This week I have been in Katowice with the INTO team, facing into stark reminders of the ticking climate clock. This is the first time I have attended one of the UNFCCC Conferences of the Parties, or COPs. And it has certainly been eye-opening.
This was the second week of a fortnight long conference which has welcomed around 30,000 people. As you can imagine, those sort of numbers demand significant infrastructure and organisation! We have been ensconced in the Spodek Arena (which means ‘flying saucer’ in Polish). Here were ngo observer stands, country pavilions and spaces for workshops and events. Our stand was on the edge of the main arena, which housed the food hall. We shared it with GEN, the Global Ecovillage Network and it was lovely to spend time with their global team. To be honest, we weren’t at the stand much as we had a list of events to attend. (Including two of our own!) Nevertheless it served as a good base and shop front.
Oliver arrived before us so, with his experience of previous COPs, was a brilliant guide to the COP newbies! (His blogs and podcasts are on the INTO COP 24 page.)
There is no doubt that attending a COP is an extraordinary experience. For me, just being amongst such an international crowd, speaking all sorts of different languages was inspiring. Groups of people chatting in corridors, at stands or in front of TV cameras; gathered in meeting rooms or poring over laptops. Many wearing traditional garb; all passionate and determined. It’s great to know that we’re all working on this together.
It was also an opportunity to connect with Anita and Oliver. And to meet people we might not have otherwise met. I would include amongst this number the group of Moroccan journalists who were staying at the same hotel as us. Who would have thought we’d come to Poland and speak so much French!?
This is probably what I loved most about COP: meeting such a diversity of kind, interesting, smart and inspirational people.
I’m not going to pretend to understand much about the complexities of the negotiations. But it was good to hear from Ministers and leaders like the UN Secretary-General. (I was surprised in fact as I had thought they were kept locked up behind closed doors!)
The first event we attended was the Talanoa Dialogue on Tuesday. Fiji Prime Minister, Frank Bainimarama, chaired the session. You’ll remember him from Oliver’s blogs from Bonn and his unforgettable words ‘we’re all in the same canoe’. In Katowice, he underlined the need for vision and leadership. He also spoke about the disconnect between what happens at COP and what’s happening in the real world. That summed it up for me. The sense of frustration amongst the 30,000 gathered at Spodek was palpable. We all know what needs to be done. What we need is political will …
I expect there is a sense of urgency at each COP but it really did feel like the clock is ticking. In my talk today, I quoted Jacquetta Hawkes, who wrote in a National Trust (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) newsletter 50 years ago:
“The National Trust believes most strongly that there is an urgent need for the state to step up the search for possible ways of reducing the damage being done to our environment… the alarm clock has sounded”
Our event today in the British Pavilion was about the Sustainable Development Goals. Anita and Oliver have researched what INTO members are doing to deliver these. Thus we took the opportunity of being at the COP to share these initial findings.
Everyone is talking about sustainable development. And it is impossible to argue against an idea that seeks to balance efforts to improve quality of life with social, economic and environmental issues. But it is sometimes hard to know what sustainable development looks like.
Anita and Ian Lumley of An Taisce showed how the INTO family is taking action to deliver the SDGs. How they are working with communities to create beautiful cities, to protect the countryside whilst still producing enough food, caring for our inheritance rather than striving for unsustainable levels of growth. It was all very uplifting.
“The Sustainable Development Goals are for everyone, whether you’re in a village or a city; in Europe or Africa” – Ian Lumley
Ian Lumley of An Taisce speaking at the INTO side event
I’m writing this on the way home and am trying to sum up my feelings after four days of COP. Apart from feeling rather tired (!), I think I mostly feel a sense of hope. The negotiations are continuing and I know there are difficult obstacles to overcome still. But I take confidence from the amazing people I met and learnt from.
At our event yesterday I said that sometimes it is hard to remain motivated and solutions-focussed. Events like COP 24 are important because they remind us we are not alone! They encourage us to keep making a splash, to keep sending out ripples to bring about change.
The National Trust family will continue to act sustainably – sustaining our organisations, our cause and our assets. For ever, for everyone. We will encourage our people to live frugally and enjoy life, within our planet’s means. We will act ethically and responsibly. And we will continue to be innovative and creative, adaptive and responsive. Fit for the future whilst learning from the past.
I think Jacquetta would feel we’ve heard her alarm clock.