Why Should You Care About COP26 and Its Outcomes?
CZ – Good afternoon. Once again, it’s great to be here with all of you today. For those who don’t know me, my name is Carlos Zegarra. We’re here in a new SachamamaTalks, and I’m extremely happy and excited to share this space with someone whom I admire a lot and who has extensive experience covering these topics. She will talk to us about what has just emerged at COP26. It’s an honor for me to be here in this space with Marina Colorado. She is a journalist from France 24 and leads all the environmental coverage for the channel. Marina, it’s a pleasure to be with you. Thank you very much for joining us today.
MC – Thank you, Carlos, for having me in this space.
CZ – I think we can start by explaining a little about what we experienced just under a week ago. We were both in Glasgow, sharing a bit about this very important United Nations meeting where the issue of climate change is discussed and where countries come together to work collectively on these issues. So, tell us, for the people watching, what is COP26, and what happened in Glasgow?
MC – COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties, and it is the 26th edition of this meeting where delegations from all countries that are part of the United Nations and have ratified the Paris Agreement come together. The Paris Agreement was the last official agreement signed at one of these Conference of the Parties, specifically COP21 in Paris. This meeting brings all these countries together to discuss how to progress in different ways to curb global warming, which is causing climate change. We often hear about the temperature increase of 1.5 degrees Celsius in the media and everywhere. What does that mean? Well, it means that the Earth has gradually been warming since around 1850, when the industrial revolution began. The Earth’s temperature was at a certain level at that time, which we consider as the starting point, and now we are 1.1 degrees above that level. This increase in temperature disrupts the natural balance of the planet, which is perfectly designed to function in equilibrium. As a result, extreme weather events become more frequent, intense, and extreme. The purpose of these conversations is to reach concrete decisions that can help mitigate the way we are warming the planet, primarily through greenhouse gas emissions, which are pollutants emitted by vehicle exhausts, industries, and many other sources.
CZ – And what you mentioned about the famous 1.5 degrees Celsius, if we look at it as just a number, it might not seem significant, but as you said, that half-degree increase has serious implications. It leads to longer droughts and more intense floods. So, it has a significant impact on our communities.
MC – That’s right, even small fractions of a degree have a significant impact. As I mentioned, the planet was designed with a perfect system that balances and self-regulates. However, we humans are causing the disruption of these regulatory and equilibrium systems. Each tenth of a degree has a substantial influence. So, we need to be careful and truly realize that the increase from 1.1 degrees to 1.5 degrees, where we are now, has very serious consequences.
CZ – And tell me, was this your first COP?
MC – Yes, it was my first in-person COP. I had covered other COPs remotely from the newsroom in Bogotá, where France 24 in Spanish is located. But it was the first time I attended a COP in person.
CZ – Well, for those who haven’t had the opportunity to attend these events, help me paint a picture and describe how the experience was for you.
MC – As a first-time attendee at COP, I would describe it as overwhelming. There are so many things happening at the same time. We usually focus on the Leaders’ Summit, which takes place during the first three days and involves heads of state and government. It’s the part that receives the most publicity, especially from the media. But apart from these high-level events, there are many other activities taking place—meetings, panel discussions—where a wide range of topics are being discussed simultaneously. So, it was a bit frustrating not being able to be everywhere at the same time and fully absorb everything that was being said. There were discussions on migration and climate change, the role of cities in addressing and reversing climate change, transportation, energy, youth involvement, and so much more. It’s a fascinating environment because you encounter people from all corners of the planet, and you realize the beauty of the diversity in cultures, clothing styles, and ways of interacting. It’s not just an environmental summit; for me, it was an entire process, almost like a sociological experiment, seeing how we all came together in one place with a shared objective and desire, which may or may not have been fully achieved, but we were all there for a common cause.
CZ – Absolutely. And what you’re saying is very important because it also speaks to the fact that as individuals, societies, and countries, we don’t have to agree on everything to move forward with social projects. What we need to do is identify where we do agree and work towards that. I feel that often the challenges we face, especially in the environmental space, arise when we try to reach agreement on everything before making progress. And what you’re mentioning is an example of that, seeing such diverse communities coming together, over 200 countries, and finding something in common. So, how can we work on this issue without necessarily agreeing on other various topics? I believe this should also be taken into account within the movement itself. We don’t have to agree on everything to advance these issues, and we can make progress starting from where we currently stand.
MC – Absolutely, and that’s where commitment comes in—commitment to achieving agreement on certain issues to move forward. Because it’s true, it’s very difficult to agree on everything. It’s impossible. The people who were there trying to make decisions and take action come from very different backgrounds, cultures, and economic positions in this world, with very different impacts in terms of climate change. So, we need to find points of agreement and move forward on those, while also working on smoothing out differences and reducing areas of disagreement.
CZ – Absolutely. I always say that it’s challenging enough to reach agreement within one’s own family, where you’ve grown up together your whole life, and even then, there are challenges. Now imagine trying to reach agreement with individuals from completely different realities, with different needs, interests, and challenges. It’s truly much more complicated. From that perspective, it also makes me think about the complexity of these spaces when we talk at the national level, bringing together nations with such different realities and particular needs, and trying to find common ground and reach agreements. Is that a challenging and arduous process?
MC – Absolutely. And sometimes one might wonder, why don’t they make more decisive decisions? But it’s true that we have to realize, as we were saying earlier, that it’s very difficult. There are so many conflicting interests and diverse political positions and worldviews that any progress, in truth, is an achievement. Sometimes it’s frustrating to have to hold onto these small victories, so to speak, and “settle” for them. But when viewed from a global perspective, it’s an accomplishment to have agreements come out of these types of summits.
CZ – And speaking of agreements, from your perspective and experience, what were the most important agreements to come out of COP26?
CM – Well, let’s see. The biggest achievement was the mention, for the first time in an environmental text coming out of a UN conference, of the need to move away from fossil fuels. It’s true that in the end, the mention is only regarding coal, and the other fossil fuels are mentioned in terms of inefficient subsidies, which is a whole other conversation. However, the fact that it was included in the final decision and the final text, even if the language was softer than many of us would have liked, is the greatest achievement for me. Of course, there were many other agreements that came out that were not necessarily part of the official COP26 agenda. I believe one notable agreement was the one where over 100 countries committed to reducing their methane emissions by 30% by 2030. If countries truly fulfill this promise or commitment they made by signing this agreement, it would have a short-term impact because methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, even more potent than the commonly discussed carbon dioxide, although it has a shorter lifespan in the atmosphere. So, reducing methane emissions would result in a faster dissipation from the atmosphere, and the immediate effect of methane on warming the atmosphere would be more noticeable. I think it’s a good step forward.
Once again, all of this, all these agreements, commitments, and promises depend on the signatories actually following through. That’s a bit frustrating with these types of agreements, as they are not legally binding. The Paris Agreement is, but these parallel agreements that have emerged from COP26, like the one I mentioned on methane, and another one on deforestation to reduce or reverse deforestation and soil degradation by 2030, involve countries like China, Brazil, Indonesia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, which are countries with vast tropical forests, crucial for the health of the planet. Everything depends on their implementation, so we have to hope that the word of these leaders holds true, right? It also revealed a crisis of credibility among governments because many people wanted this to be the COP of decisions, the COP of concrete actions, but in the end, economic interests often hold more sway.
CZ – It carries more weight, and that’s an important point because I believe that the message we’re receiving from COP, which may not be as positive in some spaces, is also based on the expectations we had going into it, like ending the era of coal. It’s clear that we have to do it.
CM – Yes, the science is clear.
CZ – Yes, exactly. Science is unequivocal, and there’s no turning back. Implementing that transition, when, as you mentioned, the word “coal” had never even been part of these processes before, was a high bar to set. The finance and money aspect also came with expectations of securing $100 billion for developing countries. But since it wasn’t achieved, I think there’s also a sense that not enough is being done. And, of course, in reality, not enough is being done.
MC – With the added ingredient that we had been waiting for this COP for two years, as it should have taken place last year but was canceled due to the pandemic. So, they had two years to prepare and to understand that they had to do this. Politicians should realize that, right? And that’s a bit frustrating because once again, they keep leaving things pending for the next year, for another moment.
CZ – What I feel with this sensation is that definitely what we discussed initially is so complex, reaching those agreements at the national level is difficult. I think if we want to make progress, the work must increasingly be sub-national, equipping cities, counties, and departments so that those that are already developed can start implementing sustainable practices, but especially for those that are still developing. I know it’s much easier for them to start doing it in a sustainable way, and I think those conversations, while still complex, are easier than having national conversations. When you mention that there are so many interests involved, it’s clear that everyone knows what needs to be done, but we don’t do it because of the interests, money, and corporations involved. There are agreements that prevent that from happening. So, yes, what I felt is that important things have progressed, but I don’t think we’re doing what needs to be done at the speed it should be done. However, it also becomes clear where the focus should increasingly be and the opportunities we have in these spaces. You mentioned something about binding agreements, the Paris Agreement. Tell us a little about that because there has always been some room to discuss and clarify that the agreement was non-binding, and now it’s going to be truly binding starting in 2022, right?
MC – In 2020, the implementation of the Paris Agreement began. That was the importance of COP26, as it marked five years since the Paris Agreement came into effect, and it was when countries had to submit their emission reduction plans, something that they are supposed to do every five years as per the Paris Agreement. In 2020, they had to deliver these emission reduction plans for the first time, and now, in COP26, it was decided that countries will also have to submit new emission reduction plans next year in Egypt. This is something new, I mean, the language in the final texts of these conferences is so complicated that it makes it difficult for everyone to understand. It’s a very complex process with subcommittees, and even for us who are involved and trying to stay informed about everything that is happening, it’s very difficult to truly understand everything that goes on within those final negotiations. But the language in the final text states that the COP presidency requests countries to submit new national emission reduction plans in 2022. So, next year, with just a one-year difference instead of every five years, which is a one-time exception. In other words, it won’t be repeated every year, but they made this exception for this year and the next. Because the idea of submitting new plans every year was something that the countries most affected by climate change were pushing for but didn’t ultimately make it into the final text. So, it’s been a small concession in this text for countries to submit these revised and more ambitious plans, meaning plans with higher percentages of emission reduction. But it’s not something that will be permanent from what I understand. And yes, exactly, the Paris Agreement was legally binding in terms of countries having to submit these emission reduction plans, but it leaves a lot of room for loopholes.
CZ – And now, who is going to monitor that? Will the UNFCCC be the one saying who did and who didn’t do this? I think it’s not clear.
MC – Honestly, you caught me off guard. I’m not entirely sure either, but in principle, I believe it’s within the framework of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). It’s like leaving it up to each country, but the UN entity responsible for the COPs will be reminding countries that they have to submit these plans.
CZ – There’s a kind of gray area there. That’s what I also feel. Why is this topic important to you? Because clearly, this is a topic that you have championed and it’s part of your DNA. And why should it be an important topic for the rest of the citizens as well?
MC – It’s not that it’s important to me, it’s that it’s the most important. I mean, I truly feel that we’re not aware of the importance of all of us being conscious of it. The impact that each one of us as humans has on this home that welcomes us for a certain number of years. We have only one life. This planet was created in a perfect way, with a symbiosis of creatures, ecosystems, and elements that function perfectly, and we are the ones who are disrupting everything. So, I also feel that those of us who live in cities tend to forget that we live in a natural world because our surroundings, everything is built, and if there are some trees, there are occasional birds, but I feel that we forget a bit that everything we eat, everything we do, everything we buy, every time we turn on the light and pay for it, it all comes from somewhere. It all goes somewhere. Waste, for example, is an extremely difficult and important issue that has a strong impact on methane emissions and pollution of water sources. Well, it’s a very broad topic that encompasses many things, and I feel that we are very disconnected from that natural world, which is so important. So, I’m deviating a bit from the question, but it’s important to me because I feel that the environment, the environmental issue, caring for it, and making it visible, and people understanding its importance, encompasses all aspects of life, really. Things like everything we do from the moment we wake up until we go back to sleep depends on us having a healthy planet. And I believe that in cities, perhaps we feel the impacts less, but for people living in the countryside who grow the food we eat, we wouldn’t have it without them. I mean, I’m absolutely useless, I couldn’t plant and grow my own lettuce. I depend on someone who knows how to do it and brings it to me. It’s like there’s a real disconnection in that sense, and we’re increasingly creating a more urbanized world without being aware of the importance of that connection with the Earth. So, it’s like everything is interconnected. The clothes we wear have their impact. So, understanding a bit about those cycles of use, reuse, and discard.
CZ – Of course, following along that line, the feeling… I reached a moment of clarity where I realized that what was missing in this space, which is so, so rational, and its solutions are equally rational: let’s structure this better, let’s introduce innovation, let’s create processes, and I think that, although that is necessary, at the same time, we’re not addressing another space that is very much needed, which is the space of feelings, of how we perceive this problem. Because that’s at the core of all this mess. How we perceive our Earth, how we perceive ourselves, our relationships. And I believe that space has to be there as a central part, and it’s currently not there. So, from the work we do in the organization, which is very focused on that space, I think that now, as you mention it, I can integrate that part that I felt was missing from this conversation. Those conversations need to be there because if we don’t talk about how we are, how we perceive the problem as human beings, how we relate to this problem, we’re not solving the problem, we’re just covering it up. But until we put in the work in that space of human behavior, we’ll always be trying to reach the problem and we won’t be able to move forward. That’s what I feel, and for example, when one spoke with, I don’t know if you had the opportunity to speak with the different indigenous representatives who were there, these communities have a clear understanding, the approach to work and what needs to be done, and I think they bring a very important voice, but that voice and that approach and way of working are still not present in these large structures.
MC – The problem is that in the end, those who are normally in those final negotiations are not them, they’re not the ones on the frontlines defending the Earth, and that’s something they were also demanding, right? That there was a lack of real representation of those affected. The same happened with young people. Obviously, in the end, the world revolves around money, the society we are living in, and our political system is based on money, and I don’t think we realize the monetary value, honestly, the value of money that natural resources have, not through their exploitation but through their conservation. We need to see that’s where the disconnection and opportunity lie. Realize that protecting them will give us much more economic value in return than what we gain from extracting, exploiting, and deforesting land.
CZ – And that argument is getting stronger in those spaces, although it also perpetuates the same perspective, right? Because although it’s a good way to present the case in these spheres where discussions revolve around profit and cost, at the same time, it still positions the Earth in that way, as a resource that is there, and although that is valid, now we also have to add that other layer. Yes, it’s a resource, but maybe it’s not about us. The thing is, we are not separate from this issue!
MC – No, the thing is, planet Earth will survive. It’s us who won’t survive the changes we’re causing, honestly. In the end, it’s about our own survival. The planet Earth as such, as an entity, will continue. It could become a completely uninhabitable planet, with temperatures of, I don’t know, 70 degrees Celsius during the day, and we may not be able to survive, but the planetary system will endure. Look at Mercury, a super-hot planet without life, and other planets we know of that used to have forms of life, but those planets changed and became inhospitable for any type of life as we know it.
CZ – We’ve talked a bit about everything, about you, about the COP, about the important outcomes that did come out of it. I do believe that important things emerged, and I think we need to continue. Now more than ever, I believe we need the voices of everyone. We need everyone to be part of this solution, not just because it benefits all of us and interests us all, but also because we need that diversity of ideas, thoughts, and interests that truly bring holistic solutions to these problems. And that can only happen when we involve a diverse range of citizens. I imagine you get asked a lot, “What can I do?” I get asked that quite often too. What do you respond to that?
MC – Lo que respondo es que todo importa. A veces pensamos que nuestras acciones individuales no tienen impacto, pero cada pequeña acción cuenta. Desde cambios en nuestros hábitos de consumo y reducir nuestra huella de carbono personal, hasta involucrarnos en actividades y movimientos colectivos que promuevan cambios a nivel sistémico. Educarnos y concienciarnos sobre el problema, compartir información y difundir el mensaje también son acciones importantes. No hay una sola respuesta, sino que se trata de sumar esfuerzos y trabajar juntos hacia un objetivo común. Cada uno puede hacer su parte, y cuando nos unimos, tenemos el potencial de lograr un cambio significativo.
MC – The first thing is to educate ourselves and have the desire to take action. It has to start from within us. It’s a mindset shift, becoming aware that some of the things we can do or should do require a “small sacrifice” in our consumption habits. For example, reducing our consumption is one of the first things we can do. Being more conscious of what we eat, not necessarily becoming vegetarian or vegan, but each person deciding what they want to eat. However, we can choose food from local sources, for instance, that have a lower environmental footprint. By that, I mean food that hasn’t traveled thousands of kilometers by plane or boat to reach our plate. All those kilometers, all that transportation behind an apple, contribute to its footprint. So, if there are no apples available in your country, then eat the fruits that are in season. Obviously, this requires effort from us. It’s a mindset change, getting accustomed to and adapting to what is in season and what is not. But I believe that the first and most impactful thing we can do is change our consumption habits. Reusing items more, shopping at thrift stores, repairing things that are broken. Sometimes it’s challenging to find stores that can fix damaged items, and it can even be more expensive than buying new ones. That’s the downside. Saying no when offered a plastic straw.
Saying no when offered a drink in a plastic cup are small gestures, but I believe that in the end, it often comes down to our consumption habits. Ultimately, I think that is the biggest sacrifice that could be asked of us. But in reality, it’s easy.
CZ – It’s about wanting to change and how we relate to our way of living, to the food available. Aligning ourselves with the cycles of the Earth, just like all living beings do, except for us. Starting to align ourselves with that, starting to connect with what the Earth produces all around us, and living based on that, is truly, even though, as you said, they are small things. I am a firm believer that, on one hand, it’s crystal clear that if we don’t change our behavior patterns as individuals, this won’t be resolved. That’s very clear. But on the other hand, I am convinced that if those are the first steps you take, because that’s how you begin to integrate this process, right? You can’t ask someone to do something if you’re not doing anything. That’s where the exploration starts, and if you’re not on that path, what’s the point? It’s a very practical way to start understanding. You all have heard Marina, it’s crystal clear. We have to change how we consume, we have to educate ourselves. We have to use our money to support companies that are truly sustainable, that align with the planetary boundaries and are sustainable, basically because, at the end of the day, we have the power of purchase, and that determines what rises and what doesn’t.
MC – And also be aware that those small steps do matter. I know many people who say, “But if I don’t buy this plastic Coca-Cola bottle, it won’t change anything.” But it does change something. One less bottle, and if we all think the same way, there would be eight billion fewer bottles.
CZ – Exactly. I believe that the power lies in numbers, and it starts with one. Change has to start with one. If you’re not willing to start with yourself, then what are we playing at?
MC – And voting is very important, voting wisely. Because in the end, no matter how many decisions we make individually, those who have the decision-making power in these high-level climate summits are the representatives we elect. Democracy serves that purpose, and in countries where it exists, we should use it and be aware that it also has a significant influence.
CZ – Well, yes, absolutely. I think this is a good moment to wrap up with these three messages: educate yourself, work on reducing consumption patterns, and vote. I believe that if every citizen exercises these three actions to some extent, we would truly be in a different place, and we would start changing things from within, not necessarily from outside in, as it sometimes seems. Thank you so much, Marina, for your time, your work, and your commitment to this issue. Communication plays a vital role in this, and the role you and many others have is crucial. How we communicate this topic in a way that is digestible and continuous to inform communities is truly invaluable. So, you are a gem, and I feel very happy to be here with you and with all the people who are listening. Thank you.
MC – Thank you very much to you for the work you do through Sachamama to bring visibility to this issue. And as you rightly said, there is a lack of information, especially in Spanish. That, I think, is also my greatest motivation for doing this, so that people can receive and have this information in their language, right? So, it’s essential.
CZ – You said it, it’s essential. Information is the beginning of everything. Education is the beginning of everything. That’s where those processes of change start. To all those who are with us, thank you very much. This has been another one of our conversations on SachamamaTalks. See you next month, on the last Wednesday of each month.