COP26 demo, Glasgow, 6th November 2021. Photo: David McAllister COP26 demo, Glasgow, 6th November 2021. Photo: David McAllister

Elaine Graham-Leigh assesses the first week of the COP26 summit and the coming together of a mass movement of working people

I am not sure I approve of using football metaphors to talk about the climate crisis. The threat posed to us by unchecked climate change is a little more serious than being 5-1 down at half time (yes, even against [insert most-hated rival team here]). However, as we head into the second half of the COP26 summit, you get the distinct impression that the people in Glasgow are at least a couple of goals up over the assembled world leaders.

The results coming from the COP itself so far have been predictable. There are sufficient pledges for leaders and watchdogs like the International Energy Agency to put a positive spin on progress, hence the IEA’s announcement that we would now be limiting global warming to 1.8C.

What is lacking though is any significant indication that the agreements will translate into actual action and actual greenhouse gas reductions. The gap between the commitment and the reality is unfortunately made all too clear by supposed successes like the agreement to stop deforestation, which is a repeat of a 2014 agreement which has clearly failed to stop anything.

What has been less predictable, and far more encouraging, has been the movement on the streets. The huge, drenched but determined march on Saturday and the equally spirited Fridays for the Future climate strike march on Friday have been the headlines but there have been many others as well. That the leaders at the COP are presented with this rolling, continuous stream of protest is effective reminder of the importance of gathering as many people as possible in the city where the COP is happening, as well building as building the actions elsewhere.

The solidarity between the climate protesters and the various groups of striking workers in Glasgow, such as the cleansing workers and the Scotrail workers, who were able to get an acceptable deal after threatening to strike for the entire duration of the COP, is particularly important here. The presence of large contingents from the GMB and other unions on the demo on Saturday felt like a step change, as was Greta Thunberg’s message of solidary to the cleansing workers. These are hopeful signs that we are making progress towards the aim of a mass movement of working people on the climate crisis, not at working people.

As was pointed out at the People’s Assembly rally on Friday night, part of the Tory plan on the climate crisis is to position themselves as the defenders of ordinary people’s freedoms against out-of-touch, middle-class environmentalists who want to take their bacon and their cars away. Against this, the speakers at the rally were clear that working people are not the enemies of action on the climate crisis. A mass movement that brings together striking workers, environmentalists, students, anyone who wants to stand against the multifaceted crisis we face, is the only hope we have of wringing effective action out of the Tory government. The basis of such a movement was well represented on the march on Saturday. Now the task is to build it for the long term.

I don’t remember the media coverage of any other COPs being dominated by striking workers and protests in the way this one has been. You have to wonder if locating this last-chance COP summit in a city with such a strong tradition of working-class militancy was, perhaps, a mistake from our leaders’ points of view. If so, the people of Glasgow and in Glasgow are making them pay for it. Here’s to more goals for our side in the second half.

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Elaine Graham-Leigh

Elaine has been an environmental campaigner for more than a decade. She speaks and writes widely on issues of climate change and social justice, and is a member of Counterfire. She is the author of A Diet of Austerity: Class, Food and Climate Change and Marx and the Climate CrisisHer sci-fi novel, The Caduca, is out now from The Conrad Press.