COP26 – a personal view

Silvia Maria Gonzales Global Communications Officer at Practical Action 30th November 2021

In Nepal, Practical Action works with farmers in field schools to teach them how to adapt better to their changing climate. Photo credit: Practical Action

Practical Action was given official observer status at the recent COP26 talks in Glasgow. We asked Silvia Maria Gonzales, their global communications officer, who is based in Lima, to write about the experience of attending her first climate change talks.

COP26 had been identified as one of our key moments of the year and our approach to it was discussed in numerous videocalls, emails and chats. Our strict national Covid19 restrictions made this the only way to communicate and engage with colleagues, so I had a real sense of excitement and freedom when I jumped onto a plane, got through 7 days of quarantine (Peru was one of the last countries on the UK Red List) and finally got on a train, and headed for Glasgow

This was my first time at the climate talks and my first time in the UK. So, as the world watched to see if commitments would be agreed upon and paths to action set, I prepared to link up all the experience from around a dozen Practical Action experts who attended COP26 and the transformative work that happens in our country offices, with a sense of uncontrollable excitement that only a Covid pandemic-style isolation can bring.

COP26 was a litmus test for Practical Action

The talks felt like a litmus test – both for me personally and for Practical Action as a whole. I knew we all needed to ace it if we were to get the results that the communities we work with really need, take Practical Action’s approaches and learnings to scale, and ultimately prove to ourselves our strength as global connectors.

Thousands of security staff and police officers lined the Glaswegian streets, climate protests erupted almost every day, UK news was dominated by the major announcements being made, and walking through the hallways was always an opportunity to spot VIPs meeting people from all parts of the world.

Time for a reality check

This excitement, though, needed a reality check. We, as an NGO, were observers of this process, but like most members of civil society and indigenous peoples, we were left outside the negotiating rooms. Although that made sense from a COVID perspective, these restrictions threaten the legitimacy of the summit outcomes.

It was also a reality check for what I could deliver to spark engagement. To follow the complex negotiations on a single topic and be able to keep up with the jargon and the different versions of the agreements, I would have needed to dedicate my entire job to COP throughout the year.

Fortunately, I had the incredible support of my COP-seasoned colleagues, who were part of their national government delegations in Nepal and Zimbabwe, set on contributing to the debate about Loss and Damage, Regenerative Agriculture and a Just Transition.

Another guiding light in this sea of talks was the Climate Action Network – CAN. Their daily meetings, media monitoring and exchange of information allowed me to frame all that was happening more broadly.

In the cloud forests of San Jose de Lourdes in Peru, coffee farmer Neymita and her husband are reversing the deforestation that has plagued the area for decades. Photo credit: Practical Action


What did Practical Action hope to achieve at COP?

For many countries and communities, dealing with the profound impact of climate change is the reality. That’s the case for all of the communities Practical Action works with.

COP allows us to bring our grassroots approach onto a global stage. It was crucial for us to share the fact that there are real people at the heart of all these complex dialogues and negotiations.

On the one hand, people are already facing the deepest impact of extreme climate events, losing their lives and livelihoods. But on the other hand, these same people are already miles ahead of their leaders – adapting, leading change and mobilising their communities and providing a thriving future for themselves and their neighbours.

We attended COP to amplify the voices of these people and our experts provided advice to country delegations to help them emphasise the impact of climate change and some of the adaptations and approaches that are available to help people cope.

Our specialists from Nepal, Zimbabwe, Peru and the UK provided evidence, participated in events and had conversations with donors, both in the publicly-accessible green zone and the delegates-only blue zone.

Was COP a success?

It is fair to say that our expectations weren’t met. Fossil fuel cuts, Loss and Damage funding, keeping the 1.5 degree target alive, and other crucial aspects needed more action and commitment. But all isn’t lost. World leaders did make commitments and showed signs of movement and will now have to meet these, pushing for faster action on fossil fuels, reforestation and adaptation. And the work plan for the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform provides hope that it will have local needs at its heart.

This hope, grounded on the strength and passion of the communities we work with, will fuel our goals. For me, it confirmed that our approach at Practical Action is needed now more than ever. And to achieve change, we will have to work together, making sure these needs and stories of successful adaptation reach as many people as possible.

Silvia Maria Gonzales is Practical Action’s Global Communications Officer.

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