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The Challenge for COP26: The Global Climate Conference

In November 2021, the world will come together for the 26th Conference of Parties, COP26. This meeting of world leaders is supposed to save us from the worst effects of climate change…supposed.

Over the best part of the last 8 months, the U&i Global team have been working on a project focused on the COP26 climate conference taking place later this year.

Climate change is one of the most pressing issues in the modern world, with millions of young people taking to the streets over the last 18 months to protest the immediacy of this issue. There is no greater display of institutional action then than at the COP26 conference.

The Show

The COP conferences are an annual event that drives the direction for tackling one of the greatest threats humanities has ever experienced. Climate change.

The coming together of world leaders, with the intention of reaching a new global agreement that will help to reduce emissions immediately and prevent the worst effects of climate-related disasters.

We are most familiar with the successes of some of the previous COPs, mostly the Paris Accord, COP21. Many will be hoping for a similar agreement in Glasgow this year.

I hope we reach one. There is no doubt that these global conferences are essential for humanity to meet its climate obligations. But there is an issue. Something that does not often get discussed.

The Issue

Agreements are only on paper. And as we all know, this is the first step in a global movement and must be followed by years of concrete action. But the agreements themselves, no matter how ambitious, will always find obstacles once they get implemented back down the global scale, facing unique national and local challenges. From poverty, crime, corruption, politics, hunger…there are a huge number of local factors all over the world that make implementing anything agreed at COP extremely difficult.

And this is something we often forget when looking to the single savour of the climate conferences. The issue won’t be solved with one single agreement between those sitting at the top of international relations. Although it plays a vital role, the issue will also be solved in the millions of local communities across the world.

We wanted to explore how any global agreement will face this challenge. How can it filter back down the global spectrum? What challenges are there for implementing global agreements at the national and local levels? Will COP26 make any difference for, say, farmers in the eastern cape suffering from drought, or indigenous communities in The Philippines being flooded out of their homes?

When we think of climate change not only as a global problem, but, also as a series of local issues each being experienced by people individually in their communities, the problem becomes a lot more human. It becomes real.

The COP26 Campaign

With all of this in mind, we set about to explore the questions of how this global agreement will be implemented in three very different countries:

  • The UK
  • The Philippines
  • South Africa

The UK

The majority of the team in U&i Global are British, so exploring our local area was obvious. But more than this, the UK has an interesting relationship with the climate change debate. As the first nation in history to industrialise, and as the host of the COP26 conference, the UK has a leading responsibility for addressing this issue.

As a western European nation, the UK will also be insulated from the worst effects of climate change for several more years. While rising sea levels may cause a huge migration crisis in southern Asia, and civilisation ending droughts in Sub-Saharan Africa, the UK, in Western Europe, will be shielded, at least initially, from the worst of these effects. How does that relative safety affect the decision making of the people, communities, businesses, and government of the UK in responding to climate change?

Britain wants to be a world leader. It cannot be without taking some leadership on this issue.

The Philippines

If the UK is an insulated western European nation, the Philippines is the opposite of that. An archipelago nation in East Asia, The Philippines is one of the worlds most climate-vulnerable nations.

Monsoons, extreme weather events, rising sea levels, The Philippines is ground zero when it comes to experiencing climate change.

How will a nation, that has contributed a disproportionally small amount of pollution experience climate change?

For COP26 to be truly successful, understanding the pressing nature of this issue for people on the other side of the world, not just in the UK and Glasgow, is fundamental for the legitimacy of any global agreement.

The Philippines brings the east Asian, and climate desperation perspective to our project.

South Africa

South Africa again brings another very diverse situation into being.

The Sub-Saharan African nation was the poster child for post-Apartheid development in the 1990s, but has since gone awry. With unprecedented levels of corruption, violent crime, inequality and social tension, the rainbow nation is not living up to its full potential.

The recent riots after the indictment of former President, Jacob Zuma, shows just how unstable the nation has become. With unemployment levels over 30%, it is not hard to see why.

How will the COP agreement and the climate crisis stand a chance on being successfully implemented with such immediate issues for the people of South Africa? Couple this with the fact that South Africa is one of the most water vulnerable nations on earth, you have a ticking time bomb waiting to explode.

The Fundamental Question

How can a single agreement hope to tackle climate change in communities across the world? Is it too much to ask of COP26 to totally realign our global structures for a more sustainable future?

This question, and therefore, this campaign, spans the world.

From local communities, small and global businesses, national governments and representatives of major international institutions, the U&I Global COP26 campaign explores these questions with everyone who has an answer.

The three countries give us one of the most diverse responses we could have asked for.

We do not expect to find the answers to such questions. We do hope to inspire people to help us answer the together.

Our mission with U&I Global is to inspire the global community of young professionals to lead the movement for sustainable development. I hope this project can go some way to achieving that.


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