Day Nine in the Presidency Programme had the overall theme of Adaptation, Loss and Damage. This is one of the most contentious subjects in the whole COP26 process, focussed as it is on the attempts by the most vulnerable countries, overwhelmingly the poorest countries in the global south, to secure compensation for the damage caused by climate change. These countries, which contribute almost no carbon emissions, but bear the brunt of climate change consequences, are pushing hard to make the polluters pay, and to be accountable for their externalisation of catastrophe to the places which have least negotiating power, all in order to continue to enjoy a dirty, energy-intensive lifestyle (and substantial profits to shareholders).
The People’s Summit for Climate Justice was also running many events on Adaptation, Loss and Damage, but from a much more grassroots perspective, foregrounding the voices of those with lived experience of being on the frontline of climate damage, and exploring climate colonialism.
But the People’s Summit also gives voice to those people and communities in rich countries who have suffered the worst at every stage in the processes of empire, industrialisation and subjection to markets. One such place is well-known to the Iona Community. Last week, some folk in Govan, finding common cause with dispossessed people across the world, in a Declaration of Independence, declared the Govan Free State, the imagination of a free space outside the hegemony of the oppressor. In the Declaration, they say:
In this land, Scotland – 500,000 people were cruelly evicted and deprived of what was rightfully theirs. Many were deported to ‘the colonies’ to drive the process of enclosure even further and inflict the same pains on other people of the earth. Those that remained, had no choice but to flock to the cities and become a part of the ‘working class’.
The age of industry is now dead and our labour no longer needed. We live poor lives on the pittance given to us from the profits we have raised. Dependent on handouts from those that deprived us of our rightful inheritance, many of us have lost the self-respect needed by free people.
Not content with owning and destroying the land, the powerful seek to stymie our protests and ban access to our own city, a city in which motorways continue to tear up our communities and exclude those with the least.
The Declaration is really worth reading; its words speak for many at COP26: We no longer find it reasonable to put our faith elsewhere. There is no one coming. There is only us. It’s a great statement of decolonisation, solidarity and hospitality. Declaration — GOVAN FREE STATE
Within the territory of the Free State of Govan is the Centre for Human Ecology, an education cooperative based in Glasgow, but with an international membership. It exists to stimulate and support radical change towards ecological and social justice through education, action and research, drawing on a holistic, multidisciplinary understanding of environmental and social systems. There, I went to one of the Clydeside Teach-Ins (a series on alternative economic systems) with the title, ‘Degrowth in Scotland: Real People in a Real Place’. It was looking at the resources for resistance and restructuring available to us from our own local histories and cultures in Scotland, and in particular thinking about the ideas of the commons and conviviality as political concepts. That sounds a bit abstract, but it wasn’t. It led to some really interesting small group discussion on how two Scots Lowlanders experienced growing up in Scotland, and the perception that in the Borders, Scottish dancing was something done by toffs in kilts (the ones who own most of the local land), and an equally pertinent discussion on what you do when you’ve moved or migrated away from your place of origin, and are never quite sure of your belonging.
In other news, behind closed doors, rich countries are proving remarkably resistant to finding funding to mitigate against loss and damage. Who’d have thought! And Barack Obama is encouraging young people to stay angry on the climate. And, not precisely COP26 news, but there again, not precisely unrelated, a large new advert has appeared in my local subway station. It’s for a company called Randox, which is offering fast city centre COVID19 testing, with prices starting at £35. People in the UK who have been following the recent sleaze and corruption scandal will remember that Randox is the firm for which the now departed MP Owen Paterson was found to have been lobbying for. It’s also worth noting that Glasgow City Council has set up free testing centres for the many COP visitors who are required to test daily.
In the evening, Christian Aid hosted an event at Glasgow Cathedral called ‘The Time is Now.’ The Kingdom Choir got standing ovations for their fabulous gospel singing, Dr Robert Beckford preached the gospel according to Marvin Gaye, John Bell and Jo Love led sung responses and reflections, and Rowan Williams, in his last public engagement before stepping down as Chair of Christian, gave a characteristically lucid, forthright and challenging address.
– 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.