On Saturday 9th September 2023, more than 250 people, including representatives from more than 100 Dorset based organisations, came together at the UK's first ever community-led Conference of the Parties (COP). While this event did not have the decision-making power of the global events, speakers, workshop facilitators and attendees explored where and how Dorset's citizens can take action, including how we can demand action from our leaders on the climate and ecological emergency.
It opened with a video by Springwatch presenter, Chris Packham, who hailed it as a “brilliant idea” while highlighting how the scientific evidence shows we have a very limited time. He too spoke of the need to “demand the actions we require to secure a healthy and happy future” for humanity.
Hosted by members of Dorset CAN, Zero Carbon Dorset and Sustainable Dorset the opening sessions were led by Catherine Allinson of Future Earth and a consultant with the UN & International Development Organisations. Amongst the introductory speakers was Laura Baldwin, former Olympian and now passionate climate and science communicator involved with both the Green Party & XR. Her speech included a reminder that recent surveys indicate 80% of the population now want action on climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution. Despite the currently ever-worsening situation, she spoke of positive developments and the need to maintain and develop the narrative that it is still possible to reverse the trend.
This was the first of a good many passionate and inspiring talks given in the main hall on topics such as policies, youth activism, energy strategies, youth activism, the circular economy and restoring nature. A great deal of information was imparted in slide presentations, some of which – it is promised – will appear on the website, currently at: https://dorsetcop.info/ Elsewhere in the building rooms were given over to workshops on developing a Dorset 2030 vision, engaging the disengaged, the Dorset Local Nature Partnership, climate justice and more. There was a People’s Assembly session, along with numerous presentations by green groups from all over the county. Though, almost inevitably, some things ran a little later than scheduled, the whole event was thoughtfully organised and well stewarded.
Two key initiatives at the COP were the ‘“Dorchester Declaration”, a commitment to act, advocate and lobby for action on Climate Change and the Environment across the county’ and the opportunity to make individual or organisational ‘pledges’ to the cause. An early draft of the Declaration can be read on the website, and it was hoped to finalise it at the COP. However some disagreements still exist(largely, I gather, between those who would like it to be a more radical statement and those who feel that some degree of compromise is necessary) and the final wording it is hoped can be agreed well before the end of the year. The pledges meanwhile are a way for us to hold ourselves to account in the actions we chose to take individually or in the groups with which we work.
The organisers of this event are to be congratulated on the efficient and inspired running of what was the first of, it would be good to think, many similarly conceived events, perhaps held annually here in Dorset and spreading throughout other UK counties (Packham certainly seemed keen to get one going in Hants!). I suspect that by far the majority of those who attended came away heartened and feeling at least somewhat more empowered to continue working against the grain of our corporately dominated and politically compromised society.
It would be good to hear from others who attended this event. Please feel free to add commentary in the space below, or create a thread in the forum.