I had the privilege of attending the 26th annual United Nations Climate Conference of the Parties (COP26) from November 5th to 12th. COP is a unique conference as it brings together scientists, NGOs and grassroots organizations, as well as politicians and other interested parties. Approximately 30,000 people representing roughly 200 countries came to COP26 all in hopes of trying to tackle issues related to climate change on a global scale. I was chosen to attend COP26 to help advocate with individuals from around the globe that hydroelectricity is not the solution to our energy crisis and should not be seen as a “clean” energy source. Mega dams create several issues such as negative impacts to local ecology and marine life, produce methane and toxins in water sources, and negatively impact Indigenous communities. As a Métis Indigenous individual, advocating for the impacts that hydroelectricity infrastructure has on Indigenous lands and communities is extremely important to me.
At COP26, I met with individuals from different river and anti-hydro organizations. I met people from Amsterdam, Germany, United States, and Chile who all were at COP26 to spread awareness about the truth about hydroelectricity. Over the short 5 days that all 15 of us were together, we truly bonded as a group and shared stories from our home countries. We marched together in the streets of Glasgow holding up banners advocating to “Undam the UN”, we put on a light projection on a bridge to spread awareness about mega dams, and we put on panel discussions to educate the public on the impacts of hydroelectricity.
It was extremely eye opening to me that many individuals were shocked to learn about Canada’s poor relationship with the Indigenous people who live there. But as I shared more about land rights issues, I heard the exact same story from the two women from Chile and one Indigenous environmental activist from the United States.
On one of the last days of COP26, I had the opportunity to help give an official declaration to a member of the United Nations. The declaration was an informational document explaining the environmental and social impacts of hydroelectricity and mega dams, and ultimately emphasizing why hydroelectricity cannot be the solution to energy issues. The declaration was signed by 350 different organizations worldwide.
The experience of attending COP26 was something I will never forget. Unfortunately, the conference has left me with mixed emotions. There is no way to ignore that the Glasgow Climate Pact was underwhelming to say the least. The Glasgow Climate Pact was the result of two weeks of politicians debating and discussing from roughly 200 countries on how to tackle climate change. The document barely keeps the 1.5C future alive and words such as “phasing out” have been changed to “phasing down”, which downplays the emergency state that the planet is truly in. It is easy to look at COP26 as a whole and see it as nothing more than a greenwashing event that politicians attended to make themselves feel like they are trying to protect the planet. As an NGO/Grassroots organization representative, COP26 was so much more to me. I had the opportunity to learn from individuals from around the world and hear their personal stories about how they have been affected by mega dam development and climate change. I met with other youth environmental activists and shared stories about why we must act now to save our planet. The atmosphere at the conference was truly a mix of fear for our future but also optimism that if we work together and listen to Indigenous individuals from around the world, we might have a chance at creating a better future for all.
I want to thank Wa Ni Ska Tan, Dam Watch International, Save Our Rivers, Free Rivers Fund and the University of Manitoba for making it possible for me to attend COP26.