I spent my final day in Katowice at the Towards a New Climate Conference, in a former coal mine shaft, now art gallery on the edge of town.
The day kicked off with Bas Eichout, a green MEP arguing for action now, not a reliance on carbon capture technologies saying, “the more we wait, the more insecure we will be, betting on unknown technologies.” He predicted the COP would end in drama, on how ambitious technical changes and finance to support developing countries would be, with the big hole left by Trump’s pulling out. But he said that the hope we can take away is that we need a zero carbon economy, and that this can be achieved.
The session I chaired focused on where the million jobs to transition to zero carbon in the UK would be, launching a report titled, ‘Unlocking the Job Potential of Zero Carbon‘.
Peter Sims of Greenhouse Think Tank explained how creating the jobs needed to deal with climate change would localise the economy and rebalance it across the UK, away from London. Transitioning our lives in terms of energy, a shift from a ‘single-use society’ to a circular economy, localising food and farming and transforming transport. Tommy Simpson of Green Foundation Ireland talked of the need to engage workers and trade unions with these real numbers, and ensure these jobs had decent pay and conditions. He said we needed a plan from the bottom up, like that created by the Lucas Aerospace workers back in 1976 (see short film about this
here). And he said that focusing on economic growth was not creating jobs – so we should focus on work and climate change together, which he called a Just Transition. Finally, Anja Siegesmund, Minister for the Environment in Thuringia, Germany spoke of how even where we have ditched coal already, there was still a long way to go. And that the politics of transformation must energise and lead to wide acceptance of the need for social change, which needs a planned approach to respond to the climate emergency.
And it is just that. The carbon clock shows we have just 9 years if we don’t drastically cut emissions before feedback loops make climate change dangerous and the consequences disastrous for the human race.
The final session discussed the false hope presented by nuclear power, and how this is incompatible with dealing with climate change as it is risky, has only limited efficiency gains and investment in it would divert finance from renewables which are now cheaper so better value. After a presentation on the shocking impact of Uranium mining on the Navajo nation the US a French research group called Negawatt presented on how France could go zero carbon by cutting demand, improving efficiency and scaling up renewables alone.
The close of the event reflected on the overall climate conference. Evelyne Huytebroeck contrasted how these annual conferences have changed since 2004: more civil society voices and much more positive atalthough still not enough) progress. and the nlack of a progressive voice nowf rom the EU, let alone the UK? Maybe that is because Europe and the UK are divided on the future we want, so focusing on telling the story of how can deal with environmental, climate and social justice issues together is not the number one thing on our minds. But that is the story we must tell. It must be our story. The story of our time.
Natalie Bennett then closed the event, talking of the role of lawyers in taking things forward. “Making laws is how we arrive at political consensus”, she said. And while the COP24 continues to strengthen the rules for our future this will never be enough – the role of cities, local actions, bottom-up networks must not just lead, but do so in ways that draw-up and energise, that inspire hope. And we must carry that hope, as that is what will take us to a better world.