What we did at COP26 - from a memorial and a march to a discussion and a disco!
By Lewis Coenen-Rowe
In November, the UN climate summit known as Cop26 (the 26th Conference of the Parties) came to Glasgow for 2 weeks. For local campaigns like ours, this was a great opportunity to raise the profile of our work and meet incredible activists from all over the world who were in town for the summit. Here’s a run-down of some of the main things that we got up to during those hectic two weeks.
On 29th October, just before Cop26 began, we held a climate memorial dedicated to the people who have lost their lives and the places and communities that are being threatened by the companies that the Strathclyde Pension Fund invests our money in. With this memorial we sought to show these terrible consequences to the Fund and demand that they stop ignoring those impacted by the choice to invest in fossil fuel extraction.
Like communities in the Ecuadorian rainforest where Texaco, now owned by Chevron, dumped billions of gallons of crude oil and waste water causing higher rates of cancer, birth defects and skin diseases within the communities that live there.
Like communities in Northern Chile fighting mining giant BHP whose copper mining activities in Belen are devastating this already drought stricken region.
Like communities in Scotland who are suffering the immediate effects of toxic air pollution spewing from the Mossmorran plant operated by Shell and Exxonmobil.
Like the Cabo Delgado region of Northern Mozambique destabilised by violent attacks rooted in poverty and inequality, exacerbated by the gas rush in the region led by oil and gas giants that the Strathclyde Pension Fund invests in.
Like the Ogoni 9, the nine people who were killed for their opposition to the devastating approach to oil extraction taken by Shell in the Ogoni region of Nigeria.
When our pension fund invests in these companies, we are complicit in the harm done to communities bearing the brunt of environmental injustice. With this memorial, we hoped to go some way towards acknowledging their suffering and celebrating their tireless work to resist the projects that destroy homes, habitats and lives.
Footage from the memorial was featured on that day’s BBC evening news, as well as being covered by Democracy Now.
Held on 3rd November, during the official Finance Day at Cop26, this protest was a fun and playful way of drawing attention to fossil fuel ‘greenwash’, the practice of using advertising and promotion to try to appear more environmentally friendly than the reality. Despite heavily advertising their ‘green’ products, none of the fossil fuel majors are aligned with the Paris Agreement on climate change and all are continuing to invest primarily in oil and gas.
This disco-themed protest took us back to the 70s to highlight how fossil fuel companies have known about the climate impacts of their business for at least 50 years, but have chosen to deliberately hide their own research and avoid changing.
Up to a hundred people gathered on Buchanan street to witness group dances to Stayin’ Alive and Big Oil Funk (to the tune of Uptown Funk), learn some new dance moves demonstrated by Alice from the Glasgow Lindyhoppers, and singing along to ABBA classics with new lyrics specially written by Divest Strathclyde members, including ‘Money, money, money, weather’s funny in a warming world’ and ‘Divest Queen, fossil free and completely green’. We even performed C.A.M.B.O (to the tune of D.I.S.C.O) in solidarity with the – now successful – campaign to prevent the extraction of oil from the Cambo oil field by Shell and Siccar Point.
We also had a fantastic range of speakers, including councillors Graham Campbell and John Molyneux and campaigners from Fridays for Future, Stop Cambo, and BP or not BP. And we were lucky enough to have long standing divestment campaigner and co-founder of 350.org, Bill McKibben speak alongside the Reverend Yearwood, president of Hip Hop Caucus.
A fantastic video of the event was put together by Friends of the Earth Scotland.
Climate Marches, Green Zone panel and the People’s Summit
Members of Divest Strathclyde also participated in the huge Fridays for Future march on the 5th of November and the enormous march on the 6th of November held as part of the international day of action.
On 7th November, Lewis from Divest Strathclyde spoke as part of a panel on ‘How to Green your Finance’ held as part of the events programme in the official COP26 ‘Green Zone’. The other speakers on the panel included representatives from Share Action, the Cambridge University Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, Scottish Widows pension fund, and Triodos bank. Divest Strathclyde brought a vital local perspective and an emphasis on the need for organising and the importance of divesting totally from fossil fuels. A recording of the session is available here.
Isla from Divest Strathclyde spoke about fossil fuel divestment and our work as a campaign during an international online event on 10th November organised by the Cop26 Coalition as part of the People’s Summit. She spoke alongside campaigners from Friends of the Earth, Justiça Ambiental and Market Forces. A recording of the session is available here.