InFocus: St Andrews and COP26

Updated: Mar 4

Experts and leaders from around the world have gathered in Glasgow for the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference also known as COP26. It is the 26th UN Climate conference, and was delayed for a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The Saint sat down with some of the students from St Andrews who have been involved in COP26 to talk about their experience. The Saint spoke to Rachel Flynn, a COP26 accommodation hub volunteer chosen by Glasgow City Council. She decided to apply to be a volunteer due to her interest in climate change and government policy. “I thought that applying to be a volunteer would be an opportunity to learn more about these in a practical sense and meet new people while doing it.” As a volunteer she greets delegates and helps direct them to where they need to go. She has found the experience to be enjoyable “It has been really fun being in the buzz of the city every shift. It’s great to meet loads of interesting people from around the world and the volunteers on shift too. On the shifts I’ve done so far I’ve met delegates from Brazil, Italy and Canada.” When asked if she thought that climate issues would be adequately addressed at COP26 she said, “It’s unlikely that they will be addressed adequately, but I do think that addressing climate problems at any scale or in any form is important. Although it might not be successful to the extent it should be, at least it is being addressed.” The Other Guys, a student acapella group in St Andrews, shared that they would be performing at COP26. The Saint reached out to The Other Guys to ask about their performance, “We were contacted and asked to perform at an evening reception as part of COP26. Our set list is ‘What a Wonderful World,’ ‘The Parting Glass,’ and ‘Hey Ya!,’which was a result of balancing entertainment and appropriateness.” Natja Vitorovic and Thomas Bunting organized the St Andrews trip to the COP26 Global Day of Action. The Global Day of Action was a protest planned by the COP26 Coalition. According to Ms Vitorovic, “The COP26 Coalition is protesting the global injustices and inequality on which our political and economic systems are built. The Coalition is protesting for others who are suffering from consequences they did not cause.” Ms Vitorovic said that she was inspired to organise it after she had, “Spoken to many people who wanted to go but ran in different circles. We wanted to bring together everyone to go united and with support”. She expressed that it was important for students to attend the protest because “COP26 is truly shaping our future. The bubble that St Andrews has needs to burst, COP26 is happening only a few hours away from us and it’s worth opening our eyes.” She went on to say, “many students at St Andrews have over- whelming privilege and I truly believe it’s time for some people to start using it for good. Our participation in protests raises the messages of the movement, raises the voices upheld by the movement, maybe enough to be heard.” When asked about the im- portance of student perspective when it comes to climate justice, Ms Vitorovic said, “our generation is the most globally connected in history. We are seeing the lives and stories of so many suffering with the systems we are perpetuating. Climate justice talks about equal rights for women, about appropriate wages for labour, refugees, colonisation, white supremacy, indigenous sovereignty and the list goes on. We are growing up in a world completely different than the older generations did— that’s our perspective.” Ms Vitorovic expressed the importance of COP26, “with the IPCC timeline set for 2030, this looks like one of the last moments that global leaders can come together to make real change. Every deal made in the next two weeks could see us at 1.5 degrees or 3 degrees when we’re in our 40s. To put this into perspective, this means going from killing 70% of our coral reefs to 100%” When asked how she thought protest would affect the outcome of COP26 she said “The world is watching what is happening at COP26 and not just what’s happening inside. Will protesting affect the decisions made at COP26? Potentially, but I know that it will affect everything afterwards.” Thomas Bunting created the Facebook page along with Ms Vitorovic “ I had had loads of conversations with lots of different people who were interested in going to Glasgow and so made the event to coordinate and encourage others to attend the event with us. To work to make sure our voices were heard. Making the event on Facebook was in the hope that we could circulate to students that others were going, and to help those who were hoping to go but didn’t know anyone to be more comfortable attending.” He believes it was important for students from St Andrews to be involved with the protest. “Young people are the voices of tomorrow, and we need to make sure our voices and demands are heard by leaders to ensure that they act thinking of future generations.” He shared: “We’ve seen forms of protest already work during COP; Scotrail staff threatened to strike for the whole conference and as a result a new pay package got passed. Council workers are striking and hoping it will have the same effect too.” Aside from the Cop26 Coalition protest, Mr Bunting suggests students look into online events, and “environmental-focused societies in St Andrews like Transition, XRU or Amnesty International.” The Saint asked Ryan Johnston about his experience as a Climate Justice volunteer with Stop Climate Chaos Scotland (SCCS). He volunteered at the “People’s Summit on Monday and Tuesday, welcoming people into the events and checking COVID-19 vaccination passes.” Mr Johnston described the conference: “The People’s Summit is an event over the first few days of next week in which there will be different talks surrounding many themes related to climate justice. It is an opportunity for civil society and different campaigns to share their experiences, tell stories and gain knowledge surrounding the multiple topics of climate change.” He shared, “I wanted to volunteer at the people’s summit because it is a good opportu- nity to enhance my knowledge and world views surrounding climate change and climate justice and hear from lots of different individuals and stakeholders as to what this means for them. Studying Geography and Sustainable Development, it is important to hear from a lot of different backgrounds that are not dominated by politics or are business orientated. Volunteering at the People’s Summit will offer me this experience.” Mr Johnston expressed that “students should know that COP26 is a really important time for our generation and could be the last vital step towards effective developments in relation to climate change. I think students should be really engaged with the developments at COP26 and think deeply and analytically about what they mean.” Despite this, he said, “sadly, I do not think that COP26 will lead to the change that is so vitally needed.” Marcelina Lekawska volunteered at the COP26 Coalition’s Global Day of Action as a rally steward for the climate justice bloc of the protest. She described it as a “peaceful protest organized by the COP26 coalition, which is formed of various activist groups. This included organizations such as GreenPeace and Extinction Rebellion, as well as indigenous communities from across the world, those fighting for migrant rights, climate justice, farmers rights and so many more! In the end over 100,000 people joined the march. Including incredible activists such as Greta Thunberg.” According to Ms Lekawaska, “it was a mass gathering of people with the shared belief that the COP conferences are sadly a lot of talk and not enough action, and that the people who bear the brunt of climate change impacts while at the same time contributing the least to the current climate crisis are too often excluded from decision-making. We know that we are in a crisis yet so often politicians and industries do everything possible to slow down change and greenwash their actions.” Despite supporting the protest she does not believe it will significantly affect the outcome of COP26. “I hope that seeing the scale of the protests gets the world leaders to wake up and do better. But realistically I don’t believe that any real change comes from above, it is always started by people coming together and organizing from below. Coming together in this protest is a part of that, and bringing together different communities who care about climate change can lead to real collective action and change.” For students who were unable to make it to the protest, Ms Lekawska shared that, “for this second week of COP there are loads of online activist talks, online protests and events taking place in Dundee. I would recommend checking out the COP26 coalition website as well as having a look at groups like Extinction Rebellion Dundee. Along with this, you could join the COP26 eco-anxiety café at the Union on Wednesday the 10th to discuss the impacts of the COP on your mental health.” She stressed that “countries are making various commitments with deadlines ranging from 2030 to 2070, so the outcomes of COP will hopefully result in actions that we will be hearing about and seeing for the years to come.” She believes the student community in St Andrews has a unique perspective. “I think that as a very international university we all have different experiences with climate change and through discussions about those differences we can see how the impacts and causes of climate change are extremely varied, which is a crucial element of understanding the need for climate justice.” Juliette Balchin is a climate change activist who has worked with Extinction Rebellion Youth and Extinction Rebellion Universities. She said in her work with Extinction Rebellion, “contrary to popular belief, Extinction Rebellion (XR) isn’t all about extreme disruption and dramatic demonstrations. In Extinction Rebellion Universities, (XRU), we realise the importance of education, research and the incredible influence that university institutions hold internationally. Using this reali- sation, we focus on three main aims: Decolonisation, Decarbonisation and Democratisation.” The Saint asked Ms Balchin what she thought students should know about COP26.” It is one of the very last chances for any drastic, world-wide change to have significant impact on fighting this climate crisis and yet it seems that the politicians and world leaders are not taking this seriously. What is discussed within these two weeks could either lead to an intensely terrifying future for our generation, or a future that allows us the chance to live outside of this fear that the crisis brings.” Outside of participating in the Global Day of Action “there are many smaller events held by XR across the weeks to draw in the community and encourage people to listen and understand. This includes reflection events, music performances, self-care and food hours, the ability to listen to and give speeches about your perspective on the current events.” She hopes that the protest will draw the attention of the public to the concern “that no indigenous communities, who protect 80% of the world’s biodiversity, are represented within the summit and that the global north causes the majority of climate disasters occurring within the global south”. Students can get involved in climate activism after COP26 by following climate groups in St Andrews. Ms Balchin expressed that she hopes “on return from attending COP26, students will recount their experiences and be more engaging towards climate activism. By understanding how a community of like-minded people can shape a series of incredible events across the two weeks of COP26, I hope this will encourage them to consider how a community within St An- drews could promote similar advances to fight the climate crisis.”

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