COP 26 dispatch: Net-zero, carbon markets and quality climate education
Activists and the private sector are clashing over ‘net zero’ and carbon markets at COP 26 in Glasgow, Scotland. At the crucial climate talks, activists such as Greta Thunberg slammed the recent announcement of UN finance ambassador Mark Carney that more than 450 financial institutions under the banner Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (Gfanz) had committed $130 trillion in assets to projects aligned with the Paris Agreement target of 1.5C, largely to be achieved through net-zero emissions by 2050.
Civil society groups charged the Gfanz of greenwashing, a marketing spin used by businesses to misrepresent the real environmental benefits generated by their activities. According to think-tank Reclaim Finance, the Gfanz plan is so opaque that it does not provide a guideline on absolute fossil emissions reductions nor does it prohibit the use of carbon offsets—a mechanism that can obscure real emissions cuts for corporations. Protesters also lambasted the endorsement of carbon markets  in the negotiations as they have criticized it as a way for countries to continue with their polluting ways and not implement decarbonization within their own borders.
Meanwhile, Education International’s Deputy General Secretary Haldis Holst joined a side event hosted by Earthday titled “Climate Education and Youth Empowerment: The key to meeting our climate and environmental goals.” Holst spoke about EI’s Teach for the Planet campaign and emphasized the need for governments to mandate the implementation of quality climate education curricula. “Our students are scared and our teachers are feeling frustrated because they cannot deliver this fundamental need… our members mandated us to launch this campaign, so we need to make the people responsible listen to our demands,” she said. Holst also advised a frustrated student who wanted to push for climate education in his own country. “You need to find the doors where you can knock; find your environmental and education ministers and collaborate with those who share in your goals”, she said, adding that education unions are allies when it comes to calling for quality education.
Holst also said that while climate literacy and education should equip students with the skills and training needed for jobs in the low-carbon economy, it is much more than this. It must contribute to reshaping society’s value system. “Children must be taught how to become active, responsible citizens [in the climate emergency era],” she added.
On the Just Transition front, allies at the International Trade Union Confederation held an event titled “The imperative of a Just Transition for the workforce to save our climate, lessons from the unions”. The speakers included representatives from trade unions in Europe as well as Latin America who shared their insights on how Just Transition is becoming a central issue in climate policymaking. Notably, Barbara Figueroa, president of the Trade Unions Confederation of Workers of the Americas (ITUC-CSA), said that at the heart of Just Transition is putting work and life at the center of society. Likewise, Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the British Trade Union Congress said that “nobody has a bigger stake in cutting carbon than the workers whose livelihoods depend on it.”
“We need to change our relationship with nature and change the basis of our economic model. We must put the focus on justice, participation, democracy and civil society. The corporate perspective is to instrumentalize the environment to dominate the market and benefit [financially] from these false solutions. The antidote is for trade unions to fight together,” Figueroa said.
Carbon markets are a trading process in which countries can buy carbon credits in another part of the world and count this as part of their emissions target, effectively creating an offset system.