Cooling the Planet is said to be "undoubtedly one of the most important environmental conferences being held in the world over the next 12 months". Nearly 1,000 delegates from around the world are expected to attend and it's happening in Sheffield, at the Octagon Centre on February 7th. But what are its aims, whose behind it and why are the Sheffield Campaign Against Climate Change organising their own conference in the same week?
Sheffield is My Planet is a week of events on climate change in Sheffield from the 5th to the 9th February. The highlight of the week is a lecture by former US Presidential candidate Al Gore at Sheffield University. It's part of Wednesday afternoon's "global climate change conference" Cooling the Planet. Al Gore's lecture was the main substance of his recent film on climate change, An Inconvenient Truth. But access is by strict invite only and it's not a conference for campaign groups, environmentalists or even climate change scientists. Cooling the Planet is a conference for business leaders.
Sheffield is Their Planet
The week is being organised by an unlikely group of development agencies, a global law firm, Sheffield University and Sheffield City Council. If it seems strange that such a group should get together on this issue a line from the Sheffield is My Planet website clarifies: "For the first time leaders of regional, national and international business will gather to address the major climate change challenges that threaten economic sustainability."
Cooling the Planet is organised by DLA Piper, one of the largest legal service providers in the world. DLA Piper are definitely not your typical high street solicitors. Their specialist services are wide ranging and include airports, aviation, oil and gas, petrochemicals, power (including coal, oil, gas and nuclear) and roads. On roads they say they've worked with "both sponsors and funders of highway infrastructure projects" for "road, bridge and tunnel concessions". Of airports they say they "have been involved in all the major recent airport tenders" and regularly advise "investors, funders, and public sector owners" on "this growing market". They also claim to be "market leaders" in the controversial Public-Private Partnerships and Private Finance Initiatives.
Renaissance South Yorkshire is another group sponsoring the conference. They are part founded by another of the week's sponsors Yorkshire Forward (who were also responsible for evicting the Matilda Social Centre last year). Renaissance South Yorkshire's projects include the Robin Hood Airport Business Park which sites industrial/distribution units right next to "the UK’s newest airport" and includes plans for a new motorway to the airport - the M18 link road. A second project connecting both Renaissance SY and Yorkshire Forward to aviation is the Advanced Manufacturing Park (AMP). Their website boasts: "Technology developed on the AMP is already being utilised in leading edge projects, such as within Formula One and the next generation of military and commercial aircraft". In addition the AMP is home to the Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC), a Boeing/Sheffield University project whose primary goal is to develop new materials for the aerospace industry.
Perhaps it's no surprise then that these groups are concerned about how climate change will threaten economic sustainability. And perhaps it's no surprise that groups like Sheffield Campaign Against Climate Change cannot attend the conference too. Climate change campaigners see aviation growth as one of the biggest threats to increasing greenhouse gases today.
Sheffield City Council have, for years, overseen an unending list of environmentally disasterous projects. Their transport policy has been a nightmare both for the environment and the people of Sheffield. Public transport is hugely overpriced while the streets are regularly clogged with excess vehicles. Provisions for cyclists have been minimal, usually restricted to painting white lines on the road. The only attempts to solve the transport problem have been failed attempts to accomodate more and more traffic by introducing ever more complicated one way systems and building more roads. They have consistantly given the green light to planning applications that have guaranteed increases in road traffic from huge out of town supermarkets and health gyms to the gargantuan Meadowhall Shopping Centre and its 12,600 car parking spaces. Last year Council Leader Jan Wilson admitted she would like to see even more people own cars in Sheffield but hoped they would use them less. Jan Wilson is also the chair of Sheffield First (another development group sponsoring the week) and board member of Sheffield One a company involved in the redevelopment of Sheffield City Centre including the new £500,000,000 shopping centre, the New Retail Quarter (NRQ).
A range of events fall under Sheffield is My Planet but ordinary people are cut out of many events involving discussion or decisions. Most public events are those where passive and uncritical consumption of information takes place: film shows, an interactive game, and tree planting for under 25s to offset the carbon emissions created by delegates attending the events! An exhibition said to "showcase regional manufacturers and organisations involved in the delivery of solutions to climate change" is open to the public and includes a Panel Discussion - Making Climate Change Simple?. However you do need to book to go to this exhibition.
In response to Cooling the Planet the Sheffield Campaign Against Climate Change have organised their own conference on February 3rd called Living the Cool Life. The day consists of morning and afternoon sessions covering: Eco-footprinting, Food, Energy, Transport, and National and Global campaigns. Held at St Mary’s Community Centre off Bramall Lane, the morning sessions start at 10am and the afternoon ones at 2pm. A veggie meal will be available at lunchtime and live entertainment provided by the gypsy/klezmer band Minnie Moosika. Entry is free though donations appreciated. Booking not essential but helps for catering. To reserve a place or book a stall contact Rob Last - firstname.lastname@example.org 0114 250 9180.
Despite the non participatory nature of Sheffield is My Planet some of the events will still be worth attending. Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, will be screened several times at various locations in the city and does an excellent job of conveying the seriousness of climate change even if it avoids the drastic action needed to combat it. See: www.sheffieldismyplanet.com for times/locations.
Practical ways to combat climate change another event in Sheffield on Tuesday 30th January at the Friends Meeting House, 10 St James St, S1 2EW at 7.15pm