Global Climate action and sustainable development, Communities and society, Democracy, devolution and governance

Place-based action: an antidote to the blah blah blah?

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

On Saturday November 6, in the midst of what has been called the “most exclusionary COP ever”, over 100,000 people braved the dreich Glasgow weather on a march to mark the Global Day of Climate Action.

As a young person working in sustainability, marches like these are both empowering and heartbreaking. The wheels of progress turn excruciatingly slowly when it comes to acting on climate change and it can often feel like you’re screaming into the wind – which is why it felt so amazing to be surrounded by so many brilliant people who also care deeply about this issue. It’s a good reminder that you are not alone, which is an incredibly important thing to remember as the tide of eco-anxiety (as well as the actual tide) rises.

However, while it is vital we remember the positive moments of this conference, cynicism is a hard emotion to avoid when you work in sustainability. The world’s wealthiest 1% are responsible for twice as much emissions as the poorest 50%, a fact which is painfully evident at COP where over 400 private jets blasted out more emissions than 1600 Scots burn through in a year. After a very brief appearance at the conference, our own Prime Minister flew on a private jet from Glasgow to London for a dinner date with a self-confessed climate sceptic. The hard truth is that the action is not happening at the rate that it needs to and this will never change until we tackle the heartbreaking levels of inequality that plague our society.

COP26 has been one of the whitest and most privileged in the conference’s history with thousands who intended to travel from the Global South excluded due to the high cost of accommodation, the Home Office’s hostile environment and the failure to deliver on the pledge to vaccinate all delegates. These failures have led to the exclusion of those who face the very worst effects of the climate crisis.

And the exclusion didn’t stop at those who couldn’t attend COP. Indigenous leaders, alongside climate justice and women’s rights organisations have been systematically excluded from the negotiating table at COP26. Indigenous peoples protect 80% of global biodiversity, despite making up less than 5% of the world population. With this in mind, the UN has openly acknowledged the need to learn from indigenous communities if we are to tackle climate change, while the IPCC has urged that the world move away from capitalist ideologies that promote never-ending growth – a development that, if achieved, would benefit hugely from the inclusion of non-western epistemologies. Conference observers have warned about the dire consequences that the exclusion of these voices could have for millions across the world.

While thousands of people from the Global South, indigenous communities, young people and civil society have been excluded from the COP negotiations, the number of fossil fuel industry representatives outnumber delegates from any single country. With this in mind, it is perhaps unsurprising that the first draft of Glasgow decision text contains zero mention of phasing out fossil fuels.

Given the dire state of the climate, the level of ‘blah blah blah’ (also known as hypocrisy, greenwashing and lying through your teeth) at this conference has been staggering. From Barack Obama who praised young people and urged world leaders to step up, yet whose Office in 2015 (amongst other things) cleared the way for a 750% explosion in crude oil experts, and Joe Biden whose presidency has seen approvals for drilling permits on track to reach their highest level since George W Bush, to Jeff Bezos, a man who sits at the top of what Kevin Anderson has called ‘the climate glitterati’ and who earns $3,715 per second compared to the average Amazon worker earning $557.82 per week.

Then there’s our very own Boris Johnson, whose opening speech included the quote, “It’s one minute to midnight on that doomsday clock and we need to act now”, yet who – alongside his habit of travelling excruciatingly short distances on a private jet – is pushing for the approval of a new oilfield off the coast of Shetland (one of 40 new oil and gas projects waiting for approval in the UK). And, as per usual, it’s not just at home that our government is destroying the environment, it’s also pledged $1.15bn towards a huge gas project in Mozambique which is projected to contribute more than the combined annual greenhouse gas emissions of all 27 EU countries over its lifespan.

All this ‘blah blah blah’ is happening at the same time as research suggesting that the world is on track for a catastrophic 2.4 degrees Celsius rise in temperatures by the end of the century, even if countries meet their 2030 emissions goals.

The side events shine a light on where real change is happening

Local authority stakeholders have been a key feature across all of the best events I’ve attended throughout this conference. From a cross-continental panel of mayors discussing their work on heat action to a diverse group of stakeholders exploring the role of cities, regions and devolved governments in delivering a just transition – plus events highlighting best practices in active travel, flood management and partnership working.

In each of these events, local authority stakeholders have been given the space to honestly discuss their work and share learning. These discussions have highlighted the deep personal connections that council stakeholders across the world have to place and community. In contrast to national-level blah blah blah, it is evident that local authority stakeholders care about the communities they serve and hold a vital, yet consistently overlooked and under-resourced, role in facilitating a just transition.

There is no denying that these are incredibly challenging times for local authorities. Despite this, councils across the world are working to combat the ‘blah blah blah’ to deliver tangible change for their communities.

LGIU is here to support councils on the journey to a just transition, from policy briefings and training to events and amplifying good practice, our website is home to a plethora of resources for local authorities. Explore the links below for an insight into the services we offer and please do get in touch with any suggestions you have for how we can best support our members during these difficult times ahead.

Key policy briefings & bundles

Insightful blogs and interviews

Read our archive of insightful content generated by members of our network highlighting interesting case studies on a range of different topics relevant to local government. 

Global Local executive panels

In our new Global Local Executive Panel Series, we’re working with global partners to bring you regularly scheduled panel events featuring executive speakers from local government across the countries we work in and beyond. These sessions bring together senior executives from councils in different countries to share ideas, compare approaches and explore learning opportunities. 

Global Local Recap

The Global Local Recap is LGIU’s free weekly newsletter highlighting local solutions to global challenges. Each week we look at a new theme.

Training

LGIU offers many different types of events and training – ranging from policy roundtables to learning and development online seminars and training courses. We also offer in house training. 

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