What do we do now? Reflections and lessons from COP26

By Naira Bonilla, Communication Officer, WINGS

 

Our Communication Officer, Naira Bonilla, attended COP26 in Glasgow and shares some of her personal reflections.

 

The world had high expectations for COP26. I had high expectations for COP26 too, and after a week of being surrounded by youth activists, NGO observers, government representatives, and indigenous leaders, I left COP26 equally frustrated and motivated to keep working for social change and climate justice. 

COPs happen every year, but this year, after floods, heatwaves and fires spread across the world, there were greater hopes and importance placed on the two weeks of climate negotiations. At the COP26 in Glasgow, each country had to report on and increase their climate pledges (Nationally Determined Contributions-NDCs) they made five years ago as part of the Paris Agreement. The world was waiting for more ambitious NDCs, promises of phasing-out coal, support for nations already affected by a changing climate and investment in clean energy and adaptation strategies. 

Instead, the Glasgow climate pact mentions a phase-down (not out) of coal and doesn't mention a loss and damage funding mechanism to support countries that are already affected. However, the funds for adaptation doubled, and the pact references the need to take measures to maintain the global temperature well below 2°C of warming with a limit of 1.5°C, reaffirming the Paris Agreement goals. After late-night negotiations and last-minute changes, none of the delegations was entirely happy with the final pact, but they decided it was a good compromise, so it was approved, and the COP was over. 

Now is where the real work starts. One global gathering is not going to provide ready-made solutions for the entire world. So what do we do now? As citizens, decision-makers, and leaders, there are four things we can do to ensure that our planet is livable for decades to come.

See COPs as a starting point. 

The future is not written. COPs are not the end; they are a starting point, a framework that tells us where we should go. So we can't rely on one negotiation to give us all the answers. During the two weeks of COP26, it felt as if the world was waiting for permission to act. But the planet cannot wait, so each sector, community, city, company, organisation needs to start taking action on the climate emergency in whichever way it can, including having difficult conversations if necessary. Countries have the responsibility to create regulations and policies that set us up for success, but philanthropy, businesses, and civil society can also play a significant role in applying these high-level discussions to reflect local realities and thinking, funding and scaling climate action. 

Exploring diverse worldviews

Another key learning I took from COP26 is that everyone relates to the climate crisis differently. The official negotiations of the COPs focus on technical wording and hour-long discussions over one concept, but there are hundreds of other ways to think about the path forward. Glasgow witnessed countless side events, movie screenings, and art installations that touched on everything from the importance of intergenerational climate activism, including arts and the imagination in environmental discussions, and getting inspiration from indigenous practices to imagine a better future. We often forget what other regions, generations, and cultures are doing to address the climate crisis, so taking some time to listen to all the voices gathered at COP sparked in me new ideas for my own work. 

Give power to the people 

People took centre stage at Glasgow. On November 6, after one week of negotiations, more than 100.000 people marched across the city, and thousands joined worldwide. Every day, activists gathered in front of the main convention centre to start conversations with the negotiators, and civil society collectives like Green New Deal Rising and COP Coalition organised free events and gatherings featuring diverse voices and bottom-up solutions. 

Even inside the negotiation venue, on the last official day of the COP26, dozens of NGO observers and country delegates left their seats to march outside and meet other protestors. Youth activists and party delegates alike led chants in English, French and Spanish. The way forward must include these different voices and visions to ensure that people will be at the centre of all climate actions and negotiations to come. 

Strengthen the role of networks 

The protests, discussions, side events and even the negotiations represent the power of networks. When negotiators at COP make alliances, they can get better agreements, and when organisations put their minds to a cause, they can start a movement. This is where philanthropy can have a substantial impact. Philanthropy can support local networks and is connected to global ones; it can position climate change as a priority, listen to the people on the frontline, and share its expertise, time, and money to help find answers. Networks also provide a platform to strategise collectively, so all members work towards common goals. This ability to plan and build on each other’s strengths allows networks to be stronger than the sum of their parts; by agreeing on joint action, change can happen sooner and have a wider reach.

The Philanthropy For Climate movement is an example of a network that wants to unite foundations to take climate action. Hundreds of foundations of all sizes, working on different missions and located across the globe, have agreed that climate change is a transversal issue that concerns us all and we need to take action. By being part of Philanthropy For Climate, these foundations are guided in their climate journey and can receive support from the network. Acting individually is not an option anymore; we need to think and act collectively. 

Addressing the climate emergency seems daunting, and sometimes we might feel powerless. But companies, governments, and organisations are made of people, and people make decisions and imagine better futures. Global meetings like the COP give us a roadmap, but we are not passive spectators; we have the power to take action, even if it is only in our house or our workplace. The climate path we choose today will impact the lives of everyone around us. It’s up to us to listen and work with others to create a livable world for all. 

 


Naira Bonilla, Communication Officer, WINGS

Naira is the Communication Officer at WINGS. She has worked for multiple NGOs leading communication strategies and increasing engagement between different stakeholders in rural and urban areas. She holds a bachelor's degree in International Relations and an MA in Environment, Development and Policy from the University of Sussex. 

This piece is written in her personal capacity.

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