Essay | COP26: We need more cross-cultural, cross-sectoral collaboration

The author, Francesca Edralin, stands before the COP26 sign in Glasgow. (Image courtesy Francesca Edralin)

For the past few weeks, the topic of COP26 has taken over media headlines, political debates, and civil protests alike. The world has watched Glasgow closely, and thanks to Planet Forward, I had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to experience COP26 firsthand. In the span of 2.5 jam-packed days, I tried to experience COP26 from as many viewpoints as possible — from the Blue Zone to the Green Zone to the fiery protests on the streets. Despite all advocating for the same issue of climate change, I noticed that the energies and objectives of each space were actually quite different.

The Blue Zone

The host of official UN negotiations, the Blue Zone was packed with high-level panels, press conferences, and delegation meetings. While I could not access the highest-level negotiations, I was constantly in awe of all of the government officials, reporters, and activists from around the world that surrounded me. Everyone there seemed to be on a mission, representing the interests of their respective organizations and constituents. One of my most memorable encounters was attending the U.S. Congressional Delegation’s Press Conference, where both Senate and House members spoke about their takeaways and action steps from the conference. Since the press conference was quite small, I found myself only standing a few feet away from some of the most influential politicians in Congress. After the press conference, I even sucked up the courage to talk to Georgia Sen. Jon Ossoff, who gave a powerful message on taking drastic climate action on behalf of young people. He was incredibly attentive to what I had to say, and even delivered a message to young people on my phone (that I posted on my Planet Forward Instagram takeover).

Another highlight in the Blue Zone was getting the chance to hear from Indigenous leaders, whose voices are crucial in climate conversations. There was one speaker in particular I was overjoyed to see on the mainstage: Levi Sucre Romero, a leader of the Bribri peoples and coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests. I had the chance to interview and write about Levi’s work for an Planet Forward-hosted internship at Mongabay last year, and so it was the best surprise to see Levi speaking to thousands about the importance of Indigenous knowledge and leadership in climate solutions.

Bribri leader Levi Sucre Romero speaks at a plenary session on nature and land use, particularly in relation to the Paris goals. (Photos by Francesca Edralin/George Washington University)

The Green Zone

While the Blue Zone hosts high-level negotiations and world leaders, the Green Zone is open to the public and attracts families, students, and nonprofits alike. Despite the Blue Zone getting the majority of media attention, the Green Zone was still packed with fascinating events and exhibitions. In the Green Zone, I attended panels on Indigenous environmental art and storytelling, watched an IMAX film that took viewers into space, and even experienced climate films through a virtual reality simulation. To me, the Green Zone was equally as enriching as the Blue Zone. While no official climate negotiations took place there, the Green Zone’s programming still plays a key role in enriching the public and nonprofessionals on important environmental conservations and making climate action more widely accessible.
 

The streets

Outside of the official Blue and Green Zones, there was also so much energy and chaos taking place just on the streets. Protesters lined Glasgow’s city square and streets all weekend, with famous climate activists such as Greta Thunberg and Vanessa Nakate delivering speeches at rallies. The train and bus lines in Glasgow were even packed with protesters from around the world eagerly holding up posters and signs. There is an unmatchable energy at protests that make the climate movement feel so powerful and unifying, and to participate in these protests right outside the COP26 doors was truly unforgettable. 

Protesters in Glasgow line the streets and hold up a “No Future in Fossil Fuels” banner.

The need for more collaboration

Experiencing COP26’s Blue Zone, Green Zone, and outside protests provided me a holistic perspective on COP26 and the different stakeholders involved. With so many interests at play, it becomes so difficult to reconcile the needs of all stakeholders at large-scale climate discussions. While switching between different zones, I noticed that diplomatic, high-level climate negotiations in the Blue Zone could not have felt more different than the passionate, fiery protests on the streets. In a similar sense, representatives from Global South and Indigenous communities feel a far greater urgency for climate action than those from Western nations, especially seeing more drastic effects of climate change firsthand that threaten their livelihoods. There is also a disconnect between younger and older generations, as young people oftentimes are most concerned about climate change since they inherently will have to deal with its impacts most in their lifetime. 

As a result, various stakeholders tend to work on climate issues in isolated spaces, perpetuating environmental echo chambers. However, what the climate crisis needs most is more cross-cultural and cross-sectoral collaboration, since climate change impacts us all. Attending COP26 amplified this disconnect to me, and thus I want to be a builder of bridges and help foster more collaborations among the various stakeholders working on the climate crisis. And I am certain that truthful, innovative storytelling plays a key role in this.

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