“I had the privilege of being able to attend both the Blue and Green Zone events at COP26 at the start of November 2021. The intense media ad public scrutiny around the build-up to this event in Glasgow has led to a rapid evolution in action and interest in reducing carbon emissions at an individual, organisational and governmental level. It is without a doubt that more people and organisations are now taking climate issues more seriously and starting (but only just starting) to take action and make changes due to this. In the last 12 months, I have seen the focus in my daily business life shift from energy reduction and saving money to carbon reduction and how to achieve net-zero. But was this reflected at COP26?
COP summits are split into two halves, the blue Zone is where the international political negotiations take place, nations have stands to promote their interests in the climate agenda and to try and ‘who off’ to the rest of the world and thousands of international delegates are meeting, discussing and trying to agree on actions.
The Green Zone (some distance away) is the public side of the event where corporate and community organisations exhibit their ideas and showcase their case studies of action they have taken. There are lots of talks and events (and it was a very proud moment to see my daughter performing her sketch on youth climate activism ‘I stand for what I stand on’ alongside 3 other youth climate campaigners from Gloucester (see the one thing to watch box in this week’s Bulletin, to be published 18 Jan).
So, what was the reality of being at COP26? It would have been easy to become depressed and demoralised being around the Blue Zone, in many regards it felt as if many of the nations stands were from 5 years ago. The messages displayed included… ‘all we need to do is to build more nuclear power stations’ or individual actions of ‘look at the shiny new wind turbine we built in our country’ on display in a conference where the stands were single-use and you know the carpet was laid a week ago and would be in a skip in 10 days time.
My lowest point was walking back down the tunnel to the train station, a walkway that only UN-vetted delegates of COP26 can use. Along this walkway, delegates had dumped their single-use coffee cups, their free giveaway ‘hygiene packs’ full of hand sanitiser and wipes sponsored by an international cleaning product company, and other debris from their day.
If this littering is what happens on the way out of COP26 then what hope do we have for the rest of the world?
But a trip over to the Green Zone was the much-needed tonic to cure this. Here you could see new ideas, the latest products that are actually being made and in final stages of testing that solve some of the challenges and example after example of individuals, communities, organisations and (mainly local) government authorities taking real action.
It was shortly after, back in the Blue Zone that the realisation struck. International politics has its limits, the nature of agreements at COP are that everything has to be agreed upon by everybody. Given that different countries, communities and cultures are seeing the climate crisis from different points of view and are at differing stages in their development it would be unrealistic to expect international agreement to lead the way.
Politicians are making these agreements and assessing what will help them gain more votes at their next elections, what can they get agreed by their parliaments and lawmakers back at home.
Given this, the achievement of getting agreements on methane, financing and deforestation should be commended. But international political agreements are going to be the bulldozer at the back, making sure that everyone is doing what is agreed to, it can never be the arrowhead at the front leading the way.
What is leading the way are individuals taking action and demanding change and being confident enough to speak up about what they are doing.
Sound familiar? The change needed to be the salvation for this world and this planet has to be led by normal individuals, disciples for the climate who are prepared to stand up and evangelise and, where necessary to be prepared to be ridiculed and have some abuse thrown at them to make their voices heard.
It’s what we all do that matters. How we chose to spend our money sends a message to those that we purchase goods from. What we choose to say online influences others. What we lobby our political representatives for filters back so they leaders have the confidence to be bolder. The more and louder we can all lead this change the quicker this will happen.
It has to be recognised that many people are scared of change. It’s often more comfortable to stick with what you know and feel secure in that but the risks that not changing our ways brings are scarier than the change itself.
But there was one voice that was being heard inside the Blue Zone, that seemed to be cutting through to the delegates, many of whom are motivated by what legacy they will leave and how history will judge them, and that voice is the voice of our future. The chants of the tens of thousands of youth who marched through Glasgow with well-informed demands is being heard. But, we cannot leave this issue to teenagers to demand change, nor can we expect international politics to lead the way, all of us will need to support the change-makers, however scary that may feel at times, to lead the way and embolden the lawmakers to be able to confidently know that they can drive that bulldozer at the back a lot quicker!