activism climate change

Guest post: How to make the most of COP26

Britain will host the crucial COP26 climate summit in Glasgow in December. Dario Kenner, author of Carbon Inequality, has written an open letter to UK civil society and social movements, re-published here as a guest post:

COP26 will probably be a failure because powerful polluters will continue to block progress. So, as well as organising an alternative civil society space and a march through the streets of Glasgow let’s use our time and resources to pressure to keep fossil fuels in the ground in the UK.

Let’s agree that to speed up the green transition we must highlight the grip of the fossil fuel industry on the UK government. We are diverse so there will be a whole spectrum of ways to do that.

The UN climate change negotiations are crucial because they are a multilateral process on a global challenge. The problem is they are failing to come up with solutions on the scale that’s needed. The most recent COP in Madrid was just another example. Even the Paris Agreement is weak and unfortunately can’t be relied on.

A decade ago, I was on the inside of the negotiations. I accompanied Bolivian indigenous leaders and for two weeks in late 2011 I was a negotiator for Bolivia. I witnessed how messy these conferences are and how lots of countries block progress. I got really dirty looks from richer country negotiators for reminding them of their historical responsibility. Also, for having the audacity to question that while they were letting the Kyoto Protocol die they wanted to be able to use its market mechanisms.

I cried in grief at 6am on the last day of COP17 Durban in 2011 when countries agreed to corrode the entire process by making emissions targets voluntary instead of being based on climate science.

So, I don’t have high expectations when the next COP comes around. At the end of every COP everyone (including the governments negotiating) agrees there has not been enough political will as if this is some mysterious process.

There’s a reason for that! One major factor is that the national positions of states have been dominated by powerful oil, gas and coal companies (some state-owned) for decades. Our government is consistently putting the interests of the polluters before the wellbeing of the population.

Ask yourself: How can we expect the UK government to push for a truly ambitious outcome at COP26 when it is still so heavily controlled by the fossil fuel companies? There are lots of examples of successfully lobbying leading to government support such as tax breaks for extraction in the North Sea and via UK Export Finance etc. In 2015 the government setup the Oil & Gas Authority to maximise UK oil and gas extraction (yes, in the same year the government signed up to the Paris Agreement).

At the COP26 expect some UK announcements about climate finance as a distraction from this continued support for fossil fuels (exactly what happened in Prime Ministers Questions on 29 Jan). Expect announcements like those at the recent UK-Africa Investment Summit in London. The government made an (old) announcement about not funding coal and promoted clean energy deals. Meanwhile, nearly £2 billion went to fossil fuel deals. We can expect plenty of bluster from this government and repeating meaningless statistics but not real leadership on the climate & ecological crisis (see PMQs today and current lack of COP preparations).

How do we change this predictable story?

In addition to trying to get as much progress inside the negotiations it is also important to mobilise people during COP26. But we cannot just encourage people to go to Glasgow in November and raise their expectations when we know COP26 is very unlikely to deliver. Half a million people in the streets of Madrid did not make the climate conference in December a success. With the COP26 in our country we have a responsibility to do more than this by putting increasing pressure on the polluters. This is in solidarity with people in the global south who are already dying and forced to move home, and in solidarity with the environmental defenders who are killed and harassed trying to stop these same multinational companies from destroying their territories.

Below are a range of ideas of what to do right now, there is no need to wait until COP26.

Call on cultural institutions to stop oil & gas company sponsorship Pressure the Treasury to end tax breaks for North Sea oil & gas extraction Pressure government to cancel policy of maximising economic recovery of oil & gas Publicise work of fossil fuel lobby groups (including kicking them out of COP26) Pressure London Stock Exchange to de-list fossil fuel companies Call for immediate planned phase out of North Sea oil & gas production, with a Just Transition for workers
Location: UK Location: London Location: London, Edinburgh Location: London offices Location: London Location: Aberdeen and London

Doing any of these would contribute to removing the fossil fuel companies legitimacy and acceptance in the eyes of the public (their social licence to operate). Something they are obsessed with because they know we can take it away from them. We have to make it absolutely clear to the public the fossil fuel companies are not part of the solution as long as they are extracting oil, gas and coal.

I realise not all civil society actors want to do direct disruption but the least they could do is to raise public awareness about the fossil fuel companies, their lobbyists and the governments pro-fossil fuel policies before COP26.

* Dario Kenner is the author of Carbon Inequality: The role of the richest in climate change and created the Polluter Elite Database. Questions about anything mentioned in this blog? contact here.

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