Youth Views on the Glasgow UN Climate Change Convention CoP26 Outcomes

By Jona Cordonier Gehring (Winchester College) and Nico Cordonier Gehring (King’s College School)

The COP26 UN Climate Change Conference which was hosted by the UK in partnership with Italy, took place from 31 October to 12 November 2021 in Glasgow. This is the 26th Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), where ‘Parties’ means the countries that have agreed to the UNFCCC, nearly all of which have also ratified the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change. For nearly thirty years, the UN has been bringing together representatives from almost every country on earth – and many other organisations too – for these global climate summits in order to coordinate their efforts to take action on climate change, implementing the commitments and obligations that they have agreed to respect. In this time, the COPs of the UNFCCC developed from a small, specialist event with a few diplomats and scientists from different countries, to a meeting of highest priority and global importance with many heads of state, serious delegations of decision-makers, and thousands of stakeholders including leaders on UN agencies, specialist international organisations, civil society and academic institutions, business – even local government, as well as indigenous nations, women’s networks and – especially – children and youth (the YOUNGOs).

COP26 in Glasgow had some important outcomes. Of high significance, the ‘Paris Rulebook’ of guidelines on how to implement the Paris Agreement is now finally completely agreed, after six years of negotiations. The rules and guidelines will help to make the Paris Agreement, as an international treaty under the UNFCCC, fully operational. The rules for Article 6 of the Paris Agreement, especially, are now agreed, which allows for carbon trading under Article 6.2, and the new ‘sustainable development mechanism’ to generate carbon credits from investments in reducing emissions in a way that supports sustainability under Article 6.4. The rules for monitoring, reporting and verification – transparency under Article 13 – were also crystalised, and the terms of reference for the Paris Agreement Implementation and Compliance Committee (the PAICC) under Article 15, among other important points.

The collection of world leaders’ decisions taken in Glasgow at COP26, the so-called “COP26 Glasgow Climate Pact” contains many good ideas but also a few disappointments. One key question was that a proposed commitment to “out” coal and other fossil fuels was reduced to phasing “down.” While it would surely be stronger to be both ‘down and out,’  the Pact does recognise that “limiting global warming to 1.5 °C requires rapid, deep and sustained reductions in global greenhouse gas emissions, including reducing global carbon dioxide emissions by 45 per cent by 2030 relative to the 2010 level and to net zero around mid-century, as well as deep reductions in other greenhouse gases.” The Pact also underlines “the important role of non-Party stakeholders, including civil society, indigenous peoples, local communities, youth, children, local and regional governments and other stakeholders, in contributing to progress towards the objective of the Convention and the goals of the Paris Agreement” – which is crucial to remind everyone that we all need to work together, globally, to scale up action on climate change fast.

Several important pledges were signed during the COP26, galvanising climate action across many areas of human endeavour. Over 136 countries (as well as hundreds of cities) have now pledged to ensure they become ‘net zero’ emitters, most of them aiming to achieve this by 2050 or before, with over 16 countries including the UK adopting their pledge in law. More than 130 countries have also pledged to halt and reverse deforestation and land degradation by 2030. The signatories cover over 90 percent of the world’s forests. Notably, Brazil, home to the Amazon Rainforest, signed on. Many investors committed to align their lending and their funding with the Paris Agreement, with over 450 managers of over $130 trillion from banks, pension funds and other financiers joining a Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero. A wealthy philanthropist also pledged $2 billion to help restore natural habitats and transform food systems. As another example, 110 countries signed up to the Global Methane Pledge, which aims at reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030 compared with 2020 levels. (Certain large methane emitters such as China, India and Russia did not sign this pledge, and further investment will be needed to bring them on board). Importantly, 23 countries went further than the Glasgow Climate Pact, making new commitments to phase out coal. Many signed on to an initiative to help developing countries, such as India and South Africa, transition away from coal. 25 countries and five financial institutions committed to stop public financing for most fossil fuel projects by the end of 2022. And several countries joined an alliance that aims to halt new drilling for oil and gas. Also during the COP26, in the completely booked-out green zone for public awareness, education and climate change action projects, not only was this journal launched in a special international event engaging young writers and editors from around the world, but also thousands of students and members of the public were able to visit and learn about climate change, and how to take action locally and globally. Further, during the COP26 there were many public protests in the streets about climate change, with some estimating that over 100,000 people took part.

In conclusion, COP26 achieved quite a bit. There were many formal rules decided, to help the UN and countries to advance implementation of the Paris Agreement. There were also many high-level pledges made, which will require a great deal of follow-up and tracking to ensure they are implemented. Thousands were involved in education and awareness raising activities, both in Glasgow and around the world. And thousands more raised their voices together in public protest, calling for the faster and deeper change that is necessary to stop a climate change crisis of epic proportions which could foreclose the rights of all future generations. COP26 was a key milestone in global efforts to tackle climate change – although much more is needed, and the fastest, toughest work is yet to come.

Healthy Fenlands fight climate change

By Thomas Langford

Cambridge, where I live, is a small city amid the East Anglian wetlands in the U.K, known to us as fenlands.

Fenlands are one of the most carbon dense environments on the planet, which, if protected, reduce flooding, support diverse life systems and capture and lock in CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis.

The wet conditions of fenlands stop the plants from fully rotting, trapping CO2 which otherwise would be released into space. Peatlands in general store approximately 3.2 billion tonnes of carbon in the UK. Left undisturbed, they are a carbon sink but farmed they are an immense carbon and methane source.

Research shows that fenlands do not always act as carbon sinks: the fenlands themselves must be maintained as “healthy” fenlands. The National Trust’s Wicken Fen , for example, a local protected fenland, demonstrates within it both a carbon sink and source: one fen, Sedge Fen, is uncultivated and is a carbon sink whereas another, Baker’s Fen, has been farmed disturbing the carbon, releasing CO2 into the atmosphere and making it a carbon source .

To keep unprotected fenlands healthy, they need to be: kept wet (to prevent erosion which releases carbon into the air), to be planted appropriately with, for example, reed and sedge; and for wildlife areas to be created to encourage and protect the ecosystems. It is greatly important to ensure that the water flow in fenlands is free from obstruction. Reducing litter and re-planting the fens are areas with which the community and local councils can help once awareness of the problem has been raised.

There are community organisations which are currently working to promote restoration projects across our county and beyond, such as the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology

The UKCEH is working with the government to monitor CO2 emissions over a 2 -year period resulting from different levels of water within the fenlands. Their work so far indicates that when the water levels are raised, it improves the quality of the soil and cuts back CO2 emissions.

The UK government has compiled a strategic wetland action plan to support the UK’s climate change programme and the EU’s L.I.F.E funding has assisted many wetland restoration projects. Such projects are a cheaper alternative to other methods being used to reduce greenhouse gases and, what is more, have the happy benefit of increasing biodiversity and enhancing the precious wetland ecosystems.

Government action is not enough though: they should be organising more ways to stop climate change, to raise awareness and to financially encourage people to change their habits to support the fenlands. Litter pick-ups are free, for example, but have a big impact on our planet.

Farming practices in fenlands are crucially important in keeping fenlands as carbon sinks. Across East Anglia, soil in the fenlands, when drained, is extremely rich and fertile and so has been heavily farmed for food production – our fen farms produce one third of the fresh vegetables farmed in the UK! .

Traditional farming practices require machines to cut into the land, churning up the earth, destroying the delicate ecosystem of worms and roots and, importantly, releasing CO2 stored within the carbon-rich fenland into the atmosphere.

Some local farmers that I interviewed are instead using the method of cover crops and direct drilling. This entails planting shallow rooted seeds such as clover and winter peas which take nitrogen from the air into the soil and block weeds, then planting the main crops directly into the covered field without ploughing or cultivating the land.

This reduces the need to pass over the field multiple times which would otherwise use a lot of diesel: farmers using this method are reporting a reduction of at least 50% in their diesel usage.

With this method, soil structure is maintained as it is only disturbed at a shallow level, allowing the worms and plant roots to thrive and create healthy soil as well as keeping carbon locked in.

The cover crops reduce the need for chemical fertilisers and provide food for grazing animals such as sheep (who, in turn, provide manure to further fertilise the land).

The farming community need more assistance and incentives for farmers choosing organic and conservation farming methods. Members of the public need to be made more aware so that consumers can choose to buy food from more climate smart, local food providers.

Fenlands are a crucial weapon in this climate war. Our planet has provided the means to heal itself if we take steps to protect them. Please help to spread awareness that fenlands are not just a wonderful place to spend time in but that they are also working hard to undo the damage we are doing to our planet. Small steps taken by individuals can make as much difference as big steps taken by governments.

Youth Must Advocate for Indigenous People, the Most Vulnerable to Climate Change

By Portia Garnons-Williams

Around the world, Indigenous remote communities are living without reliable access to potable water. Lacking even the most basic drinking water infrastructure, Indigenous communities frequently fall victim to water pollution disasters. Such communities are ultimately the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Countries such as Canada have only
recently begun to recognize this climate injustice, and they are doing little about it. Before it is too late, youth must speak out and take action themselves.

Neskantaga, an Indigenous community in Northern Canada, has been living without reliable drinking water for over twenty-five years (Stefanovich 2020). As with many such communities around the globe, Neskantaga’s water crisis stems from settler colonialism and disempowerment of Indigenous people. Appalling governmental withholding of basic sanitation works, combined with unchecked corporate pollution of watersheds, puts the residents of Neskantaga at constant risk of serious illnesses such as influenza, whooping cough, and cancer (Hatline and Wiley 2019). What’s more, climate change will exacerbate the risk of water pollution, further imperilling Neskantaga’s drinking water.

Like Neskantaga, thousands of Indigenous communities around the world find their drinking water threatened by pollution and climate-change. As future leaders, youth will be vital in finding sustainable solutions to address this climate injustice. Young people are the voice of the future. We stand as a constant reminder to adults that they only pass through the land, and
that they must look after it on behalf of the generations to come. We must also push the adult stewards of the Earth to come together to the same table–water polluters, Indigenous people, policy makers and users of water alike–to create the shared understanding and the common goal of protecting the waters of the Earth, so that solutions can be found and the destruction stopped.

In collaboration with global Indigenous communities, youth should advocate for water to become an entity in its own right in law. The Maori have already taken action, demanding that water be treated as a “legal person” under the laws of New Zealand. Their action has been effective, and water now has recognized rights in New Zealand (Macpherson 2019). Implementing this legal concept on a global scale, governments could give watersheds legal standing, and allow the children of the watershed to speak on behalf of the water. Doing so will put water at an equal, if not higher, importance than urban infrastructure, industrial development, and resource harvesting practices that are environmentally unsound.

The youth of the world have no choice but to shoulder the responsibility of advocating for a sustainable future. By leading this crucial discussion, youth can ensure that the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring access to water is met. Youth action can help make reliable and even bountiful supplies of potable water a secure fact of the future, not only for Indigenous communities such as Neskantaga, but for every community on Earth.

Works Cited

Hatline, Sandra, and Wiley, Keith. “LETTER: Clean water is a right for First Nations.” Nelson Star, 19 Mar. 2019, Accessed 19 September 2021.

Macpherson, Elizabeth Jane. “Water Rights for Māori in Aotearoa New Zealand.” Indigenous Water Rights in Law and Regulation: Lessons from Comparative Experience. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2019. 99-130. Print. Cambridge Studies in Law and Society. Accessed 19 September 2021.

Stefanovich, Olivia. “After evacuating twice over tainted water, Neskantaga residents plan their
return home.” CBC, 17 Dec. 2020, Accessed 19 September 2021