Voice from COP27: Marianne Overton MBE
27th Convention on Climate Change Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt 6-20th November 2022
We need a “A giant leap on climate ambition” and to “drastically reduce emissions now”; said the United Nations Secretary-General on the conclusion of negotiations of the final agreement by the world’s leaders. He also welcomed the agreement to set up a fund to compensate vulnerable nations for “loss and damage”. “We can and must win this battle of our lives.”
We already have disaster relief funds, though never big enough. We have projects donating solar panels to bring electricity to the millions of remote communities, but large areas will just not be habitable because of the increase in extreme weather events. Those people will need to migrate.
Only at COP could we experience such inspiration overload. Thirty thousand people attended from all over the world, to create a vibrant and determined force for good. Thanks to those who were able to join me for a briefing, live from the Convention itself.
To get the right decisions from the World Leaders, we needed all the voices. I was there as the spokesperson on the Environment, part of the delegation representing 100,000 councils across all of Europe, called the Council of Municipalities and Regions or CEMR.
All the Voices
Amazonian Indians joined the throng singing joyously to welcome the new President Lula da Silva to the stage, promising to tackle the illegal destruction of the Amazon Rainforest. I joined in, remembering the scientific expedition I organised and ran in the heart of the forest in 1987.
Americans held open mike anti fossil fuel demonstrations and the youth contingent were very active.
Even us leading councillors led a demonstration to the ministerial meeting bearing placards, calling and singing about “Walk the Talk” and “Multi-level solutions”, calling for councils to be recognised as essential to implementing the best solutions.
At the full ministerial meeting focussing on local Government, we launched our document, catchily titled “Sustainable urban resilience for the next generation”, or SURGE for short.
New guidance for Just Funding was presented and the first grant from the new Climate Fund was sent – from a phone!
I spoke at the podium four times. At the beginning, when Government agreements seemed to be a bit slow, I spoke about how much even one councillor can do and how much our councils are doing, leading the way with over 300 councils explicitly committed to net zero and making the matching changes in their business plans, funding and staffing, with or without Government support. I gave credit to the work of the Local Government Association (LGA), passing the Emergency climate motion to support the 17 sustainable goals agreed by the United Nations. I drew on our webinars, briefings and the 180 case studies on the LGA website climate hub. I also referenced the work of the CEMR, and the expert groups I experienced to help improve and shape the European Green Deal. I got a flurry of follow-up interest afterwards and was asked to write an article for an international journal for Local Government tackling climate change.
The World Local Government event hosted by United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG) was full. I gave the keynote speech on reaching zero waste, focussing on examples of effective multi-level actions needed in legislation, councils, industry and the public working together, often using innovative solutions. These included the straw-fired power station in North Kesteven District Council, which contributed to massively reducing our fossil fuel consumption. I praised Councils who owned their own solar arrays and other renewable energy sources, helping to insulate them from price hikes. What was waste is now a raw material; we are required to make electricity released from gas from the now almost defunct landfill sites, some of which are now also being mined to recover materials.
Our partnerships with universities and small business units are creating new uses for what was previously waste, such as Biodigestate made into bricks or burned as a fuel. This was echoed in a later session from Japan and Australia.
On a panel at the Local Governments for Sustainability (ICLEI), I spoke on the “The Pact for the Future of the Planet”. This time I included more on how some Councils are changing the criteria of our Pension Investments, so the billions of pounds we hold can do some good for the environment in green investments. My own District Local Plan is just going through inspection now, packed with green policies, but in the meantime, in advance, some councils ask developers to say how well they comply with the Council’s green “guidelines”.
Finally, on a panel on “Capacity Building in Green Skills”, I talked about the local government budget announced the previous day leaving us little capacity to do more than the fundamental services and illustrating why sustainability cannot be an add-on but is part of all that we do. We are building skills in our communities, working with industry and Universities and Colleges. Some Councils are creating partnerships to provide long term support for the industry, despite Government grant-aid that is sometimes unhelpful in a stop-start approach, is not enough and tied with complex rules. We are combining council resources to access funding bids but breaking into smaller grants to support local economies to bring a double benefit.
The Great Britain and Northern Ireland stand showcased the green economy, including renewable energy technologies and electric vehicles. I met the Minister for Climate, Graham Stuart, and had the opportunity of raising the value of councils being at the heart of implementing solutions, even owning their own renewable energy sources. Our work on transport and insulation of buildings is also vital to the solutions. The CEMR delegation also had a meeting with the new European Commissioner for Climate Change, hosted by UCLG to discuss key points and actions.
I had a chat with Lord Zac Goldsmith and UK lead negotiator, Nigel Topping supporting Biodiversity Day at the stand on Nature-based solutions, including rewilding. “Scientists Warning” which is led by Independent Cllr Ed Gemmel held a press conference including nature-based solutions. On the Oceans stand, the Director of Science at the Plymouth Marine Laboratory was among the speakers. Egyptian maps were shown illustrating the extent of bleaching of the reefs that has already occurred, something we were able to witness at first hand on the final Saturday.
Thanks to CEMR Chief Executive, Fabrizio Rossi and to Eva Banos for their reliable support and to colleagues for their co-operation in a great team. Huge thanks to all who gave their long-distance support from the UK and from Europe.
We have just a small window of time left. It is vital that we now use this energy as a springboard to make the changes we must make before much of our planet is deeply damaged.
Cllr Mrs Marianne Overton MBE
Council of European Municipalities and Regions Spokesperson on the Environment, Local Government Association Vice Chairman, Lincolnshire County Council, North Kesteven District Council