The Glasgow Climate Change Conference began with the gritty voice of David Attenborough expressing hope that “the young people alive today may give us the momentum we need… to turn this tragedy into a triumph”. It ended with Greta Thunberg, surrounded by these same young people, declaring: “The adults have disappointed us.”
Chances are, most of those who made the major decisions in the halls of the Scottish Event Campus will be gone in a few decades. What does Greta know that we don’t know? In 1992, before his birth, when the global level of carbon dioxide was 360 parts per million, several thousand people from 178 countries, at the instigation of the United Nations, flocked to Rio Di Janeiro to start a series international climate conferences to bring us back to a safe level of 350 ppm by the year 2000. It was, by all reports, a joyous and hopeful event.
Today, after 25 mostly annual meetings, COP26 concluded with the hottest annual temperatures humans have ever seen, with CO2 at 420 ppm.
Have we, the adults, failed?
In fact, there was a lot of good news. We have agreed to harness methane emissions and significantly stop deforestation. In addition, the United States and China have publicly pledged to work together to combat global warming.
With booths touting everything from promising nuclear initiatives to trendy handbags made from old fire hoses, the event looked like a fair, according to a reporter. And although neither Russian President Vladimir Putin nor Chinese leader Xi Jinping showed up, their delegations did. Representing the third issuer, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has promised major cuts. President Biden said America is back, and former President Barack Obama received a standing ovation as he urged the young protesters – who were legion but almost all outside the walls – to transform their frustration in action.
Things had started off pretty well.
Within days, however, he began to slack off. We learned that many countries’ emissions reports had been grossly falsified, that despite efforts to ban them, some 500 fossil fuel lobbyists were present, and that even though countries actually achieved the targets they submitted, the total would leave us at 2.4 degrees Celsius. , well beyond the mark necessary to avoid devastating consequences.
In the end, although fossil fuels were first named as key drivers, the conference failed to reach a consensus to keep them in the ground in any meaningful way, failed to succeed. pledge to phase out coal or limit gasoline-powered vehicles, has failed to meet previous financial commitments by rich nations to the poor (although promising to double them by 2025), and failed to establish accountability by requiring annual reports.
So it’s easy to put your hand up and say that Greta was right.
But what if we thought about it differently? What if we considered COP26 as catalytic rather than catastrophic?
That is to say: of course, the representatives of nearly 9 billion people will not just stand in line and parade! And while these things take time – and we’ve been running out of time for a decade now – the conference has catalyzed a higher level of concern and a sense of urgency that promises to overshadow even the pandemic.
In addition, it brought together active and engaged people in exponential combinations across the world. In particular, young people are angrier and more determined to act than ever before.
Not only has the climate conference moved from ambition to responsibility, it is increasingly recognized that governments will not be able to save us on their own – that companies will also need to, businesses and nonprofits understand that if they don’t get on board, they’ll have no more people to serve (or operate on).
It is in the best interests of all life on the planet that all of us, young and old, work for the common good, to save a world worth living for the young people of today.
This is the message of COP26: it is up to all of us, and not just as isolated individuals, and not just as young people, to pay attention and work together to change the systems that have led us to this. moment of peril and ultimate responsibility.
Larry Daloz, from Hanover, is co-founder of Senior Stewards Acting for the Environment (SSAFE.org), the Kendal system-wide climate action initiative.