A symbolic summit

After all, why should "they" act in our best interests if we ourselves do not? This is a deeply ethical issue. We can choose to be autonomous, efficacious beings, or to be automatons oblivious to our own destinies.

Samantha Earle
23 September 2014
Thousands in the streets of New York City during the Climate Change March.

Thousands in the streets of New York City during the Climate Change March. Marco Aurelio/Demotix. All rights reserved.The UN Climate Change Summit in New York today has convened representatives from across the stakeholder spectrum, from political and business leaders and investment groups, to religious leaders and humanitarian groups, with Sunday's global marchers representing perhaps the largest stakeholder group of all people.

The Summit is not about thrashing out deals, but is rather more symbolic in nature; 125 delegates will speak for around 4 minutes each on what their stakeholder group wants to see and may be willing to contribute to the major climate negotiations, which will culminate at the end of 2015.

It’s a bit like an engagement party before a wedding - a gesture of support and good will. The people's part was deemed a success; New York's turn out of 310,000 made it the largest climate march in history, and was just one among 2700 similar events taking place across the globe yesterday.

From the summit itself, there will be noises made from some corners about pledging support to the Green Climate Fund, which aids poorer nations in their acquisition of clean technologies - but notably not from the US; there will be initiatives about forest protection; and there will be squeals of delight about the strong business case for clean technology espoused in the recently published New Climate Economy Report.

It's all quite same old same old; there are no expectations of grand revelations on Tuesday, and the final negotiations themselves are not anticipated to yield the deal that will solve the climate crisis once and for all. It's very easy to become heavily disillusioned by the endless sequence of climate talks. Every time, those entrusted to represent and protect our best interests merely produce a cloying combination of hot air and disappointment, which is then faithfully observed in paragraphs of rue in the left -wing press.

But what is seldom reflected on, however, is whether we - the people, the marchers, the commentators, the consumers, the citizens  - that is, society, howsoever described, are fulfilling our end of the bargain. Do we, as responsible, culpable individuals routinely make the soundest choices for the climate in our daily lives? It seems to me that, resoundingly, we do not.

This is partly because the locus of power - and therein responsibility - is identified as belonging elsewhere, with "them". This is partially reasonable, of course; the politicians and business leaders that comprise the "they" do indeed have a far wider cast of influence that the rest of us. But we seem to forget that they are not so much representing us, as reflecting us. The danger is that, in demanding through our marching that "they" take action, we are very likely to see this abnegation of individual responsibility reflected in the global-negotiations, which itself is rife with "theys"; like the rich nations vs. the BRIC nations, for example.

I strongly believe that until we as individuals demonstrate in our own lives the changes we wish to see magnified on the global scale, the necessary global response to climate change will not happen. After all, why should "they" act in our best interests if we ourselves do not? This is a deeply ethical issue. We can choose to be autonomous, efficacious beings, or to be automatons oblivious to our own destinies. But it's also about simple economics and politics - demand is reflected in supply, populism in political will. I hope that civil society and environmental groups (that is, we) will learn this message soon, and that we each seize the courage and confidence to reject carbon intensive behaviours and embrace clean, sustainable and equitable alternatives. You never know, we might even then see those choices reflected in the climate negotiations of 2015.

Stop the secrecy: Publish the NHS COVID data deals

To: Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health and Social Care

We’re calling on you to immediately release details of the secret NHS data deals struck with private companies, to deliver the NHS COVID-19 datastore.

We, the public, deserve to know exactly how our personal information has been traded in this ‘unprecedented’ deal with US tech giants like Google, and firms linked to Donald Trump (Palantir) and Vote Leave (Faculty AI).

The COVID-19 datastore will hold private, personal information about every single one of us who relies on the NHS. We don’t want our personal data falling into the wrong hands.

And we don’t want private companies – many with poor reputations for protecting privacy – using it for their own commercial purposes, or to undermine the NHS.

The datastore could be an important tool in tackling the pandemic. But for it to be a success, the public has to be able to trust it.

Today, we urgently call on you to publish all the data-sharing agreements, data-impact assessments, and details of how the private companies stand to profit from their involvement.

The NHS is a precious public institution. Any involvement from private companies should be open to public scrutiny and debate. We need more transparency during this pandemic – not less.

By adding my name to this campaign, I authorise openDemocracy and Foxglove to keep me updated about their important work.

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