• Ashoke Mohanraj

Reflections on COP26

UNACTO Director of Programming Ashoke Mohanraj travelled to Glasgow to sit in on COP26 as a climate representative for UNA-Canada. He shared some of his insights about the momentous event.

This year’s Conference of Parties (COP) in Glasgow, Scotland, was the most significant COP since the Paris Agreement, which was ratified in 2015. Other than the overt urgency of the climate crisis, there are two main reasons this summit was so important. First, the United States was back at the table. Second, the COVID-19 pandemic had highlighted the need to ‘build back better’ through a green recovery. To the US climate change envoy John Kerry’s credit, the decisions made at COP26 quite literally shaped the future of humanity. Only time will tell whether those decisions were made for better or for worse.

Supported by the United Nations Association in Canada (UNA-Canada) and Environment and Climate Change Canada, two young climate leaders and I were fortunate enough to attend COP26 as part of Canada’s official delegation. We were provided with the unique opportunity to witness what happens behind the closed doors of the negotiation rooms. I was fortunate enough to sit in on the negotiations on Article 6 which concerns the rules of carbon markets and trading. There are many ways I can describe what went on in that negotiation room, but the best way to contextualize it is to imagine a group of teenagers trying to order a pizza (negotiate an agreement) and each member has specific pizza topping preferences. Some people want pineapple—non-traditional GHG metrics. Some want thin crust—carbon market access for small and medium enterprises. Others do not even want pizza.

Aside from the intense negotiation rooms, COP was a truly unparalleled, and sometimes surreal environment. I found myself in a room with Bill Gates. Soon after, I helped Jagmeet Singh refine his mission statement over lunch (true story). Despite the excitement of meeting leaders from all over the world, it was also a rollercoaster of emotions. On one hand, one felt optimistic about the amount of innovation and finance being funnelled into things like nature-based solutions. On the other, one was faced with realizations like the world will permanently lose some of its most iconic glaciers within one’s lifetime.

Today’s youth in climate spaces are in a precarious position, having to find the right balance between realism and optimism. Radical and urgent changes are needed to stay below the 1.5-degree target, but completely overhauling entire industries cannot happen overnight. The public may not get the chance to directly make the decisions that shape our future, but people do have the power to influence those decisions.

My biggest takeaway from COP26 was that not having a seat at the table does not mean remaining unheard. Much of what transpires at COP is overshadowed by world leaders and their private jets. But behind the scenes, there are young people on the ground leading local climate action, writing letters, mobilizing climate finance, and pushing for more ambitious climate commitments. The next generation will face the brunt of climate change, so it is critical for world leaders to actively include young people in a way that goes past token engagement to ensure that the voices of tomorrow’s leaders are at the table today.

Edited by Ali Shahrukh Pracha