Raul de Lima, a Brazilian climate activist from Climate Clock whom I met after landing in Glasgow, had similar reflections. “COP26 has to be remembered as one of the most exclusionary climate conferences of all time,” he told me. “It doesn’t matter if we had the biggest Indigenous delegation in history if they were being asked to attend panels but not to make decisions.”
Nineteen-year-old Chilean-Mexican climate activist Xiye Bastida prepared an incredible speech for the World Leaders Summit, following keynotes from world leaders. But when it was her turn to speak, those world leaders had already left, and many seats in the audience were left empty. But she boldly continued on, even in the absence of those who should have prioritized listening, and broadcasted her message to livestreams across the world. It was a moment I felt both inspired and saddened by. While BIPOC environmentalists were invited to bare our souls to crowds of people on panels and given passes to the events, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were just spectacles for the parade.
“Even when I was invited, I felt like it was an effort to fulfill a diversity quota. My face was on the bulletin of so many panels and news channels, but it did not feel genuine. I had a speech at Extreme Hangout, but was cropped out of the picture that made it to its social media,” said Siddiqa—a story that echoes the story of Vanessa Nakate, who was cropped out of an Associated Press photo taken at Davos 2020.
There is an odd duality that comes with being one of few environmentalists of color in such an exclusive space. On one hand, we understand the privilege we’ve been granted to represent our people and advocate for our livelihoods. On the other hand, we have to deal with not being fully valued or actually listened to.
“It’s not about being seen for me but rather the failure of these conferences to address the pain they have caused to BIPOC communities globally,” said Isaias Hernandez, the climate educator behind Queer Brown Vegan. “However, it is important to still recognize the privilege I had to attend an elite conference from the Global North.”
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