The upcoming COP26 global climate summit, set to begin in Glasgow on October 31, provides environmental/climate advocacy groups with an opportunity to demonstrate their capabilities and heightens the potential for disruptive activity. In recent weeks, climate groups have carried out protests and rallies across the world, with more planned demonstrations scheduled to take place during the summit.
Teneo Risk assesses that climate groups will continue to leverage Nonviolent Direct Action tactics to demand action on climate policies from the international community. At this time, Teneo Risk has not observed any specific intelligence to suggest more aggressive or violent tactics. However, we advise organizations to maintain situational awareness and remain prepared to respond to potential related disruptions, with specific recommendations outlined below.
Nonviolent Direct Action (NVDA) includes the use of techniques that fall outside of institutionalized methods of promoting social change, such as elections and legal efforts, without the use or threat of injurious force. Most major Western environmental advocacy groups condone NVDA in addition to their more institutional advocacy efforts, and their members are extensively trained in NVDA tactics such as public demonstrations like protests, rallies, and marches; occupying, blocking, and obstructing roadways and other public places; and boycotts and strikes, among other nonviolent yet disruptive tactics.
- Climate advocacy groups embrace NVDA tactics as an opportunity to garner attention on their issues and shame parties they perceive as responsible without alienating the broader population. According to published research on 20th century mass movements/struggles, campaigns that used NVDA were twice as successful in achieving their aims than those that used violence.
- Climate groups have traditionally focused NVDA efforts on two types of targets: 1) large, heavily-frequented public spaces, such as roadways and transit hubs or 2) corporate offices of institutions they perceive as promoting non-renewable energy sources, such as energy companies, banks and law offices that fund hydrocarbon projects.
- Ahead of the COP21 meeting in Paris in 2015, more than one million people marched worldwide to demand action to stop climate change, with one campaign group claiming more than 570,000 protesters took part in marches it had organized on all the main continents. In Paris alone, more than 200 demonstrators were arrested following clashes with police that disrupted traffic and defaced several national monuments with green paint.
Recent Upticks Plus Ongoing Planning Points to High Likelihood of Action in Coming Weeks
The high profile of COP26, including participation by the US president and potentially the Chinese president, suggests that climate groups will capitalize on media attention to push their agendas using NVDA and protest. In recent weeks, groups have engaged in these tactics in cities across the world in the lead up to COP26. Teneo Risk assesses that these climate advocacy groups will continue to leverage NVDA throughout the COP26 summit to continue to exert pressure on the international community during the summit.
- In the United States, global climate organizers Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the Sunrise Movement carried out a series of disruptions in New York City on October 25, including leading protests, blocking major roadways and obstructing traffic for several hours. In mid-October, climate activists disrupted operations at the US Capitol and the White House and spread fake oil on the steps of the US Chamber of Commerce. They also created blockades in front of the US Capitol, resulting in over 600 arrests across Washington, DC that week.
- In Europe, climate activist groups have carried out protests and related nonviolent activity throughout much of October. Hundreds of Fridays for Future activists protested across Europe throughout October as part of a Greta Thunberg-led COP26 protest, blocking roads and clashing with police. In the UK, Animal Rebellion protestors scaled a government building in Westminster in late October and hung a banner. Meanwhile, the group Insulate Britain has routinely blocked the M25 motorway in London, as well as three roadways in the financial district.
- The COP26 Coalition, which includes not only notable global climate organizers and activists, but also trade unions, grassroots community campaigns, faith groups, youth groups, and migrant and racial justice networks, is organizing a Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on November 6. Planned demonstrations are scheduled to take place in major international cities across the world, including several in Europe and North America. Additional rallies and related events are also slated to take place during the summit.
- Although Teneo Risk has observed no intelligence to suggest that climate groups are planning to use violence, there have been isolated calls for the movement to adopt more extreme tactics. Andreas Malm, a Swedish environmental action activist, recently called for an escalation of tactics – to include property destruction – to target fossil fuel projects. While there is no indication that his position resonates with prominent climate advocacy groups, Teneo Risk acknowledges that certain groups or individuals affiliated with the movement could employ strong operational security practices to conceal their plans for more extreme action.
Implications for Corporations and Teneo Risk Recommendations
Teneo Risk assesses global climate advocacy groups will leverage NVDA tactics and engage in planned demonstrations during the COP26 summit. Teneo Risk further assesses these demonstrations will present localized disruptions, particularly during the Global Day of Action for Climate Justice on November 6. Teneo Risk recommends organizations consider the following steps to minimize impact on normal business operations.
- Organizations with infrastructure, assets and/or personnel in locations with planned demonstrations, including New York, Paris, London, Amsterdam, Frankfurt, Stockholm, Rome, Istanbul, Dublin, and Glasgow, among others, or locations that have seen recent climate protest activity as noted above, should maintain situational awareness and be prepared to respond to potential disruptions. We suggest calibrating internal risk intelligence programs to track protest organization and movement near major offices or assets, placing location security or building operations teams on heightened alert.
- Organizations should review security procedures and crisis response protocols and ensure that operational and security staff are trained to respond appropriately to both protests and NVDA to protect the safety and well-being of employees and demonstrators. We further suggest organizations confirm primary and secondary communications protocols are in place in the event of disruption to minimize impact to business operations.
- Organizations should proactively share information with employees and business partners regarding any potential or ongoing impact from security-related events. When preparing communications, we recommend you provide straightforward updates about developments, focusing on the potential impact to the business, and communicate the organization’s response and any associated recommendations. We also recommend you avoid editorial comment on the demonstrations themselves or disparaging participants.