The Journey from A to Z(ero) – the run up to COP26

By Rebecca Tierney

In July, Boris Johnson’s former press secretary Allegra Stratton said people could join the Green Party in their fight against climate change.
In response to what members of the public can do in their own lives to combat the climate crisis, she told the Independent: “When people say to me, ‘what can they do?’, they can do many things, they can join Greenpeace, they can join the Green party.”

This morning, UWS News caught up with Paisley constituency’s Green Party representative, Scott Bevan, and Glasgow City Council Treasurer Richard Bell to discuss ‘greenwashing‘, Glasgow and all things COP26.

“It’s capitalism versus the planet”, said Scott when asked the same question posed to Ms Stratton in July, “Everyone in the whole of Scotland could decide ‘I’m going to stop using straws, I’m going to use public transport, I’m going to stop eating meat’ and that would make hardly any difference to the climate crisis.”

Scott says that, fundamentally, its about a “system change” and not a personal one, “Neo-liberal capitalism created this problem and neo-liberal capitalism will not solve this problem.”

Richard Bell disagrees, saying: “Everybody [has] a small part to play in making sure that we get to Net Zero – it’s not something that government’s can deliver without the people.”

Richard does admit that there needs to be a clearer rhetoric surrounding the small efforts that members of the public can make, without perpetuating a “misery story” where people are urged to “stop eating meat, stop travelling in aeroplanes, stop, stop, stop”. Whilst he says that the government must handle some of the “chunky stuff”, he wants to help people understand why changes are being made and, perhaps most importantly, to “come on the journey with [the government].”

These sentiments were echoed by Nicola Sturgeon in a press conference earlier this morning where she called for “credible action, not face-saving slogans” as an outcome of the COP26 summit.

The First Minister also said that “it is the countries which emit the most, who most need to step up. They need to make ambitious pledges to achieve net zero. And those pledges must be backed by credible actions.”
This tactic of ‘greenwashing’ that Ms Sturgeon is describing is a “huge problem” says Scott, who drew attention to it back in May in the run up to the election when he said that every party was “attempting to greenwash their manifesto in a desperate bid for votes.”

Large corporations are no different in their tactics during this pivotal moment for the climate crisis, it seems.
“Every company is coming out and saying that they’re environmentally friendly when they have been the problem”, Scott can’t help but laugh in disbelief when he says, “Even Shell is trying to act as though they have solutions to the climate crisis – Shell are one of the biggest causes of the climate crisis, so, yes, greenwashing is a huge problem.”

City Treasurer Richard is in agreement with Scott when asked about greenwashing, but does concede that he’s definitely not above cashing their cheques before exposing corporations who only claim to be environmentally friendly: “If it’s an organisation who wants to give the city or the government money because they think that’ll make them look good – I’m happy to take your money.”
Referring to COP26 as a “big challenge” for the Scottish Government, he says he’d take anybody’s money to put towards the event but if the lender continues to “operate in a poor way” then they must be called out. “Once I’ve cashed your cheque”, Richard laughs.

Scott hopes that COP26 can achieve more than just ‘blah, blah, blah’, as Greta Thunberg predicted earlier this year, and that the conference can evoke real, tangible change for the future: “I have a kid, he’s 4 years old and I worry every day about the planet that he’s going to inherit. I worry that by the time he’s my age this whole area is going to be under water. [This] is the situation that we are bound to face if drastic changes are not made to the system.”

Richard believes that whilst the conference may cause some disruption – roads in and around Scotland’s largest city will be closed during the conference – the benefits for Glasgow and the people of Scotland as a whole outweigh the negatives: “Thousands of people will see Glasgow on the TV and will hopefully be inspired to come and visit the city and get involved.”

Not only does the SNP Councillor for Govan advocate for the benefits in terms of people coming to Glasgow, but also for the people in Glasgow already who will experience the summit first hand. He reiterates Scott’s talk of what it will mean for the future if people can grasp the reality: “People need to understand that this isn’t about some vague notion that’s going to happen in lots of years and it might have an impact on countries far away, we need to get people to understand that even a rise in the River Clyde, for example, could have devastating effects.”

More than 120 world leaders will attend the conference, which takes place at the Scottish Event Campus (SEC) in Glasgow from 31 October to 12 November.

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