“Nature is shouting at us at the top of her voice”- Glasgow COP26 needs People Power
Christine Glossop, Penarth Climate Action
Well, here we are in the aftermath of COP26, where representatives of 197 countries gathered together in Glasgow to tackle the climate crisis, 26 years after the first conference.
Despite the severity and urgency of the crisis, there is no claim that it has been really successful. The risk of the planet dangerously overheating above 1.5 degrees remains high. Many countries, such as Africa, Island States in the Global South, Bangladesh, are now being seriously affected, and many indigenous peoples from around the world are losing their homes, livelihoods, and going hungry.
Yet these countries have contributed the least to global overheating.
It is us, in the rich countries of the west who contribute the most carbon emissions, USA, UK and Europe. We are basking in the wealth which was created by our polluting industries and colonisation of poorer countries.
The countries which currently produce the most emissions per person are the US, Saudi Arabia and Australia which produce about double those of Europe or China. The rich countries have promised billions of dollars over the last twelve years to help poorer countries deal with the climate crisis. But the money is still not forthcoming.
The International Energy Agency has stated: “To remain below 1.5 degrees the world cannot have any more new oil, gas or coal extraction projects, and funding of these should stop”.
But financing of fossil fuels will be allowed to continue.
Astonishingly over 500 lobbyists for the fossil fuel industry attended COP. No country had as many delegates, or representatives of indigenous peoples whose knowledge of the environment and nature has existed for hundreds of years.
Yes, it is easy to blame India and China. But these countries have only recently been developing wealth. China produces more solar and wind power than any other country and produces most of the world’s solar panels.
India has huge potential for solar energy but needs support to convert from coal. Oil and gas, which are the main fossil fuels used by rich countries, were barely mentioned. Agriculture not at all. 71% of fossil fuels are produced by 100 companies.
Yet our leaders in the UK, despite their rhetoric and despite hosting the hugely important COP26, continue to encourage carbon emissions. The recent budget speech, one week before COP26, barely mentioned the climate, and indeed announced tax cuts on internal flights which will only encourage more flying.
The government is allowing the establishment of a new coal mine in Cumbria and the new Cambo oil field near Shetland, which will also damage the sea environment. Despite cutting back on foreign aid in Africa, our government is continuing to fund a large gas project in Mozambique, which is hurting local people and their livelihoods.
The equally important nature crisis, closely linked to the climate crisis, is happening here in the UK, as well as across the world. Not forgetting the trade deal with Australia with their high emissions and low standards of agriculture, putting the livelihoods of our farmers at risk. Phasing out gas boilers will be ineffective without insulation, especially for social housing.
A young Kenyan activist, Elizabeth Wathuti, addressed the world leaders at the beginning of the conference. She said that two rainy seasons have failed. Over two million Kenyans are facing climate related starvation. She pleaded with the leaders to listen and show some humanity.
At Tuvalu, an island nation, Simon Kofe, foreign minister stood thigh deep in seawater saying: “We are literally sinking below the sea”.
Shauna Aminath, environment minister for the low-lying Maldives, said: “We have 98 months to halve global emissions. The difference between 1.5 and 2 degrees is a death sentence for us.”
In the face of all this it is easy to feel hopeless. Or just carry on doing our bit to save the planet. Sadly, that will make little difference at this stage. The immensity of change that is needed is far too great for individual action.
Much of the media would like us to believe that the responsibility lies with us to save the planet. But it lies with the government, whether UK, Wales or local government. They are responsible for protecting us and preventing the damage and suffering that we are now causing to vulnerable people around the world, and which we will soon experience in the not-too-distant future.
We need urgent and bold government action, at national and local level, with comprehensive, long-term plans.
Keep the pressure up
Commentators at Glasgow have shown the power of the demonstrations taking place both within the conference and out on the streets. Young people, indigenous peoples, environmental campaigners, and citizens who are just scared, came out in their thousands. This was often given as much publicity as the conference itself.
Many experts in the field, from politics, COP negotiators, the UN, business, celebrities and media have commented on the power of the people, and how essential this is to push for change.
Caroline Lucas, Green MP, said recently: “Nature is shouting at us at the top of her voice”. She and Chris Packham, TV ecologist, have emphasised that pressure has to come from us, the people out on the streets and on campaigns. This is the only way that change will happen. A leading COP strategist has said that leaders of the largest polluting companies are terrified by the protests. A UN representative at COP said we must keep the pressure up.
Amazingly, even Alok Sharma, government minister and president of COP, talking to a room full of financiers at COP, encouraged them all to become activists!
His actual words to them: “You can all be Swampy!”
Swampy hit the headlines years ago, building tunnels to prevent a motorway being built. During this COP he has actually been living in a tunnel in the Chilterns, protesting about HS2. Destruction of forests doesn’t just take place in the Amazon, it is happening in the UK too, where we are losing hundreds of ancient woodlands and nature reserves, paid for by taxpayers’ money, on a project that will take at least 120 years to be carbon neutral.
So, what can we do? Maybe we should take the advice of Alok Sharma and all become environment activists, and take direct action. There are plenty of opportunities to get involved, for example Cardiff and Vale based groups of Extinction Rebellion, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or Green Party. There are also active local campaigns, such as Save the Northern Meadows in Whitchurch and Penarth Climate Action, a small informal group.