Beyond the COPs

Quan Nguyen was the Scottish Coordinator of the COP26 Coalition.  His recent article reflecting on how the climate movement has developed since COP26 is well worth reading.  

Here we publish a personal response to Quan’s article from retired oil worker Neil Rothnie.  This is an important discussion, and we’d love to publish more views. If you’d like to write something, or perhaps be interviewed, please use the Contact tab to get in touch.

I think we can share the confidence of Quan’s final thought that;

“ . . . . we are still standing and can rise again to challenge the heart of Europe’s fossil fuel capitalism on its own soil.”  

And this from the man who has more reason than most to be “tired and exhausted”.  Because on top of his big job as Scottish Coordinator of the COP26 Coalition, he also led the hugely successful and well organised weeklong Climate Camps. This year the 2022 camp challenged the UK climate movement’s London-centricity, and confronted the international oil and gas industry in its European capital by occupying the Torry dock of Aberdeen harbour and laying down a marker for the whole movement.  Sooner rather than later the job of shutting down the North Sea will have to be carried out by a movement that has the active support of the masses.  Who thinks the industry/government conspiracy will do it themselves in a planned way that avoids climate chaos and gives us renewable energy?  Looks like Quan thinks that that scenario is a fantasy.

This of course begs the question of what part in this transition – the “real” transition not the greenwashing shite that Quan warns about – will be played by the oil workers, their families and friends and neighbours in communities throughout the country.  An issue we in ScotE3 have been grappling with at some length.  And more thought needs to be given.

When Quan deals with the lessons of COP26, his call is for a rethink of what he sees as a form ofprotest” that no longer works.  His analysis is a hard read but his conclusion that:

“We need to recognise that the climate crisis will worsen and there is no blueprint for the climate movement to follow towards climate justice”.  

surely opens up a space for a detailed examination of his thoughts on the lessons. Perhaps others reading this post might want to look at the problems he perceives in more detail.

I’d never heard of Alaa Abd El-Fattah, who both Quan and Naomi Klein champion.  But we could do a lot worse than give serious attention to his 4 themes. Quan pulls the 3rd and 4th together as, 

“We need to defend the complexity and diversity of our own movement, and create our own spaces, not consume ready-made action plans that lead to nowhere.”

At one level, this is exactly what Climate Camp Scotland was doing in partnership with local oppositionists to Shell’s Ethylene plant at Mossmorran last year, and the Friends of St Fittick’s in Torry in Aberdeen this year.  

Action at the 2021 Climate Camp at Mossmorran

Certainly the “complexity and the diversity” was there for all to see in those who turned out and made the camps a huge success.  But I’m guessing that there is another level at which this theme is even more relevant.  “Our own spaces” must surely be understood not only as our camps, and the spaces we control when we take our actions onto the streets, but also (even more so?) as our communities – the geographical areas in which we share our everyday lives and where we can begin to take some real control.  “The diversity and complexity” is surely our neighbours in all their uniqueness and individuality. “The ready made plans that lead to nowhere” surely the poverty and cold mapped out for us by government in lock step with oil industry profiteering and investor dividends, all predicated on the weaponisation of North Sea gas,

“The ready-made action plans” are also the endlessly failing blah blah blah of successive COPs that lead not to “nowhere” but to global climate disaster already breaking out now in the Pakistan floods, now in the Sudanese drought and famine, and Net Zero obfuscation everywhere. 

And where can we “fix our own democracy” if not in our own communities? It’s here that the lessons we are learning in the climate justice movement about inclusivity can be fought for amongst the widest layers of society in the coming actual everyday struggles to access warmth and food and companionship in the face of the cold, hunger and debt that the billionaires both in and outside government and in the markets and in the oil and gas industry have planned for many of us this winter. There’s no way that what Quan calls “Fossil Capitalism” can be ended without the active participation of the widest layers of society.  We need to go where the people are.  They’re in their communities getting ready to face cold and hunger.  The climate justice movement needs to begin to think about being there with them, engaging in conversations and organising in solidarity.  We have a common enemy – North Sea gas.

When Quan says that;

We need to recognise that the climate crisis will worsen and there is no blueprint for the climate movement to follow towards climate justice.” 

He’s surely saying that there’s going to be no rational transition to renewables – no peaceful road to climate justice.   What chance that the RMT union, let alone other oil and gas investors, can break their addiction to Shell and BP dividends, or that the banks and the markets are prepared to voluntarily slaughter the golden goose?  All indications are that the exact opposite is the plan that they just cannot deviate from.  They’ll transition only when the last dollar has been made from the last profitable barrel of oil and gas from the North Sea.  It’s called “maximising economic recovery” and it’s the UK government plan handed to them by Sir Ian Wood.  And if this is the industry plan in the UK, you can bet that it’s the industry plan everywhere.  And we all know that by that time it’ll be too late.  As Quan says,“Time is running out”

One way or another we are facing, I think, a huge discontinuity.  Piper Alpha, Deepwater Horizon, the trashing of the Niger Delta, in fact the trashing of almost everywhere the industry sets foot in, is how the global oil industry organises.  Dictatorial regimes around the world are the industry’s preferred stomping grounds.  The myth of an organised and orderly North Sea Transition as espoused by Deirdre Michie of Oil & Gas UK, and other industry leaders, politicians and union apologists couldn’t be further from the traditional methods of, and outcomes of, the industry.  There’s no peaceful road to oil and gas, no peaceful transition, to sustainability.  Unaffordable North Sea gas and the unaffordable electricity it underpins have been weaponized, and are guided missiles launched straight into our homes to destroy our personal economies, and if unchallenged, our lives.

Release Alaa Abdel-Fattah

Alaa Abdel-Fattah’s life at serious risk: demand Egypt to immediately release him now!  

Sign the petition here

Alaa Abdel-Fattah is a British-Egyptian writer, human rights defender and software developer. He was one of the leading voices and campaigners during the 25 January 2011 revolution. He has been published in numerous outlets; is well-known for founding a prominent Arabic blog aggregator; and has been involved in a number of citizen journalism initiatives. His book, You Have Not Yet Been Defeated, which compiles some of his deeply influential writings, has received widespread acclaim. 

Alaa has been arrested under every Egyptian head of state during his lifetime. He is currently in detention following an unfair trial on spurious charges that relate to his human rights advocacy. On 2 April 2022, Alaa embarked on an open-ended hunger strike as a last bid for freedom. After more than 200 days of partial hunger strike, Alaa announced that, as of 1 November 2022, he is stopping his previous 100-calorie intake and moving to a full hunger strike. Alaa also decided that on 6 November 2022, coinciding with the beginning of COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, he will start a water strike. This means that if he is not released, Alaa will die before the end of COP27. 

If one wished for death then a hunger strike would not be a struggle. If one were only holding onto life out of instinct then what’s the point of a strike? If you’re postponing death only out of shame at your mother’s tears then you’re decreasing the chances of victory….I’ve taken a decision to escalate at a time I see as fitting for my struggle for my freedom and the freedom of prisoners of a conflict they’ve no part in, or they’re trying to exit from; for the victims of a regime that’s unable to handle its crises except with oppression, unable to reproduce itself except through incarceration” – Alaa wrote in a letter to his family announcing escalation of his hunger strike

On 31 October 2022, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment said, In advance of COP27, I am joining the chorus of global voices calling for the immediate release of Alaa Abd el-Fattah, an Egyptian activist who has languished in jail for years merely for voicing his opinion. Freedom of speech is a prerequisite for climate justice!

We, the undersigned organisations and groups:

  1. Call on the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  2. Call on the British authorities to intervene to secure the release and deportation to the UK of their fellow citizen Alaa Abdel Fattah, as his health is deteriorating to a critical and life-threatening point
  3. Call on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to publicly reiterate its call on Egypt to immediately release Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed el-Baqer, and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  4. Call on UN Special Procedures to publicly reiterate their call on Egypt to immediately release Alaa Abdel-Fattah, Mohamed el-Baqer and Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim Radwan and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  5. Call on all government leaders and business leaders going to COP27 to use all possible leverage and urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights
  6. Call on civil society organisations, groups and activists going to COP27 to urge the Egyptian authorities to immediately release Alaa Abdel Fattah and all those arrested and detained solely for exercising their rights

Background information: On 29 September 2019, Alaa Abdel Fattah was arrested while fulfilling his probation requirements at El-Dokki Police Station. He was questioned before the Supreme State Security Prosecution (SSSP)on charges of joining an illegal organisation, receiving foreign funding, spreading false news, and misusing social media; he was then ordered into pretrial detention pending case no. 1356 of 2019. On the same day, Alaa’s lawyer Mohamed el-Baqer attended Alaa’s interrogation and was similarly arrested, questioned before the SSSP, and ordered into pretrial detention pending the same case and arbitrary charges. During their pretrial detention Alaa Abdel Fattah and Mohamed el-Baqer were arbitrarily added to Egypt’s terrorist list in relation to a separate case (no. 1781 of 2019), for which they have never been questioned or given the right to defend themselves. As a result of this designation, they face a travel ban, asset freeze, and for el-Baqer, potential disbarment as a lawyer. On 20 December 2021, following an unfair trial before a State security emergency court, in which they were denied their right to due process (defense lawyers were denied the right to present a defense on behalf of their clients, and denied permission to copy the case files), Abdel Fattah was sentenced to five years in prison, and el-Baqer and blogger Mohamed “Oxygen” Ibrahim Radwan to four years in prison on charges of “spreading false news”. Verdicts from such courts cannot be appealed. The time they spent in pretrial detention pending the original case ( No. 1356 of 2019) will not count as time served toward the December 2021 prison sentences, and the verdict is final since it has subsequently been ratified by President Al-Sisi. Further details here

Preparations for COP27 are taking place against the backdrop of an ongoing and deep-rooted human rights crisis in Egypt. The Egyptian authorities have for years employed draconian laws, including laws on counter terrorism, cyber crimes, and civil society, to stifle all forms of peaceful dissent and shut down civic space. Under the current government of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, thousands continue to be arbitrarily detained without a legal basis, following grossly unfair trials, or solely for peacefully exercising their human rights. Thousands are held in prolonged pre-trial detention on the basis of spurious terrorism and national security accusations. Among those arbitrarily detained are dozens of journalists targeted for their media work, social media users punished for sharing critical online content, women convicted on morality-related charges for making Tik Tok videos, and members of religious minorities accused of blasphemy. Prisoners are held in detention conditions that violate the absolute prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment, and since President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi came to power hundreds have died in custody amid reports of denial of healthcare and other abuses. Egypt remains one of the world’s top executioners, executing 107 people in 2020 and 83 in 2021, with at least 356 people sentenced to death in 2021, many following grossly unfair trials including by emergency courts. The crisis of impunity has emboldened Egyptian security forces to carry out extra-judicial executions and other unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and torture with no fear of consequences. 

SIGN ON HERE

COP27 ‘Don’t be fooled by Sisi’s climate lies’

A message from the Egypt Solidarity Campaign

Egyptian activists warn ahead of COP27 summit

As Egypt prepares to host the COP27 climate summit in November 2022, Egyptian activists have issued an urgent appeal to the global climate justice movement not to be taken in by the regime’s claims to speak on behalf of ordinary people in the Global South. In a statement published by Egypt Solidarity Initiative, the Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy warns that the regime of Abdelfattah al-Sisi is planning to use the COP27 conference to burnish its reputation after presiding over a decade of brutal repression. 

“The aim of this greenwashing is twofold: first, to extract as much financial aid as possible from the rich industrialised countries. Most of this money will end up being syphoned out of the country into the bank accounts of Sisi and his generals in those same industrialised countries. Second, is to distract from his abysmal human rights record, and as usual, the leaders of the supposedly democratic Western governments will allow him to get away with it.” 

The Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy

While the COP27 conference takes place, thousands of people have been jailed and abused for demanding basic democratic rights, including journalists, activists, academics and students. The response of the military regime to protests and campaigns related to environmental issues has been just as harsh, whether over plans to build coal-fired power stations, polluting industries or the destruction of green spaces. Climate justice movements attending the summit are likely to find themselves alongside ‘astroturf’ government-sponsored ‘climate campaigns.’ 

“No real Egyptian opposition activists will be allowed near Sharm El-Sheikh during the conference. It would be a shame if genuine global grassroots movements are fooled into taking part in such a state-orchestrated charade” 

The Egyptian Campaign for Climate and Democracy

This appeal follows a similar warning by jailed activist Alaa Abdelfattah, a British citizen who was convicted of ‘terrorism’ for posts on social media and other trumped charges. Alaa has been on hunger strike since 2 April to protest at the abusive conditions in prison. He is also calling for a consular visit from the British embassy. “Of all the countries to host [the COP27] they chose the one banning protest and sending everyone to prison, which tells me how the world is handling this issue. They’re not interested in finding a joint solution for the climate,” he told his sister during a prison visit. 

Writer and activist Naomi Klein has also sounded the alarm. “The international climate movement must start paying attention to what is happening in Egypt’s prisons,” she told the Guardian. “We cannot sleepwalk to Cop27 as if these are not crimes against humanity.”

The TUC has also called on the British government to hold the Egyptian regime to account during COP27 for its attacks on workers’ rights to organise. In a statement published in June, ahead of preparatory talks in Bonn ahead of the COP27 conference, the TUC said: 

“The Egyptian trade union organisations affiliated to the ITUC – the Egyptian Federation of Independent Trade Unions and the Egyptian Democratic Labour Congress – have faced repeated repression, with labour organisers forced to retire, limiting the unions’ ability to function. … Vital to tackling the climate emergency is the need for freedom of association and the rights of workers and communities to organise for change. Since seizing power, the Egyptian government has consistently demonstrated a disregard for human life and these fundamental freedoms. By hosting COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, the Egyptian government will have an unprecedented opportunity to greenwash its atrocious record in human rights”

TUC statement, 10 June 

What you can do: 

  • Read the full statement from Egyptian activists online here
  • Share with climate networks in your country and on social media 
  • Take action in solidarity with Egyptian political prisoners, write to your MP or government calling on them to demand the Egyptian regime releases political detainees and stops repressing protest.Go to FreeAlaa.net for more information on Alaa’s campaign. Find out more here about the cases of journalist and lawyer Hisham Fouad and Haitham Mohamedain.