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.

Climate Change

By Anisa Daniel-Oniko

Climate change.

Two words as heavy as the weight of the world balanced precariously on the shoulders of Atlas.

Human beings, though Titans we are not, have to balance the health of our world on our fragile shoulders. Tough though it may be.

So in the case of Climate Change, we are Atlas.

But unlike Atlas, we can find and create solutions to lighten our burden ourselves.

One such solution to the pressing issue of climate change is simple.

Another pair of weighty words.

Energy conservation.

Take a moment to think about the energy use in your home. How often do you switch off the lights after you leave a room? After you leave the house? Do you leave your water running constantly as you brush your teeth? How about electricity? Do you use an air conditioner at full blast even when the weather is agreeable enough to lower the scope of its icy powers a bit?

You see, when you think about it, there are a lot of tiny things that contribute to our carbon footprint, and our impact on our world, (And yes, our utility bills).

My mother often says that charity begins at home, and the same is true of actions towards climate change.

Start at home.

The thing about climate action is that each one of our steps matters in the massive carbon footprint of the human race. When we start taking small steps to be eco-friendly at home, it gives more room for bigger events and discussions, such as making the switch to greener energy sources as opposed to fossil fuels.

Perhaps you’ll be okay if you switch off your bedroom lights this once. I know that you will be. You can do it the next time too! You’d also do just fine to swap out those light bulbs with energy-efficient ones while you’re at it. Go on! Nature is proud of you! And I am too.

Contributions of Physics to Global Response to Climate Change

By Jona Cordonier Gehring

Many areas of science are integral to resolving our current climate crisis, and science will be even more crucial in the future. Engineers are starting to help us design more efficient and less polluting transport, biologists and agronomists will have to help us refine our agricultural systems, silviculturalists will help us protect and restore the forests, and chemists will have the important role of creating the technologies that will allow us to the manufacture goods we need while keeping to our carbon commitments. However, physicists are often left out of the equation. 

But the contributions of this area of science to helping us respond to climate change are immense and growing. First of all, many of the technologies we now use to combat climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions were made in physics labs. For example, the interactions between semiconductors that allow solar panels to function. Nuclear energy is another advancement in physics that may help us to change the energy resources we rely on, and while even fourth generation nuclear power isn’t a good solution until it can be made safely without hazardous waste, it is significantly better for our climate then the fossil fuel alternatives. 

However, the most important contributions of physics to addressing the global challenge of climate change isn’t one of these ideas. Rather, it is the fundamental, groundbreaking physics research that has allowed us to begin to understand the scale and scope of the problem itself, and the modelling that has allowed us to predict future climate change scenarios and to begin to uncover how we can prevent our own actions from rendering our future unsurvivable. 
Just this year the Nobel Prize in physics half was awarded to two scientists, Syukuro Manabe and Klaus Hasselmann, ‘for the physical modelling of Earth’s climate, quantifying variability and reliably predicting global warming.’ It is this modelling that has allowed us to have a much clearer understanding on the challenges we face. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), one of the most influential scientific institutions in the 21st century is focused on climate change and largely consists of physicists. But modelling is not the only major contribution that physics will make to solving the issue of climate change.

Nuclear fusion (or fusion power as it is generally known) is a technology that is theorized to produce energy by super heating usually isotopes of hydrogen, deuterium, and tritium (with 1 and 2 neutrons respectively), until they are in a hot enough plasma in order to have their nuclei fuse, releasing helium and producing electricity. The potential is fantastic. One glass of water (the main source of hydrogen through electrolysis) would produce the same amount of energy as burning an entire barrel of oil. Also, there are no harmful levels of radiation. Unfortunately, the technology is still under development as producing conditions similar to the core of the sun, on earth, for a long enough time frame to make it economically viable as a power source, remains a tricky challenge. Progress is being achieved faster then ever, with ground-breaking developments happening internationally, with many large companies and private investors providing funds for development. We could see nuclear fusion to be viable by the end of the decade.This will be too late to contribute significantly to the short-term mitigation plans. However, it will be a massive boon to the long-term solutions and the general future of the energy production.

In short, physics has had an immense impact on climate science, and it will continue to have an ever-increasing roll in this area and in our entire future.

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

Greening our School

By Ella Lovat

I attend primary school in Glasgow, where I am in Primary 4. We learn a lot at our school about the environment and nature, and we all know that it’s important to reduce pollution.

In my class, we do a lot of things to try to be more environmentally friendly. We have litter pickers, whose job is to pick up litter around the playground during breaks, to make sure that all our rubbish goes in the right bin, and doesn’t wind up getting eaten by birds or other animals who may get sick, or flying into the countryside.

Another thing we do is to try to reduce our use of polluting materials. We try not to use too much whiteboard ink, for example, as the pens just go into the bin.

More generally, our teachers all emphasise that we should “recycle, reuse, and reduce” every day, even in the little things.

However, I can still think of a few ways that we could make our school a better, more environmentally friendly place.

One of the ways might be to reduce non-recyclable food packaging, like plastic, during breaks and lunches.

Also, sometimes I don’t want to throw my rubbish into the bin because I worry it won’t be recycled properly, so I hold on to it until I can find a proper recycling bin inside or around school. I think it would be helpful if the school could place more recycling bins around the building, to make it easier for students to make sure that waste is treated properly.

My school is also in the countryside, and has a big, flat roof. That might also mean that the school could put solar panels on the roof to catch sunlight and reduce the need to use electricity from polluting sources. Although there isn’t always that much sun in Glasgow – so perhaps we need to make better solar panels to make better use of the light that there is.

The Importance of the Conservation of Peat Landscapes

By Taanvir Sood

Peat, also known as turf, is an accumulation of partially decayed vegetation or organic matter. In peat landscapes, year-round waterlogged conditions slow the process of plant decomposition to such an extent that dead plants accumulate to form peat. Large amounts of carbon fixed from the environment into plant tissues though photosynthesis is locked away in peat soils. The peatland ecosystem covers 3.7 million square kilometres (1.4 million square miles) and is the most efficient carbon sink on the planet since peatland plants capturing carbon dioxide naturally released from the peat, maintaining a net equilibrium. Peatlands store up to 550 Gigatons of carbon, 42% of all soil carbon despite covering just 3% of the Earth’s land area.

However, peatlands are slowly disappearing. Peatlands are being destroyed because it is being extracted unsustainably from landscapes. Peat is used excessively as fertiliser to nourish plants and is possible to buy large bags of it at retail warehouse stores unchecked and in an unrestricted manner. Peat landscapes are also destroyed to make space for grazing areas for sheep and cows. These already polluting animals increase their carbon emissions further as acres of peatland are destroyed to grow grass for grazing pastures. It is also used to purify water as it removes 99.9% of petroleum and heavy metals from contaminated water. This is due to its hydrophobic properties, allowing to absorb twice as much petroleum per pound than activated carbon. Peat is also known as the forgotten fossil fuel. It is often used for domestic heating purposes, household cooking and even used to produce electricity as an alternative to firewood. However, it is the most damaging fuel in terms of global warming. It has a lower calorific value (meaning it produces less heat) and yet it produces higher carbon dioxide emissions per unit. It is the least climate efficient way to produce electricity, yet it was used extensively in countries such as Ireland. Dried peatlands are also prone to forest fires such as the fire in Indonesia in 2015. This destroyed large areas of animal habitats and generated over 600 million tons of carbon dioxide. These wildfires also contribute significantly to carbon emissions.

Luckily, degraded peatlands can be restored to prevent the further breakdown of stored plant materials. The primary method of restoration involves re-wetting or restoring the natural flow of water and soil saturation. The main challenge however is economic since altering drainage patterns and local hydrogeography can be costly. The technology needed already exists but only 18% of the total mitigation potential for peatland restoration can be implemented at a low cost. Peatland restoration also takes a long time as peat takes at least 100 years to form. However, peatland restoration would prevent the release of 394 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to the 84 million passenger vehicles per year. The restoration of peatland would go a long way in solving the climate change and global warming crisis we are facing and action to save it must be taken now.

“Planting the seeds in a garden you never get to see” 

By Catherine Grammond

Living on campus at Pearson College UWC for the past two years has made me realize that, as youth, our actions have a more significant impact than society has led us to believe. As I first arrived, I realised that no concrete actions were being taken by students or staff members to reduce the ecological impact our community had. A few students and I committed to take matters into our own hands.

One of the main issues on campus had been the improper management of waste. Since the resources to educate students and residents about waste management was not enough to solve the problem, we decided to start our own plastic recycling system and Precious Plastics Pearson College was born. We raised $10,000 CAD to buy the machines that would transform plastic waste into new items such as bowls, which we would then sell, creating a circular economy, with the profits funding other student-led sustainable initiatives.  

What impact did we have? Was it merely a drop in the bucket? But if you want to grow a forest, someone must plant the first tree. However small your idea may be and as local as the impact might be, your actions will eventually have contributed to the broader fight against the climate crisis. 

A bowl made entirely from recycled plastic by the Pearson College Precious Plastics Team

Quote in title by Lin-Manuel Miranda in Hamilton