The good work quietly happening at the COP

Bringing together 25,000 people, COP26 is facilitating new conversations, alliances, and information. John Kidder, a Candian delegate of the Global Greens, reflects on the potential the summit holds beneath the rhetoric of leaders.

Three people talking at COP26

UNFCCC_COP26_6Nov21_AroundTheVenue_KiaraWorth-12 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

John Kidder

I am John Kidder from Canada. Through the Global Greens process and our only staff coordinator Amy Tyler of Australia, I’m a delegate of the Global Greens to COP26. I’m accompanying my wife Elizabeth May, a former leader of the Green Party of Canada. Elizabeth has attended 12 climate COPs; this is my third – so please take my comments as those of an uninitiated external observer.

Greta Thunberg, to whom the world owes the very greatest debt, has characterized this meeting as a gathering of ‘greenwashers’, with no purpose except to support the status quo, and which will make no appreciable contribution to our worldwide efforts against global warming. But, with real respect for her most important influence, I disagree.  

I have been for the last week, and will be for this week, wandering about the ‘side events’, meeting people from all over the world, talking and talking and talking, picking up papers and links to online resources. This sort of information sharing and personal interchange is an essential contribution to the global work. All sorts of folks from NGOs, governments, political organizations and groups, technical experts in every field you can imagine, people who have devoted their lives to fish, or to a particular species of bird, or to terrestrial mapping, or to carbon sequestration in peatlands, or to solar photovoltaics, or to the generation of useful energy from garbage or to… – well, you get it. 

Sub-national governments, deputy ministers, ‘climate ambassadors’, indigenous people from everywhere, biodiversity and health experts, global finance people. I could go on and on, but I’m sure you get the picture. I’m told that the largest ‘delegation’ here is from the fossil fuel industry, busy lobbying for their dinosaur businesses, doing their best to prevent the world’s governments from moving ahead. But they are vastly outnumbered by people who are here to advance the causes that Global Greens have espoused for so many years: climate justice, equity, restoration of our one Earth.

So here we are in this great meeting place. In these days of COVID, we’re so accustomed to meeting online or on our telephones that it’s easy to forget, or just to look back nostalgically, on the enormous benefit of meeting people face-to-face. Even when most of the face is masked, haven’t we all become experts at determining, by seeing only a person’s eyes, whether they are friendly, smiling, engaged? New alliances, formal and informal, new real information – not the sort of fluff that goes around on social media or the ignorant ‘reporting’ in the papers – real information from the ground, information so necessary for each of us to understand how we can best keep engaged and moving forward with the work.

For the work continues. Whether or not the governments manage to come to an agreement on ‘nationally determined contributions’ sufficient to keep to 1.5, whether or not the commitments to reducing methane emissions and to ‘ending’ deforestation, to enormous global finance for the new gold mines of renewable energy and a pittance of global finance for loss and damage and adaptation in the global South all are borne out in practice, whether or not the political grandstanding – ‘one minute to midnight’, say the newly zealous before they approve new oilfields and get on private aeroplanes to make dinner at their clubs – takes over the media. Whether or not any or all of these things is ‘the solution’, I am convinced that the conversations happening here among the 25,000 or so of us who are not ‘parties’, who are not involved in the negotiations, that these conversations are the real drivers.  

Governments, as always, are followers, not leaders. Here we see the reality of the old joke about the politician who sees the mass of people moving and declares, ‘There go my people, I am their leader, I must catch up and get out in front’. The people here doing this work are the actual leaders. With luck and with continuous hard work and never ever giving up, the people here will drag the formal ‘leaders’ along with them.  

And, if we collectively are successful in keeping to 1.5, we may be sure that the ‘leaders’ will take the credit. In fact, they will be the followers of tens of thousands of workers here and everywhere. And, as the world adopts the strategies and tactics and policies articulated by Greens around the world, we won’t get the credit. But we may get the real reward of a liveable planet. And won’t that be worth all the work?

So while Greta is right about the ‘blah, blah, blah’ and the corporate greenwashing, and the press is right about the posturing and posing of the politicians, still the good work of the world is going on, right here, right now. I, along with thousands of others from around the world, will leave this meeting with new information, new and refreshed contacts, new and reinforced alliances, and new energy to keep on keeping on. 

Al the best to you all, Greens from all over. Real leadership rests with you.