The announcement of a delay to COP26 may not have given us a concrete date to work towards, but at least took part of the uncertainty away. A delay was both necessary and expected; the world’s governments have a pandemic on their hands and this needs immediate effort.
The impacts of Covid-19 are also being felt very intensely across civil society in Scotland, and the rest of the UK. Many of SCCS’s member organisations, including faith groups, development charities, local community organisations and trade unionists, are working round the clock to support vital services and the vulnerable through the crisis. Grass-roots and community groups, who we have been working together with on planning for COP in Glasgow, are now plunged into community resilience projects attending to immediate need. Many staff of our member organisations are putting huge amounts of time into volunteering in their own communities, not to mention the financial impacts which are leading to staff being furloughed across the sector.
So, given the imminent challenges, and the delay to COP, here are some of my thoughts about the implications for our work.
What was the plan?
For us at SCCS, our priorities for the months running up to November, had been to use COP as a lever to increase climate action in Scotland at all levels; to work with others to make an impact on UK and global climate action; and of course, to use COP as an opportunity to come together with others to build a stronger, broader, and more effective climate movement in Scotland.
In addition to these priorities we have been preparing to welcome many thousands from the global climate movement: those working for global NGOs, Trade Unions and others, young people, indigenous groups, and activists from all over the planet. Some will be official delegates of COP, but most are outside the official proceedings, there to put pressure on world leaders and decision makers. By sourcing accommodation, and by creating a base for civil society during COP with hot desks, social space, a media hub and venues, we aim to ensure that global civil society has all the things they need to be powerful and effective at COP.
So where does a delay to COP leave us?
Firstly: Time to think, plan and re-centre:
Covid-19 is causing enormous shockwaves across the world, and across the individuals and organisations we work with. We need to ensure that we take the time to assimilate what is happening and what this means, and to support our colleagues.
And the extra time does give us the opportunity to foster genuine collaborations and involve more of civil society in the run-up to COP. The timescale of COPs, usually announced little more than a year ahead, gives scant time for civil society movements in host countries to prepare; to build themselves up; to take advantage of the unique opportunity a COP brings to make changes in their own country; and to put in place the right support to help global civil society be an effective force in the COP. The exception was the Paris COP which was announced in April 2013 with official designation at the Warsaw COP in November 2013, a full two years before the conference.
Secondly: Listening to the voices from the global movement:
When a chat with a colleague who you usually share a desk with involves a zoom call, and those even physically close to us now seem far away, this seems to be an opportunity to reach out beyond Scotland to our colleagues and partners in global civil society. SCCS has had a clear aim, in all our work, to bring forward the voices of the global south and those most affected by the climate crisis. And this is vitally important at the Glasgow COP, the fifth in a row in the global north.
The next few months, as we are confined to online meetings, is an opportunity to engage on-a-level with international colleagues. It is a chance to seek out those we need to work with to ensure that we create the right places and platforms at the Glasgow COP for civil society’s voice to be heard, and to find the ways to bring those voices from the countries most affected by devastating climate change to Glasgow.
Thirdly: Those of us who still have the capacity to work on climate need to support the movement.
The months after Glasgow was announced as the host for COP, saw an extraordinary blossoming of interest in climate action from all sectors of Scottish society, from grass-roots groups, to large organisations. Many of our member organisations and allies across Scotland and the world are now stepping up to deal with the imminent needs of the pandemic, and capacity in civil society is being hit by furloughing. But the need for us to take action on the climate crisis remains as urgent as ever. This pandemic brings into even sharper focus that global crises need global answers and that we need collaboration and cooperation between governments to save lives, whether covid or climate crisis.
We need to find out where the needs for support are, and how we can keep the momentum in the climate movement going. To start with we are repurposing the climatefringe.org website, which was due to launch as an events platform for the run-up to COP, last month. The site will become a hub for online organising, a place to go to find out about online events, training, workshops, and that will host webinars, and other activity, from the movement at large. Watch this space….
Fourthly: Learning about how the Covid-19 crisis, and the way we are dealing with it, changes things
In this crisis we are seeing a remarkable outpouring of solidarity with the vulnerable, and increase in volunteering and generosity to strangers. We are seeing clearly the difference between want and need and experiencing what it is like to live precariously. With the cracks in our business-as-usual systems, becoming canyons, the importance of community resilience, localism, well-resourced institutions, and global cooperation is obvious.
This could change forever the way that global issues are framed, and how policies are made. We need to understand how to mend systemic failures for good, how to build back after this crisis to ensure thriving people, thriving communities, and a thriving planet. And we need to learn from, and bring on board, the groups and energies mobilizing to deal with Covid-19 so that we can work together for a world where we can prevent future crises.
Kat Jones is the COP26 Project Manager for SCCS