By Matty Maslen – Bradford & Glasgow University
At the beginning of the month, I was lucky enough to attend COP26 as part of CAFOD’s Young Adult Mobilisation. From Friday 5th to Sunday 7th of November, we were among hundreds of thousands of people who had travelled from all across the globe to Glasgow for the climate conference.
On Friday, the CAFOD group began to arrive from across the UK. While some people got up at 4am to begin their journey, I had it easy: I already live in Glasgow. After my leisurely stroll into town, I was welcomed by some familiar faces from the National Justice and Peace Network’s Annual Conference earlier this summer. As a group, we walked together to the Green Zone, which was in the Science Centre – a museum in the Southside of the city overlooking the River Clyde.
Once we were in, we split up as some of our group were taking part in an interview for CAFOD media. The Green Zone was busy. There were stands representing different initiatives, groups and companies from the COP26 Universities Network to Sainsbury’s, to The Scouts, to Microsoft – almost anyone you wouldn’t expect to be there, was. The canteen, on the other hand, was exactly what I expected: groups of people talking excitedly over laptops and notebooks and vegan soup. This was where the action was, not on the green-washed stalls.
In the evening we walked through the city centre to the Ignatian Spirituality Centre for food and a debrief of our first day. We then headed over to St Aloysius Church where members of CAFOD ran a service as part of the Vigil ‘24 hours for the Climate’ which was live-streamed from all across the world. It was strange sitting in a cold Church knowing that people I’d never met in countries I’ve never visited were listening to the same voices read the same prayers as me.
Saturday was the big one. I joined the rest of the group in Kelvingrove Park for the Climate March. After standing in the infamous Scottish rain for two hours for the Faith Block to be given the green-light to join the 100,000-strong march, we set off on our way to Glasgow Green. This way my highlight of the weekend. To be part of a movement as energetic, as urgent, and as important as the climate movement is inspiring. From 11am to 4pm we were surrounded by people who all agreed on one key thing: we must work together to stop the climate crisis. The Glasgow protest was huge, and was one of 250 that took place that day across the world.
For three days every conversation I had – whether it was with other young people in the CAFOD group, people I met in events and workshops, people I met on the street who just started conversations – left me feeling hopeful. It’s easy to be overwhelmed in the face of a crisis as large as this one, especially when those we ought to be able to trust to do the right thing on our behalf continuously fail. But perhaps we’re looking at it wrong. Again and again I was reminded that it wasn’t just the Blue Zone, where the officials were, that mattered. It was outside. It was in the streets. It was in little rooms across the city, across the world where ‘ordinary’ people were having extraordinary conversations. Change isn’t always top-down – in fact, important changes rarely are. Having said that, we were lucky enough to have a question-and-answer session with the CAFOD delegates who had been in the Blue Zone all week. It was interesting to hear more about how the official conversations and mechanisms work in a UN conference like COP.
On Sunday afternoon we attended mass in St Aloysius. In the evening, when most of the CAFOD group had left, I was invited by a friend to join an event she was helping to run. The workshop was hosted by XR Youth Solidarity: ‘a working group within XR Youth UK fighting for, creating and believing in a youth-led environmentalism in solidarity with resistances to all forms of oppression’, and the Global Alliance of Territorial Communities: who ‘elevate the role of Indigenous and local communities as guardians of forests and biodiversity, and part of the solution to climate change’. The event aimed at building connections between the impacts of the climate crisis on Indigenous youth in the Global South and on young people here in the UK.
The workshop was hosted by a Mexican peasant youth organiser and a Colombian youth activist in the UK. As we sat in a circle, the main topics that kept surfacing concerned food sovereignty and mental health. For example, in Indigenous communities in
Colombia, one key food sovereignty issue is the loss of seeds which are culturally important and often sacred to local people. While in the UK, lack of food sovereignty is most evident in our reliance on imports and the disconnect between people and their land. In both communities, youth mental health is inextricably linked to the climate: in Indigenous communities, suicide rates have increased, especially in young pregnant women, while in the UK the increase in what has been coined as ‘climate-anxiety’ has been widely reported among all ages but especially in young people. The conversation was in both Spanish and English with people translating for those who understood only one language. To sit back and watch other people my own age forging connections across borders, across language barriers in a small, upstairs room in central Glasgow was powerful. It reinforced the message I will be taking home from COP26: we all have a part to play.
Attending COP26 was a truly a unique experience. I learnt a lot about the climate crisis, about the solutions we have open to us, but even more about the importance of solidarity. Together we are strong. We still have time, if we act now.