Two environmental activists from Nelson, Linn Murray and Jamie Hunter, attended the U.N.’s climate change conference COP26 this month and came away energized for more climate action.
“It has definitely reinforced a preconceived notion that I had,” Murray, 22, told the Nelson Star, “that climate leadership is mostly coming from the bottom up right now. Municipalities and local groups are really doing the most on climate action. And we’re starting to see that trickle up into government policy, but it’s still not there yet.”
He and Hunter, 21, both commented on the number and the enthusiasm of various civic groups at COP26 — not official delegates with voting power, not industry lobbies, but community groups, municipalities, and activist organizations trying to influence world leaders.
An estimated 30,000 people visited Glasgow for the conference.
“It’s the collective humanity of it,” Murray says, “where there’s so many people from so many communities all over the world. I can’t help but have faith that even though we’re not where we need to be, we are heading in that direction, and hopefully we’re headed there fast enough. I’m more hopeful right now than I was going into it.”
Hundreds of events
The COP26 conference of delegates from 120 countries took place in Glasgow from Oct. 31 to Nov. 12. Their consensus agreement has prompted both praise and condemnation, sometimes from the same people, for making good progress but not going far enough.
Last summer the U.N. described latest scientific finding about climate change as a “code red for humanity,” and asserted that the conference would have to find a way to keep the increase in warming under 1.5 degrees to avoid global catastrophe.
Hunter and Murray went to the conference representing Stop Ecocide Canada, which Hunter founded as part of a larger international movement that wants the destruction of natural ecosystems criminalized. They were not among the members of public groups that were invited into the main forum as observers.
Outside the forum, in various locations around the city, there were hundreds of events connected to COP26. Hunter and Murray spent their time going to meetings, panels, and other public events, including events hosted by the group One Young World.
“They had this space booked the whole time,” Hunter said. “It’s called The Ferry and it was an old boat, turned into an event space, and they invited young people to come and use it as a space to be in. They had speakers and events going on throughout the whole two weeks.”
Marches and new friends
They joined two marches, one on a Friday with about 10,000 people and another on the following day with 100,000 or more.
“We just stood and watched the march continue, more and more people continued to arrive for four hours or so. It was a mind-boggling amount of people,” said Murray, adding that a significant number of them were not travellers but people from Glasgow.
Murray and Hunter think the demonstrations and the sheer size of community representation from around the world will be impossible for governments to ignore, but some of them will act on it more than others.
They said one of their most profound experiences was meeting young people from around the world, including a discussion with people from Namibia, Chile, and the Amazon about how climate change was affecting their parts of the world.
Exclusivity and inequality
Despite those positive experiences, both men were concerned about what they called the exclusivity of the COP conference.
Fossil fuel companies had the most delegates at the conference, they said, and in the rooms where negotiations happened business and industry had the largest representation with access to negotiators and world leaders. They said Canada, Russia, and Saudi Arabia had fossil fuel industry interests as part of their national delegations.
Many poorer countries could only afford to send a few people or none at all, they said, particularly the low-lying island countries that are now being flooded by sea-level rise.
“Only four Pacific Island states were officially represented,” said Hunter. “And there’s about 13 of them. These are the countries which are really, really going to suffer the most from climate change. So the fact they weren’t included those just doesn’t make any sense.”
Hunter and Murray said they were disappointed that funding from the rich to the poor countries to adapt to the effects of climate change came up short.
Better than expected, but not enough
Did the conference meet its goal of finding ways to reduce greenhouse gases to keep warming under 1.5 degrees?
“It’s certainly not enough,” Hunter said. “But considering the way that delegates were talking before the deal was agreed, it does seem like this deal is more than was expected.”
He said the specific inclusion of the fossil fuels and coal in the agreement is a step forward. Those words did not appear in previous agreements. They also cited the mention, for the first time, of the need to stop subsidies to fossil fuel companies.
Countries were supposed to come to the conference with emissions reduction targets that would keep warming to 1.5 C.
“Most countries failed on that.” Hunter said. “Canada certainly failed on that.”
“I’d say the fossil fuel industry is probably celebrating another COP where they haven’t been held to account very much,” said Murray.
The positive side, they said, was a decision to have another meeting next year to which countries would bring more strict targets and methods for achieving them, because the pledges and plans presented so far would not meet the 1.5 C threshold.
Murray said he noticed a disconnect between climate action by national leaders and industry, and by local communities around the world.
“I spoke to many people who were working on projects at home and really showing leadership where, unfortunately, our higher levels of government aren’t. They aren’t there yet.”
Despite their criticism of national governments and big industry, Hunter and Murray spoke positively.
“We are headed in the right direction,” said Murray. “And certainly civil society is headed in the right direction, around the world, and I would like people to understand that. We are accelerating this quite substantially from where we were a few years ago. And I think that’s working. Or I hope so at least.”