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Radical change is possible

By Christiana Figueres, co-founder of Global Optimism
Icebergs at the end of the Ilulissat Icefjord, western Greenland

This article first appeared in our COP26 issue of My Green Pod Magazine, distributed with The Guardian on 05 November 2021. Click here to subscribe to our digital edition and get each issue delivered straight to your inbox

Last month I travelled to Greenland, one of the places on Earth most exposed to the climate crisis.

It was warmer than London. Millions of pieces of the glacier were floating on open water. Ice was melting into rivers, which I stood beside. The sound may have been identical to that of a calming, babbling brook, but I have never felt so unsettled by the precariousness of our situation.

The word ‘irreversible’, imprinted in my mind after reading the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, hit home in a profound way.

That melting in Greenland, as a consequence of just 1.1ºC of warming, is now unstoppable. It will impact sea level rise and weather patterns globally for generations to come.

The resulting human suffering is already and will continue to be traumatic. No wonder more and more of us are deeply worried about the future.

A simple formula

COP26 must provide a moment of international recognition and solidarity for the very painful context within which we all are working. At the same time, the summit must make clear that governments, investors, companies, cities and communities are even more determined to bring every solution to bear in order to keep alive the goal of 1.5°C as our maximum temperature rise.

We know the mantra: our best chance at achieving this is cutting global emissions in half by 2030, again by 2040 and again by 2050, while actively restoring nature.

It’s a simple formula, but a fiendish challenge because we’re all coming at this from a deeply rooted high-carbon economy and society.

We have never done anything like this before. There is no guarantee that we will succeed, and at the same time we have no other option but to succeed.

Change is possible

We can still stave off the worst. We can still invest in nature, adaptation and resilience. We can still transform all our economic sectors. It won’t be easy, but Covid has taught us that radical change is possible.

However, the frustration many of us feel at the pace of change, which right now is just not fast enough, means many people feel that we will not be able to solve this monumental challenge.

It’s easy to say that it’s too late, that we are in fact not enough, that COP26 will be a failure. How many of us have had these thoughts? In all honesty, none of us is immune; but this crisis of doubt is something we must move through.

Moving beyond blame

Despite our imperfections, human beings are hard-wired both as individuals and collectively to improve our living conditions and to care for each other.

We do have what we need. And we do have the hard-won Paris Agreement.

Right now – this pivotal moment, in which everyone reading this has the privilege to be alive – is when we simply have to get to work and deliver.

What does that mean? First: giving adequate space to the pain, respecting and comforting each other through the grief and loss. Second: moving beyond blame, because time is not on our side, and none of us is perfect. We must press for accountability, of course, but blame will not serve us when all our energy is needed to deliver with the solutions we have at hand. Third: we can no longer wait to double down on the solutions.

We all have agency

We must all assume whatever agency we have, whether we’re a mother worrying about traffic fumes at the school gate or a head of state representing the national interests: we all have agency to contribute to delivery now.

COP26 can deliver progress towards a liveable future. It can and must be a moment for delivering the end of coal. It can and must be a moment for delivering big wins for nature. It can and must capture the spirit of solidarity and courage that we need as we build momentum towards the critical African COP, to be held in Egypt in November 2022.

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