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Reflections of COP26: Warwick's delegation share their experiences

Reflections from the Warwick delegation:

Dr Lory Barile, Associate Professor, Department of Economics
“I joined the COP26 delegation in Week 2. Attending COP26 was an interesting and inspiring experience. I have learned about the COP process and attended several side events. I felt that there was a more real sense of urgency for action and focus than ever before. I hope that this will translate into solutions to fight the climate emergency as science is clear we have no time to lose. The main lesson I will bring with me is that the world needs more “green” optimism. Framing transition to a more sustainable world in a positive way can really make a difference. COP26 showcased the power of telling positive stories about climate change and the impact this may have on individuals’ behaviour and local communities. Negative feelings and pessimism can paralyse the world. However, hopefulness and confidence about our future world and positiveness about the green revolution may be strong incentives for us to become agents of change.”

Mike Bradshaw, Professor of Global Energy in the Strategy and International Business Group - Warwick Business School
“I arrived at Glasgow somewhat sceptical about the COP process. Despite the achievement of the Paris Agreement, a yawning ‘credibility gap’ exists between ‘ambition and action’ when it comes to constraining warming to 1.5 degrees this century. It was fascinating to see the COP process in action, and I gained an appreciation of the need to give voice to the global south who are most impacted by climate change. However, in the end, familiar self-interests prevailed as India and China managed to water down the strong language on the need to phase out fossil fuels. At best, COP-26 was a successful failure that has just about kept 1.5 alive.”

Dr Elizabeth Chant, Assistant Professor in Hispanic Studies, School of Modern Languages and Cultures
“The Glasgow Climate Pact is a landmark commitment in humanity’s response to the climate crisis. Attending COP26, I was inspired by the number of innovative solutions on display, from the work of our own National Grid, to cryosphere research, to sustainable clothing production. As scholars and educators, it is our job to facilitate the action required to fulfil the Pact’s promises, and to inform people about the solutions, decisions, and actions that are shaping all of our futures. This includes enabling engagement with indigenous and youth voices, who were underrepresented at the official event. I remain committed to helping students understand humanity’s relations with the natural world, and look forward to bringing the insights that I have gained from COP26 to the Warwick classroom.”

Volkan Degirmenci, Associate Professor, School of Engineering
“As the event came to an end, I’m not surprised about coal making its way into the final document, because there was immense attention on coal from the first day. Powering the world post coal initiative received great support from all around the world and more than 160 countries committed to stop deforestation, stop methane leakage and phase “out” coal. I believe we’ll see the rolling out of new technologies such as hydrogen and carbon capture in larger scale than we’ve ever seen before in the very near future. A lot more collaboration between key stakeholders and governments are needed. We need to turn this jog into a sprint. There’s a sense of urgency, it is real, and it is coming from countries. At the same time there’s clear sense of optimism in the air.”

Jacob Jefferson, Democracy and Development Officer, Warwick SU
“It was a great pleasure to have joined the University of Warwick delegation for the 2nd week of COP26. To be at the most critical event going on in the world, at that time, felt very special and the whole conference had a striking sense of its own importance for our future. My experience of the conference was mostly through sitting in events with business and technology leaders and chatting to delegates from different countries to find out what each of their governments were doing to fight climate change. Whilst the agreements that the nations eventually arrived at were arguably not as radical as hoped for, albeit still respectable progress, what I saw especially from a technological perspective did give me hope that the solutions can be found to properly fight climate change. It was a pleasure to represent Warwick and what we're doing here in those conversations.”

Dr. Pietari Kääpä, Reader in Media and Communications

“Participating as a delegate at COP26 has been a major opportunity to learn about responses to the escalating climate emergency and to witness first-hand the development of new policies and innovative solutions to tackle these challenges. While, on one hand, the high-level negotiations resulted in a diluted declaration of intent by political stakeholders, on the other, the media attention generated by the event was encouraging. As a researcher of environmental media, the headline-grabbing nature and complex coverage provided by news platforms like The Guardian and the BBC ensured that environmental concerns remained a talking point throughout the conference. By very literally placing the climate emergency on the public ‘agenda’, the coverage also resonated on social media and allowed for wide-ranging coverage of the political dimensions of the event and the many technological and practical on-the-ground solutions presented at the Blue Zone. While media discussion eventually turned to disappointment over the agreed actions, the importance of generating awareness of even the failures of the negotiations can have a long-term positive impact by establishing critical discourse over the role of governments, NGOs, activists and the public to act on the climate emergency. By acting as a Warwick delegate, I was able to observe first-hand how motivated and passionate individuals and organizations develop complex solutions to the crisis. Furthermore, by organizing a media-focused workshop through the AHRC-funded Global Green Media Network (www.globalgreenmedianetwork.com), I was able to encourage the media industry to act as a responsible citizen in communicating these solutions. Despite the limitations of the official outcomes, the conference succeeded in generating awareness – both positive and negative – on the urgency of the challenges we face.”

Caroline Kuzemko, Associate Professor, Politics and International Studies

“COP26 has reminded us all of the complexities involved in seeking to reach global political agreement on how to mitigate for, and adapt to, climate change as the challenge of our era. All countries reserve the right to grow their economies, whilst much of that growth is still based on burning fossil fuels. One of the big achievements of this COP was the official recognition that coal needs to be phased down. India has been called out for softening the language - to phase ‘down’ rather than ‘out’ - but developed countries are not showing enough leadership here. If the UK and USA are not prepared to phase out all fossil fuels, with their large economies and political institutions, why should we expect others to follow suit?”

Hendrick Schaefer, Professor in Microbiology, School of Life Sciences
“Despite disappointment about the watered-down COP26 declaration, COP26 has made some progress and, personally, I have taken away some valuable insights. Considering that natural ecosystems, such as forests, need to be protected and restored is an important milestone of COP26. This is also true for ‘blue carbon’ environments such as mangroves, saltmarshes and sea grass meadows, incredibly effective carbon sinks, whose protection will not only ensure a contribution to carbon sequestration but enhance biodiversity and deliver a raft of positive ecosystem services. From a research perspective though, there is a need to investigate how blue carbon ecosystems will respond to climate change in more detail and to monitor their actual C sequestration. Finally, COP26 had great examples illustrating the importance of positive communication: stressing opportunities and positive societal impacts of the changes required in infrastructure and economy, and getting local communities involved in shaping the way we live in the future will be vital to get the support of the public for the major transformations that are essential.”

Professor Mike Bradshaw joined an expert panel on Times Radio to summarise and review the outcomes of COP26 – listen to the podcast now

Read the BBC summary of COP26 outcomes: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/science-environment-56901261