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  • Carys Mainprize

Reflections on COP26

Founder and trustee of CCC Dr Mary-Ann Smyth (Mas), and General Manager Dr Emily Taylor reflect on their COP26 experience.

What were you doing at COP26?

Mas: “I wear several hats, so went to several different events... some by invitation (peatland restoration, environmental philanthropy, global biodiversity conservation and offsetting), and several random but equally inspiring events on regenerative farming, food waste, renewable energy, eco-housing, and contemporary crofting. […] We also spent time planting salt-marsh plants on the abandoned Govan shipyards and docklands, part of a community rewilding scheme to enhance biodiversity and carbon storage while meeting sea-level rise.

Greening the Blue Chips event.

I also helped welcome people to the RSK corporate day, on sustainable businesses and greening the blue-chips. Emily was terrific. [Editor’s Note: Mas is a co-founder of RSK].

We spent half a day in the Green Zone. The interior was like a green Ideal Homes exhibition, somewhat glossy but probably nothing you didn't already know about, but outside in the carpark there were some very interesting tech - hydrogen engines, battery powered aircraft, a hydrogen powered JCB excavators and info on modular nuclear (not as micro as I had thought, it's as big as 2 football pitches).”

Emily: “I did a virtual presentation in the Blue zones first ever Peat Pavilion with NatureScot and Peatland Action – you can check out the virtual pavilion here COP26 Virtual Peatland Pavilion ( I also attended in person and spent the day at the RSK event entitled “Greening the Blue Chips””

How did you feel going to COP26 – what did you expect it would be like, and what was it actually like?

Mas: “I had expected to be afraid of terrorists, but in fact the COP was very well policed and security-protected. There were volunteer coastguards from all round the UK, busy making sure no one jumped into the Clyde (they also arrested a floating Loch Ness Monster). There were international UN police at the turnstiles to protect the international delegates as they entered UN territory; here was where small global groups were chanting, singing and dancing about conditions in their countries. It is our job to hear them. […] The XR protests I saw were fun, in the city and focussed on embarrassing the banking sector. The police were very professional, very quick to kettle a nasty element which tried to join the Saturday march, stopping them from spoiling the carnival atmosphere.

If you carry a placard, people like to stop and ask you about it, so we found ourselves interviewed by children as well as journalists. On two days, we were carrying the big “For Peat’s Sake” banner, to engage people in conversation. It was extremely windy on the main march day, quite a struggle to hold it up; but it meant that like-minded folk could find us (we marched alongside the Land Workers Alliance, with NGOs for organic farming, wetlands, biodiversity and beavers). On another day, we heard a lady telling her companion “Oooo that’s nice; even the gardeners are here!”, but mostly, people are now well aware that peatland is key to the UK’s carbon storage. Good. That’s a huge change from 10 years ago.”

The 'For Peat's Sake' banner.

Emily: “I was actually really excited to attend COP26. The fact it was 2 hours up the road from where I live was probably a once in a lifetime thing. I think it’s really important to meet new people and get a feeling for the bigger thing. The take home message for me was that, wow, there are a lot of amazing people out there doing really innovative things that will ultimately help us all. They are not necessarily waiting on Governments making decision and commitments – they are getting on with doing things themselves. The planet needs fixed and people are working hard to fix it. I actually came away feeling more positive than I perhaps thought I would.”

What is something that inspired you during COP26?

Mas: “It was good to see so many international visitors, and so many young people committed to changing things. We saluted and thanked the young people on Greta’s march on Friday. Also, the rewilding events and the global biodiversity seminars were full of young environmental professionals; very inspiring, and standing-room only. Good news for the future.”

Young people's march at COP26.

Emily: “Young people – the next generation and beyond coming through demanding change, making changes, and getting involved. I particularly enjoyed meeting Poppy from RePEAT – a brilliant coming together of young creative minds curious about peatlands.”

Will your experiences at COP26 change the way you, and CCC, work?

Mas: “I’m not sure. It’s made me more aware of how many companies and NGOs are trying to ’sell’ carbon, and makes me realise that we, at CCC, need to be careful to play our cards right, to work with the ‘right’ partners and make sure we are part of the solution, rather than competing with cowboys.

Also, I’m now even more aware that developing countries need to leapfrog into renewables without becoming reliant on fossil fuel. But I’m not sure how best to help them.”

Emily: “I think it will because, although there may be weaknesses to the final agreement, we have made new connections and we have benefited from the “buzz” around the conference. Of course having COP26 on our doorstep has highlighted to Governments even more the continued and building need for programmes like Peatland Action.”

A march at COP26.

Overall, how do you feel about climate change after COP26?

Mas: “Like most people, I was ashamed that lobbyists dumbed-down the wording on phasing out coal, so I felt negative; yet I was cheered by the widespread recognition that coal and petro-states are laggards, sadly addicted to dirty energy. On the march, one placard read “Fossil Fools”. Transition will be painful for them; and it’s wonderful for the rest of the world that renewables are now so cheap.

On the positive side, I am now much more hopeful that business and finance are part of the transition. It used to be that being ‘green’ was bad for business, but it is gladdening to realise that now, the environmentally aware companies are getting cheaper finance, so that they can grow faster than their dirty competitors.”

Emily: It’s is hard not to feel that we are all doomed with climate predictions coming true across the world BUT I think I feel more positive because climate change is now mainstream. There is just more thinking, more resources, better and increasing understanding and day-to-day discussions happening now to tackle climate change. Hopefully COP26 will be remembered for the conference that started to make things really happen.”

What message, about what came out from COP26, would you give to people who were not there?

Mas: “We are all part of this huge change. Opinions and practices are changing faster than we realise… conserving carbon and biodiversity has become mainstream; that’s wonderful. But we need to change even faster if we want to minimise global damage.”

Emily: “Its not just about carbon. We are facing a biodiversity crisis too. We need to always consider this in our quest for net zero.”

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