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Cop26 diary: Glasgow talks, storm warnings and gallons of tea

Our guest diarist reflects on exhaustion and the path ahead.

By Asad Rehman

Everybody I work with is feeling a bit broken.

As part of War on Want and the Cop26 Coalition, I’ve helped organise 800 actions globally and a 150,000-strong march through the streets of Glasgow.

I’ve drunk around ten gallons of tea in the past fortnight, and lots of us have been pulling 18-hour days. My entire body aches; it feels like we’re all running on reserves.

Before Glasgow, I’d never met some of the people I work with outside of Zoom calls, so getting to meet them face to face has been a real highlight. There’s a positive energy from everybody across the coalition that’s keeping us all going.

In organising for the talks, we have moved away from the idea of climate change being about polar bears and melting icebergs. Instead we want to help people focus on the injustices built into our global economy. That means conversations about extractivism, colonialism, racism and economic injustices and the way climate change has a disproportionate effect on poorer communities.

Covid vaccine inequities has meant that many people from Global South movements couldn’t be here. When they have, it’s often because the coalition has helped fund travel. We had to set up an immigration department to help people navigate the complicated requirements of getting to the talks.

Poor planning from the government has resulted in people being locked out of talks. Then when you’re inside the conference, you can’t hold meetings with more than 20 people, which makes our job more challenging.

During Saturday’s march (6 Nov) we had to disassemble an outdoor stage in response to storm warnings. There was torrential rain, and gale force winds would have ripped the stage covering off. We dismantled everything in an hour, took our speaker stacks down and went off to set up a new stage.

The protest wasn’t just made up of environmentalists. There were trade unionists and people from all kinds of lesser-known social groups all calling for economic justice. It reflects a major shift – a movement of movements, as a lot more people understand that the climate is part of a wider systemic issue of global inequality.

Every delay has an impact on people in the Global South, so there’s a lot of psychological pressure for climate justice campaigners. We have to fight for people who couldn’t be here in person. That’s why if you’re involved in the organisational side of things, you can’t just lie in for an extra hour every morning.

On a practical level that means being up at 5am or 6am every day to talk to media, providing analysis of what’s going on in the talks. A lot of what happens in the talks is very technical and needs translating to make it accessible for all of us. But, as with many things, the devil is in the detail. Every day we’ve been looking at draft agreements from the talks and keeping an eye on the granular detail, as well as the bigger picture.

If you look at the barrage of press releases the UK government has put out over the course of the talks, you’ll notice that many of them include regurgitated, unaccountable pledges. Boris Johnson likes to criticise other nations’ climate policies. The reality is that the UK government is continuing to invest in and subsidise the fossil fuel industry. Xenophobic whataboutery towards countries like India or China is nonsensical: many countries are already doing much more than nations with a long history of colonialism and extractivism.

We’ve got another demonstration planned for today (Friday 12 Nov).

But after the talks are over, I’ll be spending an entire day in bed. And then getting back to help build the justice movement we need.

Asad Rehman is the executive director of War on Want

Cop26 diaries are a series of personal insights from people attending the Cop negotiations in Glasgow.

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