Reflections on attending COP26

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When we launched our Youth Climate Corps (YCC) program in 2020, our hope was never to just provide youth with a few new job skills. The goal has always been to empower young adults to pursue climate justice, to join in climate action, and to choose career paths that help our planet. YCC alumni are taking their experiences to heart and have gone on to do some incredible things, such as 2020 crew member Linn Murray, who just returned from COP26. He took the time to share his reflections with us.

By Linn Murray

Attending COP26 was a process nearly a year in the making. I remember last winter, I had just finished work as part of Wildsight’s inaugural Youth Climate Corps crew when I was approached with the possibility through Stop Ecocide Canada, another environmental organization I volunteer with. Almost a year later, after much persevering, planning, fundraising, all while navigating through a web of COVID-19 precautions, Stop Ecocide was able to send an international delegation to the organization’s first ever COP in Glasgow this November. COP26 was a tremendously powerful moment both for the world, and for myself personally. The sheer power of so many dedicated, intelligent, and deeply caring people all working together to save humanity’s future cannot soon be forgotten.

Nelson residents Jamie Hunter and Linn Murray, Stop Ecocide Canada’s representatives to COP26 and surrounding events in Glasgow, UK. 

A big takeaway is that an incredible amount of climate change leadership is coming from non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and grassroots organizations. Tragically, there seems to be very little courage on the part of those in power in government and industry. Indeed, corporate fossil fuel leadership particularly seems intent on delaying or reversing progress made on climate change. The conference culminated in the signing of the highly watered-down Glasgow Climate Pact. While filled with progressive language, it fails to meet the bare minimum thresholds for curtailing global warming to either 1.5C or 2.0C this century. International climate policy remains all talk and little walk.

Mostly, governments of wealthy nations like Canada seem primarily concerned with the media and public perception of their deeds. Society seems to be in flux, so those in power are trying to see how little they can possibly do to appease the public sphere. Thus, for many, COP26 is a huge greenwash festival to say “Look, we care about the environment! We went to this big conference and promised not to cut down all of the world’s trees.” This happens while vital old-growth forest continues to be logged in British Columbia, along with the Amazon and Indonesian rainforests

Meanwhile, for fossil fuel industry boardrooms, the climate negotiations must be seen as a success. Deals and pledges from governments made little or no mention of strategies to phase out coal, oil, and gas. The single largest delegation to COP26 was the fossil fuel industry, bigger than any individual country with over 500 delegates. Some countries like Russia, Brazil, and Canada reportedly brought industry lobbyists in their official national delegations. In contrast, Stop Ecocide (the organization I volunteer for) had 4 delegates allowed in the room.

Linn Murray in Youth Climate Corps, 2020.

But the organizing that happened outside the walls around COP has been incredible to witness. There are so many people trying initiatives like the Youth Climate Corps, that are empowering youth to take concrete climate change prevention and adaptation actions in their communities. I definitely recommend checking out the YMCA’s Youth-Led solutions on Climate Action initiative as a good example of this. Beyond that, I was so impressed by the thousands of young people who traveled to Glasgow from Indigenous communities and the global south. They had so many barriers to cross, and most are excluded from the decision making tables despite being on the front lines of climate change and the surrounding conservation. But this also meant outside the official COP venue, people from all over the world were mixing and sharing perspectives and ideas for a just future.

Youth all over Planet Earth are taking leadership where others have failed, and we are not waiting to earn prestigious degrees and titles. There just isn’t time anymore for that. I cannot stress enough how important programs like the YCC are to give young people, and their communities, tools and space to take on this enormous challenge.

Essentially, what it comes down to is that the announcements made by our governments are incremental, unbinding, and unrealistic. As it stands with current global policies, earth is still headed deeper into disaster. In that sense, COP26 was a failure just like the previous 25 COPs. However, from the many conversations I’ve had with people from all over the world, I have heard that this year’s COP is different from all previous conferences. It is different because of the immense presence of civil society, whether that be in the streets or at conference tables. There were just 30,000 attendees at COP26, but I marched with over 100,000 people in the rainy streets of Glasgow last Saturday. That is something new and marvelous. Despite all the danger we find ourselves in in an increasingly unstable and unsustainable world, I have never been more hopeful that the change we need is coming. In Glasgow, among all those people, I could see the world changing before my eyes.

Increasingly, people are waking up to the social, economic, and ecological crisis the world is facing in the climate emergency. If COP26 has taught me anything, it is that our job as citizens must be to continue to take climate action into our own hands, diligently dragging our so-called leaders’ reluctant feet with us towards a better world.

The COP26 Globe at the Hydro. Photo: Karwai Tang/ UK Government