The delegation of 14 students and five faculty from the University of Connecticut that attended the 26th Conference of Parties in Glasgow, Scotland had mixed feelings about the conference after coming home this weekend.
COP26 is the 26th annual Conference of Parties, where world leaders gather to make international climate goals in accordance with the Paris Agreement. Countries who signed the United Nations framework convention on climate change in 1994 attend the summit each year to negotiate international plans to address climate change. COP26 was scheduled for 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Each year since 2015, the UConn Office of Sustainability has sent a delegation of 14 students to the conference to participate, according to its website. Through various events, climate activists from UConn are able to voice their concerns about international climate action on an international scale.
The UConn delegation, which attended the second week of the two week conference, engaged in panels, fairs and other grassroots events, but were largely kept out of high-profile negotiations.
Michio Agresta, a fifth semester natural resources major at UConn, spoke about performative events. He cites “greenwashing,” a term that refers to how organizations mislead the public about their environmental sustainability, as an issue from the beginning of the trip.
“The first day we showed up to the main conference where all delegates and politicians and corporations were, it was all very chaotic, political and greenwashed,” Agresta said in a phone interview. “People were giving big speeches on needing to work together, but that was not aligning their actions.”
Sena Wazer, a fifth semester environmental studies major at UConn, spoke on the lack of representation throughout the event. Referring to her conversations with Indigenous activists from Latin America, Africa and India, Wazer addressed how there were few people speaking that are personally impacted by the issue.
“It was really powerful to hear from people who had personal experience, who were calling on COP to do more,” Wazer said in a phone interview. “But with layer upon layer of inequity, and rooms and conversations being closed off, in many ways the people being affected by climate change were not in the rooms where the decisions were being made.”
Attendees were separated into two separate physical campuses during the conference, a “blue zone” and a “green zone,” according to Khadija Shaikh, a third semester environmental studies major at UConn.
Whereas wealthier parties were in the blue zone, many grassroots organizers coalesced in the green zone. Shaikh was one of the UConn students who was restricted to the green zones for some of the trip. Preferring the green zone, she agreed with Agresta that many people were greenwashing climate issues, and asserted that real change comes from grassroots organizers.
“Organizations that have solutions were in the green zone. Everyone in the blue zone was greenwashing, making big blank compromises to make plans to talk and create working groups. But no specific actions are taken,” said Shaikh in a phone interview.
Wazer, the co-director of Sunrise CT, a branch of the national youth climate activist group, felt that the greatest effect of COP26 will be what happens when delegates come back home.
“COP26 reinforced the idea that action needs to happen at the local, state and federal level,” said Wazer. “Elevating climate change action to a global level is an opportunity for countries to work together, but we have to go home and keep pushing. COP isn’t where we see major change happen.”