Thoughts from a COP26 attendee

By IRIS FEN GILLINGHAM
Posted 1/19/22

In November, I traveled from my family’s farm in the Catskill Mountains to the cobblestoned streets of Glasgow to better understand international climate politics and join scientists and …

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Thoughts from a COP26 attendee

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In November, I traveled from my family’s farm in the Catskill Mountains to the cobblestoned streets of Glasgow to better understand international climate politics and join scientists and activists to hold world leaders accountable. I was a delegate from College of the Atlantic, representing the United States in an international space.

I had the important opportunity to use some of what I have learned in the climate justice movement over the years to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, called Conference of the Parties (COP26) in Scotland. Despite the strangeness of the whole conference, it was a valuable and also complex experience to view first-hand how international agreements around climate are formed. It also demonstrated how much the non-legally binding agreements lacked if we want to protect our communities from more climate impacts. I felt the hypocrisy of activists and leaders flying from around the world to attend a conference on climate change. The elephant in the room was the fossil fuel industry’s systemic presence.

Upon first stepping off the train in Glasgow, I saw many signs and billboards with advertisements that promoted climate change as a business opportunity. The major message was, “Let’s go net-zero; net zero is the future.” I prefer to call those net-zero “solutions” dangerous distractions. We need to institute actual reductions of our emissions, not promote emission offsets.

Emission offsets are being proposed in multifaceted ways, such as corporations paying people to set aside forests because of their ability to help sequester carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Not only is it flawed to think that forests be protected so corporations can keep polluting, but this is an extremely dangerous path to go down as a society. If we allow companies to avoid addressing the actual issues of the climate crisis, we are setting an economic and unjust precedent that will impact our future. World leaders are seeing land stewards, indigenous communities and small farmers as the people who can sequester their carbon, so they can keep emitting without actually cutting emissions. This is a dangerous gamble.

There is a fabulous pamphlet created by grassroots organizations and activists called “Hoodwinked in the House: Resisting False Solutions to Climate Change.” It talks about some of the dangerous distractions being proposed to combat climate change. You can find it at climatefalsesolutions.org.

Days after speaking at COP26 about the importance of acting on climate change, President Joe Biden hosted an offshore oil and gas auction, propelling us into more ecological destruction. This highlights the disregard world leaders seem to have for people and communities by trying to appease industry. This is one of the pitfalls in trying to stay in the political middle. Climate change should be a bipartisan issue, uninfluenced by big industry. We can’t make everyone happy, but creating resilient communities prepared to mitigate and adapt to the changing world is vital.

When we combine strong climate justice policies, like the NYRenews Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, (see page 12), and the skills and knowledge of our rural communities, I feel hopeful.

We have experienced years of drastic weather changes, severe storms, icier winters and dangerous fires, among many other climate disasters across the globe. The pain of going through college during a global pandemic and looking ahead to a future marked with climate change, job inequality, social injustice and food insecurity is a lingering thought among many young people.  

Still, for me, hope is coming from the people. Hope is in those who have come to COPs year after year to work and create change, never giving up on protecting our future.

I was grateful to attend COP with such a fabulous network of people who really make me proud to be human. And honestly, the highlights of COP26 have been drinking tea with other activists, talking about regenerative agriculture, learning about movement history from elders, laughing about all this hypocritical talk from leaders and attending the community-centered events.

I am excited to bring back what I learned in Scotland to my community in the Catskill Mountains. I am currently working on climate and agriculture education in Sullivan County on Wild Roots Farm, my family’s solar-powered farm.

You can learn more at https://www.growwildroots.com/.

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