The Lowdown Hub

Glasgow’s climate talks teach us that despair is the real villain Young people’s anger is understood

Behind its closely patrolled high metal fences, the COP26 global climate summit in Glasgow was at once infuriating, ludicrous and inspiring. That is to say, pretty much like the world outside the wire.

Here, in this temporary UN enclave by the Clyde, was the inequality of power and wealth that scars international and domestic politics, and the self-interest and denial that has hamstrung our response to global warming. But there were also, at times, flashes of the determination and resourcefulness needed to secure our future.

Take the Action Hub, first destination for many holders of a coveted UN pass who made it through the security and Covid-status checks. A huge illuminated globe hung over this “inclusive, participatory and transparent” space for all. Yet this arena was at the other end of the sprawling complex from the meeting and negotiating rooms, and an LED screen orbiting the globe thanking corporate partners was a flashy reminder of traditional power structures.

© Lucinda Rogers

Standing under the globe, Mitzi Jonelle Tan, a Filipino climate campaigner, denounced the event as an exclusionary “greenwashing” betrayal. Even those like her with a UN observer pass struggled to get into plenary sessions, said Tan, 24 — never mind the back rooms where the action actually happened. Near the end of the two-week summit, it was clear that any agreement would fall far short of what was needed, she said. “Everybody is like ‘Yay, we are saving the world.’ I feel like it is a slap to my face,” Tan said.

Such feelings are widely shared: “Why are rich, old, white, cis men deciding?” read the placard held by another young activist at the conference site. “Do something, you numpties,” was the more direct appeal of a climate striker at last week’s march through Glasgow.

You can see why many young people are angry. A video of the late astronomer Carl Sagan speaking in 1985 has been circulating. It shows Sagan lucidly explaining global warming science and the need to curb greenhouse gases to a US congressional committee. “Here is a problem which transcends our particular generation,” he says. “If we don’t do the right thing now, there are very serious problems that our children and grandchildren will have to face.”

You know the rest: Sagan’s generation did not do the right thing. And, Houston, we have a very serious problem.

© Lucinda Rogers

The question posed by COP26 is whether this generation will do better. The summit site offered plenty of grounds for cynicism with large pavilions booked by nations such as Saudi Arabia, accused of resisting the end to fossil fuels subsidies that Sagan suggested 36 years ago. Some might smirk at the earnest debate in a Nordic pavilion of “gender mainstreaming in climate finance”, held while the Indonesian pavilion discussed the nation’s “new paradigm” of forest fires.

Yet any attempt to limit global warming must span a range of agendas. Behind the squabbles and hypocrisies, there was at least a shared acceptance on the need for change.

COP26 has energised many, particularly in Scotland. Despite a troubled run-up, Glasgow proved a friendly and supportive host city. Christian Arno, founder of carbon footprint calculator Pawprint, said the attention was making Scottish companies focus on climate. “Usually this is a peripheral place,” he said. “But now . . . the most critical decisions are being made on our doorstep.”

Disappointment with the results of COP26 will be understandable; despair unforgivable. As Sagan said in 1985, curbing climate change requires nations to put aside their traditional partisan concerns and embrace a global consciousness. Unified international action is essential to limit warming to levels that avert catastrophe. For that, the COP process, with all its failings, is not just our best hope. It is our only hope.

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