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Time to COP on about Climate Change

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

My article in The Irish Times that takes us back to the COP25 in 2019.

Not very Joycean I know and unrelated to The Groundhog Day Challenge but take a tour of Madrid as Greta Thunberg arrived by train and 500,000, sorry 15,000 people protested and rallied against Climate Change.

I am very concerned where we are going and am reminded of the beautiful quote:

“I am tomorrow, or some future day, what I establish today.

I am today what I established yesterday or some previous day.”


October 21st 2021

The whole world looked to Madrid when Spain offered to host the COP25 at short notice after civil unrest forced Chile to pull out.

25,000 people attended the United Nations event but most were only concerned if a particular Swedish teenager would make it after she had sailed across the Atlantic, as part of her environmental message that we should listen to the facts, and travel less by air.

Greta Thunberg arrived by train, and I saw her attacked online but then welcomed by hundreds of thousands when she appeared on stage.

Organisers estimated 500,000 people attended the rally but officially, the Spanish police estimated only 15,000.

From what I saw, there were twice as many people as the anti-war protest in Dublin on February 15th 2003 when an estimated 100,000 people questioned the wisdom of flying halfway around the world to find weapons of mass destruction that we knew would never be found.

It is incredible, with so many social media posts pinging from the Spanish streets that day, that the police with helicopters circling the event, could have a figure so far removed from reality.

I was delighted that Spain hosted the event but surprised Madrid was chosen considering the mayor´s stance against a low emission car zone.

Madrid Central was introduced in 2019, similar to other EU capitals but José Luis Martínez-Almeida´s opposition to it, helped him to win the mayoral race and he immediately scrapped it. Organisers estimated 60,000 people marched against him that July but police estimated only 10,000.

Protestors wore facemasks, and one placard ironically stated that masks would become the new fashion in 2030. Thanks to the mayor, I already had masks, when the pandemic began.

The city tried to impress the global media, and the mayor launched, "Madrid Green Capital” which sounded like we had become an EU Green Capital. We hadn´t but officials argued that Madrid was a green capital as it had a lot of trees.

Madrid had but sadly lost 150,000 of them when the weight of heavy snow crushed them last January, and I remember hearing the distinctive “creak, creak, crack” sound of trees breaking, as I walked through the snow-laden Spanish streets as children enjoyed snowball fights and some of them saw snowmen for the first time.

Getting back to Climate Change, the green capital rolled out the red carpet and started to litter the place with posters promoting the environmental event. I saw Time4Action posters everywhere, on the Metro, bus stops, buildings and even across mail carts.

The message was everywhere and quicker than you can say, “Fake News”, a marketing executive told me that they bought advertorials across the front pages of Spanish newspapers and I warned her of the potential backlash of such publicity as I never buy newspapers with advertorials.

Young and old embracing Thunberg´s message

I missed the chance to meet a billionaire who flew in on his private jet, and I am sure the billionaires felt great when they appeared at the event and appeared to care about reducing personal air travel and Climate Change. Many tried desperately to find fault with Greta Thunberg´s message, and one broadcaster even pointed out how much pollution a train emits.

We heard of Covid19 that December but I never saw any posters on public transport, advising people about the pandemic, when it was Time4Action in February and March.

I was probably one of the first Irish people posting about the need to wear masks as I could see the danger of waiting for authorities to act, a mile off.

Wearing a scarf, I posted a selfie by a wheelchair sign on the Metro, knowing that there was no elevator there, and in my opinion, this is the sad reality, too many people are going to be left behind when we fail to act on Climate Change if we believe authorities who put wheelchair access signs where no money has been invested in lifts or where we call ourselves a green capital without investing any capital in green initiatives.

Like the newspaper coverage, I can’t buy their report that in a city of six million, only 15,000 people attended the rally that was attracting 25,000 representatives from around the world, and in the end, the mayor of our green capital replaced the controversial Madrid Central with a similar system called Madrid 360, and I wonder how much the 180 U-turn cost the city.

Madrid probably faced EU fines if they didn´t act, and I am sure in the future, we will all have to change our minds on past political policies.

Green or Greed Capital?

The view of the world is very different from a train or private plane, and I am always amazed that a flight to Madrid can cost me as much as the bus to Dublin airport but between reports ignoring half a million people and newspapers written by sponsors, and billionaires flying around the world, trying to keep up with a teenager on a train, I don’t think we are on the right track and Madrid only became greener and cleaner when the pandemic shut down all traffic in the city.

The COP26 simply needs more telecommuting, especially if we only pay lip service for the things we need to do.

There are lessons to learn from this pandemic and one is credibility, and I was not surprised when people ignored politicians during the pandemic, and shouted "Fake News".

Madrid IFEMA accommodated the UN event in December but ten weeks later, it was transformed into a 5,000-bed field hospital and ironically, ignoring the pandemic did more for cleaning the air in Madrid than all the hot air at the COP25 so when we hashtag Time4Action, I won’t hold my breath, I honestly believe that we will fail to act, again.

Supported by

UNESCO City of Literature

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