The Environment

Why The UN Climate Negotiations In Glasgow Matter, And Why We Need To Show Up

Lauren MacCallum from Protect Our Winters UK tells us how the outcome of COP26, which is being held in Scotland this year, will shape the future of the planet and why it's vital we make our voices heard

If you want to play, you need to protect. It’s that simple. We are in a no fall zone when it comes to climate change, and we need to focus. 

The UK is hosting the UN climate negotiations this November, and it’s going to be the biggest international conference the UK has ever held. It’s also been claimed that it’s the most important COP since Paris in 2015. So, what is COP? Why should you care about it?

“What is COP? Why should you care about it?”

I know our community loves a bit of unique language and phrases. They are embedded into our various communities, words like stoked, sandbagged, railed etc, and we need to learn a few more so that we can understand the system and use it to our advantage to save the outdoors.

Pictured: Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow

So, first up is COP. COP stands for the “conference of the parties” and the 26th COP is happening this year. And, basically, COP is where the 197 parties (aka countries and territories) rock up and negotiate their commitments to the Paris agreement. 

Now the Paris agreement is the commitment from all the parties to keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees. This is essential for our planet, people, and places we love. 

“Climate justice matters”

Those commitments are communicated in each country’s plans, and that’s what they’re coming to Glasgow to fight about. These plans are called Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs, and they’re at the heart of COP because this is actually how we are going to achieve the change needed. 

That’s where the proof lies, and this is where our community needs to call them out, because the current NDC’s (plans) submitted have us sitting between a three and four degree warmer world…which spoiler alert, isn’t fucking good news. 

Pictured: Protester in Brussels, 2018. Credit: Alexandros Michailidis

Now, you might be wondering, why am I getting my ethically sourced knickers in twist only over a couple degrees? One degree here or there admittedly doesn’t sound that armageddon, but let’s think for a minute if that was the human body.

We’ve been discussing temperatures a lot recently because it’s one of the main symptoms of COVID-19. If we go one degree over we’ll develop a fever and start to feel not so good, two degrees we’re starting to feel really rotten, three degrees you’re not functioning and probably hospitalised, and by the time you hit 40 degrees your body isn’t designed to operate at this temperature and your body systems can shut down. If left unmanaged in this scenario, there is a probability you will die. The planet is no different. If it’s left to warm at the rate it’s warming, it will cease to be habitable. 

“If it’s left to warm at the rate it’s warming, it will cease to be habitable”

So this is where we come in – now that we know the basics of the system, some of the new lingo and recognise that even a few degrees of change can cause chaos there is no excuse for continuing to stay silent. 

So how do we speak up then? How do we use our individual and collective voice to create change? Well, it starts by getting engaged. Find an organisation that speaks to you, that connects to your values and interests. Now call me biased but I think if you’re a lover of the outdoors, Protect Our Winters UK has you covered. We’re here to turn passionate outdoor people into effective climate advocates, because we know we have it all to lose. 

Plus who better to stand up to protect it, than the people who live and breathe it? Because let’s be honest if mountaineers can’t save the mountains, if skiers can’t save the snow, if surfers can’t save the waves, and mountain bikers can’t save the trails, then we don’t deserve to be here. We can’t keep taking and not giving back. 

Pictured: Receding glacier in Patagonia, Chile

So the next time you see POW UK or another NGO for that matter put out a call for help, answer it. Share their campaigns, sign up to their newsletters, follow them on social media, turn up to their webinars and educate yourself, buy their merch, donate, and I know it seems useless but just sign that petition.

I know it doesn’t feel like much, but if done in the right way it genuinely pushes issues further up ministers inboxes which means we get heard.

If you’re nervous about your own level of climate knowledge, thats ok too. We’ll teach you through our upcoming webinars and through our UN recognised Carbon Literacy course, that explains the impact of climate change but also the solutions that you can adopt at an individual, organisational and societal level to do something about it. There’s multiple tools there, we just need to pick them up. 

“There is no such thing as a perfect environmental activist, because there is no such thing as a perfect person. We must embrace our complicated contradictions”

Now I know standing up for what you believe in isn’t always the easiest thing. It can be intimidating, awkward and God forbid you might be accused of the dreaded “virtue signalling.”

But if that’s what’s stopping you from adding your voice to this cause, then I’m here to tell you… fuck ’em!

There is no such thing as a perfect environmental activist, because there is no such thing as a perfect person. We must embrace our complicated contradictions because that’s what makes us human.

Focusing on individual changes and shifting heat from industry to the individual is a well thought out narrative that has been used by the tobacco industry, plastics industry and is now being used by the fossil fuel industry, to make you feel guilty and therefore shut you up. What’s more, it’s working and it’s working extremely well. Now that doesn’t mean you’re free from all personal responsibility, far from it. But this is about progress over perfection and action over apathy.

So yes, you can still get on that plane to Geneva and call yourself an environmental advocate, but only if you help us to campaign for a frequent flyers levy or the local electricity bill etc. Because we are after system change here.

To put it into perspective a flight from London to Geneva emits 0.33 kilograms of carbon, the UK grid emits 58.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide annual from electricity power stations alone. That is where the real focus needs to be, because we need huge carbon reductions quickly, and they can only be achieved by setting legally binding ambitious climate policy. That’s exactly what COP26 is all about. 

“What happens in Scotland certainly won’t stay in Scotland”

So that’s why COP26 matters, because what happens in Scotland certainly won’t stay in Scotland. The decisions made in Glasgow will be felt all across the globe. The future of our sports, livelihoods, communities and outdoor sanctuaries depend on what is discussed in the negotiations. And POW UK will be there on our communities behalf, working with Stop Climate Chaos and the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative (ICCI) to influence chief negotiators whilst the discussions are going on. Plus to be your eyes and ears on the ground. 

But most importantly we also have a duty as a community of the host nation to show up for those who can’t be present, who feel the adverse effects of climate change the most, and who not surprisingly have had the least to do with how we got into this mess. We also have a duty to platform the voices who will be present, from those living in the global south, and fast melting regions of Nepal, Alaska, and arctic circle to name just a few. Climate justice matters. 

So join us, your voice is needed so that we can talk about the breadth and depth of our community to politicians and policy makers. Because civic support equals parliamentary support, and that’s exactly what we need. 

Catch you out there. 


Lauren MacCallum is General Manager of Protect Our Winters UK.

For more from our Scotland Issue

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