After two weeks of deliberations, speeches and massive protests, representatives of nearly 200 nations at the U.N. Climate Summit in Glasgow hammered out an agreement that for the first-time targeted fossil fuels as the key driver of global warming, even as several governments watered down the final text on the need to phase out the use of coal. While the agreement resolved rules around carbon markets, it did little to ease the frustration of countries who pushed for long-promised climate financing from wealthier nations.
Other commitments made in Glasgow included a U.S., E.U.-led pledge by over 100 countries to slash methane emissions by 30 per cent by 2030, and 100 world leaders promised to end deforestation by 2030. These and other steps were taken in an attempt to honor the Paris climate agreement’s goal of keeping the rise in global temperature below 1.5°C of pre-industrial levels.
At the conclusion of the conference, U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres warned that the commitments made in Glasgow were not enough, asserting that “Our fragile planet is hanging by a thread.” Bill McKibben, a founder of the global climate group 350.org, observed that to the extent there was any progress in Glasgow, it was thanks to the “perseverance and creativity” of young climate activists. Between The Lines’ Scott Harris spoke with Delger Erdenesanaa, a reporter with Inside Climate News, who profiles some of the young activists who came to Glasgow to make their voices heard.
DELGER ERDENESANAA: We thought it was really important to talk with people from all over the world because this is a global issue and we wanted to have people, you know, give their perspective. People coming from both developing and developed countries from regions of the world that are experiencing different kinds of climate impacts and so everyone brought a different perspective to the story. But I think there are also a lot that they had in common.
Like, you know, a lot of these young people have just made huge sacrifices to dedicate their whole lives, basically, to the climate movement. You know, I talked to this one day John Bonifacio from the Philippines, who was in medical school when he first started, learning about climate change and when he realized when he saw what was happening in the Philippines and realized, you know, if it’s this bad already with like more intense cyclones and typhoons hitting the country and sea level rise starting to happen, you know, I think a lot of young people like him had just within their own short lifetime seen a lot of climate change happen already.
And if that happened just in the past ten, 20 years, they’re looking at the rest of their lives and going like, Oh my God, how much worse is going to happen, you know? And so, John, he dropped out of medical school to become a climate activist full time, and so did this young activists from Russia that I talked to. He was a very promising young violinist. He was planning to go abroad, perform internationally. But yeah, they all just thought that this is such an important issue that they sort of don’t have a choice but to dedicate themselves to working on it.
So I talked to one activist, Mulindwa Moses, who lives in Uganda. His path to climate activism was as a college student and he was traveling around the country. And in 2018, he traveled to region of Uganda, called the Bududa which had had these massive floods and landslides because rainfall in the region is becoming just so much more unpredictable because of climate change, you never have these long periods of drought, followed by short, really intense rainstorms. And so while he was traveling, he met this young teenager who had lost both of her parents to floods and landslides, and she was sort of left on her own to care for her younger siblings by herself. And you know, a lot of these activists have stories like that of seeing other young people in their countries affected in in these really immediate (inaudible), already.
SCOTT HARRIS: Delger, I thought it might be instructive for our audience to briefly summarize what came out of Cop 26, what came out of the U.N. climate summit in Scotland? Given there was a lot of frustration among the activists there on decades of meetings of these international representatives that really haven’t made much headway at all in terms of binding goals to limit greenhouse gases and carbon emissions and the production and use of fossil fuels. From your point of view, as you followed events in Scotland, what was and was not accomplished there?
DELGER ERDENESANAA: To be honest, I don’t think there was a whole lot in the agreement they reached that’s not new. Again, the point of these COP meetings every year, and the agreements that come out of them is really to implement what countries already agreed to, especially in 2015 with the Big Paris Climate Agreement and the overarching goal of that is to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius and ideally to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Yeah, in order to do that, most experts agree we have to cut our greenhouse gas emissions in half by 2030 and cut them completely by 2050. And that’s sort of the big goal that these young activists are laser-focused on. Yeah, I think as a whole, they were pretty disappointed with the agreement that came out of COP26.
You know, the agreement also included some very weak language on fossil fuels. They said, you know, we need to phase down our use of coal, not phase it out completely. So that means countries will still continue to use coal, which is the most polluting fossil fuel for some years to come.
Young activists were also calling for compensation for the losses and damages that developing countries have already suffered as a result of climate change. And this agreement that came out of the meeting in Glasgow basically said, “We’ll talk about it,” but it didn’t create any sort of requirement for wealthier countries to hand over that money.
I think those were sort of the two biggest things that activists were disappointed by.
SCOTT HARRIS: Well, Delger, as we draw to a close of our conversation, I did want to ask you, what’s your sense of optimism among the young people you spoke with who were front and center in terms of their activism on climate change in Glasgow, Scotland? Are they optimistic about the future?
DELGER ERDENESANAA: Not really, to be honest. And I think, you know, when I was interviewing them, yeah, a lot of them sort of expressed a sense of frustration and annoyance that older people keep asking them about optimism and about hope, when really they feel like this issue is not being addressed. You know, they don’t see a lot of progress. I think the only thing that there’s been a little bit of optimism is there is a community that has been able to find with each other and sort of see just how many young people are getting involved in the climate movement.
Otherwise, yeah, optimism is not really the word I would use to describe the mood of the youth climate movement.
For more information on Inside Climate News, visit insideclimatenews.org.