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We Headed to COP26 in Glasgow to See Whether the Climate Change Conference was a Success

16 November 21 words: Adam Pickering

Climate change conferences might seem lofty to most, which isn’t surprising when it’s an issue - or set of interlocking issues - far bigger than any individual can fully understand. But did the world’s “greatest problem-solvers”, as David Attenborough put it, come together and crack the puzzle of the century (maybe ever), or did self-interest and fossil thinking rule the day? LeftLion’s Environment Editor Adam Pickering travels to Glasgow to see whether COP26 is much cop, or not.

It was with some trepidation that I packed my bags and headed up to Glasgow, for the final few days of the two week-long, unusually long-anticipated (usually annual) 26th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change summit, otherwise known as COP26. 

Could world leaders strike an uncharacteristically inclusive climate deal to meet the scale of the threat? Would I actually track down any of the scant few leads I have for actual Nottingham people? Critically, would I make all my train connections? 

Although speaking to Notts folk was my main aim, it turned out that pretty well everyone I approached was super pleased to chat anyway, so it all went a bit international whilst I loitered around, and the resulting interviews offer a flavour of the diverse interests invested in this event. The Glaswegians I met were friendliest of all, but, tellingly perhaps, I didn’t meet a single Scot in or near the conference venues. Had COP26 President, The Rt Hon. Alok Sharma carelessly misplaced their invites? Worry not - this reporter went above and beyond, scouring the up-and-coming Glasgow East End’s local hangouts for one. Life’s tough sometimes.

So, with anyone who knows anything telling us we’re all out of time for screwing up any more of these things, was the conference a success? The response has been one of either outrage, or optimism - depending on whether your globe is half scorched or half-preserved, I suppose. Ultimately the jury will be out until promises turn to deeds, but read on through the following interviews for an inkling as to how people feel about what’s now dubbed the “Glasgow Climate Pact”. 

Keep the fire up ‘em, and judge our leaders and governments by their actions - Lord knows our children will.

Subjects are shown in chronological order according to when the interview took place, beginning Thursday 11 November, progressing through to the summit’s climax on Saturday 13 November (caught here as our train swung back into Nottingham), and post-event...

Councillor Sally Longford - Nottingham City Council - Deputy Council Leader

I’m here to work with other authorities to try and develop strategies whereby we can reduce our carbon emissions and tackle climate change … [Progress so far] has been very disappointing, and we've been round this house many times before - 26 times - and we often end up disappointed. I can’t say that I’m optimistic that we won’t be disappointed again.

[To move forward] we have to put our weight behind the campaigning to try and improve funding, not just our city and our region, but globally - to help people who are on the frontline of the climate emergency. We've heard so much testimony from countries which face an existential threat - those small island states where their lives are being destroyed now, and we need to build solidarity with those communities and support the campaigns to get proper funding for them to help them survive. 

But obviously it’s important that we work locally to do our bit, and continue to improve the way that we’re working, as a city, towards our goal of being the first carbon neutral city in the country - it sets an example to other cities, and we are leading the way in the country.

Francois Laugier - France - Climate Fresk ambassador

I’m here representing Climate Fresk - a non-profit organisation that aims to raise public awareness about climate change with a collaborative card game. As you may know, climate change is a very complicated thing, and this is summarised in the IPCC report, which is not accessible to everyone. So Climate Fresk is trying to regularise it to make it accessible for everyone. Think of it like a card game: you have a lot of cards and each one represents an element of climate change - some are causes, some are consequences. For example: here are two cards, one is a cause and the other is the effect. Causes - effect. You have forty cards, and the game is to try and link all of them.

This is the first set, and a group of ten or so people will try to think together to put the cards in the right order during a three-hour workshop. You need one facilitator, and a multiplayer group - and now we have more than 10,000 facilitators. We’ve played it for more than 200,000 people in the whole world, and we are here at COP26 to make us known by everyone.

Simeone Azoska - Ghana - Global Youth Action Network and TakingITGlobal

We've been working on the issue of climate change for some time, beginning from when we had the MDGs (Millenium Development Goals). We've had a couple of initiatives, you know, mainly based on sustainable development and from the sustainable development aspects of climate change.

During the build up to the SDGs (Sustainable Development Goals) we were a part of the consultation. So the Africa position on the sustainable development goals had a lot of input from us with respect to the youth aspect. And now we are looking at how urgent the issue of climate change is becoming, and we are tending to focus on how young people can participate and also help resolve some of the very controversial issues around climate change. For instance, we want to industrialise, but how do you develop if you are not industrialising? 

These are very sensitive issues - but we still can have green everything, we can have green energy, and then that becomes even more sustainable in the end… We need to have some sort of common ground because if African countries are not ready to make the Paris Agreement work, what are the barriers we need to resolve it?

Luisa Cardoso - Brazil - menstrual cup manufacturer

I own a company in Brazil called Korui. We manufacture reusable menstrual products, so we can tackle all the problems regarding garbage. So far we have prevented 150 million threads from being discarded in the environment. So it's an impact business. We also try to tackle women's problems in a way that we provide women in need from poor communities menstrual cups. Many of these women don't have access to menstrual products, which are a basic necessity. So that's what we try to do. 

I actually do [think women’s issues have been well-represented at COP26], yes. I’m very glad to see indigenous peoples talking and indigenous women talking about their issues and they have been heard here so I think they're having a good outcome.

Niamh Small - Belfast, Northern Ireland - PhD anthropology student

My research looks at environmentalism in Northern Ireland, and whether the movement has to function differently because of the divided society, and I’m at COP to look at whether this event can function differently, and levels of inclusion and participation, particularly looking at race, gender, political background, religious groups. 

What I've generally found from my research over the last couple of days is that this is probably one of the most underrepresented COPs of recent years, with corporate interests and business interests generally taking common place, whereas the messages of those most affected are getting drowned out. [Future conferences] should be reaching out to civic groups, so the likes of activist groups, women's groups, religious groups - religious groups often get left behind in these conferences. 

Trade unions are another big one. These groups are really leading the change but lack governmental and monetary support. So including those that actually do the work on the ground all year round, not just during these two weeks. I think [corporate interests] have a place, just not 90% of the conference.

Wayne Bexton - Nottingham City Council - Director of Carbon Reduction, Energy, and Sustainability

Nottingham City Council have been focusing on three key areas: one is looking to share best practice - what we've delivered in Nottingham, towards our carbon neutral 2028 agenda. We've been working with other cities on how we might advance that in the future. Second is really levering investment into the city. We've got a superb track record of bringing money into Nottingham for things like solar PV retrofit, district heating, and so we've been starting to have more conversations about how we might facilitate that in the future. 

And finally, really crucially for me, meetings with government, again, looking at our Midlands energy hub status, which will soon be the Midlands Net Zero hub, and how that will allow us to bring more money into Nottingham, but also into the region as well, where we've got that leading role for the whole of the Midlands.

We've also had positive discussions around the money that will be coming into the city from the Government, as they look to fast track and support carbon neutrality. In Nottingham we want to be at the front of the queue for that money coming out of the Treasury.

Florian Batstone - Nottingham - General Practitioner / XR activist

This is the moment to push at last for climate change to become the big aware ‘thing’ that we all challenge and try to reduce as much as possible. The harm is incredible… We all need to consume less. And the big corporations and governments need to stop focusing on growth and focusing on what else do humans need apart from growth? Otherwise, we're going to kill the world and we're going to suffer.

My biggest concern is that my children will die fighting for resources for themselves, with other people. I think in the moderate climates that we live in, we're not going to drown, we're not going to die in a fire and things like that. The most likely thing is we're gonna die fighting for resources from other humans, who are also just desperate - not because they're evil. And that's very scary.

I think we need to stop all fossil fuel investment, and really have a clear plan to sort of phase out fossil fuels as soon as possible, and it can't really be soon enough. I appreciate it can’t go from one day to the next, but one could stop all new mining, and drilling. We all cried out for investment in renewable energy about 30-40 years ago.

Amy Rose - Ireland - XR activist

On Monday I took part in an action I got arrested for. Me and a few others disrupted a conference for big businessmen, for the likes of BP and Shell, on the topic of loss and damage. Those conferences do nothing, and people in the Global South and in other areas keep getting killed, and getting their land taken away from them. Since then me and a lot of my friends have been followed [by police] for multiple hours, we’ve been cornered inside cafes and they’ve no lawful right to. 

We’ve also seen police not protecting us in the likes of kettling (a protest containment tactic), such as at the Greenwash March and the big march last Saturday. They say they are here to protect and they’re here to liaise the protests but that is not correct. Especially for people from the Global South this can be very triggering, and it’s really bad. 

You can just see that the police have no idea, the businessmen have no idea, the messages are not getting through. Big politicians are still doing the exact same stuff that has gotten us here in the first place. So yeah, that’s why I’m here.

Edwin Namakanga - Uganda - Fridays for Future MAPA activist

I came to Glasgow to attend COP on the (Greenpeace) Rainbow Warrior with another four activists, so MAPA, which means the most affected communities across the world, we were like four people, one from Uganda - that’s me, Jakapita Faith Kandanga from Namibia, another one was from Mexico - Maria (Reyes), and then the other one was from Bangladesh (Farzana Faruk Jhumu). 

We managed to get into the Blue Zone but it’s been a bit confusing because there are very many plenaries and we are very confused where to go, and what to attend and what not to attend. But the actions have been going on, with the people from Fridays for Future, whereby we stand outside these plenary discussions, and also we demand for them to at least document these policies they’re trying to negotiate, because we the observers are not allowed in the negotiation rooms. 

I don’t know why because we got the access of the parties, but then we aren’t accepted into the negotiation rooms to discuss our views. Because we’re people from the most affected communities, they also need to hear our voices... I feel it wasn’t inclusive.

Frieda Wignall - Forest Fields, Nottingham - researcher for a climate charity

I’m a researcher for the climate charity Ashden, and when they offered me the chance to come up to COP for a few days I thought I'd be stupid to turn it down. In terms of the negotiations, it’s not going well.

I just think it's bananas that world leaders are standing on the cliff edge as it's crumbling, and procrastinating whether they need to step back from said cliff edge. You always come to these things with a sliver of hope that your pessimism isn't going to turn out to be realism, but I think it was destined to not go as successfully as we all want because of the words “net zero”. That represents an opportunity to continue polluting and delay urgent climate action until the point where world leaders are either out of office or dead and no longer bear responsibility for it. It would be really great if we could diversify the local movement for climate justice. 

There's a lot of really dedicated and excellent activists in Nottingham, but we also have a huge Pakistani community - my mum’s Pakistani, and it’s the eighth worst affected country by climate change. I feel like there's a real opportunity there to bring in new voices and new perspectives.

Rob Zhang - China - environmental scientist

I work for the Climate Bonds Initiative. The reason why I’m here is because I study environmental science, so I’ve always known COP and it’s great for me to be here in person, to experience this personally. 

I’m also seeking synergies, to see what other people in this area do, so, myself I’m trying to use finance as a tool to mobilise towards climate change projects. Countries made commitments, so I think we need actions right now, we need to see in the following days, years, and decades how they actually deliver their commitments, but I'm feeling positive. Xi (Jinping, Chinese leader) made a commitment to peak emissions by 2030 and then reach carbon neutrality by 2060. 

There are studies by Tsinghua University, who did a roadmap to see if this is actually feasible so then Xi committed to this. Whenever he’s committing to something, he’s determined to deliver it, so I’m confident he will deliver these commitments.

Ross Lamont - Glasgow, Scotland - freelance publisher

Personally speaking I think we’ve been kind of on the perimeter - we haven't been involved a great deal, it's not really been inclusive at all I don't think. As much as it's in our city, you're kinda like an insider standing outside. 

I think the more inclusive you make it, the more people are getting involved, the more commitment you’re going to have, the more you’re going to learn about the situations that are happening and what you’re going to do about it, as opposed to just following the leaders and hoping that they make the right decisions. I think a lot of the politicians and a lot of the decision makers have a bit of conflict of interest when it comes to what’s ethical and what’s going to fill their bank account. 

That’s the way most people on my side of the coin would concur, that it’s a bit self-serving. The expression in Glasgow is “fur coat and no knickers”. It looks great. It sounds great. But the reality is, is it going to be great? I really don't think so.

Nicola Steen - Beeston, Nottingham - Head of Partnerships for Plannet Zero

We're just on the way back from COP on the train back to Nottingham as we speak. It's past eight on Saturday night, and we're just getting the news from the BBC that the deal’s been agreed. I went to the COP to make business contacts and to promote the opportunities and amplify the value of the voluntary carbon market. 

I see great value in moving money through companies and organisations choosing to take positive climate action to reduce footprints, but also to choose to take responsibility for our footprint now and offset those emissions. We've moved hundreds of millions of dollars to projects that reduce emissions, and we need to do that in order to get to a cleaner, more sustainable world. 

On a personal level I’m working with a project in Tanzania with the Maasai via The International Collaborative, and there I’m working with some guys who are putting in stoves, training women to build stoves, and each stove reduces three tonnes 3.64 tonnes of CO2 a year by taking out over 90% of the smoke. So teams of women in the villages are trained to do this. And all this can be done through paying for the emission reductions.

Sadaf Khalid - Nottingham/Pakistan - Director of a travel and tour consultancy

I live in Nottingham currently but my work involves promoting responsible ecotourism and green travel in Pakistan, through my company Walnut Travel Tours and Consultancy. I thought COP26 was a great event and well-organised. It was amazing to meet international organisations working for climate change in their countries, and meeting the indigenous communities working for action on climate change was also great. 

Seeing the youth network in protests and putting pressure on their governments for real action was superb. However I feel that future COPs should be organised in the countries where climate change problems are the most urgent.

Nadia Whittome - Nottingham - Labour MP for Nottingham East

I attended COP26 as a member of the Environmental Audit Committee (a body made up of cross-party MPs that audits government policies and performance against its environmental targets). Inside COP, I questioned a government representative on whether it would backtrack on its support for drilling in Cambo Oilfield and stop giving subsidies and tax breaks to big polluters like Shell and BP, both of which paid zero tax in three years on North Sea oil and gas projects. The answer: no commitment at all. 

The real climate leaders were outside COP. I was proud to march with young people in Green New Deal Rising and Teach the Future, to speak alongside indigenous activists calling for debt cancellation and reparations for the global south, and to join a picket line with cleansing workers in GMB who are on strike in Glasgow for better pay and conditions. The Glasgow Climate Pact has shown COP26 to be a cop out. But despair won’t save us. We must harness this anger and fear to build an even bigger mass movement - one that forces governments to return next year with commitments of the scale and pace that the science demands.

Benjamin Wigley - Nottingham - artist and filmmaker

I've been at COP for two reasons; firstly I was making a film about an amazing project called Camino to COP26 which is a 500 mile pilgrimage that saw the XR pilgrims walk 500 miles to the conference over about 60 days. An artist called Barbara Keal joined in with her project, the Coat of Hopes, and so it was like a big creative family. And the second reason was for me to hang a show that was in the Green Zone on the Saturday which is to do with the Birmingham Institute of Forest Research (BIFoR) programme. 

They are doing a really interesting experiment testing the carbon uptake in an existing native woodland, where they're putting out carbon dioxide at the levels that they expect it to be in thirty to fifty years and seeing how well the trees actually uptake the carbon. What BIFoR are discovering is that many of the existing carbon offsetting models are wrong, so when businesses are saying they’re carbon offsetting it’s nowhere near enough, because the trees aren’t taking up carbon to the extent they're doing in controlled arboretums - I’m making a feature-long film on it called Hart of the Wood, due out in June 2022.

Patrick Hort - Sneinton, Nottingham - software company director / XR activist

I attended COP26 with Extinction Rebellion (XR) Nottingham. I’m not a big fan of blocking roads, but when I joined XR a few years ago I was out of ideas; I was utterly depressed about the climate crisis and didn’t know what to do over and above signing petitions, reducing my own consumption/impact, and talking to friends. But up in Glasgow I don’t think there were any plans for disrupti - after all, we wanted the delegates at the conference to be able to get to work! 

There were, however, plenty of noisy and colourful demonstrations. The first one I joined, the “Greenwash March”, was on the first Wednesday of COP26, in the centre of Glasgow. The police decided to kettle us, but I held back a bit in order to talk to members of the public about the protest and the talks. And also to observe the police: I counted 318 police officers on just one side of the protest… and yet there were only a few hundred protesters inside their cordon. By Saturday, however, the numbers had swelled and 100,000 of us marched through the city with inspiring banners and placards. 

COP26 delegates that I spoke to expressed their appreciation for our presence on the streets, and for the noise we made outside the conference centre; they told me that it helped put pressure on the negotiators, knowing that people on the outside were watching.

Rebecca Kogan - Nottingham - asylum caseworker at a hosting charity / XR activist

I've tried to do all the things I can do personally in my life with my own consumption: I've insulated my house, I've taken all the gas out, I’ve got a heat pump, I try not to buy new stuff, I don't drive. But it feels like it's not making very much difference. So increasingly I think we need to be doing more dramatic things, to push governments and world leaders to make the decisions that will really make a difference - to stop all new fossil fuel exploration, to stop thinking in terms of growth, basically to change the system quite radically. COP hasn't historically delivered that, so I did not have much expectation that it would deliver it this time either. 

But I wanted to be there to show people that we are paying attention, we are watching, the world is watching, we are running out of time, and we’ll not let them get away with greenwashing or making empty promises. So I was marching, playing samba, banging some drums, making noise, talking to other people about COP and about my concerns about it and what’s happening, and just to be a visible presence for leaders and delegates. Whether that achieved very much remains to be seen.

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