For COP27 not to be a cop-out, we need action by our leaders

No Planet B: World leaders are failing the people by not grasping the climate crisis is with us now

PETER UNDERWOOD says that Croydon has its own Nero figure, fiddling while the planet burns

They say that Nero fiddled while Rome burned.

In July 64AD, a great fire ravaged Rome, destroying three-quarters of the city, killing many and leaving half its population homeless. According to folklore Nero, Rome’s Emperor, was more interested in playing music and enjoying himself than doing anything about the disaster.

Welcome to the modern equivalent – COP27.

The 27th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – known as COP27 – is a meeting of world leaders taking place at the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh in Egypt this week.

The COP meetings are intended to deliver action on issues critical to tackling the climate emergency – from urgently reducing emissions of greenhouse gas, to adapting to the inevitable impacts of climate change, to delivering on the commitments to finance climate action in developing countries.

The fact that we are having the 27th such conference and we still haven’t got close to delivering a plan to stop climate change tells you how successful they have been.

Every year since 1994, leaders of the richest countries have got together and made big speeches and grand promises and then gone home and carried on with the disastrous policies that are destroying our environment and putting our future as a species at risk.

Promises are forgotten, commitments aren’t met, and next year they come back and do it all again.

They are more interested in making money and supporting the luxury lifestyle of them and their friends than they are in saving people from the world on fire. Sound familiar?

This week’s COP 27: much like last year’s COP-out 26

This is not to say that everyone at COP27 is wasting their time. Some leaders are desperately crying out for action on climate change. Sadly they are usually from the poorest countries, who contributed least to the climate problems and who are not able to deal with the often catastrophic changes to their environment that are already happening.

There are also activists from across the world putting pressure on world leaders to act; experts presenting solutions to the crisis trying to get leaders to listen; and scientists providing all the evidence any sensible person would need to see the scale of the problem and likely consequences for failing to act quickly and effectively.

Unfortunately at COP27, you will also find all the lobbyists from the oil and gas companies, destructive industries, fast food, and profit-hungry finance. They usually get the best seats at the conference and the ear of all of the leaders of richer countries. It is sadly no surprise that even when an agreement is reached at a COP meeting, it does more for business and finance profits than it does to tackle the climate emergency.

While many may not agree with the tactics of groups like Just Stop Oil and Insulate Britain, it is easy to see why they are so angry and frustrated at the inaction of governments – and especially when our government announces plans to make things even worse.

We may not be able to change what happens at COP27 and you may not wish to glue yourself to a motorway or throw soup over a van Gogh. But there is an old phrase in activist circles: “Think global, act local”.

So what is happening here in Croydon?

The problem is that we have our own Nero here in Croydon as well. The Mayor of Croydon seems to care more about cleaning graffiti than he does about dealing with the climate emergency.

Just as at COP, there are groups of activists, experts and local residents who are all keen to see changes happen. They came together in the Croydon Climate Crisis Commission to produce a report with a long list of recommendations for the council. That was published in May 2021. So what has happened with that report?

At the Town Hall council meeting in July, in the middle of the record-breaking heatwave we suffered, Esther Sutton, one of Croydon’s new Green Party councillors, asked Mayor Jason Perry when he would act on the Climate Commission report. His response was a short speech that said nothing. No commitment to act, no plan of action and no timetable for delivery.

The Croydon Climate Commission report was meant to be just the start, but the council hasn’t even made a start. I’m sure that many members of the commission would be willing to do further work on helping Croydon act on the climate emergency, but not if it was just going to lead to more hot air from the Mayor. Sadly, it looks like the Mayor won’t even ask for help because he doesn’t want to do anything.

Maybe the Mayor should learn a lesson from history. Within four years of the start of the fire in Rome, Nero was declared an enemy of the people by his own supporters and fled into exile. If the Mayor continues fiddling about instead of acting on the emergency, he could face the same fate.

For all of our sakes, I hope I am wrong about COP27 and the Mayor of Croydon. We don’t have time for more meaningless speeches, greenwashing and ignorance.

We need our leaders to act, and we need them to act now.

  • Peter Underwood, pictured right, was a member of the Croydon Climate Commission as a representative of Croydon Friends of the Earth. He has written this column in a personal capacity

Hear more: Born Free Foundation’s Will Travers on climate challenges
Read more: Croydon among areas worst hit by deadly climate change
Read more: Down and out in Glasgow and Paris: climate talks end in failure
Read more: Town Hall protest over climate commission’s wasted time

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email
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4 Responses to For COP27 not to be a cop-out, we need action by our leaders

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    Peter is mostly right and COP27 appears to be more of a COP out.
    One wonders how much Mr Perry actually understands on the subject other than generic rhetoric along party lines.

    But we do have environmental issues on a major scale within the Borough.
    For instance

    Viridor incinerator. Council engendered
    Veolia waste disposal Council engendered
    Council residential planning and enforcement (or lack of it) Council engendered
    Building Regulations and Enforcement (or lack of it) Council engendered
    Policies on vermin control Council engendered
    Civic street planning – congestion bottlenecks Council engendered
    Rampant streetworks at on notice causing misery for residents and traffic along with dangers to children. Council engendered
    Failures of illegal parking and underfunding parking enforcement and keeping streets clear. Council engendered

    We have huge congestion issues in Croydon and huge parking issues. Council engendered
    A small example would be Dropped kerbs

    These are not just for access across pavements – they allow cars to pass on streets with parking on both sides and prevent mexican standoffs and huge tailbacks and fender bending as multiple cars try to reverse in tight areas.

    This Councils answer?
    Well they will be enforced if the person blocked (homeowner) calls. But no one answers after 17.00 or before 09.00 and not on weekends. Strangely when most are blocked.
    One does not need to be a rocket scientist (or environmental campaigner) to know that 50 cars spewing toxins whilst stationary for over and hour with horns bleeping not only causes a pollution of toxins and difficulty for those hard of breathing but also a noise issue and various anti social behavioral issues. (Ah noise pollution are monday 9 – 5 only also hmm those pesky cuts again)

    Perhaps we can remember to also continue to raise repeatedly the injustice of the acts perpetrated on us today by these cuts and this Council and still without any investigation in Public?

  2. Good points from Peter and Ian, but I want local politicians to concentrate on local issues, especially those that are critical right now. We hear much from Mr Underwood about global matters and precious little about our town – I want him to put us first

  3. Lewis White says:

    Whilst the need for massive CO 2 reduction is the biggest issue globally, I would agree with insidecroydon’scomment above about local issues, and with Ian’s about specifics such as the Bedington Incinerator.

    The Incinerator, of course, is the biggest single source of “chemical and particulate pollution” affecting Croydon’s citizens, particularly in the centre and North of the borough. The smell and particulates from the incinerator are the things that affect the lives and health, short and long term, of local people every day.

    What is the UK government doing in terms of designing out incineration- or at the very least–reducing it to get rid of the exceptional wastes, and to do it well awa y from where thousands of people live? Are we stuck with it for 100 years??

    With regard to the quality of urban life in the streets, the council must be hundreds of street trees every year due to a varety of causes, from old age, to vehicle damage and pests and diseases. The Council has been planting a respectable number of new ones, but my guess is that the replacement is about half of the number lost every year. We are going backwards, and losing street trees overall.

    The tendency for front gardens to be paved, to create safe, private, off-street parking is a totally understandable desire on the part of residents, but sadly, as a direct result, the nearby street trees are opened up to damage –to their root systems, by the excavation and building of crossovers, leading to premature tree death– and by opening up the trees to greater chance of vehicle damage caused by cars and vans bashing into them, as the vehicles are driven off and out to the street. I see hundreds of wounded trees every week –bark smashed off, branches torn off.

    Almost as worrying is that the potential for planting new trees is also reduced — just as it has been, big time, by the installation of Cable TV ducts in the 1980’s or 90’s. The ducts were put in, 9 times out of 10, in the very place where street trees are planted– in the 1 metre wide strip of footway alongside the road kerb.

    It would be great–really significant–if the Mayor made a commitment to plant 2 new trees for every vehicle crossover built each year, and to replace each dead tree with one nearby, and another in the same street or adjacent street.

    Steet trees need to be properly chosen by tree specialists, who can sometimes under-estmate the size to which new tree varieties can grow. It is very important not to plunge residents into darkness by choosing trees that grow too big. Having said that, if the right trees are chosen, not too big, not too small in ultimate hight and spread, the results of planting street trees must be a good thing, not only in terms of dust reduction ( trees really do filter the air), cooling of hot summer streets , adding moisture to ameliorate dryness, but by re-connecting us mentally, visually and in other ways, with living nature.

    Mr Mayor, please could you make a pledge to replace all the missing street trees, over your tenure, and if possible, add 300 new ones every year?

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