Grassroots and Matthew members represent JCU at one of the most important summits on climate change in Glasgow.
Climate Change Special Edition
By Matilde Pozzato / Matthew staff
From Nov. 4 to Nov. 8, JCU sent a delegation of five students to Glasgow, Scotland, to take part in one of the most important international events on climate change. From Oct. 31 to Nov. 12, Glasgow became the stage of the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP26.
The trip to COP26 was organized by the Student Newspaper Club, which sent three students, and the Grassroots Club, which sent two other students, to represent our university in Glasgow.
One of the students that flew to Glasgow is Grassroots member Eleonora Cammarano, a junior International Affairs major, who was happy to answer my questions about COP26 and share her experience with the team as a delegate to the summit.
What was COP26 about?
This question is more complicated than it sounds, as it is hard to give a precise definition of such a big, important, high-structured event. After the Paris Agreement, COP26 is today the most important global summit about climate change. It can be considered a conference whose goal is to make the Paris Agreement more binding, given that Article 6 of the Agreement is considered too loose and ineffective. The world is finally aware of the emergency of climate change, and now states must seriously commit to solving this problem.
How was the trip planned and scheduled?
We [the students] have been in charge of every aspect of the organization of this trip, which we had to plan with a very short notice, as we weren’t sure we would actually go until the very last minute. After some sleepless nights, we managed to book flights, make accommodations, and file bureaucracy papers, which was the hardest and most difficult part of the trip, especially considering all the extra documents and tests we needed to do because of COVID precautions and regulations. Luckily, we received help from Student Services and from our chaperon Professor Michele Favorite, who gave us logistic tips.
How did you get to the conference?
We purchased passes online and we completed the requested forms to enter the conference. COP26 was structured in many different events one could take part in and we chose which ones we wanted to attend, although some were sold out, so we had to change our schedule last minute and participate in other events, but we were able to choose the one that best suited us, our interest, and our mission in Glasgow.
What activities did you take part in?
The trip to Glasgow was made of three very intense days.
On Nov. 5 we attended two events at the New York Times hub. The first one was about how to close the Say-Do Gap so how to take theories on how to stop climate change and turn them into action. The second one was the screening of the movie, Youth Unstoppable, which tells the story of a young activist. In between these two events, we attended a series of conferences at the University of Glasgow, there we split so as to gather more general information and it was also a great opportunity to make personal connections. We covered topics such as green financing, migration and human rights, and how to net-zero a city, and the new frontiers of climate justice in terms of laws.
The second day was almost entirely spent at the events at the New York Times hub. We listened to conferences and workshops about ethnic minorities’ rights and action, how to raise awareness, and how to communicate the climate crisis in an effective way, one that will bring everybody to actively listen, understand its urgency, and then take action.
The last day was dedicated to the business side of COP26, and many conferences were held about green financing, investments, health, and education issues, all topics that intersect with the climate crisis.
At the young age of 20 you participated in one of the most important international events: how does it feel?
Amazingly good. I have been back in Rome for two days, and it is still hard to believe that we actually did it: we had the chance to personally see such a great, important event. Even if we couldn’t be inside the room where the political discussions and agreements took place, we still got to attend the side events of the conference, and that gave me an idea of how different fields of economics and society perceive the climate change emergency. It was mind-blowing to see how this issue is linked to every single aspect of our lives.
You and your colleagues brought JCU into the international scene: how impacting can this be on our community and institution?
We hope that that JCU will benefit from the experience we had. We went to Glasgow as a delegation sent by JCU, and therefore we had the chance to represent the university. It is as JCU students that we introduced ourselves and made personal connections.
As for our community, we could touch with hand the gravity of climate change and we want to bring our experience back here, among our schoolmates, stressing the fact that this has an impact on everybody’s life and future, and tell students that tackling this crisis is a choice and everybody’s duty. I remember a comment I heard at Glasgow saying: “We are not activists. We are just trying to have a future,” and I was touched by this because it conveys a feeling of worry and urgency to solve this crisis. I hope we can convey this feeling to our community so that each one of us does their part in tackling climate change.
Did you meet important figures?
We didn’t meet important figures like politicians but we did meet people that have important roles such as judges, PhDs at international levels, Oxford, Cambridge, and Yale professors, businessmen, representatives of consulting agencies, and CEOs, and we got to personally speak with them. Also, we meet other university students who are important people as well as they are the key not only to raising awareness but to tackling the problem starting right now. Finally, we met journalists from important newspapers who were ready to listen to our ideas and to read the articles we will write about COP26.
How did you approach them?
Events like COP26 are also thought as an opportunity to create links, very often important ones; therefore, approaching them might not have been super easy but it was natural. Once conferences or interviews were over, there was always a time dedicated to meeting people, and so we would stand up, walk around, and just talk to people about what we had drawn from the last panel, and then once the conversation was over, we had a contact. The fact that we were just students did not make us less appealing, in some cases, it might actually have made us more interesting.
Now that we are back in Rome, it is our duty to reach out to our contacts, send emails, ask for help, and keep interacting.
How do you think you were perceived?
The way we were perceived depended on what panel we were in. At the New York Times hubs or the events at the University of Glasgow, students were the normal audience, plus we came from Rome, and the fact that we traveled during COVID times demonstrated our interest in the event, so people were happy to interact with us.
The Climate World Summit is the last event we took part in, and there the situation was completely different. The environment of that conference was thought for highly specialized people in the Finance and Economics field, and so businessmen. There, we were true outsiders and clearly not looking as potential clients nor possible investors, and so there we were barely even looked at.
What is the most interesting thing you discovered?
The fact that climate change is connected to every field of life and society and so connects every person on the planet. In fact, panels were organized to reflect this. I left for COP26 thinking that the solution to climate change was restricted to International Relations and maybe Economics, but there I found out how it is related to gender inequality, racism, education problems. Whatever field of study you go into, whatever paper you read or place you visit, you will find climate change-related topics and issues and that need to be solved. What emerged from the conference is that now we cannot afford anymore to trade climate change for what we need. We need to make climate change the number one priority of states, NGOs, and everyone’s life if we want to have a future to look forward to.
Would you say that the decisions made at COP26 can be effective in addressing climate change shortly and efficiently?
The political discussions took place in private rooms and so we need to wait and see what the heads of state decided, and how and if it will be applied to determine whether COP26 is a success or not.
As for me, I believe that for COP26 to be effective the decisions taken must be binding and oriented to solve the crisis as fast and as soon as possible. These types of events are great to raise awareness, but often end up being lots of talks and little action. Concretely addressing this issue requires a huge amount of money and the 90 billion dollars that have been allocated are not nearly enough. Plus, we need to stop believing that climate change will be a problem at some point and realize that it has been a problem for a long time, and it is a problem now—one that can only worsen if we don’t take serious action immediately.
You are an International Affairs major: are these kinds of events what you expected or was it different?
Quite honestly, I don’t’t know how to answer this question. I do recognize that my background studies in the International Affairs field, especially the part on the functioning of international organizations, was very useful to experience COP26 from a critical point of view. Also, it was helpful that I had some basic ideas on how legal procedures work, so as to understand why action has not been taken yet. What I wish is that I was more well-read in the finance and economics field, as that would have been very useful to fully understand how financial markets and investments can have an impact and be related to the environment, especially in the topic of green finance.
Did this experience enhance your desire to pursue a career in International Affairs?
Again, I’m not sure how to answer this question. I was shocked to find out how much money is necessary to implement a strong systemic change to try and solve this emergency, and I am not so sure the field of International Affairs (IA) is the best suited to lead this change. IA tends to be made of lots of talks but not that much action, even if I do believe that international relations can lead to the understanding of why some decisions have, or have not, been made.
It was interesting to see the different fields, from Agriculture to Finance, coming together and reaching the same conclusion: we all have the same goal and so we must play as a team. For sure, international relations can push towards international governance and cooperation.
On Nov. 23, Grassroots and The Matthew held a COP 26 Town Hall where the delegates talked about their experience in Glasgow and opened the floor to questions from the public, joined by JCU President Franco Pavoncello and Professor Michèle Favorite. The recording of the event is available here.