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The Gaudie at the COP26 climate summit

Updated: Nov 15, 2021

“Blah, blah, blah” or “an opportunity for growth and change”?

by Anttoni James Numminen

Courtesy of The Gaudie

Around 30,000 attendees, 10,000 police officers, 100,000 demonstrators - both logistically and politically, COP26 has been a huge event, but whether that translates into real change remains to be seen.

Present at the 26th Conference of Parties (COP) were world leaders, government negotiators, climate activists, NGOs and journalists. This included accredited Gaudie staff as well as a delegation of observers from the University of Aberdeen. The delegation, one of the first that the University has ever sent to a COP, took part in meetings, spoke to attendees and participated in talks.

Sophie Levine, a 4th-year Psychology student and UoA observer at the conference, said she was taking part in order to “learn how to get the youth engaged and educate others on climate change.”

Levine described the conference as facing a “lack of action”. She added that there is “so much talk, so much of blah, blah, blah. So much negotiation and still nothing happening. There are agreements but there’s no concrete plan or strategy.

“Everyone’s talking about [stopping] at 1.5 degrees. How are we gonna do that?”

There was a mood of urgency and exasperation among many of those attending, with some describing proceedings as “hypocritical” and “patronising”.

At a rally in Glasgow on 5 November, Fridays for Future founder Greta Thunberg labelled COP26 a “failure” and a “PR exercise”, a view shared by many both inside and outside the conference.

A perceived disconnect between the conference and real-world impacts of climate change were a regular topic of discussion among observers and delegates at COP, but not an issue that was mentioned by world leaders.

The Mayor of Greater Manchester, Andy Burnham, addressed the issue, telling The Gaudie that “leaders [at COP] are going to have to work harder and show leadership. They’re going to have to come here and really change their plans and be prepared to go further.”

“You’ve got this [conference centre] here, which a lot of ordinary people in Glasgow feel disconnected from, and then you have protestors who are screaming ‘you’re not doing enough’, and I’m not sure people are connected to that either.

“The debate needs to get some broad-based support and the way I see that, is net-zero interventions that are going to improve life for people.

Burnham, who has been a strong advocate of publicly owned transport, said:

“Much cheaper public transport for people, better homes that are cheaper than the traditional way of running homes, reduced cost of living for people and letting them see the drive to net-zero as a way in which they are going to have a better standard of life.”

The Gaudie also interviewed the Finnish Minister of Finance, Annika Saarikko,

and asked her about Finland’s role in climate-oriented education and innovation: “As a small country, our influence is strengthened by our skills and knowledge and that’s based on research. And this is exemplified in the relationship between science and climate change: we need more information; more data.”

She also highlighted how Finland’s education system teaches children about climate change from pre-school onwards, and how that could also be a strength and an export for Finland.

University of Aberdeen observer and politics student, Giulia Cottino, said that her biggest takeaway from COP26 was that “small is big and we have to start changing our habits, our diet, and asking whether our purchases are sustainable, especially when buying food; now its winter, why would you buy strawberries?”

The role of large polluting countries was also raised at the conference several times, a point which was emphasised by the absence of Russia and China at COP26. Prime Minister Boris Johnson attributed their absence to Covid while President Joe Biden said: “Putin has kept mum over the climate […] and how can China be taken seriously if it does not turn up?”

Despite some progress on finance and carbon, few will brand COP26 as a great success, certainly not comparable to the Paris climate accord’s commitments. The main question is, will countries stick to the commitments and promises that have been made in Glasgow once they return home?


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