Climate Week is trying to galvanise the green movement – but it is splitting it

Climate Week
The backing of Cameron, Clegg and Kofi Annan isn't enough, say Climate Week's critics, it is blinkered – and RBS-sponsored. Bibi van der Zee reports

Climate Week is coming. If that means nothing to you, how do you fancy a 'supercharged national occasion that offers an annual renewal of our ambition and confidence to combat climate change'?

Still not clear? Well, the plan, Climate Week founder Kevin Steele tells me, is 'all about pointing people to real low-carbon actions that are already happening. We want to showcase all those local projects – such as a headteacher making his school low-carbon – in order to inspire and enthuse.' Steele had been organising social enterprises for several years before he decided it was time to 'paint a positive picture of low-carbon living. We urgently need dramatic action on climate change and we need to bring this issue into the mainstream.'

Over the course of the week (March 21-27), he hopes thousands of events will take place across the country, and that many thousands of individuals will sign up for the currently unspecified Climate Challenge (50,000 have registered already). He hopes that:

'The power of these real, practical examples – the small improvements and the big innovations – will then inspire millions more people. We want to highlight both the inspirational stuff and the incremental stuff. We want to create a sense of a national occasion, so that people feel as if they are part of a collective movement.'

The week has already been backed by a dizzying roster of supporters, which includes David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Kofi Annan and Al Gore, as well as hundreds of organisations both national and local, public and private sector.

But a section of the environmental movement that is concerned about the event's sponsors are mounting a counter-campaign which includes spoof entries for the awards and an anti-Climate Week Facebook group. Their objections centre around two areas. The first is that by focusing on 'small, positive actions' you take the spotlight off the large-scale changes that really need to happen.

Royal Bank of Scotland

The second and far more contentious issue is that Climate Week is sponsored by the Royal Bank of Scotland, the company cited by groups like Platform, People and Planet, the UK Tar Sands Network and the World Development Movement as one of the worst environmental offenders in the UK. In 2009, several groups tried to take legal action over RBS investments, and last summer the bank was the Climate Camp target for the year.

'This isn't at all about criticising or attacking Climate Week itself,' says Kevin Smith of Platform. 'I think it's really important that there are initiatives that encourage people to take action on climate change.' For Platform the problem is in seeing RBS gain 'an environmental credibility that it doesn't deserve when it hasn't made any substantial changes at all to the way that it finances oil, coal and gas companies'. He points to RBS's heavy financial involvement in the Canadian tar sands, and also to their financing of oil company Perenco, who are involved in a controversial project in Peru that endangers several uncontacted tribes.

And other groups echo Smith's concerns. The influential and long-established Centre for Alternative Technology were invited to participate in Climate Week but refused. Their spokesperson said: 'We measure possible interactions with companies via a corporate engagement policy, and working with RBS would breach it.'

Meanwhile, Jess Worth at the UK Tar Sands Network said: 'I think Climate Week have been incredibly naive to take on a sponsor with such a bad climate reputation. What does it say about their commitment to – or even understanding of – the cause they have been set up to further?'

Steele responds that this is 'a big tent campaign. Climate Week is all about showcasing solutions, we're trying to create a national occasion which everyone can seize, and in order to do that we need to include the major areas of our economy like banking and commerce. We are focused on the best things that people do.'

He adds that: 'Looking specifically at RBS, the total portion of RBS loans which goes to the oil and gas industry makes up just 2.1 per cent of their lending. And they have stated publicly that this percentage has been declining for the past three years. In fact their biggest single category of project finance is now wind technology.'

But Tim Gee, one of the 'Superglue Three' who was recently convicted for a breach of the peace after he and two other activists glued themselves to the doors of an RBS branch in Edinburgh, believes that this is not good enough. The three have nominated themselves for one of the Climate Week awards, but have been told that they cannot compete in the Climate Hero category, which is decided by open vote.

Gee says: 'Actually what we need is to challenge the institutions causing climate change. But instead, Climate Week is offering itself as an advertising hoarding for them, and freezing out those taking the steps that will be necessary to stop climate change.'

Hmm. Who'll put money on his chances of winning that award?

This article is reproduced courtesy of the Guardian Environment Network

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