COP26 Climate Strike and Interview with Sustainability Network Chair, Carlos Shanka

By Alex Lane, second year Geography

The 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) is due to take place in Glasgow for two weeks, starting 31st October. The primary goal of COP26 is “to bring parties together to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement” and wider climate policy goals. Despite this surface-level action, many believe that not enough is being done and that the newest COP will be another futile drop in the ocean of anthropogenic climate change enormity.

An example of this sentiment was found in the city centre of Bristol last Friday as students, activists, retirees, parents, children and even dogs assembled in College Green to spread awareness for governmental inaction.

A significant factor of this gathering was the creation of a tangibly warm sphere of mutual emotional support for the anxieties that attendees felt over this governmental inaction.

The gathering was commenced by a series of speakers who bravely cast out their concerns of COP26 inadequacy to a crowd of supportive faces.

The first speaker broke the ice by thanking everyone for coming out, stating that a deep sense of community has been created and that “by being together today we fight the exploitative system that feeds into climate damage”. A system, she stated, of capitalist individualism that promotes an unconsciousness of climate change for the perpetuation of material production.  

Photo courtesy of @chasewiant

In addition to the voices of the speakers, the opinions of the crowd were indicative of the reason why there is enough anxiety over governmental inaction to prompt people striking school and work.

A group of parents accompanied by their young children spoke to me about their aspirations for COP26. One individual stated that they would like to see a complete “re-designing of the economy that will favour sustainability and help existing companies become sustainable”. They additionally expressed that we have already seen this done with the COVID-19 response and so it can happen again. A second parent expressed how they stay optimistic for their child’s future by the existence of such protests, and that they retain this optimism by attending themself.

Branded with Greta Thunberg’s iconic phrase, ‘Skolstrejk for Klimatet’, the protesters departed College Green to march peacefully around the city centre’s busy streets, spreading awareness for the ‘School strike 4 climate’ and COP26 cause. We marched under the passionate enchantment of the Extinction Rebellion band who led the march which was quickly met with reaction from the public in the form of Bristolian car horns beeping in both support and discontent.

During this segment of the protest, some of the event’s organisers agreed to talk with me.

One individual explained to me how they perceive COP26 to not make much impact by itself, but see it as tool for world leaders to feel the pressure from the public from protests and events like the one we were in. They also wanted to convey to Brycgstowe that they believe it will take “many more disasters before the public fully support the cause”.

Another of the organisers explained to me how they believe that both the public and the politicians don’t understand the science behind the climate crisis, hindering the understanding of why such events like Friday are so important. They referenced the writer Geroge Mombiot, saying “MPs in parliament can quote Shakespeare, but can’t tell you the definition of what CO2 in the atmosphere is”.

From my various interviews and lived experience of the protest thus far, I understood it to be a mass expression of a fear that the governments on an international stage are categorising the climate crisis as another domestic issue, as they would an increase in crime rates or traffic incidents. Rather than doing this, they should be treating it in the same way as the recent COVID-19 pandemic, which has showed protesters that existential issues can be tackled when the government actually tries.

Photo courtesy of @chasewiant

Interview with Carlos Shanka, Bristol SU Sustainability Network Chair, and president of BUST:

In attendance of the university-backed climate strike was Carlos Shanka, the Student Union’s Sustainability Network chair and president of the Bristol University Sustainability Team (BUST).

After he gave a talk to the congregation, I asked him for an interview.

Is the university doing enough to be sustainable?

“Within the industry, they are one of the top Universities committed to climate action and sustainability, pledging to become carbon neutral by 2030 and divesting from fossil fuels but is it enough? Not yet, they are not doing enough, they need bigger projects, more of a conversation and a larger capacity to make change”

With your inside perspective, are the top-level management team of the University obliging to take on sustainable change?

“So far, they have been supportive however, they have their own limits. For example, the invest for change campaign (divesting from unethical stocks) they have been helpful and willing. The vice chancellor and leader offer their support for change from students, but they don’t do enough and are struggling, they want support but are struggling to get things together.”

Your aspirations for COP26?

“I want countries to achieve their goals as a priority, through collaboration, cooperation and international legislation that allows climate justice. After Paris 2015 the most developed countries didn’t commit to aiding the developing with $100bn. I want them to be ambitious, be more specific and for the top polluters to be more ambitious. Young people should be heard more to shape their own future.”

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