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 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
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