day, I attended a panel, “Migrant Justice is Climate Justice,” which featured six intersectional migrant advocates who emphasized the importance of viewing the global migrant crisis as an environmental crisis. Two panelists in particular, Joyce Najm Mendez and Onjali Rauf, are founders of organizations that advocate and empower migrants to demand their rights as human beings. 

Mendez is an indigenous woman who migrated from South America to the U.S. due to a lack of access to water and food in her childhood community, and then back to South America in Paraguay. More than just language and cultural barriers, Mendez was denied opportunity after opportunity due to her identity. She was denied the opportunity to obtain a badge into the blue zone due to her lack of citizenship, which is due to her being a climate migrant, which is due to the lack of access to water because of anthropogenic climate change. An indigenous woman who had to sacrifice part of herself because of western civilizations emitting uncontrolled amounts of carbon emissions continues to face the obstacles of being fully accepted in society because of her identity. This is the embodiment of reliving systemic trauma.  

Onjali Rauf was also denied a badge into the blue zone because she was not deemed important enough by the United Kingdom, her home country and the host of COP26, because she is addressing the systemic inequalities of the U.K. as the country tries to regulate immigration. Rauf advocates for victims of abuse, enslavement and trafficking of women and girls in the U.K. and in surrounding areas, while highlighting the fact that there are higher numbers of victims during climate disasters. Onjali Rauf criticizes but also works on solutions to tackle migration inequities into the U.K. from third-world countries, which is extremely vital to the global issue of climate migration. However,  yet again, Rauf is another intersectional climate advocate who is denied access to important negotiations regarding the work she is dedicated to.  

Reflecting on my experience at COP26, I am saddened that Onjali Rauf’s words “there is no responsibility, there is no compassion” are true. I find that these seemingly amazing opportunities, such as COP26, are actually systems that promote inequality through the means of inaccessibility and the silencing of intersectional and radical love-based solutions. I am disappointed that I must constantly be critical of leaders’ intentions. And though I am grateful for the opportunity to have attended COP26, I would have gladly given up my badge to the blue zone for someone like Joyce Najm Mendez and Onjali Rauf, who have risked their own security continuously by challenging the corrupt systems that get the final say in how the world will address this existential crisis of anthropogenic climate change.  

So I repeat,  

I am exhausted. I am frustrated. I am angry.  

I am angry with the systems of oppression that continuously work to silence those with the key value of radical love to benefit those with the ruling value of greed.  

Why is it that these two intersectional climate activists alongside countless others are considered undeserving of access to important global discussions that require their passion to solve existential crises?  

The answer is greed.  

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