It’s been a few days since I got back to Saint Paul, Minnesota, from my incredible trip to Glasgow and I’ve had time to reflect on COP26 as a whole.
Coming back to school, as the only in-person student delegate at COP from my university, has required me to be a face for the conference and answer a lot of questions about what’s happening next. That has made me happy but also a bit intimidated. A professor who also attended COP said something that I resonated with and is similar to how I explain COP to my classmates. She said that a lot of people are probably going to be saying that COP26 was a failure, starting this weekend. That will bring with it a lot of eco-anxiety for me and for everyone else who prioritizes the climate in their life. The professor also said that we each have to decide if it’s true that it was a failure. It’s true that the outcome of these negotiations will not be enough to get us to the warming that was declared safe by the IPCC.
However, I find myself staying on the side of optimism, possibly because of my age and my recent introduction to this world of negotiations, but possibly because I actually saw kernels of hope in the presentations I attended in Glasgow. Another professor who also attended this COP and 2 before it said that she remembers when we had to fight to even make the goal 1.5 degrees of warming instead of 2. That brings me hope too, and makes me feel less naive.
The buzz of excitement from my time abroad has not yet faded but now I can think about what this conference is going to mean for my future, and the future of climate governance.
For my personal journey, this conference will quickly become a very influential part of my life and my career. I can already tell. They say that during college you have these moments that broaden your horizons but I can’t imagine that many people have such a stark example of a specific week that did that for them. I tried to journal from every session, every side event, and even as many conversations with people as I could collect. Photos were also important for me to take back home to show people the inside of the conference. There’s no doubt that I will remember this for a long time to come.
As for what this event has meant for the climate crisis, I was correct when I predicted that leaving the conference would make me more pessimistic because I would no longer be surrounded by the crowd in the conference center. The carbon-cutting pledges from governments doesn’t seem to be enough to keep us below 2 degrees of warming. It makes me feel a whirlwind of emotions.
It also takes me back to the days of posturing at the beginning of the conference when world leaders said everything was going to get better starting now. The word fossil fuels was not even included in COP documents until this year. What hope is there that they will be phased out in time? Who’s looking out for important ecosystems like coral reefs, prairies, or the ice caps? Are we on a train speeding out of control without hope of pulling the breaks? These and many other questions rattle around in my brain but luckily I prepared myself mentally for this type of uncertainty.
The thing I know for sure is that I have just stepped onto my own path towards making a difference in climate governance. I have now watched and taken notes on what the process looks like. The big rooms, cameras, and men in suits are less intimidating. The next step I’m taking is finishing my degree in order to prepare me to participate in the future. I hope the media is wrong and we do see a lot of good things out of COP26 but if not, it’s no time to give up now.
Bella Garrioch is an undergraduate at Macalester College and a member of Climate Generation’s Window into COP26 Delegation this November. Within her major she emphasizes climate science and policy and is interested in the crossover between climate change research and political solutions to the climate crisis. Learn more about Bella and subscribe to follow her experience at COP26.