By Erin Roberts
28 / 10 / 2021
Rice paddies in central Bangladesh

As I write this, hundreds of delegates have already arrived in Glasgow for the preparation meetings already underway. Next week the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) at one of the most challenging times the world has faced in recent history. Some delegations of the world’s most vulnerable countries will not make the trip. The power imbalance will be even more skewed towards developed countries in the global North. Amidst this backdrop it seems non-sensical to expect anything less than an abysmal outcome. Yet, I am more optimistic than I have ever been. 

Why do I feel optimistic about COP 26? Because over the last 18 months I have seen that it is possible to mobilize billions overnight and trillions in a matter of weeks to protect lives in the global North. And I know we can cultivate the kind of global solidarity needed to mobilize the trillions needed to ensure that each human on the planet has the resources they need to thrive in the midst of climate change, global pandemics and any other shocks they might experience. At the centre of that must be a pledge to value all lives equally. 

At a time when the pandemic has exacerbated inequality both between and within countries that might seem like an impossible ask. But it’s not. It’s as simple as deciding that we can, will and must create a better world for future generations. We can decide that no human is going to suffer on our watch. We can limit global average warming to 1.5°C (though the window for that is fast closing). We can decide to protect and regenerate ecosystems. It’s really that simple. 

Many are perplexed by my optimism. Several colleagues have told me that while they appreciate my optimistic outlook, they do not understand how I can be so optimistic in such seemingly dire circumstances. I told them there is no other way to be. Trust and optimism; they are our currencies in this process. If we do not believe that we can meet the global goals we set out in the Paris Agreement then why have we dedicated our lives to this process? Why are many of us planning to leave our lives behind and potentially put our health at risk to assemble in Glasgow for up to three weeks of long days and very little sleep? Because we still believe that we can create a better world; that’s why. 

What can we achieve at COP 26? Anything we want to. I expect that the new finance goal will be needs based. I expect we will develop a road map to mobilize trillions to support ambitious mitigation action, scale up adaptation and support efforts to address loss and damage at the scale of the needs. I expect that developed countries will take the lead to mobilize finance at the global level and scale up mitigation action at home. I expect that the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage will be operationalized, fully resourced and will begin mobilizing action and support to vulnerable developing countries in their efforts to address loss and damage immediately. In a report released today the Stockholm Environment Institute has demonstrated that there are mechanisms which we could draw on to channel support for Loss and Damage. In the lead up to COP 26, hundreds of civil society organizations have called for mobilizing finance at the scale of the needs for Loss and Damage. And certainly, finance for Loss and Damage must be integrated into each and every discussion we have about mobilizing climate finance. Can we do that? Of course. Again, it’s as simple as making a decision and then following it through. 

All of this and so much more is possible with a revived global solidarity based on the simple fact that we are one humanity and each life has equal value. Does it sound naïve? Probably. But is it what we need to do to create a world address climate change on all fronts and in all parts of the world? Definitely. 

So, to anyone who is cynical about the outcome of COP 26 I would challenge you to be more optimistic. Because at the end of the day what does it cost you to believe in possibilities? Nothing. And what does it cost the most vulnerable on the frontlines of climate change to expect the very worst? Everything. 

Erin Roberts is a climate policy researcher and strategist. Her work focuses thematically on mobilizing support for vulnerable developing countries and the vulnerable households and communities within them to, not only address climate change, but to thrive in the midst of it. She has the honour and pleasure of coordinating the Loss and Damage Collaboration and convening the Climate Leadership Initiative. She is a relatively recent convert to optimism and believes that creating a world in which equality is realized on all fronts and in all parts of the world while addressing climate change is completely possible.