COP25: COP and the power of protest

The Greenhouse PR team is in Madrid for the COP25 UN Climate Change Conference, which takes place from December 2-13. As leaders from around the world gather to discuss how to achieve the Paris Agreement goal of limiting global temperature rise towards 1.5C, we will be blogging each day from both high-level and side events throughout the summit. You can also follow us live from COP25 on Twitter.

This is our third day at COP25 in Madrid. Today’s events and panel discussions have started to reveal a sense of disconnect between the negotiators behind closed doors and the environmental activists outside – including a protest which we got caught up in ourselves.

In this blog we reflect on this divide and consider how best to achieve genuine progress towards ambitious climate goals.

Climate Emergency

Today’s highlight was a high-level discussion panel involving popular speakers such as newly-announced TIME Person of the Year Greta Thunberg, Executive Director of Greenpeace Jennifer Morgan, and Indigenous climate activist Nakabuye Hilda. We witnessed some tub-thumping speeches. Greta expressed anger that “politicians make it look like real action is happening, when it is really just clever accounting”. And Jennifer Morgan mentioned the “extraordinary groundswell of youth awareness” but asked: “where are the leaders, the champions, the adults in the room?’

Indeed, what was particularly noticeable was the absence of official delegations from the event – many countries had not bothered to turn up this early in the morning. Either these groups were already in intense negotiations, or they were closing their eyes and ears to the reality on the outside.

Forest-based solutions

At a side event on forest-based solutions to climate change, a key feature was this year’s pioneering report by Crowther Lab and ETH Zurich on the huge potential for 900 million hectares of tree-planting. Speakers, including Dr Martinez from the Government of Honduras, discussed how “biological corridors” in Central America, which hold 7% of the world’s wildlife species, must be protected and expanded.

As the UK general election campaign has shown, planting trees has become a fashionable environmental goal. But the key to utilising forest and tree cover to reach carbon neutrality must mean planting the right trees in the right places; this shouldn’t become a numbers game for politicians’ personal profit.

Protest

Outside the main hall this afternoon, shortly before key speeches from UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and others, a small group of Indigenous climate activists staged a sit-in, protesting the weak targets and insufficient action agreed at the conference so far. This led to a short march through the hall, after which security instantly contained the protestors and many others caught up in the frenzy (including one of the Greenhouse team) and ejected them from the premises.

The protestors were then escorted around the premises, by an astonishingly large police presence, some had their passes removed, and no-one else was allowed back into the building for the rest of the day.

This over-reaction to a peaceful and non-violent protest from Indigenous peoples encapsulates the alarming disconnect between the politicians and business leaders participating in the negotiations, and the observers on the outside. Jennifer Morgan, Executive Director at Greenpeace, was one of very few high-profile figures speaking up for the protestors. She said: “Indigenous people, fighting for their homes, have been pushed and shoved. They need to be let back in.” 

By the time we reach COP26 in Glasgow next year, it will be vitally important for the political and business leaders to reconnect both with the youth and Indigenous peoples, or else risk a serious fracturing of the environmental movement. As Greta herself said in her keynote speech: “We need a balance of outrage and optimism”. Today we have seen outrage; now negotiators must give us reason for optimism.

COP25 Madrid climate change conference protest environmental

Will Vowell, Madrid

Greenhouse PR works with organisations and leaders who are pioneering climate action. Whether it’s food, fashion, finance or farming, if you’ve got a great story and need our help to tell it, get in touch with the Greenhouse team on 0117 214 1250 or email info@greenhousepr.co.uk.

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