A View from the Blue Zone :
impressions of COP26 from the inside
Blog by Catherine Cosgrove, Associate and Sustainability Champion at Austin-Smith:Lord. Chair of the Scottish Ecological Design Association.
When it was announced that COP 26 was coming to Glasgow I thought that this would be an amazing opportunity to meet with and learn from people from all over the world about sustainability and climate change. Alongside my role at Austin-Smith: Lord, I’m also currently the Chair of the Scottish Ecological Design Association (SEDA). We were advised that the UN were encouraging groups from all over Scotland to apply for observer status at COP 26. A year and many, many forms later, SEDA were awarded observer status and five delegate places for each week. I chose to attend in the second week, which includes themes on resilience, transport and the built environment.
So what have been my first impressions? The scale of this conference is enormous. Not just in terms of how long it takes to walk through the event campus but also in terms of the subjects covered and the amount of people who are attending. It’s like rush hour in Central Station all the time. There are so many people with really interesting contributions. Everywhere you turn people are blogging, filming, making announcements and pledges. Earlier today I happened to be standing in Zone E, just beyond the television cameras from the international news feeds, and there was what looked like a walking scrum of people, lights and cameras that passed in front of me. Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives was on her way to an event and was surrounded by the media every step of the way. This sort of thing doesn’t usually happen at any of the other sustainability conferences I’ve attended.
There is a buzz, a willingness to make things happen and to come together to make a difference. How to get more people involved is a common topic. It’s also interesting to hear government and business leaders admitting that they are much better informed that they were even three years ago and that many have identified what actions they can take to make an immediate impact.
But another theme that is also clear is that we’re not even close to meeting the climate pledges that have already been made, let alone set even more ambitions targets. Progress is too slow. Those nations who can afford to spend more on climate mitigation are reluctant to commit more funds and smaller nations are focussing on surviving the impact of climate change already. Just and equitable transition to low impact living are common themes of many presentations.
Many delegates also seem to have a lack of urgency and focus. In the Blue Zone there’s an area set aside for exhibition pavilions from many countries, organisations and interest groups. There are dozens of presentations happening at any one time and its common to hear applause or cheering breaking out across the arena. But there are also many people using laptops, on phones, answering emails and catching up on messages while sitting in these presentations. They aren’t giving them their full attention, they aren’t invested and make no contribution. It’s hard not to see this as part of the reason that we’re not making progress on our climate commitments.
There are moments that give cause for hope. In the exhibition zone there are some pavilions that are full of people and excitement. The indigenous peoples pavilion and the Nigerian pavilion sit side by side, are full of life and colour and a joy to be around. I loved the bamboo bicycle and the Pavegen technology that can generate electricity from walking over it – now there’s something to install in Central Station. I loved the presentation from Just Diggit (www.justdiggit.org), a Dutch Organisation working in Africa, and their way of linking story telling and technology to increase public involvement in their sustainability initiatives.
Everyone was exited anticipating Barak Obama’s speech. His session was ticket only and few delegates had the opportunity to be there in person. It was available on the COP 26 Platform and via You Tube, with most people watching or listening to the livestream. I ended up sharing my phone with six others so we could all hear him at the same time. His talk was both inspiring and a reminder that pledges are easy to make but hard to put into practice. What I took from it was his encouragement for people to take their own action to help change their local communities, not to wait for governments to do something. It’s the same conversation that we’ve been having in Austin-Smith: Lord. Everyone has the power to make positive decisions that can help the environment and we can do that every day.
I’m looking forward to the next two days of COP 26 and what opportunities that might bring. Sharing knowledge and collaboration are key to making progress and I’d like to think that Austin-Smith:Lord and SEDA can help on both of those subjects.