Aside from some particularly difficult individuals, countries, and corporate donors, most of us seem to have settled on the consensus that climate change is real, manmade, and getting worse.
This was a significant theme of Al Gore’s talk last week at the international climate talks in Bonn (COP23). On winning over Trump, Gore said ‘I tried’; but his overall message was positive – regardless of the US delegation’s attempts to derail the negotiations and mould the Paris Agreement for their own personal gain, business and political leaders had decided that climate change was worthy of attention, and the market was following closely behind.
Gore quoted some exciting statistics about the rise of renewables and the decline of fossil fuels. He mentioned the range of companies getting on board the clean revolution, heralding General Motor’s statement that ‘we have seen the future, and it is electric’.
This is all undoubtedly good news, but it surprised me that in Gore’s narrative civil society played a very minor role.
I do not mean to criticise someone who has tirelessly campaigned for climate action over the last twenty years, and whose documentary inspired a whole generation of young environmentalists. But his story unfortunately perpetuates the idea that climate success is measured by market trends. That the time to celebrate is when Volkswagen and Shell decide that green is profitable after all.
Asides from the fact that we have literally had to pull these corporates kicking and screaming into the renewable revolution, I feel suspicious of a transition led by those who have sought to stifle it for the best part of the last half century. When big fossil turns to big wind, solar and wave, we may see some emissions wiped off the balance sheet. But is this a people’s victory?
This corporate capture of the climate agenda is something I was lucky to be given the opportunity to talk about at a skill sharing panel with other renewable energy activists during COP last week. It is a worrying trend which is seeing the democratic transition we fought for being wiped from the table, and it is happening right now. In the UK, 47% of new renewable installed capacity is owned by the big six energy companies – entities which place the bottom line over equality and justice for all. Over on the continent, projects like the Mediterranean solar plan are set to deliver 20GW of capacity by 2020 largely to the benefit of European businesses and at the expense of southern Mediterranean producers. Issues of justice in the low-carbon transition are being side-lined amidst a new corporate dash for battery-essential minerals such as Lithium, where large multinationals know little of the violence and instability they are instigating at the other end of the supply chain.
The next round of the climate debate has begun. Trump and the climate deniers are an issue worth serious attention, but so also are the big corporates trying to commandeer the low-carbon transition and convert it into inflating share prices. We – people – fought to get climate on the agenda, and we must continue to highlight the intersectional nature of the fight. Climate is an issue of gender, race and class, but these are sadly not concerns shared by the plethora of corporate sponsors showering COP with their narrative of market transition.
Al Gore and many telling his similarly positive story make many valid points worthy of public attention. But to me, and many others, I found my rays of hope for a new world not in the negotiating chamber or the company stalls, but in the energy of those fighting for system change. These were participants of the People’s Climate Summit, of Ende Gelände, of the range of protesters from all over the world persistently highlighting the lies, inconsistencies and flaws abundant during the UNFCCC process.
These people inspired me to push harder to take back control of the climate change narrative, restoring climate justice as the centrepiece within which action for transition is based. In the last week of COP, my attention will be firmly with the millions of activists, indigenous voices and frontline communities fighting for a future that is not just sustainable, but equal and fair too. I can only hope they will be given the voice at the table they so desperately deserve.