In the second part of this two part series Terry Conway explores why and how we should mobilise for COP26.
In the first part of this article I looked at the environmental cataclysm we are facing and assessed some of the key organisations mobilising against it, all of which go back to before the pandemic. In this second part, I focus on a more specific question: how and why we should mobilise around the 26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, known as COP26, taking place in Glasgow for two weeks from 31 October to 12 November 2021.
This summit is where the heads of government from countries across the globe will come together to discuss how to respond to catastrophic climate change. They claim to be committed to keeping global heating under 1.5°C, according to previous agreements, but it has been increasingly clear over recent months that the reality is very different.
The UK government is hosting this summit, and so supposedly has a particular responsibility. They have certainly been responsible for a lot of hot air around climate, but their professed commitment to net zero by 2050 falls far short of what is needed. What is more, they continue to back false solutions like carbon markets and to block the necessary transformational changes.
What is the COP26 Coalition?
The COP26 Coalition is a coming-together of a whole range of environmental organisations in Britain. It was initially set up in early 2020, when the COP was planned to take place in November 2020. Because the summit was postponed, member organisations have had rather longer to work together than has been the case for previous summits. On the other hand, the lack of certainty about the state of the pandemic has led to some decisions – such as where and when mass demonstrations will be called – being taken later than would have been ideal.
The key organisations involved include a number of trade unions (UNISON, Unite, PCS, BAFWU, Equity and also the National Union of Students) and several major radical NGOs (War on Want, Global Justice Now, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Friends of the Earth England Wales and Northern Ireland). Extinction Rebellion (XR) Scotland is involved, but not XR UK.
In fact, one of the interesting things about the Coalition is the weight of Scottish organisations and individuals in the meetings – a welcome change from the London domination of supposedly Britain-wide organisations. It is fair to say that the Coalition has effectively homogenised climate activity in Scotland.
But more a useful way of assessing the Coalition than listing its participants is to look at its politics and assess what it has done so far. What is clear about the politics is that the direction of the Coalition is extremely radical. For example, in this video the Coalition dissects greenwashing in government positions, and this was its response to the IPCC report on 9 August: “Today’s #IPCC is a rallying cry. In Nov at #COP26, we will be out in force, challenging govt + big business green rhetoric, empty promises + hypocrisy. We are demanding urgent action is finally taken which holds big polluters to account and looks after those least responsible.” They talk about ‘rewiring the system’ and meeting everyone’s needs.
They have worked hard to link up with activists across the world. One practical action has been to organise a number of international assembles with simultaneous translation in Spanish and Portuguese. These were well attended by activists from Latin America, with some participation from Asia, Africa, and North America, but disappointing involvement from the rest of Europe. They have raised demands about the loss and damage payments that need to be paid to the Global South for the already evident impact of climate disaster on the poorest. They have also organised efforts like this crowd funder to assist people from the Global South in getting visas so that they can attend COP26.
Another important aspect of the Coalition’s politics has been the ongoing organising of a trade union caucus to maximise trade union participation in all the events leading up to the summit, as well as at the summit itself. These monthly meetings allowed people to network and share ideas about how to build support effectively in workplaces, branches, and unions for an overall ecological approach, for the principles of Just Transitions, and for mobilisation around COP26 itself.
The COP26 Coalition has also organised a series of online events, ‘From the Ground Up’, which bring together activists virtually to discuss the huge range of political challenges facing the climate and environmental movements. From the Ground Up 1 in November 2020 was particularly impressive, with over 8,000 registrations and 53 sessions. The second event in April 2021 was shorter and involved fewer people. It was a challenge to build on the unexpected success of the first event, but also more difficult to transfer to a focus on action rather than on ideas – as the second gathering aimed to do – in an online setting. I certainly found in several of the sessions I attended that not all the techniques were very accessible.
Now the Coalition is planning a People’s Summit in Glasgow between 7 and 10 November, during the COP. It will be a hybrid event, allowing participation from those who will not be in Glasgow itself. The deadline for submissions is 30 August 2021.
The centrepiece of the planned events is a Global Day of Action on 6 November, which is the middle Saturday of the COP, and the traditional timing for mass protests. This is where decisions were made late because of the Covid situation. Now the plan is to call for two main demonstrations in Britain – one in Glasgow and one in London (email@example.com) – and also to ensure that smaller but significant protests take place on the same day in cities including:
- Birmingham (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Brighton (TBC)
- Bristol email@example.com
- Cambridge (firstname.lastname@example.org)
- Cardiff (TBC)
- Manchester (email@example.com and Facebook)
- Newcastle (firstname.lastname@example.org and Facebook)
- Nottingham (TBC)
- Sheffield (email@example.com)
There are discussions about including Leeds and maybe other cities in this list.
There are also plans afoot to organise events in as many other countries as possible. The last international summit in early July was attended by activists from countries as diverse as Brazil, Ecuador, India, Philippines, Quebec, and Uganda, among others.
To summarise, therefore, the COP26 Coalition is an eminently useful place for ecosocialists to get involved. Its overall political framework is one we should support, and it provides a framework for networking and building campaigns locally, nationally, and internationally. The audiences at the demonstrations at the People’s Summit on 5 November, and at the organising meetings, are likely to be enthusiastic young people in the majority, prepared to engage in militant action and excited by radical ecosocialist ideas. That’s why A*CR is urging all our supporters to get involved to the best of our abilities
There have been some informal discussions that the Coalition – obviously renamed in some way – might continue after the COP itself. I think this would be a very positive move to create an ongoing umbrella organisation. It would allow people to share ideas and mobilise together against environmental cataclysm where we agree – while respecting that different parts of the movement sometimes have different priorities and different ways of working.
What can you be doing now?
Get your trade union branch, trades council, environmental organisation, community organisation, or campaign group to sign up to the Coalition here:
Pass this model resolution at your trade union branch or trades council (or amend it to suit your specific needs).
Pass this model motion at your Labour Party meeting.
21 August Kill the Bill protests across England and Wales with XR participation
22 August–4 September XR Impossible Rebellion across London – more details here
30 August Deadline for submission for People’s Summit
8 September London COP26 organising meeting
18–26 September Great Green Week (England and Wales), Climate Fringe week (Scotland)
22 September London COP26 organising meeting
24 September Fridays for Future strike
26 September Faslane die-in called by the Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)
3 October Climate Justice Now bloc on demo at Tory Party conference
6 October London COP26 organising meeting
20 October London COP26 organising meeting
3 November London COP26 organising meeting
5 November Probable Fridays for Future day of action
6 November Global Day of Action
7–10 November People’s Summit in Glasgow and online
https://www.humanhotel.com/cop26/ (for very cheap accommodation in Glasgow)