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COP26, Glasgow, November 2021: for the Climate Emergency

Were Newcastle Greens present at COP26? You bet we were. Not as a body, but as bodies, individuals. Since the first Conference of the Parties (COP) held by the UN to focus on climate change, this was the first where the UK had the honour of hosting it; not only that, but it was in the north, so within striking distance of Newcastle upon Tyne. I saw it as an unmissable chance to bear witness there, whatever the obstacles.

The process: planning and logistics; equipment (eg banners, and in my case, a Badger costume – I was there to badger the powers that be); a sound Base Camp (in my case in Edinburgh, as I couldn’t get accommodation in Glasgow, and had to commute over 4 days); and a pack of endurance. Much like during the ascent of a high mountain.

The reality: soggy feet, soggy everything on the day of the big march. The soundtrack was of samba bands, a hovering helicopter observing the 100,000 mass rally, and the chants, in which the words Climate Justice were the most repeated. The police I found hands-off in a good way compared with other encounters. There were c 20 arrests of doctors lying on a bridge near the start of the march, that was all.

The groups and factions: impressive were the camino groups that had made their way from afar, eg Oviedo. (Tony adds his cycle ride experience below). There appeared to be more involvement in the climate emergency of faith groups than I had observed before. Other than that there were factions promoting their vested interests, whether of opinion, or of goods such as hemp products (which may be Good Stuff but don’t solve everything!). It struck me that there is a huge need to work together and cultivate coalitions to tackle the climate emergency.

Personally, although I had friends, a relation, and colleagues on the inside of discussions and decision making, I remained largely on the streets: more akin to the homeless. I was interviewed (as a badger) by German TV, assisted Carla Denyer with aaunch, and recruited a couple of people to the Green Party, although the logo I sported (apart from my Green Party badge) was of XR (Extinction Rebellion).

The outcome: we would have been naive indeed if we expected COP26 to be a success, particularly given the government in power at the time it was held. We knew it was doomed to fail, in comparison with eg the 2015 COP where the Paris Agreement limiting temperature rise to 1.5⁰ was made. There have been numerous detailed analyses, and here I’ll cite just one, which scores its verdict as 20/100, or one-fifth of aims achieved:

Which resulted from:

Actions needed now: UK are ‘hosts’ to COP26 through 2022, so we must keep going in pressing for climate action NOW, locally, nationally, internationally. Support the Green Party.

Strands of hope: The UK Environment Act became law in November 2021, and sets a legally binding target to end the decline of nature in the UK by 2030.

Mia Mottley (and others) showed the leadership, recognising the needs and targets which our own prime minister fails to understand.

‘Ride for their Lives’ was the title of the cycle ride from London to Glasgow by child health docs and others from six UK children’s hospitals to highlight the impact of air pollution on children’s health. The ride was supported by WHO (whose climate lead cycled from Geneva to join it, quite a feat!) and you can read about their commitment and the aims of the ride on video clips here.

I joined the ride for three days from Newcastle, in wet weather over hilly terrain but the solidarity of the riders was remarkable and heartwarming. We intend to show by this commitment that child health needs to be part of the solution to climate change as children will be the first to be affected, both now across the world and into the future. In Newcastle, we are continuing our advocacy on air pollution by meeting the council to urge more rapid progress on school streets and low traffic neighbourhoods.

As to the COP itself, I helped out at the Green Hub where Scottish Greens held a number of valuable meetings for the International Greens, and took part in a climate clinic in George Square with Medact members. I gain hope from the activists and the youth who will continue to hold the feet of the powerful to the fire of the climate crisis.

Some of the riders on arrival in Glasgow
Some of the riders on arrival in Glasgow
Pollution pod where you can experience air quality in Bejing, New Delhi, London and other polluted cities across the globe
Pollution pod where you can experience air quality in Bejing, New Delhi, London and other polluted cities across the globe