Gie me ae spark o' nature's fire

Police and demonstrators at a Extinction Rebellion protest on Buchanan Street, during the Cop26 summit in Glasgow.

Revelations, reflections and reservations from the COP26 halls of power and the streets of ire.

The inherent value of this climate festival lies not in its outcomes, but in the stage it erects for global voices.

The planet’s yearly date with climate angst is halfway spent. Somewhat a global heating festival, for two weeks, those whose business is climate have hijacked the Scottish city of Glasgow.

The congregants, inside and out, peddle promises, threats, bravado, gloom, doom, hope and despair. The drama of humanity’s tango with calamity plays out in conference halls within, and on streets without. 

Arriving in Glasgow, posters and signs, discounts, pledges, calls to action, slogans wherever you may glance, and rumour has it Glaswegians have ducked for cover from a horde 25,000 strong of invaders from all corners of the planet. Each human staggering out of the grips of one global crisis into the gargantuan jaws of another. 

Divestment

The hosting UK prime minister alludes to the moment as a 007 thriller in which the fate of humanity “as we know it” hangs in the balance: “Our last best chance”, he frequently extols, to avert catastrophic heating and getting the world to agree on how to reduce global temperatures to 1.5 degrees more than pre-industrial levels. 

A cohort of local and global activists engaging in daily manifestations and protests, culminating with Saturday’s multitudinous march, validate the global climate gathering as the planet's climate soap box. From it, Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion have already called the conference’s time of death. 

Within the bowels of congregating global power, this week there emerge a series of agreements and commitments, with a few - somewhat tepid - surprises, like India and Saudi Arabia’s unexpected commitments to net zero by 2070 and 2060 respectively.

Though these fall short of the UN’s intergovernmental scientific panel of experts, the IPCC recommendations, they seem to imbibe many conference attendees, and unsuspecting followers, with a - false? - sense of hope. At the very least, they are a break with the expected. 

Agreements reached include one pooling over 100 nations pledging to cut global methane emissions by over 30 percent by 2030, another forestry agreement looks to stop deforestation by the same year, while another popular pledge vows to curb the development and use of coal once and for all. Still another incentivises public and private divestment from new fossil fuel projects. 

The inherent value of this climate festival lies not in its outcomes, but in the stage it erects for global voices.

Dangerous

Pointing to their sorely evident lack of policing mechanisms, the matter of accountability hangs a question mark over said agreements usefulness.

All solutions put forward never stray far from the path of “green capitalism”, simply unacceptable for those outside whose chats of “Stop Ecocide” and “Blablabla” for whom an entire overhaul of the global system is the only viable solution to avert careening over the abyss which almost everyone, finally, is in agreement we face. 

From the foggy vantage point in the midst of COP26, it would appear the inherent value of this climate festival lies not in its outcomes, but in the stage it erects for global voices.

Without COP26, prime minister Mia Mottley of Barbados would not have had the chance to decry to the world how developing nations arrived to “find gaps, on mitigation, climate pledges.

"Without more, we will leave the world on a pathway to 2.7 degrees and with more, we are still likely to get 2 degrees. These commitments are made by some are based on technologies yet to be developed. These are at best, reckless and at worst, dangerous."

Influence

Nor would she have been able to look the leaders of the world squarely in the eye and wryly warn how, “failure to provide enough critical funding to small island nations is measured in lives and livelihoods in our communities. This is immoral, and it is unjust."

Were COP26 not, the name of assassinated Colombian environmental defender Juana Perea, for example, would not have rang out across George Square when indigenous Colombian activists denounced their country as the most dangerous one in which to care for planet and be an Earth Defender.

Nor would denouncement of ReconAfrica’s exploration for oil and gas upstream from the Okavango Delta, Africa’s last great oasis, feature in a rendition of “Thriller (Driller/Killer)” in Mandela Place, central Glasgow.

Perhaps the real drama is these voices, inside and out, do not speak to each other, nor do they even exist in the same room. They do however, if only for a moment, share a city and a world.

And the enthusiasm of knowing someone in Glasgow today, involves far more than are present. As week two got underway, former US president Barack Obama, recognised the unique “power you have”, present in the ability to influence those around them. 

Triumph

Of many fascinating conversations had in corridors, pavilions or pubs, a particular one resonates; humanity’s “divine” gift to set it aside from other animals, the ability to make fire, and thus combust, has become its curse.

Prometheus, of Greek mythological fame, stole the flame and as such, knowledge from the Gods for humankind. As punishment, Zeus, king of the Gods, condemned him to have his liver eaten out by Zeus’ eagle during the day. 

Like Prometheus’ regenerative night, so too transpires this CoP26 climate extravaganza. Only to be faced by the wrath of nature in the weeks and months to follow.

Unless of course, the tragic hero’s other gift we possess, knowledge, coupled with reason and the ability to act upon it, douses the flames and fumes created by combustion’s excess. 

If fire can be our curse, then knowledge is  our salvation. There is a chasm between those in and those out of COP. Neither side listen, trust or know the other: what if COP26’s unique triumph rested in listening to each other, empowered by the sharing of knowledge and the coming together of the whole?

Fire

Scotland’s beloved son, the ploughman poet, Robert Burns wisely wrote to us from a very different world, one without hyperconnectivity:

Gie me ae spark o' nature's fire, 

That's a' the learning I desire

May these words be Scotland’s gift to our global leaders, those inside COP26 and those without.

This Author

Nicolás Eliades has been working in international, political and organisational communications, including journalism, for well over 20 years, spanning four continents. He was born in Nairobi, Kenya, and brought up in a Colombian and Cypriot-South African household. Past employers include US Department of State, EU’s European Commission, renown Colombian daily El Espectador, Africa’s biggest broadcaster, SABC, and George Soros’ Open Society Foundations.

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