Categories: Opinion, Staff & Volunteers720 words2.7 min read

Staff experiences of COP26 – Part 1

DATE

06/12/2021

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Part 1 – Ben Stockwell, Urban Rewilding Officer

After a successful Crowdfunder campaign for Citizen Zoo to attend the momentous COP26 in Glasgow, I was incredibly excited to experience what was being heralded as a unique, once in a lifetime opportunity for the world’s leaders to get serious on climate breakdown and wildlife loss. 

While I had a fantastic time at the COP, attending some inspiring talks, speaking with like-minded people from other organisations and just taking in the experience –  the outcomes of the Glasgow Climate Pact are in many ways, disappointing.

Tolworth Court Farm Today - Ancient Hedgerows and Meadows

In the run up to the event, the media attention and political emphasis on this climate summit being our last chance to make a difference filled me with some quiet confidence that we may see some incremental change to curb current trends. After initial headlines of success – such as the commitment to ending deforestation by 2030 – there was cause for optimism. 

However, pledges such as this soon appeared to unravel, as evidence came to the fore to demonstrate the lack of action after a similar agreement at the 2014 COP in New York. Furthermore, with current rates of deforestation accelerating in countries like Brazil (they reached an all-time high in 2020), despite their commitment under the pact, you have to wonder how much primary forest there will be left in countries like this by 2030. Will this be too little too late?

Joining the conference a week in, it felt as though the delegates needed to increase ambition if we were to see any progress and keep the 1.5 degree goal within range. Sadly, on Tuesday 09th November, research by the Climate Action Tracker (CAT) found that with all the commitments made one week into the conference, we are on track for a 2.4 degree temperature rise pre-industrial levels. This would take us past the point of no return and kick start a chain of irreversible atmospheric changes with huge impacts on humans and wildlife. To be at the event when this news made headlines felt both momentous and hugely disheartening. 

Boris Johnson’s second visit the following day reiterated the importance of keeping ‘1.5 alive’ and the need for countries’ commitments to be increased. Whether this intervention was the catalyst for some bits of positive news or not, I do not know. On the Wednesday of week two, however, there was the announcement that the USA and China would ‘work together’ to reduce coal production, albeit with very little in the way of firm declarations on how. As the world’s two biggest CO2 emitters, this is undoubtedly a sign of intent and something to be fairly positive about.

Kew Gardens - what makes good nature based solutions?

The Glasgow Pact

When the Glasgow Climate Pact was finalised, I was happy to see the importance of nature and natural ecosystems in mitigating the impacts of climate breakdown and keeping the goals of the Paris Agreement alive. While there were plenty of talks at the conference on the importance of nature-based solutions with some incredible speakers, I was often left wondering what all the policy means on the ground for projects. For example, I would love to have heard more about specific projects and how countries’ commitments would incorporate nature to mitigate climate breakdown. 

For me though, the best outcome was the commitment for countries to review their nationally determined contributions each year in the run-up to 2030. While we may not have seen the required commitments at COP26, by reviewing each year, we can hope that countries will ramp up their targets annually. Again though, I am left thinking, will it all be too late? 

While my personal opinion is that the Glasgow Climate Pact left much to be desired in terms of ambitious targets, I think there are some signs of hope. The very fact that it made headline news around the world is surely something to be positive about. Furthermore, the peaceful protests attended by people in their thousands demonstrated the public will to take action. My concern though is that while commitments on the face of it can seem positive, time and time again we have seen these not translated into actions on the ground. Will this Agreement be any different? We can only hope. 

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