What are we to make of the COP26 outcome? Despite all the warnings, including the “code red for humanity” from the UN; and six years after 196 countries signed the legally binding Paris agreement, the world still can’t agree on how to keep global warming to below 1.5 degrees.
The problem lies of course with politicians. They love to talk the talk, but very few walk the walk. What’s more, COP26 also provided another platform for the fossil fuel lobby while those most directly affected by climate change were marginalised.
Of course we can all live more ethically, thinking carefully about the environment before we make lifestyle decisions. Indeed, there is plenty of scope for climate action at a local level. But we must not transfer responsibility away from government and big business, onto the individual consumer. Recycling and avoiding single use plastics is desirable, even essential, but it will not make up for the continued burning of fossil fuels.
But if I sound despondent, there remains pressure for positive change too. For me, one of the highlights of COP26 was seeing so many young people taking to the streets in Glasgow.
Civil society has played a major role in keeping climate change firmly in the minds of governments, business and ordinary people. It has informed, organised, and taken action, sometimes controversially, to highlight the threat of global warming. It has also supported projects such as habitat restoration, the reintroduction of native species, and re-wilding. Civil society has also been at the forefront of calling out “greenwashing” by corporations and governments. And in Greta Thunberg the world has a young activist who has inspired campaigners and berated governments on a global scale.
So even as governments make the wrong choices, civil society has to continue its efforts. The world isn’t dead yet; and there remains much to do. Informed, visible, determined campaigning is still needed to raise awareness, change minds and make a difference.
As Greta said, “We can no longer let the people in power decide what is politically possible. We can no longer let the people in power decide what hope is. Hope is not passive. Hope is not blah, blah, blah. Hope is telling the truth. Hope is taking action. And hope always comes from the people.”