By Léa Weimann
The COP26 has been a much-anticipated conference coined as humanity’s “last best chance” to limit global warming to 1.5°C and keep the ambition of the Paris Agreement alive. The COP in Glasgow marked the 26th time that the international community would meet to discuss the biggest global challenge of our time. It has been five years since the Paris Agreement. Climate-Change-related weather events and changes around the world are accelerating in frequency and severity. The global trajectory of CO2 emissions continues to be on the rise and so is climate anxiety, especially in young people and fellow activists such as myself. The international pressure certainly was high for this COP and delegates that had been to many previous COPs reported that there was a clear sense of panic in the air at COP26.
Nonetheless, as the COP concluded it became clear that Glasgow would not be the turning point that the world needs. Now widely called out as a failure by many activists and NGOs, it puts into question the effectiveness of the current international climate regime and further highlights the need for system change to create real societal shifts. The question that emerges is: What now?
In the third episode of “the COP26 Series” of my podcast I spoke to six youth delegates from around the world that had blue zone badges at COP. Their experiences and opinions of COP26 reveal what I see as two key messages: COP is not all that it portrays itself to be. Those who are affected the most are still not the ones making the decisions whether that be the youth, indigenous communities, or those on the frontlines of climate change. The debates, negotiations, and compromises continue as our house and future continue to burn. COP26 has led to the Glasgow Climate Pact, which is itself nothing new under international law, but at least for the first time in 27 years a COP Decision mentions a “phase-down” of fossil fuels. Let’s raise the cups to that!
Personally, the COP26 outcome was not really a surprise. Of course I had hoped for an ambitious turning-point outcome but despite the fact that many see this COP as a failure, I actually feel strangely hopeful… and that is not because of the discussions that took place behind closed doors: it is because of those that took place outside. It is because of the people I have met during this COP and the hub of change makers who came to Glasgow to exchange ideas, form coalitions, demand and create change. It is because of the movement that we are part of and that we are making history with. It is difficult to describe just how powerful and special it was to be part of the climate strike in Glasgow with hundreds of thousands of people in the streets for the whole day.
On Saturday the 6th of November was the global climate justice rally in the streets of Glasgow. It started in the rain at Kelvingrove Park where already by 11am a crowd so large had gathered that it was impossible to find anyone but all the more joyful to randomly meet fellow activists and many students from St Andrews that had travelled to Glasgow that day. The climate posters got soaked in rainwater and did not last very long but the crowds did. The procession that followed lasted well into evening before everyone had arrived on the Glasgow Greens at around 5pm. We marched through the streets, there was singing, chanting, drumming, people hanging out of their windows to be part of this and a helicopter hovering above the city. I saw people cry, laugh, dance, and unite. There was this mixed feeling of anger and disbelief about the inability of the international system to address this crisis and that the urgency of climate change has escalated to such an extent that hundreds of thousands choose to spend their whole Saturday outside in the streets and rain. That families with children were there as well as the elderly. That groups had pilgrimed to Glasgow for weeks just to walk these streets together in the fight for climate justice. I felt goose-bumps, tears, frustration, exhaustion but above all – an incredible sense of hope. Here we are, people from around the world, connecting, uniting and not giving up. Never giving up because this is our future and there is still too much to love and care for in this life to give it up.
Before this day, I was an anxious nervous mess stressing about a conference I could not control, had no access to, and could do so very little about. A conference that was coined in the media and in society as the last best chance to save us. I walked the streets of Glasgow from 10am – 8pm in the rain, in the sunshine and under a rainbow to realise that perhaps the most important lesson of this COP is that the revolutionary changes and societal awakenings are not the ones that are created through the UN or the current international climate regime and agreements. Instead, it is the people on the ground who are creating it, it is activists, and it is people just like you and me.
Hope is not a passive state. It is an action. It is a decision that we take every day. If we wait for others to save us and our planet, we will be waiting forever. So we are the ones who must and are creating the change every day in our day-to-day lives.
I am an introvert. I do not usually like crowds. I was anxious and nervous for this. But I was there. I was in the streets. I was in the crowds. I was dancing. I was shouting. I was marching. I was transformed. I needed a 12hr sleep to recover from this day, but it was worth every second of it because one of the most powerful things we can all carry within us in this time is – HOPE. Not a passive hope of “it will all be good because others will do something” but “because I will, and you will, and millions of others around the world”. We hold our strength in numbers, and we will need every single one of us. We need to take as many people as possible along for this journey.
I am not arguing that we should no longer have any more COPs. I am not arguing that they are completely insignificant and useless. Nothing we do is. But do I think they will save us? No. The COPs will continue to fail and fall short of the promises and expectations of civil society until leaders are prepared to really question the status quo and structural problems that climate change poses. Our planetary crises have resulted from a myriad of impacts of different industries far beyond the fossil fuel industry. It is not enough to just talk about carbon emissions and the fossil fuel industry. It is not enough that the Glasgow Climate Pact mentions a “phase-down” of fossil fuel. Collectively we need to address the fundamental social justice questions that climate change poses. We need a paradigm shift that challenges the value that we as humanity ascribe to sheets of paper, coins of copper and silver above everything that is really worth living for on Earth: above the air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, and those whom we love.
We need to literally make the impossible possible. COP26 is not the last best chance to save humanity – we are.