Dr Caroline Jessel at COP26 – Part 3: Reflections
The last of three entries from Dr Caroline Jessel, Chair and Founder of Dandelion Time
Well, it’s all over now, isn’t it? Except it very much isn’t! As Alok Sharma and others have said, the journey to decarbonisation of the world has only just begun. I have been reflecting on what it means for all of us, particularly the young, who have many decades ahead of them in a changing climate with all the dangers and unknown challenges that brings.
It was great to spend some time after the hustle and bustle of Glasgow with a family at Dandelion Time; watching the children enjoying the vegetable harvesting, collecting eggs from the chickens, cuddling the donkeys and stroking the sheep. They gained so much from the experience and it enabled them to be nurturing and make connections about the world around them, as well as with each other. A family is a good example of a complex system. You cannot fix one little bit of the system and hope all will be well. A holistic approach is needed which is the approach we take at Dandelion Time. Now the world faces massive challenges but it needs to try to solve them holistically, looking at underlying causes rather than only working through the models and systems which have caused the crises. Change in our thinking about what matters is as important as regulation and government action. The climate and nature crises are strongly linked but so is our health crisis, particularly for mental health, obesity, epidemics, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. It was good to see a much stronger voice from health at the conference and the WHO being an official party for the first time.
Along with the great efforts being made to reduce the carbon impact of healthcare I would suggest that stronger focus on reconnection with nature, through green social prescribing and other similar approaches, would help address the root cause of our difficulties. At COP26 we heard a great deal from indigenous communities who often have a reverence for nature which we can learn from. We need a fundamental change in values, a reset of our relationship with the rest of the living world, and the faith groups at COP are beginning to recognise this.
Natural Climate Solutions to climate change, which could deliver one third of the emissions reductions we need by 2030, were put forward strongly and eloquently by organisations like the Wildlife Trusts, the Worldwide Fund for Nature and of course Sir David Attenborough, Chris Packham and many others. The evidence for this approach is gaining ground and there were many enthusiastic farmers at the event, promoting agro-ecology and other forms of sustainable farming. Unfortunately the final text of the Glasgow Climate Pact made minimal reference to this aspect so we need to keep emphasising that nature restoration, including rewilding, is vital to achieve Net Zero and indeed to go beyond that into Net Negative emissions.
Did the COP make meaningful progress? This is hard to measure as much was achieved but not the step change that is urgently needed. I like this balanced score card as a summary of where we now are.
It is fascinating to me that this is the first COP to openly acknowledge in the final agreement that we need to reduce our use of fossil fuels. This is blindingly obvious to everyone but the collective mind has been in strong denial for decades. There are many parallels with addiction treatment and indeed we are totally dependent on fossil fuels so withdrawal is challenging and painful for the world, but definitely urgent and necessary. This light hearted take hints at a deeper truth!
I am hopeful though that as the process of greenhouse gas withdrawal builds up progress will become rapid and unstoppable. This can also happen via market mechanisms. I certainly found many big corporations at COP were up for the challenge and seemed to be much more aware of the need for urgency. For example a new banking app which enabled you to track your carbon footprint directly via all your purchases. Personal consumption changes alone will not achieve Net Zero but every little helps!
What can we all do to help? Well, one thing that has occurred to me with Christmas round the corner is to make an event greater effort to reduce over consumption – somehow I always go a bit mad at Christmas. My gifts to grandchildren this year will be experiences rather than toys which I hope they will treasure in their memories. Other items will come from charity shops and I will try to make as much locally sourced, responsibly grown food as possible. Remaining positive while realistic is a difficult balancing act but there was much at COP to be positive about. Wishing you all a joyful and hopeful time ahead with your loved ones.