COP26 Glasgow – Internationalism and Resistance

Tòmas MacAilpein

Summary: A Glasgow activist reports on his experience of taking part in protests, meetings and talks: ‘Each day there is a bewildering number of events and actions as part of a coming together of Scottish, UK and international climate activists.’ – Editors

The wind and rain lashed our faces as we marched to the city centre. My cardboard placard slowly disintegrated. Despite truly miserable weather, Saturday’s march for climate action in Glasgow was enormous, colourful, and defiant. At least 100,000 people turned out from many different groups and backgrounds. Indigenous people led the way. And it followed a massive Fridays for Future march just the day before.

Cop26 has taken over Glasgow – Scotland’s largest city – or at least a good chunk of it. The UN’s latest climate change conference is a major event in which world leaders and thousands of delegates are meeting from 31st October to 12th November.

It seeks to flesh out the climate change targets set in Paris in 2015 which committed states to making changes that will keep climate change below 2oc, aiming for 1.5oc.

Participating governments are being urged to produce plans on how they will cut carbon emissions by 2030 and stay on course to achieve ‘net zero’ by 2050. They also need to decide on how they will financially support developing nations who face the worst consequences of the climate crisis and have contributed the least to historical carbon emissions.

This is, of course, vitally important for all of us. It has even been claimed that this maybe the last chances we have to avert catastrophic climate change.

Glasgow isn’t used to holding such headline events in international politics. It is surreal seeing politicians like President Biden, John Kerry and Bark Obama in our city alongside celebrities and billionaires like Jeff Bezos. Some of the global elite having come to us, it feels as though the world isn’t so big after all.

Like most Glaswegians, I know very little of what’s happening inside the conference aside from what the media reports. My experience of Cop26 has been taking part in protests, meetings and talks. Each day there is a bewildering number of events and actions as part of a coming together of Scottish, UK and international climate activists.

More important than the elite who have travelled here, are the many indigenous delegates who have come to share what the climate crisis and colonialism have been doing to their communities. Their presence, the chance for us to talk together often through interpreters, has been a unique experience, waking up people to what is happening around the world. It is, I hope, a means for us in Scotland to strengthen and give renewed meaning to international solidarity.

I was fortunate to be involved in organising a meeting with Zapatista delegates just before the conference began, as one small event on their Journey for Life. We discussed minority and indigenous languages and learned about decolonisation and everyday resistance. I will long remember meeting the seven compañeras.

Not far from where I live, Minga Indígena – the collective of indigenous groups from Abya Yala/the Americas – are hosting daily talks and discussions. People from the Amazon, Mexico, Chile and elsewhere have spoken powerfully about the effects of false solutions to the climate crisis imposed from above and the ongoing destruction of their lands.

Across the movement outside Cop26, the climate crisis is being linked repeatedly not just to the equally grave threat to biodiversity, but to inequality, patriarchy, racism, colonialism, and capitalism. I was pleasantly surprised by how many of the young speakers following the Fridays for Future march spoke about the need to replace capitalism.

In different ways and from different perspectives, people are speaking for change that reasserts our humanity. For example, I was struck by something that the American lawyer and activist Colette Pichon Battle said at a Cop26 Coalition event:

“It’s time to actually talk to each other and understand what’s happening in all of our communities. We’ve got to decolonise ourselves and we’ve got to understand that market-based solutions… are rooted in an economy that has devalued our humanity. If we want to get out of this, we’ve got to bring that back to the centre, and this is not going to be easy. What are you going to lose if we decolonise? What are you’re going to have to give up if we decolonise? We are all in a particular piece of power.”

So far, there have been few arrests or successful attempts at civil disobedience so far at Cop26. On one occasion, 21 brave members of Scientist Rebellion lay on the George V bridge blocking it for around five hours.

A notable example of direct action has been the occupation of a former council building in Tradeston. Baile Hoose, as it’s been called, is being used to provide accommodation for delegates, especially indigenous delegates, who can’t find a place to stay or have even been sleeping on the street. Regardless of its clear social value, the occupied building has faced repeated attempts by the police to shut it down.

Before the conference began, city refuse workers organised with the GMB union threatened to strike for increased pay and improved conditions. They were presented with a last-minute offer which they rejected. For the past week, rubbish has been piling up to the great embarrassment of the council leaders. The striking bin workers have had incredible support from climate activists on their pickets and have in turn spoken at climate demonstrations, linking the struggles. They look set to win big improvements.

One of the aims of the protests and activism is to bring pressure of the politicians inside Cop26. What can we expect from the conference?

There have so far been significant agreements such as the promise to end and reverse deforestation by 2030, and 100 countries have agreed to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030.

We will find out this week how much money rich countries are prepared to give to the global south both in terms of helping them to reduce emissions and to deal with the affects of the climate crisis. We also see how exactly countries plan on making cuts to carbon emissions before 2030 and how this will be clearly accounted for.

The view among activists is that we should put no faith in the politicians and not be fooled by grand pledges for years down the line. The sheer scale of the transformation required to keep us below 2oc, never mind 1.5oc, in this decade is beginning to dawn on people.

As Kevin Anderson has argued1, the most progressive government target of ‘net zero’ by 2050 – agreed, for example, by the UK – hides the carbon emitted in shipping, aviation, and production elsewhere. It relies on making sharper decreases later and the use of technology that doesn’t yet exist. If we are to stand a chance, we need to be making, to begin with, a 10% reduction to carbon emissions each year and aiming for real zero not ‘net zero’. Such statements stand in sharp contrast to the rhetoric of Cop26.

I joined Extinction Rebellion on their march to BAE Systems in Govan, highlighting the connection between the war industries and ecocide. On the way, you pass the old dry docks symbolizing Glasgow’s heyday of industrialism and our long history of carbon emissions. You also pass through working-class communities in which the great Scottish Marxist-Humanist Harry McShane was familiar.

What would he have made of all this? Our post-industrial society might have been a shock. But I think he would see the great humanist potential in the ecological struggle before us. He would tell us to get our act together!




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