I protest, you protest – let’s all protest!

LONDON: If it is a day without a protest in London it must be Christmas Day or Easter – when nobody can justify the effort of getting out the signboards and superglue.

In the lead-up to COP 26, two dominant sustainability protesters have featured heavily – Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.

Extinction Rebellion is kind-of the new Greenpeace – lofty ideals and vague goals, a sense of humour to go with the self-righteousness, and civil disobedience designed to attract attention while not alienating its broadly mainstream following.

Insulate Britain is the opposite – no sense of humour, protests that have alienated almost everyone, and undermined its simple, quantifiable and achievable goal of insulating all British houses. Its small groups of often elderly protesters – a 77-year-old doctor, for example – have defied court injunctions to employ their signature move, best described as, “Find an important road and glue yourself to it,” on the M25 – frequently – and Central London landmarks like Blackwall Tunnel, Old Street Roundabout and other major thoroughfares.

But the protesters are right!

The saddest thing about Insulate Britain is that it is absolutely right. Britain’s houses are among the oldest and least insulated in Europe – despite schemes over 10 years ago that tried to do exactly what Insulate Britain wants. Not only that, the hundreds of thousands of solid-brick pre-Victorian homes in conservation areas, in particular, are fiendishly difficult to insulate.

A fever pitch of slightly misguided shouting

The protests reached a crescendo on Friday, when Greta Thunberg came to town. Hordes of protesters chanted outside Lloyds of London, Standard Chartered and Macquarie Capital, accusing them of insuring or financing climate-damaging projects.

All this ignores that Lloyds doesn’t actually insure anything – it is a marketplace for people who insure things – and Standard Chartered and Macquarie Group are both members of the new Financial Alliance for Net Zero Emissions.

The group is being assembled by Mark Carney, former chairman of the Bank of England, has assets of $90 trillion, and promises to be a powerhouse of funding for sustainable initiatives that will dwarf any legacy investments that are working their way off the books.

Today, The Sunday Times reported Carney as saying that “Big pools of money are aligning to net zero across the whole financial system”, with plans to decarbonise being rewarded with access to capital and businesses without those plans being slowly starved.

Carney is also vice-chairman of Brookfield Asset Management, owner of London’s Canary Wharf, a key property investor. The same article in The Sunday Times reported some argy-bargy about Carney’s Net Zero claims for Brookfield, which he had to walk back from, but Brookfield does seem to be ahead of many other players in the race

It’s all been politics and speculation

The protests and the Mark Carney to-and-fro typify the conversation preceding COP 26, which has focussed on personalities and sideshows with questions about whether the event can be effective without the presence of Xi Jinping of China and Vladimir Putin of Russia being front-runners.

Talking about timber

A key topic area for Britain has been timber and deforestation. Initiatives aim to pay developing nations to preserve their forests rather than fell them – which may be of interest to developers of the new wave of eco-friendly timber-framed buildings.

Britain hopes that other countries will adopt protections similar to its Environment Bill, that aims to punish British companies for using or selling products with inputs from illegal deforestation. While this model of policing the British beneficiary of nefarious deeds has worked well to reduce bribery around the world, supply chains are more complicated.

Greenpeace has already traced Brazilian deforestation to products supplied to British supermarkets and the National Health Service without their knowledge and despite their diligent efforts.

Like always, God is in the details

The Sunday Times reports Papua New Guinea’s climate envoy, Kevin Conrad, calling these schemes “window dressing”. He is reported as saying, “You know what the British government says the carbon cost in the UK is this year? About £120 ($218) per tonne of CO2. You know what the British government is offering developing countries? About $10 a tonne of CO2.”

That we are hearing Kevin Conrad’s voice in this debate is probably one of the greatest benefits of an event like COP 26. A quick glance at the program and supporting documentation is overwhelming. There are over 48,000 documents in the library, ranging from broad global initiatives to submissions from youth in Tuvalu, and Adaption Reports and meeting papers from Nepal, Burkina Faso and Belize. The sheer visibility of activity and ideas from around the world makes the event worthwhile.

Damian Clarke is a freelance journalist and writer who contributes to The Fifth Estate and The Green List. He has recently relocated to London and will be bringing us updates from COP 26, hopefully peppered with a little bit of gossip to keep things spicy.

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