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Reflections on COP26: Making your voice heard at the UN climate change conference

Richard Hardy · 3 December 2021

Prospect national secretary for Scotland and Ireland Richard Hardy attended the COP26 climate in Glasgow as an official observer. Here, he looks back on the summit and considers what was gained, what was lost and why it’s important that Prospect continues to have a voice at the table.

The People’s Plenary at COP26

I’d hazard a guess and say that most Prospect members were aware of the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) which took place in Glasgow in November.

Members may be less aware of engagement and work that Prospect undertook during COP26 to advance the policies set by members and to raise members’ concerns both inside and outside the event.

Prospect was one of the few UK-based unions to be part of the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) delegation to COP with both senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns and myself attending COP26 as official observers.

It’s probably wrong to see COP26 as a single monolithic event.

In reality there were two COPS. There was one that took place inside the security barriers in the rarefied air of international negotiations and, if we’re being honest, a lot of corporate lobbying.

And the other one took place in and around the city of Glasgow as a huge number of activists and campaigners fought to get the voices of their constituencies, be that indigenous communities, young people, women, workers and many more heard.

How COP26 worked: Daily stocktaking plenaries

As Prospect we were able to be part of both the official event and the one outside.

Inside the security barriers, as part of the International Trade Union Confederation’s global Trade Union delegation, we were able to follow the daily progress of negotiations through the rather prosaically named “Daily Stocktaking Plenaries” at which the Cabinet Office Minister and COP President Alok Sharma updated “Parties” (as the countries are known) and NGO observers (such as Sue and myself) on what had taken place and highlighted specific issues or concerns. The “Parties” (and on occasions NGO observers) were then able to respond.

It sounds rather dry but it gave a good overview, and allowed delegations to then concentrate on key issues of concern for them, either directly at the negotiating table or through lobbying. The latter was very much the role of the ITUC and Prospect, and we specifically concentrated on issues of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to carbon reduction, human rights and, vitally, Just Transition.

Prospect at COP26

As part of that delegation Prospect wrote letters to Alok Sharma raising significant issues around exclusion and the downplaying of human rights; we took part in two protests within the venue, both relating to the need for human rights to have full expression in what became the Glasgow Climate Pact, these being symbolised by the slogan Human Rights: Red Lines. Union rights are a basic human right too.

As a union we led on behalf of the ITUC in direct negotiations on the issues of improving National Determined Contributions (NDCs) to carbon reduction and Just Transition with the climate ministers of Denmark and Grenada, who had been appointed by the Presidency to progress these issues.

And, as a union, we were deeply honoured to deliver the Global Trade Union’s address to the closing plenary session on Saturday, 13 November. (You can watch a video of my remarks here, which starts at around the 3hrs, 24mins and 53secs mark.)

Prospect at the Global Day of Action at COP26

Fringe events

Outside of COP we took part in a number of fringe events including:

  • our own “Challenges to a Just Transition” webinar;
  • a joint event on Just Transition with Community;
  • running a session on organising in new industrial sectors at the Just Transition Hub;
  • taking part in the Scottish Government’s launch of their energy and Just Transition strategy consultation;
  • and speaking at two ITUC events on Just Transition hosted by the STUC.

Prospect also marched at the head of the Global Trade Union contingent on the Global Day of Action demo through Glasgow on Saturday 6.

Global Day of Action

Reflections

Prospect’s Richard Hardy speaking at COP26

On a personal level my attendance at COP26 left me both encouraged and discouraged; the negotiator in me is encouraged to see the downward trend of predicted 2030 temperature increases both at COP26 and preceding COPs. In a forum of more than 180 nations, slow progress is the best that you can hope for.

The activist in me was discouraged, the palpable anger from many island nations and other countries in the Global South during the closing plenary when India and China vetoed a full “phase out” of coal powered generation was very disappointing. As was the failure to agree any form of a reparations package for those countries, who have suffered as a result of the Global North’s industrialisation.

The ITUC’s formal position on COP26 can be found here.

Why members matter

It is the contribution of millions of trade unions members that makes it possible for working people to have a voice and a seat at the table like this. Without that small action of joining a union it is undoubtably the case that our concerns would be lost in favour of corporate lobbying.

If you are a member, thank you for your continued support. Please do talk to your colleagues, your friends and your family members about why being in Prospect is an important driver for climate justice. And if you haven’t joined yet there has never been a more important time to do so.

Hopefully this blog demonstrates the breadth of Prospect’s reach and influence and illustrates how we can deploy that reach and influence as we seek to ensure the policies and concerns of our members are taken forward.


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