Every day now, emails are dropping into my Inbox bringing news of campaigning events, workshops and demonstrations that I might like to attend during COP26. You could literally be doing something 24 hours a day. And if you don’t have enough time in the day to get there in person, you can probably join online. This may well be the first COP where as many or indeed far more people have the possibility to access events from their own homes. The pandemic has accustomed us to meetings on Zoom or its variants, and across borders and time zones, you can now go to COP meetings in your pyjamas.

Covid-19 has affected COP26 in lots of ways; safety regulations for attending events in person are rigorous. Daily testing, registration, contact details, masking and physical distancing is mandatory for all indoor events. Rules for those coming from outside the UK are even more stringent, and for those wishing to attend from countries in the global south, expensive and difficult. A constant lament from civil society groups is that the voices of the poorest and most affected by climate change, in spite of having done nothing to cause it, will not be heard in the main conference hall. It will be the rich talking to the rich!

It was in part to hear these voices that I went to the Green Hub (large entities at COP26 have zones, smaller ones have hubs … I am still pondering the respective etymologies of these words), the shared space of the Scottish Green Party, the European Green Party and the Green Europe Foundation. Scotland does not have a seat at the United Nations discussions as an independent state, but as the location for COP26, it has a strong commitment to a successful outcome. The Scottish National Party has formed the government in Scotland since 2007, and one of its earliest pieces of legislation was the Climate Change (Scotland) Act in 2009, with ambitious targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions. Scotland has decarbonised faster than any country in the G20, and has cut its emissions in half. It has a net zero target date of 2145 for all greenhouse gas emissions. But it has failed to reach its targets for the last three years, and the recent cooperation agreement between the SNP and the Scottish Green Party, which has seen two Green Party MSPs become Ministers in the Scottish Government, is an important added driver in improving the pace and delivery of change, especially with regard to a just transition away from fossil fuels in line with the Paris Agreement. The pressure for the Scottish Climate Act of 2009 was driven by civil society, and an independent Citizens Climate Assembly, co-chaired by the Iona Community’s Leader, Ruth Harvey, met and reported earlier this year.

I was at the Green Hub to attend an event on ‘Climate, Activism and State Oppression in Asia-Pacific’. Tom Webster Arbizu, from the School Strike for Climate Australia spoke about some judicial youth activism by 8 teenagers who had sought an injunction to stop the Australian Environment Minister from approving expansion plans for the Vickery coal mine project in the state of New South Wales. In his judgement, the presiding Justice said the minister had an obligation “to take reasonable care” when making her decision to “avoid causing personal injury or death” to Australians under 18 “arising from emissions of carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere.” The minister has subsequently come under fire for announcing her intent to appeal a court ruling that found she had a duty to protect children from harmful climate change effects related to a proposed coal mine expansion.

Ade Zuchri, Chairperson of Indonesian Green Union, gave an impassioned description of the difficulties and repression facing climate activists in Indonesia. A country with vast areas of tropical rainforest, facing severe weather emergencies, rising sea levels and rising temperatures, its rainforests, which covered 87% of its land area in 1970 is now down to less than 50% of land coverage. Illegal deforestation on a massive scale, most recently driven by the palm oil industry, has made Indonesia the largest forest-based emitter of greenhouse gases and threatened many indigenous species. Government inaction and corruption, including ‘running after oligarchs’, has made climate activism very challenging.

The challenges are particularly intense in rural villages, and the women, who are both the strongest defenders of the forests and who bear the worst impacts of deforestation, are severely disadvantaged by cultural norms which silence women in the public domain. ‘If there is a single man in the room, the women will not talk’, said Ade. The Green Union organises training for women in confidence-building and public speaking. And she described a programme for young Green activists which sends them to live in rural villages for several months, to listen and learn at first hand about the problems of the people, but also about their wisdom and potential; I was reminded of the Iona Community’s Youth Volunteer programme of the 1980s and 90s (or of the Communist Chinese Revolution, if you prefer).

In other news, in an art gallery near me, a grand dinner and reception for the royal family and their important guests were being held, and Greta went to a party in a park in Govan. The indefatigable Chris Mercer delivered poles for the Iona Community’s banners to me for Saturday’s march.

And David Attenborough was praying …

– Kathy Galloway

Kathy Galloway is a writer, activist and practical theologian. She has worked for the Iona Community, Christian Aid and Church Action on Poverty. She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

Photo of Kathy ©

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