A Green in the room makes a difference.
We can demonstrate this effect over and over, from Carla Denyer’s ground-breaking motion to Bristol City Council to declare a council emergency, to numerous motions from Greens in councils around the country, to my own personal experience as a town councillor in Oxfordshire. If ever proof were needed, a conservative (with a small C) 12-member town council, whose preoccupations tended towards parking, the playground, and the cemetery, received a 650-person petition – and after five minutes’ discussion – unanimously passed a motion to declare a climate emergency. Then all heads turned to me – the Green in the room – to ask, “now what do we do?”
The slogan ‘A Green in the room’ is used repeatedly in England and Wales at local elections, as well as at national elections. But the evidence is strong that the Green effect works in much wider and more influential contexts…
The Green Party Executive (GPEx) does not concern itself only with English matters. The leader of the Wales Green Party is a member of GPEx, and we are increasingly keen to learn of experiences in Wales and the opportunities for Greens to gain seats in the Senedd.
Beyond the relatively parochial, the International Committee (elected at conference) is required to report on its activities to GPEx throughout the year. The International Committee’s relationship with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, (the UK public body dedicated to supporting democracy around the world) has been a strong one over the years. It has supported Greens providing training to relatively new parties in East Africa and the Balkans. The International Committee also sends delegates to the international meetings of the European Green Party.
Knowing that COP26 (the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties) was to be held in Glasgow gave GPEx an additional impetus to engage with this set of crucial climate change negotiations. To maximise the impact we might have, GPEx set up a COP26 Steering Group, co-chaired by David Flint, convenor of the Climate Emergency Policy Working Group, and myself. Its members included Green politicians, staff members working with local councillors, communications staff and GPEx members. We also invited Green parties from Scotland and Northern Ireland – the Scots were particularly active because the conference was on their home territory, and they organised meeting space in Glasgow for Greens from around the world.
The Steering Group also organised an early event with the Global Greens, which led to the setting up of a Global Greens COP26 Steering Group. It was energising to be in a (Zoom) room with Greens from Europe, the Americas, the Indian sub-continent, Africa and Australia. For some of those to appear meant very unsocial hours! The UK and Global Greens COP26 Steering Groups were supported by the Scottish Green Party and the European Green Party to put on events related to our three key messages – the need for a carbon tax, providing reparations for the harm done by the excess emissions from developed countries and past exploitation, and saving what we love.
What really brought home to us the global nature of our Green Parties was a dinner organised in Glasgow by Canadian MP Elizabeth May. Elizabeth is convenor of the Green Parliamentarians Network and is in touch with ministers and other elected Greens around the world. The countries represented around the table were Canada, England and Scotland (of course!), Kenya, Belgium, Finland, Austria, Venezuela, Ireland, Sweden and Spain. Some representatives were Environment Ministers, and were too busy in the negotiations to attend – Ireland, Iceland, New Zealand, Finland, Sweden, Luxembourg, Belgium and Austria.
I found myself sitting next to Brian Leddin, an Irish TD (MP), who is Chair of the Joint Oireachtas (Parliamentary) Committee on Climate Action. He told me that the Irish government has agreed to its climate actions plans, set its carbon budgets, and has €135bn to spend over the next ten years. And he reported that, whilst they are in a coalition government, they are having an enormous influence because their coalition partners ask, “now what do we do?” – proving once again that a Green in the room makes a difference.
So what next? What must be remembered is the UK COP Presidency continues until COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheikh next year, so we will continue to keep the pressure on Alok Sharma to deliver meaningful change. We will plan to promote our messaging both before and after COP27, when our voices are most likely to be heard. And we will build on our network of Climate Champions to foster local action in pursuit of responding to the climate emergency.