By Zuzanna Soltysiak and Emma Carter
With wildfires raging around the world and floods taking lives in Europe and Asia, the IPCCC released its recent report with a clear message: human activity is causing climate change and we need a major and systemic change to the way we live to protect our shared climate.
As two students based in the School of Life and Health Sciences at Roehampton, we were excited to be invited to the Model COP26 event in July this year ahead of the global talks taking place in Glasgow in the autumn. The event aimed to provide students such as ourselves, who are interested in combating climate change and making their voices heard, an insight into how negotiations are conducted. It encouraged us to speak up and put our ideas on the table, whilst learning about how major decisions regarding the constantly changing climate are made on the global scale. It gave graduate students a chance to represent different countries and organisations, and negotiate over given resolutions with other student representatives and experts in the field.
COP26 is the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will be taking place this time in Glasgow from the 31st of October to the 12th of November. Over 200 countries, NGO’s, businesses and faith groups are present at the event to negotiate numerous resolutions and policies that will aim to deal with climate change. Key findings from reports such as the recently released IPCC report, are presented to policymakers during these conferences. The report includes critical evidence on the current state of the climate consisting of factors like: greenhouse gas emission, global surface temperature, human-caused surface temperature increase, increase in rainfall, global glacier retreat as well as rising and warming oceans. All of which must be considered by policy makers and negotiators when making crucial decisions on how to combat the climate crisis.
Each student was allocated as a negotiating member of the following countries and organisations: Royal Dutch Shell, UNHCR, People’s Republic of China, Federative Republic of Brazil, AOSIS (Association of Small Islands States), Greenpeace, IWGIA, IMF, Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, United States of America, United Kingdom and the Kingdom of Sweden. Emma became part of the negotiating team for the UK and Zuzana became part of the negotiating team for the IWGIA (International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs). We each received a letter from the organisation we were representing, informing us of what the main aims were and what factors around climate change they wished for us to prioritise.
(Zuzanna) As part of the IWGIA delegation one of our main priorities was to make sure that indigenous people are heard and included in the climate action. For me being a member of this team it was also important for me to convey the importance of protecting natural areas to prevent further ecosystem loss and encouraging working alongside indigenous communities to conserve these areas. Another concern was moving away from industrial agriculture as it was responsible for destroying manyindigenous habitats.
(Emma) I was representing the UK who were the hosts of this negotiation. From my point of view it was really important to join everyone as a connecting force and bring countries together to combat climate change. That meant that we needed countries and organisations to take responsibility for their own actions and minimise their carbon emissions. It was our opportunity to reshape global policies for the better of our health, economy and the environment.
To make the day more realistic – and to add to the jeopardy – we carried out an ‘as real’ negotiation with just a day to complete it! Before the event we had been presented with either draft resolutions under a number of headings: Scaling up climate finance, achieving net zero emissions, protecting nature, phasing out coal, transitioning to ZEVs, Sustainable food systems, health care and climate refugees. Together we had to agree on action in all these areas.
(Zuzanna) Negotiations for the IWGIA started with our first round of negotiations being with the USA, where we discussed resolutions around transitioning towards sustainable food systems, health care and protecting nature. We agreed that it was of utmost importance to grant protected status to 30% of all natural areas in order to prevent further destruction. However, there was disagreement on working towards a more sustainable food system and away from unsustainable industrialisation and large scale agriculture. As part of the IWGIA, one of our main concerns was that land grabbing for further industrialization was taking land from indigenous communities and therefore, we tried to persuade the United States to vote otherwise. The US however, thought that this goal was unrealistic and that industrial agriculture is necessary for their economy. Our second round was with Brazil and as the IWGIA one of our aims was to negotiate with Brazil as it is home to an immense range of indigenous communities within the Amazon rainforest. These negotiations focused primarily on the protection of natural areas, scaling up climate finance and improving health care systems. We managed to persuade Brazil to consider voting to grant protected status to 30% of all natural areas such as the Amazon, whilst we adjusted our scaling up climate finance to suit their needs. Brazil was hesitant to agree to this as they believed that cutting back the Amazon provided a great income to their country, however we explained that this 30% includes natural areas of key ecological significance in the whole world, meaning that it’s not just the Amazon included. We also addressed that any further deforestation of the Amazon will transform this ecosystem from being a vital carbon sink to a carbon source, which cannot be allowed to happen. In the third round we were negotiating with Sweden, with whom we agreed on most of our resolutions. They disagreed with our choice of resolution for climate finance, however we explained that we changed our choice as it would provide more funding to Non-Annex countries such as Brazil, which if they received would prevent them from further destroying the Amazon. Finally in the last round many countries were eager to negotiate with Brazil and the UK, with the focus on scaling up climate finance and protecting natural areas. After this round commenced it was time to vote for our resolutions.
(Emma) Our day of negotiating began with the IMF (International Monetary Fund) where we discussed how far we would go to protect nature in the UK. This team had more experience than mine and were tough negotiators, which took us by surprise! Our team’s goal for the day was to hold other countries accountable for their contributions to climate change, so when we were put face to face with a significant organisation, there was no escaping their criticisms of us. They encouraged us to look beyond protecting the terrestrial habitats and demanded to know what measures were going to be put in place to protect the coastal habitats and fisheries departments. As this was my area of study, I was ‘fortunate’ enough to be responsible for answering their questions and easing their concerns. Under a mutual final decision to give 30% of protected status to natural areas we agreed that to avoid future destruction of habitats with high importance (such as coastal areas), as a nation, the UK will honour our commitment to prevent and eliminate illegal fishing practices. From a funding perspective, we discussed the option to put into place a broader funding scheme called the Coastal Communities Fund, which works towards relieving the pressures on fisheries and aquaculture sectors, so that fish can be farmed in a more sustainable manner (rather than bulk catching and mass production). Additionally, we discussed the potential for putting more support behind native fish projects, water quality protection and research on our coastline in order to safeguard biodiversity. After I had overcome my initial doubt, both parties agreed that at an environmental scale, these tasks can be easily achieved by working towards the same common goal, reducing carbon emissions.
Throughout the day we also had negotiations with the US, greenpeace, Shell and many other countries and smaller organisations. The conversations were long and intense, and continued beyond my understanding. Even though I felt out of my depth, it was an honour to be invited and have the privilege to listen to other experts in the field that dedicate their lives to combating the climate crisis.
Unfortunately we are unable to reveal the final outcomes that were discussed and voted on from other countries and parties. There are many more discussions to be had and research to be done before our ideas can be put forward as global practises. We hope that the United Nations Climate Change Conference will see similar results, and that our governments and organisations will work together to make the right choices, choices that will be beneficial for the human race as well as all species living on our planet. Until then, we will continue to actively participate in any way we can to overcome this global climate emergency.