As my week at COP wraps up, I have spent a lot of time reflecting on my experience. I have learned so much, and have had the opportunity to attend many different events focused on topics I didn’t know much about before, such as sustainable food systems, including gender and indigenous rights in the climate space, youth movements, and local efforts for adaptation just to name a few. I have seen many high level speakers that have challenged my thought process and changed my perspective, including Greta Thunberg, Al Gore, Mary Robinson, John Kerry and António Guterres. These events have truly opened my eyes and changed my perspective on how I view the climate crisis. All of these events and speakers have been very inspiring, and tend to have one thing in common: their focus on ambition and action. There is not a singular event I attended where these two words were not used. In theory, I think this is wonderful; it is clear we need ambitious action to happen now in order to solve the climate emergency and if we have any hope of reducing emissions and saving our planet.
However, the focus on ambition and action in these events clearly contrast with the negotiations developing in the rooms right next door. There is simply not enough ambitious action that is actually being produced. Speakers stress the need to include youth and civil society in solutions, and as they stress this 200 peaceful youth protesters are kicked out and debadged from COP. Party delegates, often of developed countries, find loopholes in policy to reduce the measures that they themselves have to take. The Green Climate Fund, created to give financial support to developing countries in their adaptation and mitigation procedures, continues to lack funding from the global north. Transparency is difficult to enforce, and many countries double count their emissions reductions so that it seems they have reduced more than they truly have. Delegates continue to speak for the need for fast action, but negotiations continue to be tedious and little change occurs.
There is a clear cognitive dissonance between the speakers and negotiators at COP. Even after negotiations conclude and resolutions occur, it is evident that the efforts will not be enough to complete the major goal of the Paris Agreement: to keep emissions at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius by 2100. The ambitious action that everyone at COP keeps claiming is so necessary is not reflected in the results. Currently, most countries are not on track to reach their Paris Agreement targets, and, even if they were, these are not enough to keep warming below 1.5 degrees.
At many of the panels and events I have attended, I have asked about this unfortunate dichotomy. It is evident that everyone attending COP cares about solving the climate emergency, and understands the urgent need for ambitious action and policy, but how can we hold our government leaders accountable, to ensure their actions meet their words? Currently, this is not happening, and legislators do not feel pressured enough to make changes.
The answer to this problem is simple: public opinion. Historically, public opinion has always driven policy, and we need to ensure that it does in this case very soon. I am certainly not without hope. Many of the events I have attended have displayed to me so many individuals, government leaders and businesses that are taking their own steps to address the climate emergency despite lagging legislation. I’ve met an entrepreneur who started a burger restaurant that is completely carbon positive, a mayor of a small town in Chile who began his own recycling initiative and a young girl of just 8 years old that leads climate strikes at her school. Through individual action, others are inspired to make similar decisions and contribute to a cleaner, safer world. This is how citizen opinion can and will be changed, and as public outrage grows, policy will follow. We must do our part to build this public opinion and hold our governmental leaders accountable for their actions.
COP 25 has been a historical moment for public opinion. Under the leadership and activism of Greta Thunberg, youth activists are given a platform for their voices to be heard, and they are all adamant about the need for change. This year, the youth climate strikes have made a huge impact upon public opinion around the world, and have spread awareness about the urgency of solving the climate emergency. Watching the youth activism here at COP has been incredibly inspiring; this is clearly a movement that will not stop until political leaders make true policy changes. If we continue to utilize this movement to sway public opinion and raise awareness, perhaps soon more citizens will feel compelled to speak out, holding their legislators accountable and urging them to pass climate forward policies.