By Malvika Venkatesh
An Amazing Opportunity: Attending COP 26 in Person
This past November, I was invited to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. The stakes were high this year at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 26 as this was the 5th year meeting post the enaction of the Paris Agreement. As a youth advocate of the climate change movement, I know my voice has importance in championing the changes our generation needs to make to have an Earth we can still inhabit, so I was ecstatic for this opportunity to attend the discussions.
On my train commute from Edinburgh to Glasgow, I was so anticipatory for the first day to listen and learn from world leaders advocating for change. I could truly feel the passion, entering the conference center full of thousands of world leaders, climate organizers, storytellers, and people from all over the world. At the end of Day 1, I had listened to the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Emi Mahmoud recite inspiring poetry, learned about sustainable agricultural practices from WWF leaders, attended a cocktail hour with winners of the UN Global Climate Action Awards, and had so many inspiring conversations with people in between.
Turning Conversations into Real-World Climate Solutions
But to be completely honest, I could not help but feel overwhelmed by the emphasis of these massive changes needing to occur in such a small time frame to save our planet. I knew that conversations could not just stay within the conference center but needed to be extended to my community at home and all those around me to enact change in this critical decade. As youth experiencing this climate crisis, we undoubtedly know that we need to implement climate solutions as a means of survival, and it is necessary to connect people through the heart as well as the mind to receive this reciprocal urgency.
On Day 2, I was feeling especially energized and connected to the discussions and events highlighting the voices of the most vulnerable to climate change, indigenous communities. The indigenous people are doing the most to stop the impacts of climate change, as caring for the Earth is part of their culture, but they are the ones that are the most impacted by climate disasters due to exploitation. These leaders were highlighting the importance of their existing nature-based practices as solutions for climate change. Through these conversations, I began to realize how truly interconnected the climate movement is with every aspect of our lives and every single industry on this planet can be a part of the solution.
As the week went on, I felt disheartened by the conversations occurring in the high-level plenary rooms; world leaders were continually making unambitious commitments to addressing the climate movement. But, listening and learning from grassroots organizers, NGO leaders, and individuals sharing their innovative ideas and ambitious solutions inspired us, attendees. Greta Thunberg, along with thousands of youth protestors outside in the streets of Glasgow, tirelessly called for injustices to be addressed by decision-makers. Witnessing these moments made me confident that by supporting each other outside of this conference, we will create the change that is necessary to see.
Taking Inspiration Home from a Week in Glasgow
After attending just one of the two weeks of the conference, I gathered an immense amount of information and felt so many emotions, and there is still so much more to learn. At the end of COP 26, world leaders drafted the Glasgow Pact, informing the world that countries have promised to make changes, but not at a quick enough pace. The end of the conference does not mark the end of climate discussion; we all have the responsibility to use our voices and enact change on a larger scale.
Our generation is being asked a lot; we need to dismantle the current system we have been living in and create a whole other way of doing things to have a planet that can sustain us. This will not be easy, but I choose to stay inspired and optimistic that we have the power to protect our planet.
Since returning from the conference, I think about this quote daily, to encourage action and inspire change in small ways throughout my community so we can have a planet that supports us as we support it for generations to come.