The Climate Emergency: After COP26, Public Action Is Inevitable

As the dust settles after COP26, many are questioning whether it enabled enough meaningful change to set the world on a safe path.

Posters at the Cambridge COP26 public action
Posters at the Cambridge COP26 public action. Photo by Jemima Churchhouse

Set against the leaders’ positive hype, there is an equal amount of negativity from scientists, environmentalists and activists about whether COP26 is able to limit global temperature rise. The Wildlife Trusts’ official response is ‘Baby steps forward, when giant leaps were needed’.

If 197 world leaders and negotiators in a highly complex set-up cannot achieve, in two weeks, what is desperately needed, then maybe the model for change needs to change. Perhaps the people need to take a lead and protest for more action?

Economic anthropologist Jason Hickel believes that asking our rulers to change will not work; it has to be an ‘extraordinary struggle’ requiring alliances across national borders against those who profit massively from the status quo.

Greta Thunberg believes the discussions were inconsequential ‘blah blah blah’. She was not invited to speak at COP26, and our TVs showed many images of large groups of protesting climate activists being policed outside the conference hall. It somehow appeared as if they were not invited to be part of the process as stakeholders. Thunberg says that when enough of the public act together, change will come.

Also pessimistic about politicians’ achievements at COP26 is conservationist Chris Packham, who says that it’s now up to ordinary people to ‘do what needs to be done.’ Peter Kalmus, a NASA climate scientist, feels the situation is now so urgent that ‘we need a billion climate activists in the streets getting more radical than ever before’.

How many people does it take to bring about change?

Environmental activist George Monbiot points out the theory that if 25 percent of people are committed to a cause, it can lead to real change across society. He thinks we may ‘stand a chance’ if we ‘trigger a cascading regime shift’ in the political and technological worlds.

Research conducted by Erica Chenoweth, a political scientist, concluded that only 3.5 percent of people need to participate in non-violent protests to effect political change. Extinction Rebellion is a growing international movement whose mission is to engage this 3.5 percent of the population to force system change and create a world fit for future generations. There are now well over 400 groups in the UK, including nearly 30 in the East of England.

Perhaps ordinary people acting together will cause real change to trickle – or cascade – upwards? These actions on Global Climate Day in small East Anglian towns, where protest is mostly unusual, could be the beginnings of something.

Woodbridge, Suffolk Around 300 climate activists gathered beside the Tide Mill in Woodbridge, Suffolk on 6 November as part of the national COP26 March for Climate Justice. Protesters first made their way to Elmhurst Park for the first of a number of speeches. They then marched through the heart of the town along the Thoroughfare and then up to the old Shire Hall where speakers included the town’s mayor, Sue Bale. The event was organised by Transition Woodbridge and Woodbridge Churches Together. (Report by A. Damski)

Woodbridge COP26 public action
Woodbridge COP26 public action. Photo by Anna Damski.

Cambridge Cambridge’s protesters assembled outside Great St Mary’s church, on King’s Parade, and marched to Parker’s Piece, an open grass area near the city centre.  Speakers included Daisy Thomas from Cambridge Climate Justice, Junayd Islam of Cambridge Stop The War Coalition, and Austin Harney from the TUC Disabled Workers’ Committee.  One of the attractions was a kilometre-long woollen ‘umbilical cord’ made by Jill Eastland and others. (Report by C. Holloway)

Cambridge COP26 public action
Cambridge COP26 public action. Photo by Cameron Holloway.

Brentwood, Essex Brentwood Climate Action members were out on the High Street on Saturday 6 November, raising awareness of their campaign calling on local politicians to publish a climate action plan. It was part of the Global Day of Climate Action, and group members were out in force on Ingatestone High Street, too.  Many residents discussed their concerns with the group, and signed the petition asking Brentwood Council to declare a climate emergency. (Report by J. Rhodes)

Brentwood COP26 public action
Brentwood COP26 public action. Photo by Jenny Rhodes

Diss, Norfolk: About 80 people gathered at the Diss mere as part of the Global Day of Climate Action on 6 November. People were invited to share a minute’s silence for all those who’ve already lost their lives and livelihoods as a result of the climate crisis. A couple of poems were read out, and Trevor Ault did a beautiful rendition of Saro Lynch’s ‘There Are More Waters Rising’. The last speaker told the crowd that although not everyone agreed with some of the tactics used to call for change, she believed that everyone had the same hopes in their hearts that things really must change to save the planet. (Report by E. Katz)

Diss COP26 public action
Diss COP26 public action. Photo by Elana Katz

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