A journey through Glasgow’s COP26

Everything is set up for the COP26 and all eyes are on the largest city of Scotland, Glasgow.

The situation is clear: the clock is ticking and the 12.6 % renewable energy used worldwide is still not sufficient for a global energy transition to Net Zero.

With all due respect for Greek mythology, how long will the world stand its ground against the world leaders’ ignorance and inability to act? There have been made many demands at COP26 for keeping the 1.5 °C target and keeping earth’s resilience alive…

The science is already settled (e.g., the latest IPCC report https://www.ipcc.ch/reports/), and the politicians are urged to deliver, now. Here, by means of a cartoon in a hallway at the COP26 area.

…where many protest activities have been installed and performed.

Protest in the so-called ‘Action Zone’ demanding more Climate Action …with the Samoan climate activist Brianna Fruean at its front and the puppet Amal on ‘Gender day’.

Glasgow, as the host city, and part of the Covenant of mayors (https://www.covenantofmayors.eu/about/covenant-community/signatories/overview.html?scity_id=12432), promises highly ambitious climate actions for this decade.

However, there was a clear opinion at previous COP and negotiation events; a strict Call for more Climate Action was ordered, especially from the Youth.

‘We are not doing enough and quickly enough – Code Red for parliaments’. A statement found in the Nordic Pavilion.

Arriving in Glasgow and getting ready for the second week of the COP26, it all started with protests throughout the inner city…

About a hundred thousand people filled miles of Glasgow’s streets.

The weather was challenging in every way:

When you are a citizen of Glasgow, you know that a coat outcompetes any umbrella. The ignorance of such wisdom is not a good advisor. Wind power drives the protests.

A flying cow, with an educating purpose (https://climatehealers.org/cop26/), is about to fly away once and for all.

‘Over the rainbow…’ the Scottish weather held its promises and was as diverse as Glasgow’s internationality.

A bagpipe player was marching together with hundreds of thousands in one of the biggest Climate Action protests in the history of Glasgow. It was not just a symbol of Climate Action, it was also a symbol of Scotland’s longing for independence from the UK.

Many small protest marches appeared within the huge crowd acting on Climate Justice.

From passionate and energetic local youth…

…to those communicating local conflicts from far away. E.g., a mining conflict in El Estor, in the Mayan Q’eqchi territory, Guatemala… (https://www.plazapublica.com.gt/content/el-conflicto-minero-en-el-estor-opaca-la-peticion-qeqchi-que-se-les-reconozcan-sus-tierras)

…and engaged seniors standing up for gender justice.

Even the youngest were marching on this parade…

Dancers performed against the “toxic fashion industry” and its vast use of toxic plastic and chemicals… (https://www.xrfashionaction.com/)

…and world leaders of countries with substantial contributions to GHG by deforestation and fossil fuel exploitation are symbolically shackled and pilloried.

Some of these countries (like Australia and the US) were even awarded the “Fossil of the day” (https://climatenetwork.org/cop26/fossil-of-the-day-at-cop26/).

‘Climate Justice’ was one of the most prominent symbols of hope that was called for during the protests.

To be fair, the hospitality in Glasgow was far beyond just good. Even when the UK government’s pandemic advice of wearing a mask indoors was kept as a loose guideline – a deja vu of words from past Climate Pact agreements.

The setting of COP26 alongside the Clyde Canal resembled remnants of a formerly very industrialised shipping city.

Just in front of the “Armadillo” building, visitors were waiting for a “Net Zero” bus that in the end might arrive too late…

Whereas an ambulance arrived right on time…

…to carry away some Climate Crisis victims.

Astonishingly, the schedule of Glasgow’s (cute) subway was not extended, and trains have not been running after 11 pm. Maybe even better to keep heads clear and guarantee a refreshing start into heated negotiations the next morning.

It is known that queuing is some kind of national sport for the British, and they do it quite professionally. Consequently, COP attendees were soothed with different candies while they waited. Frustratingly, they were not as sustainable and free of conflict resources (like palm oil) as a Pro-Climate conference should pledge.

While negotiations were taking place, observers who could not manage to grab a spot were able to visit side events or pavilions.

Surprisingly, nuclear power has been represented in its own pavilion, “Nuclear for Climate”. Atomic Energy is becoming a big thing in the UK, backed by its organisers, as it undergoes a ‘mini renaissance’.

Moreover, it seemed the COP youth delegates were putting the average age at a much lower level this year…

Dignitaries made appearances at various pavilions. For instance, the former President of Ireland was attending the Brazilian Pavilion to promote her newly translated book ‘Climate justice’ (Justiça climática).

Representatives of Tuvalu were not only passionate in their speeches but also shared some strong words about the hazards of Climate Change.

Due to their ongoing coalition formation, few interventions were expressed from Germany who gave an overall weak performance.

However, Germany ‘impressed’ with their Real-Life Terrarium installation as their Pavilion.

Creative adolescents know how to improvise an interview with the Minister of Energy Transition, Agriculture, Environment, Nature and Digitization of the German State of Schleswig-Holstein

In the area towards the plenary and meeting rooms where negotiations happened, you could catch sight of the Eden Project at COP26 –  https://www.edenproject.com/mission à Becoming an official Earthling is great!

Having a break the cafeteria did not only offer slightly overpriced non-plant-based food, but a place of Climate Action as well (https://www.thesalmonschool.com/).

One of the most intriguing parts of the COP has indeed been the plenary sessions in the biggest halls.

Maybe one of the best speakers at the COP – besides Bangladesh (“negotiating the non-negotiable”), Tuvalu, Panama (“Simply cannot square the circle”) and even the EU – has been the Kenyan delegate Keriako Tobiko…he was late and unprepared at the headline event “ministerial on adaptation action”, due to attending a stocktaking plenary.  Nonetheless, he managed to talk passionately with the words “In Africa, it is an emergency we cry when it rains, it is an emergency we cry when it doesn’t. A perpetual state of emergency” and closing with the phrase “let’s put the money on the table”, urging the developed countries to deliver and to further underline that money should not be the problem, but it can create Climate Action.

The plenary sessions went on long, and on the very last official day, a people’s plenary had been held gathering constituencies, NGOs, INGOs, YOUNGO, and others, to claim their will in Climate Action.

Empty chairs were an exception during the People’s Plenary.

Instead, an enthusiastic youth was cheering loud and clear…

…with all eyes on the different speakers.

A RINGO (Research and Independent NGO) delegate explained how scientific-based facts dismantle the myth of inclusivity at COP26.

…and Indigenous Climate Actions happened all around in the People’s plenary with responding protest songs from the audience.

…even some representatives of our modest TUM’s delegation were raising their voices, demanding action on the already-delivered science-based facts.

While ending the people’s plenary with a protest march towards the entrance of the event area, the COP26 got closer and closer to the most striking and dramatic hours of the second Closing Plenary…

Desperate observers were holding on for hours, praying on free power sockets, before the allegedly ultimate Plenary began. The excitement was tangible.

The COP President* had to be capable of handling this tense atmosphere. Some of his important sentences:
(*disclaimer: Following expressions are just an amateurish impression of the real UK COP president Alok Sharma who managed to hold back emotions most of the time (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2021/nov/14/i-am-deeply-sorry-alok-sharma-fights-back-tears-as-watered-down-cop26-deal-agreed-video))

Is my mic working?

I see an intervention from China. So, China, you have the floor. (Whereas many interventions from many more countries had been experienced)

Haven’t we agreed on just two weeks?

Guys*, we can create history here! So, let’s get back to work! (*rather informal expression)

And in the final hour of the exceeded 2-weeks schedule, the COP President revealed some emotions after 3 days with 3 hours sleep and a last-minute proposal by India…

Eventually, an agreement on the Glasgow Climate Pact by all parties had been successful, and Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change, remarks COP26 as a bridge built by all parties (https://unfccc.int/news/cop26-reaches-consensus-on-key-actions-to-address-climate-change). But as the UK President of COP26 Alok Sharma pointed out the “weak pulse of the 1.5 °C”, the Secretary-General of the UN, António Guterres proclaimed “COP 27 starts now.“

The COPs…are watching YOU?

So how many COPs are needed then?

Apparently, not enough…

“Next COP – Climate Change Reduction. Please mind the gap”

There are rather diverse interpretations on the outcome of COP26.  However, one consensus is the lack of financial commitment from developed countries as pledges to those who are still developing and are most vulnerable, especially regarding ‘Loss and Damage’. (https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/nov/10/cop26-draft-calls-for-tougher-emissions-pledges-by-next-year)

At least one point is apparent: there is still much to accomplish to tackle the global climate crisis.

A constant hustle when leaving COP26 – After COP means before COP. While this silent protest “speaks the truth in love” and unfolds “true strengths lies in calmness”. The next conference in Egypt (COP27) is to decide how calm the people still want to remain.

Happily ever after, the COP experience was quite polarizing, colourful, educating, and entertaining. An overloading event that placed the term ‘FOMO’ into a new sphere of self-discipline.

Pictures and Text by Laurin Reim

– Laurin Reim, M.Sc. Sustainable Resource Management & M.Sc. Engineer Ecology

Controversy on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, its impact on human rights and did COP26 manage to protect the most vulnerable?

So to start off, many of us probably heard that COP26 has been the most inclusive COP so far and how many groups were getting now a representation (we had gender day, an indigenous groups delegation…) but even with that, COP26 still failed to deliver. Many negotiations were held behind closed doors and those who would be more impacted by the decisions were denied access to them. These observers speak for their communities and ensure that proceedings are transparent and will reflect their concerns.

In relation to that, I want to talk to you about article 6 and what happened with it at this COP but first, I want to explain fast what article 6 is and why it is relevant. Basically, it establishes a framework for the voluntary international cooperation for countries to reduce their emissions and meet their NDCs (nationally determined contributions). It establishes a mechanism to trade credits generated from emissions reduction projects. The problem with article 6 is that by allowing trades (e.g., Singapore can pay for reductions in Papua New Guinea)  in reduction for “net zero”, it risks undermining the Paris Agreement and letting countries off the hook when it comes to making meaningful emissions reductions, so rich countries can still fulfill their net zero without actually making much of an effort on their reductions and they are able to continue “business as usual”.

Looking into the details of article 6, there are 3 main risks:

  1. Double counting emissions reductions
  2. Risk of fake emissions reduction credits:
  3. Confusing the real price of permanent carbon removal

Basically, when mismanaged, carbon market growth and threat to communities are directly related. As carbon markets grow, so does the threat to communities. But how is this happening? Carbon markets can easily lead to corruption, especially when the countries are being pressured into drastically reducing their emissions. They have been seen a form of “carbon colonization”, a way of getting the easy way out and basically a way of acquiring the right to continue polluting. They benefit industrialized countries, and these countries benefit from the “best locations” in developing countries. The problem is that when developing countries are forced to reduce their emissions, their own carbon sinks will be occupied already.

As COP26, for the first time, included an indigenous people delegation, I would like to focus on them. Most of these groups, rely on forests for their everyday lives and their survival, and the rules proposed at COP26 could lead to land being taken from them without their consent. Around the negotiations of carbon markets, the absence of an independent mechanism to regulate and handle human rights issues also raised concern. Many of these communities oppose the trading offsets based on the CO2 absorbed by their trees on their land, to compensate for planet-warming emissions elsewhere. To sum up, COP26 didn’t provide an agreement on human rights on carbon markets and postponed an agreement on the rules. Human rights on international carbon markets at COP26 were ignored.

I hope COP27 does better for them…

– Carmen Autrique, M.Sc. Sustainable Resource Management

Make My Money Matter – A Perspective on Climate Finance in the UK

Have you ever thought about how you can make a compelling difference with your money in combat against Climate Change?

An interesting approach is taken by the movement “Make My Money Matter” with financial contributions to “greening your money”. We interviewed the Scottish Campaign Manager Kenneth Green (Link: https://makemymoneymatter.co.uk/about-us/kennethgreen/) at the COP26 about this project which already funded 800 billion pounds within the last 18 months. It gives you an insight on one aspect of how money may be one of the most decisive drivers in Climate Action on an individual, but much larger scale too.

Please follow the questions below in conjunction with the uploaded Audio-file.

Click here for the Audio-file.

Questions:

  1. Start:
    May you please introduce yourself and tell us about your project?
    à Green/ Net Zero Pension funds (Supported by former President of Ireland Mary Robinson, Actor Martin Freeman, and others)
  • 2:06 min:
    Are people aware of that their money is often funding fossil fuels? And how effective is a Green Pension?
     à “A green pension is 21 times more for efficient in cutting your carbon than switching your energy provider, going Veggie and stop flying combined”
  • 3:16 min:
    What leverage do you have regarding Climate Action and what is the progress in the UK?
    à “77% of Pension funds have not committed to Net Zero target yet.”
  • 4:12 min:
    Are your efforts limited to the UK?

– Laurin Reim & Sina Heubel

COP26 is over – and how are you feeling?

COP26 has officially ended. When confronted by friends, family and colleagues, you often get asked „How was COP26?“ and have all facts about the new Glasgow Climate Pact on hand, ready to explain to everybody what this COP could or could not achieve for us. After this conference, we are almost run over by a tremendous amount of information in all kinds of news outlets about how the results of the compromise Glasgow Climate Pact will affect us in our planetary future. What is missing is the question of how we are feeling about it. So now that COP26 is over: How do you really feel? Are you worried, disappointed, hopeful, or filled with rage?

The reality is that, whether we attended in person or not, many of us are feeling the whole spectrum of emotions. The promised goal to limit global warming to 1.5° to 2° Celsius was signed off and negative emotions are therefore inevitable. Still, we know that we must get over the trap of sadness and angriness to recharge and continue the fight for climate justice. But how can we accomplish that? How can we cope with the eco-anxiety that we are experiencing every single day?

To learn more about the topic of well-being in those post-COP-times, we need more help in exploring our emotional needs and start an open conversation about mental health.

Zineb Jaoudat is a 20-year-old climate and social activist. She was born in Morocco and lived and studied in France, until she decided to move to Germany recently. Zineb is the community engagement lead of a non-profit organization called ‚Force of Nature’, located in London. Force of Nature is an international NGO working at the junction of the climate crisis and mental well-being. So far, they worked with over 1000 young people in over 50 countries. Together with psychologists and psychotherapists, Force of Nature research how mental health intersects with climate crisis and how we can use our emotions, like eco-anxiety, to solve the climate crisis.

Zineb Jaoudat, Credits: https://www.forceofnature.xyz/about

At COP26 and at surrounding events, Zineb was representing Force of Nature and running a campaign named ‚Call you Mother‘. By creating an inclusive safe-space for everyone and especially the younger generation, the ‚Call your Mother‘-campaign mobilizes mindsets for climate action to feel empowered in oneself and in how one can contribute to solve the climate crisis. Zineb and her team went around Glasgow, in the Blue and Green Zones, but also to other places like the New York Times Climate hub and the University of Glasgow. The campaign was running on the ground and with their beautiful green interactive phone booth, the activists were inviting people of all generations to talk about their feelings.

Force of Nature delegation, Credits: Zineb Jaoudat

I had the honor to interview Zineb and ask her all my pressing questions regarding this topic. Please read excerpts of our almost 30min-long conversation, to learn more about mental health issues surrounding the climate crisis, like eco-anxiety, activist-burnout, or just the good old ‚smoothie‘ of emotions we were feeling during those intense weeks of COP26. Also, you will learn about useful methods and resources that can help you cope with your own emotions.

Sara: How do you feel the topic of mental health was addressed during COP26?

Zineb: „I feel like mental health is often ignored, be it at COP or even outside COP. I think that our generation at least is starting to knock-around these walls and the taboos. Mental health can often be a taboo – everyone tries to ignore it.

Whenever we were at COP, our team would try – be it around panels or whenever we went outside – to talk to people and would ask them „How are you feeling today?“ and most of them were struck that no-one ever asked them that question. So, whether you are at COP or at any of those big climate conferences, you always feel like you are on auto-pilot mode where you need to do this and that and be on rush-mode where you are always very reactive. You don’t tune into who you are, like what you are, and which values you connect with, you are kind of disconnected to your own feelings.

For us, it is important to start that conversation, because at the core of the climate crisis, it’s also a people’s crisis. And us people, we need to explore our emotions more and find power in those emotions and connect to one another.

We see a lot of statistics around the climate crisis, like ‚What’s 1.5°?‘, ‚70% of young people feel eco-anxious‘. And all of those statistics can feel a lot and the jargon can feel very overwhelming. For us, it is important to remember, that behind each number, there’s a story to be told and to explore those stories and find power in those stories and emotions. We believe at Force of Nature that solving the climate crisis can start by simple questions like „How are you doing today?“.“

Sara: Can you please explain what „eco-anxiety“ means?

Zineb: „‚Eco-anxiety‘ are the feelings of helplessness and powerlessness when it comes to the climate crisis, so a lot of people, especially young people, feel like they are too small to make a difference. That makes them feel like they are anxious about what the tomorrows will hold for us. At Force of Nature, we believe that eco-anxiety is not something that we suffer from. Eco-anxiety is a sign that you care and that you are human. Although it is a feeling that is often framed negatively, it’s empowering to feel eco-anxious. We believe that eco-anxiety is what wakes us up to the issues and is what makes us take action. “

Sara: What was your general impression about the moods at COP26? Were people more on the motivated and inspired side, or more at the angry and eco-anxious spectrum?

Zineb: At Force of Nature, we like to call it – and I am quoting our founder Clover Hogan – a „smoothie“ of emotions. By saying COP26 feels like a smoothie of emotions, we mean that some of us feel angry, some of us feel inspired, at some moments you can feel both. At moments you can feel anxious, you can feel overwhelmed, you can feel a lot of imposter-syndrome by just being there. Or you feel like you can’t do anything, you feel too powerless, too impowered and I think that during COP, a lot of young people were angry.

Hence, why a lot of young people, even more than 100.000 people, took over the streets on Friday and Saturday for the climate march and protested in different ways. Not only by taking the streets, but also by calling out big business leaders, calling out big political and corporate leaders, because young people feel like they have been deceived by the older generations. We feel like we are not heard, we feel like there’s lot of tokenization when it comes to being at COP. COP is so inaccessible to a lot of people, even front-line and indigenous communities. So, for me at least, whenever I was at COP, I felt that smoothie of emotions, I always felt overwhelmed, but I found power and I found hopefulness in being surrounded by communities that found their power.

Also having those normal conversations with ordinary people doing extraordinary things and to connect with young people from all around the world who were there for the same mission and who were there because they care about Nature.

At the end of the day, we are Nature, and we are fighting for our own well-being and our own existence. One thing that COP taught me is that being optimist is important, especially if you are talking about the climate crisis, because we always frame it from an apocalyptic perspective. I think that ‚hope‘ is a verb and we need to practice it every single day. We need to wake up every single day and be hopeful about the future and practice that in every action that we take. “

Sara: How can you transform from being eco-anxious to becoming someone who takes agency or even becomes a leader for climate justice?

Zineb: „In order for us to channel eco-anxiety into agency, it starts by recognizing, understanding und tuning into those emotions. Eco-anxiety is not something that you can solve, that you can get past, but it’s something that you harness into action.

It starts by having those conversations with your peers about how you are feeling, it starts with not framing eco-anxiety as being negative emotions and in the end, you can really motivate yourself through the same emotions.

By finding power in collectiveness, by finding other people who feel the same as you do, you can all think together about how to solve the climate crisis together. At the end of the day, we all play a role in this movement, and we all have our special and unique traits that are so valuable in solving the climate crisis in many different ways. Understanding that we all have our sphere of influence and skillsets that can contribute is key. Bringing your abilities into a collective or community can help combat the climate crisis as one joint force and achieving the future that we want. In this future, everyone feels like they are heard and understood and seen in their narratives. “

Sara: How does the project „Call your Mother“ help with expressing your emotions?

Zineb: „By Mother, just to specify, we believe Mother can be Mother Earth, it can be your literal mother, it can be your friend, it can be yourself, it can even be your journal! We don’t want Mother to be limited to a person or the planet. We want Mother to be transformed into who you are and who’s the safe person you call when you feel bad. Hence why the platform was made accessible to everybody around the world.

In my own personal journey since I joined Force of Nature, it helped me to feel so empowered because we are such a powerhouse and are holding space and being real with and for one-another. Our growing team of 10 people always understands that living and existing in the climate space can be hard, it can be challenging at times. We also hold space to feel that eco-grief and eco-trauma. The real conversations with my peers and with myself keep me going. “

Call your Mother phone booth, Credits: Zineb Jaoudat

Sara: Some activists suffer from so-called ‚activist-burnout‘. Is this also a mental health issue that we should consider in this regard?

Zineb: „Oh yes, definitely. Activist-burnout is indeed a problem. Many activists feel like they must hold the world’s weight upon their shoulders because a lot of young people feel pressured to act because of the state of emergency. We often tend to neglect our own mental health and how we are feeling, because we always need to act.

Activists like Vanessa Nakate and Greta Thunberg are always surrounded by huge media and there’s so much pressure upon them to do only right things. Everyone, from media to politicians to activists, must understand that no-one is perfect, that we are all human and that we all need time to self-care and destress. Of course, we are still in this climate emergency. But we are not running a marathon. Solving the climate crisis is a journey for every one of us and this movement is not dependent on one single person. There’s this famous quote that I really love that says: ‚Burnt-out people cannot help a burning planet’. You can’t pour from an empty cup and for you to allow action, you need to be doing well internally before creating wellness externally. “

Sara: How are you feeling now after COP26 has failed so many frontline communities, indigenous peoples, and our generation again? Would you call COP26 a failure?

Zineb: „I would challenge the word ‚failure‘ and would say it’s not necessarily failing. It’s also about building a movement of young people who are finding power in each other. The highlight of COP to me has been just the normal conversations to normal young activists and realizing that there’s amazing work being done out there. We don’t always report on that, which is really unfortunate, but I think that I find hope and inspiration in those conversations that ultimately do motivate me to do more work and build coalitions.

I really saw that the change is not happening in the Blue Zone, not in the Green Zone, not with all those business leaders and politicians. Change is happening outside in the streets, where coalitions and communities are forming. Change is happening when you are talking to your peers, it’s happening from within and from the ground. “

Working on the ground, Credits: Zineb Jaoudat

Sara: What would you recommend doing as a next task after COP26 to promote your own mental well-being?

Zineb: „Definitely callyourmother.earth! But other than that, I would recommend tapping into your emotions, don’t be afraid to ask how you are doing and don’t just tell yourself ‚I’m fine‘ when you are not. Have those hard conversations with yourself and name those feelings, whether it be anxiety, anger, hopelessness, grief, or trauma around the climate crisis. Then you can try to utilize those emotions to take action. I would also recommend to check out the callyourmother.earth-platform because it holds many useful and accessible resources to educate yourself. You can also hear the stories from people all over the world and realize that you’re not alone in this fight. If you can, try to join a non-profit organization or other human collectives. Or just start by having a small talk with your friends about your mental health or learning from statistics and graphics on instagram. Any action, whether big or small, is valid and activistic. We can all be or become activists by our own means and understanding that you and your feelings matter in this movement can contribute so much. It’s about time own story can be channeled into power, and that’s what matters most. “

[…]

I was fascinated by learning so much about such an important topic that is unfortunately so often neglected. Right now, I can only add a few starting points to check out if you want to continue educating yourself about mental health on the intersection on climate change. Also, please always remember that it is always ok to talk to others about your mental state, be it because of Covid-worries, climate crisis, or every other reason. Your emotions are valid. You are worthy.

Click here to…

– Sara Grambs, M.Sc. Politics and Technology

Different differences, but hopefully, hopeful

With one day extended, the Glasgow COP26 is finished on 13th Nov. in a kind of “successful” way. 1.5-degree-lifestyle, maybe the most frequent words I have been hearing, it is a promising commitment, giving me the feeling that people around the world are really able to working together to achieve this rather ambitious goal. However, it does not clear away the shadow that cast by terrifying facts that worry me a lot and were occurring throughout the meeting. It is gives me really weird feeling, that things are so wrapped by us so well that we do not need to face the cruel truth.

Difference, difference and difference. That would be a word that appears all the time along my journey following the conference.

Source: BBC US climate envoy John Kerry said that „co-operation is the only way to get this done“

People are different. When we political science students, are actively attending the meetings. How many people are actually concerning about the meeting? A lot may have a glance on the headlines, and taking it as another political performance which would not even be entertaining, because a political choice made here is not just a confirmation of self-value, it is also connected with real concerns about the world. According to a small survey I did during the meeting, still a lot of “educated” university students, are not aware of the issue at all. We are happy about a “1.5-degree-lifestyle” commitment, wondering if “2 degree” efforts goal has already been a past-tense ambition, people do need to care about the threatening bomb attacks among universities in US recently, and priorities are also set to freezing cold day and accessible safe homes.

Cities are different. There are pioneer successful cities, that shows the great achievements people have already been achieved in different cities and countries. Turku, Hawaii, successful cities that reach the circular economy, and carbon net negative is also foreseeable. However, if you check the geographical location, the climate, the industry, the population, the density, you would not say, that the efforts of the governments are in vain, but you would definitely think it over, how much of these successful achievements would be replicable in other cities. Will the technology and system still work in a middle-sized city in China with over half million people, will the living standard still remain, in a place where geographical conditions are much worse, which maybe the case in many struggling coast cities?

Source: CNBC Britain’s President for COP26 Alok Sharma makes his opening speech at The Procedural Opening of the COP26 UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland on October 31, 2021, the first day of the conference. DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS | AFP | Getty

Countries are different. I do think the moment when China and US announced a cooperative attitude on acting actively on the climate change issue encouraged me a lot. However, almost at the same second, I thought about the living standard between the Chinese and the American, I thought about my peers talking about setting US as the excuse for developing regardless of cost. It is apparently a sided and biased look into the issue, but it is truly an angle that one cannot ignore when perceiving the issue. And the China-India “achievement” on the out-coal phase, definitely drives people disappointed, but also cruel to say, sounds predictable. Different countries have different interests, that is the reason negotiation happens, that is how struggling a deal would be achieved, as we all know. But following the conference drives me to think more about if these agreements are just flattering this torn up world, or we actually are hand in hand and making progress.

Source: Guardian, China’s special climate envoy Xie Zhenhua speaks during a joint China and US statement on climate. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

However, I still have to say, hopefully, we can be hopeful about the road ahead. I guess, being a person who cares about the world really needs a strong heart, so we need to be optimistic. And the agreement we have already achieved, shall be the thing that we stick to and rely on. I guess, we all learn to face this torn up world, and try to do our best and find that place we can make a difference and move the earth.

-Yize Jiang, M.Sc. Politics and Technology

The United States at COP26

“The United States is Back”: that wasn’t only the recurringtheme of the US officials’ and delegates’ statements throughout the two weeks of COP26, it was actually written large on the wall of the US Climate Action Center, one of the US’s two pavilions at the conference. I never heard anyone directly address the elephant in the room, namely the thing that the US is “back” from: the Trump era, and the shattering of American reputation abroad that it brought. Instead, American officials and delegates focused on the future, and the many new initiatives the US is undertaking as part of the Biden administration’s climate agenda. The cornerstone of that agenda is the PREPARE plan: the President’s Emergency Plan for Adaptation and Resilience. The plan is the largest American commitment to adaptation efforts yet. Using a whole-of-government approach, the US federal government seeks to provide at least $3Billion in adaptation finance for developing countries annually, and additionally will provide technical and developmental expertise. USAID, the US Agency for International Development, will utilize its private sector partnerships to mobilize private funding, and will assist developing country governments in incorporating climate adaptation in their planning and budgeting processes. NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency, will install sensory equipment to assist vulnerable communities with disaster detection and prevention. Meanwhile, the State Department will work with developing countries to enhance their NDCs.

This renewed focus on climate issues seemed to be pervasive throughout the federal government’s efforts, at home and abroad. Pete Buttigieg, the current Secretary of Transportation and former Presidential candidate, spoke in Glasgow about the US “making up for lost time” on climate mitigation. Part of these efforts included joining the International Aviation Ambition Coalition, a group of countries that have agreed to invest in research into low-/zero-carbon aviation fuels. The US also joined 104 other countries in the Global Methane Pledge, which seeks to cut methane emissions by 30% by 2030, as well as joining 140 other countries in the Glasgow Leaders’ Declaration on Forestry and Land Use, promising to stop and reverse deforestation by 2030. At home, Congressional Democrats are working to push the second, partisan portion of Biden’s infrastructure plan across the finish line, which will likely result in the most extensive investment into climate change mitigation the US has seen yet. Administrator Regan of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came to Glasgow to discuss how the EPA will support this agenda by utilizing partnerships with other countries, civil society and the private sector to move the US forward on mitigation efforts ranging from electrification of transportation to industrial decarbonization. I also heard from several US officials about how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was using disaster relief funds to “build back better” by ensuring that public funds used to rebuild after disasters went to sustainable, energy-efficient buildings. Similarly, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) announced new energy-efficiency, heating, and ventilation standards in public housing, reducing energy use while increasing public health.

In the negotiations themselves, the diplomacy veteran John Kerry, serving as Presidential Envoy for Climate and head of the US delegation to COP, joined other delegates, like that of the EU, in calling for greater ambition, including (in an admittedly qualified phrasing) on the phase-out of coal plants and fossil fuel subsidies, calling the continuation of such subsidies “the definition of insanity”. One of the most potentially impactful developments to come out of Glasgow was the surprise announcement that the US and China had agreed to cooperate bilaterally on climate mitigation, which was the result of direct negotiations between Mr. Kerry and Xie Zhenhua, the head of the Chinese delegation. The two have worked together in the climate arena for over two decades, and their personal relationship is reported to have played a significant role in the outcome.

All of this having been said, it certainly appears that the US is serious when they say they are back. The problem is, the volatile political situation at the US means that all of this could change if a Trump-like Republican is elected in 2024. Early into the Conference, I spoke with an individual who had contacts in the US’s climate-related agencies, such as NOAA and the EPA. This individual told me that under Trump, their contacts had all but stopped working. They weren’t fired, but US efforts to combat climate change had simply ground to a halt. Under Biden, those people are now reportedly hard at work again. The question remains, however, whether it will stay this way. Has the US truly returned to climate leadership, or is this only a short reprieve from Trump-era policies that abandon international commitments and ignore the climate crisis? Unfortunately, the ever-dissatisfactory answer that “only time will tell” is all I can offer regarding the future, but for the present at least, the US seems to be working hard to “walk the walk” and turn its reputation around.

– Conor O’Donnell

Biking for planetary health

How is the climate crisis affecting health? What could we learn from the pandemic, to tear the climate crisis? We spoke with Dr. Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, from WHO climate health department about it. Dr. Campbell-Lendrum biked all the way from Switzerland to Scotland, in order to deliver the letter signed by more than 500 health workers from around the world, where we give a set of recommendations for a healthy and green recovery.

In minute 36, Melissa asks Dr. Campbell Lendrum how the climate crisis affects health.

– Melissa

Is 1.5°C still alive?

If you are an observer online, like me, you don’t see the number of attendees and the headcount of delegations participating at COP26. This year’s COP counts the largest number of participants of all time. Overall, it is not a secret that wealthier states can afford to have larger delegations being present compared to developing nations to negotiate their desired outcomes. What has been staying below the radar is the sheer number of delegates representing fossil fuel interests. Global witness has analyzed the publicly available list of attendees and concluded that out of the 39,509 participants registered, at least 500 fossil fuel lobbyists are present. If we would count the fossil fuel lobbyists as a delegation, they would be the largest group present. Instead, they are registered as part of the official country delegations of Canada, Brazil, or Russia, just to name of few.

During the past two weeks, we have been hearing about the importance of nature conservation and the necessity of indigenous people to protect their land as stewards. Yet, delegates advocating indigenous people’s rights are largely outnumbered by those who stand for the further use and even the expansion of fossil fuels. Historically, fossil fuels like coal, oil, and gas have been the driver for progress in an economic, technological, and social perspective. Today, they continue to play a big role, although they are also known to be drivers of land degradation. Externalities like land degradation can be found at every point of the fossil fuel supply chain, harming local communities and the environment. For this reason, it is upsetting to see that more delegates are given the chance to campaign for this cause instead of speaking up for indigenous rights and conservation.

The phaseout of both coal power and subsidies for fossil fuel is supposed to be one key outcome of COP26 as part of the official agreement. However, the language used for the commitments on ending the use of coal and other fossil fuels are claimed to be “watered-down”. During an interview earlier today, former International Executive Director of Greenpeace International, Kumi Naidoo, blamed the fossil fuel lobby for softening the language of the COP26 agreement, the lobby’s fingerprint could be found all over the conference.

„Their influence is one of the biggest reasons why 25 years of UN climate talks have not led to real cuts in global emissions.“ – Murray Worthy from Global Witness, Interview with BBC

After a day of listening to interviews with experts commenting on the status of the negotiations, it sounds like collectivefrustration to me. 

How is it possible that one interest group can affect the results of the conference so strongly? They are powerful because of the size of the fossil fuel industry. According to Reuters, the share of fossil fuels in the global energy mix was about 80% in 2019. Nonetheless, the industry is still relying on production and consumption subsidies, “each year, governments around the world pour around half a trillion dollars into artificially lowering the price of fossil fuels”. This is financed by taxpayers in the respective countries. 

Why is this still happening? Since the fossil fuel lobby is a large industry, lobbyists can always argue with concerns about job losses, especially in regions with few economic alternatives. In addition, the fear of depressed economic growth or inflation are powerful cards to play.

Simon Lewis, professor of Global Change Science at UCL & Leeds University commented today that it is on the developed nations and collectives like the United States and EU step up to work alongside the vulnerable countries. Together they need to strengthen the language and close the loopholes to unravel the lifelines of the fossil fuel industry. This coalition and leadership would be needed to keep 1.5°C in reach.

“1.5 °C is still alive, but on life support” – Michael Jacobs of the Sheffield Political Economy Research Institute

Let’s hope for a rescue.*

– Juliane Strohmeyer, M.Sc. Sustainable Resource Management

* This comment was written before all nations agreed on the final text of the agreement, there might be fractions still be traded in the final hours since the conference went into overtime.

Wrapping up my COP26 observer experience

COP26 a “failure,” “PR event,” and “blah blah blah”?
I remember well this feeling every morning while passing by the protesters in front of the conference of “I can actually go in the famous COP26 blue zone – where the negotiations happened and the whole world’s elite gathered – and there, I can change the world.” But now, what happened in the blue zone – was it more “blah blah blah,” a “failure” and “PR event” or did we “change the world” in there?

Yes, there was a lot of “blah blah blah” happening in there. Especially the many panels where ministers from countries came together and spent 2 hours of their day to repeat what their heads of states already said on the world leader days got me angry. There was PR, self-glorification, and greenwashing going on, whether from nations directly (for example, the president of Colombia announcing “historical” events contradicting realities on the ground) or the private sector (when oil companies report at COP to refine less CO2-intensive oil).
But, in the actual negotiations, I was, in the end, surprised that progress can actually be made. For example, last Saturday, when I was attending the negotiation on the new long-term finance goal, I remember that I thought they would never agree since many nations completely destroyed the first text but by Wednesday they came up with an agreement. On the side events, from my perspective, a lot of knowledge was exchanged between politicians, the private sector, NGOs, and young observers – thank’s again to TUM – helping us to learn from each other about the climate crisis.
Of course, there is a lot of “blah blah blah” and “PR” going on at COP. Nevertheless, it is the best format we currently have to bring together the entire planet. There are many ways to improve the process from my experience now – such as making the negotiations less complicated or instead negotiating the whole year on such an important issue.

But finally, what was most important to me, was the fact that especially those nations from the global south that are most vulnerable to climate change have a platform at COP to make their voices heard. During the many side events, I could learn a lot from what they had to say, such as their issues on accessing climate finance. This exchange between the wealthy global north and the poor global south – not just in the actual negotiations but between COP observers from business, NGOs, or the youth – was so rich for me. So COP does not just bring together state delegates but all the sectors – from every corner of the world – addressing the climate crisis. That’s why, from my experience, I can not agree that the COP was a “failure.” We did not “change the world in there,” but we owe it to the global south to have this platform to make their voices heard so that we may change the world piece by piece.

Simon Pfluger at COP26

– Simon Pfluger, M.Sc. Politics & Technology and M.Sc. Management & Technology