Dr Caroline Jessel at COP26 – Part 1: Why am I going?

Our Chair and Founder, Dr Caroline Jessel

The first of three entries from Dr Caroline Jessel, Chair and Founder of Dandelion Time

In a few days I will be taking the train to Glasgow to join about 30,000 people from around the world to try to help turn around the grave situation we all face as a result of climate change and nature depletion. I am constantly asking myself questions like “Why am I bothering?”, “What difference can I make?”, “Does this whole COP process make any real difference?”, “What prevents us from taking this issue seriously and treating it like an emergency?”. So this blog attempts to answer some of these thoughts.

To quote Sir David Attenborough “If we don’t act now it will be too late” and we know that greenhouse gas emissions need to sharply decline by 2030, just over 8 years away, and yet all the commitments as a result of the Paris Accord in 2016 will only deliver a very modest improvement – we are way off track to succeed. The world is still grappling with a major pandemic which galvanised us into radical change very quickly. We need the same sense of urgency and determination to tackle climate change and the loss of nature but how can we get everyone on board with this?

Part of my motivation for going to Glasgow is because I am a doctor, pledged to protect life and health. 535 health organisations representing 46 million (yes 46 million!) health professionals worldwide have signed a letter calling on governments to ensure a #HealthyClimate. We know that the threat from climate change to both physical and mental health is devastating, far bigger than Covid or any other pandemic. Many doctors, dentists and other health workers will be going to Glasgow, highlighting the impacts on health and the fundamental importance of a healthy environment for human health, wellbeing, prosperity and happiness. We will point out that many of the measures we need to take, like active travel, healthy eating, insulation of our houses are also very beneficial to health.

I am a mother and a grandmother and often think about the impact of a changing climate and a nature depleted world on the lives of the coming generations. What an appalling legacy we are leaving them! And we haven’t done this in ignorance, the science has been clear for decades now but somehow, collectively, we have failed to take sufficient action to turn it around.

As founder of Dandelion Time, an organisation that has the strapline “Restoring Hope to Young Lives” I want to able to ensure that the lives of the children we support will go on to be fulfilled, meaningful and joyful. The environment is the world and everything in it. It is the air, water and food we need to survive and the natural wonders that leave us awestruck. To truly serve today’s children well we need to help them to value it and to protect it for the long term and this is one things we do at Dandelion Time.

As chair of Kent Nature Partnership and representing the South East Nature Partnership I know that many of the solutions to our problems lie in allowing nature to recover and regain both diversity and resilience. Nature can act as a carbon sink, through better soil management, allowing more trees to grow, creating wilder habitats and ensuring wetlands, peatlands, saltmarsh and kelp forests are restored and can flourish. Together these form what are known as Natural Climate Solutions and by some estimates can address up to 40% of the emission reductions we need, while at the same time  making us less vulnerable to the impacts of a changing climate. I hope in Glasgow to be sharing some of this good news and I will be actively networking so that the right people can work together on delivering solutions at local and regional level.

The nature agenda is one huge area of hope for the future as so much can be achieved from a collective effort by farmers, landowners and businesses that influence land management. The shift to rewilding has been dramatic in recent years with striking benefits for carbon, nature and adaptation to climate change. Even my local parish has made good progress already on this!

I am also delighted that the creative arts and the religious community are getting more involved in raising awareness. One of the things I hope to promote at COP is a newly composed Requiem for Extinct Species. Often music has the power to change people in a way that is more fundamental than appeals to reason and logic.

Although there are many obstacles to be overcome and some of the signals in advance of the Glasgow COP are far from promising, I feel I must do what little I can to move the agenda forward with energy and effectiveness. I will be writing a couple more blogs to let people know how I get on!