Can you trust a COP?

COP26 is on the horizon (we originally drafted this post in March 2020) and we’re seeing increasing interest from national groups in getting local activists ‘mobilised’ in some form or other… The members of the CEM core group have different shades of opinion  on the topic of COPs, but all of us agree with the following statements:


  1. Historically, UN Climate Change conference of the parties “COP” meetings have not been useful movement-building tools for grassroots/local groups, or indeed for improved international solidarity (see for example de Moor, 2018)


  1. There is little to no evidence that COP26 held in Glasgow will be any different to previous COPs.  All indications are that the COP will be low in ambition / high in rhetoric from a UK Government level (Pandemic & Brexit anyone?), and then struggle to meet even those very low ambitions.(1) Although it may gain greater coverage in the U.K. national press, there is little indication that the long-term civil society response will be any different than previous COPs and big global ‘sustainability’ summits.


  1. Most importantly, we need locally-rooted movements with international links and perspectives on intersectional (race, gender, class, sexuality, etc) and interspecies justice. Mobilising for COPs does not help this, it may even detract from local action and scrutiny. Spasms of (intern) national mobilisation have not generally helped with local movement building and may burnout individuals that may have had more value for local action.


  1. We as CEM do not and will not prioritise resources towards any initiative related to the global merry-go-round known as UN climate negotiations – we believe this sucks out time, energy, momentum and attention from local issues that have a much greater impact upon our day-to-day lives. Local sources of power and influence then continue to do very little as citizen scrutiny of their actions (of lack of) are diverted elsewhere. Therefore CEM will not commit resources or time (beyond this post) to anything around COP26.


  • CEM will not encourage “summit-hopping”, which is when groups of activists or ‘organisers’ target a specific summit with mass protest and NVDA (and then rise and repeat to the next one) – here’s a few references of things that have been written before about it (2) (3) (4)
  • We will provide a locally rooted perspective, in line with 3 above, and propose alternatives, on our website, via interviews, and debates


To reiterate – some CEM members have very strong views, stronger than the statement above, but there is no minority report – none of us are more in favour of spending time and attention on COP26 than this.



(1) The COP meetings should be judged on their track record, which is demonstrably abysmal considering they started in 1992 (as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change – UNFCCC). Clearly much ink has been spilled on why this is, and you can of course point to economic self interest by the Global North, diplomatic violence on the part of the US, successful oil & gas company denial and delay tactics, etc, etc… The 2015 Paris agreement is the only tangible outcome and even that doesn’t appear to have much, if any, teeth considering the supreme court ruled Heathrow expansion is legal.

The capture of the COP meetings by industrial and other unsavoury interests (eg people being ejected for protests, too much deference being given to fossil fuel companies / lobby groups at the meetings, etc)

Which leads us to the conclusion that when we keep on doing the same thing (expecting COPs to produce miraculous breakthroughs) and expecting different outcomes is tantamount to madness (and certainly displaying deference to governments and diplomats that is unwarranted).




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