COP26: The climate crisis needs our anger – but it also needs our hope
ShelterBox expects 167 million homes to be lost by 2040 if extreme weather continues to intensify at the same pace. As the COP26 conference in Glasgow approaches, we must balance anger at global inaction with optimism for the solutions already within our reach.
Things weren’t looking hopeful for action on the climate crisis this summer. Underwhelming G7 outcomes in June gave way to August’s shocking wake-up call from the latest IPCC climate change report. Human-driven global heating is causing damage that is unprecedented, accelerating and – in some cases – irreversible.
So what hope is there for the COP26 meeting? As representatives from around the world meet for the 26th UN Climate Change Conference, decision-makers can’t afford to be cautious. They need to push through changes that will define and defend all our futures.
1. Help people right now.
Our leaders must recognise that the climate crisis is a human crisis, happening right now. People in the world’s poorest countries are bearing the brunt of climate change.
As recently as September, it looked possible that representatives of countries most vulnerable to this crisis could be excluded from the conference by the UK’s travel red list. Their voices at the table must be guaranteed. While we give funds and focus to treat the root causes of climate change, we can’t ignore the destructive symptoms being felt by millions around the world if they are not present to speak.
Esther, who has lived in Cameroon’s Minawao Camp since fleeing Boko Haram violence, told us about the ‘destabilising’ effects of the intense drought in the Lake Chad Basin. Drought and food scarcity have fanned the flames of extremism in the region, so that families who escape its brutality still can’t live in safety.
‘It’s difficult to distinguish the seasons,’ she said. ‘The heat is more unbearable every day. The sun rises at 6 o’clock, it feels like it’s noon. The fields no longer produce the same crops because of the drought. There are days when none of us shower, because it’s more important to drink. Children are sick because of the heat.’
Roxana and Wilmer lost their family home in 2020’s strongest hurricane.
Emergency shelter makes a difference right now.
After hurricanes Eta and Iota hit Honduras, the home Roxana and Wilmer shared with their two daughters was ripped apart and swamped with mud. They just escaped with their lives, sheltering on the very top of the roof.
‘It was hard to get in, as there was a lot of mud,’ Roxana explained. ‘I felt very sad, everything that you work very hard for was lost.’ They lived in a temporary shelter made of palm leaves for a month. ‘It was not good,’ she said.
Using tarpaulins, tools and other aid, Roxana’s family could start again. ‘We felt very good, we were able to start cleaning and preparing to fix our home,’ she said.
Iota was the strongest hurricane of 2020, and broke records as the 30th named storm in a brutal Atlantic hurricane season. Climate change is set to fuel even more extreme weather; shelter remains an essential first step on the road to recovery. It’s a place for families like Roxana’s to plan for the future.
Early warning systems protected millions of people in Bangladesh and India ahead of Super Cyclone Amphan. But hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed.
2. Support communities against future disasters
Our leaders must commit UK climate funding to long-term, locally led adaptation projects. With that future in mind, improved disaster resilience will be vital for communities to weather our changing climate. That need will continue, even if ambitious emissions targets are met.
Countries like Bangladesh are already world-leaders in climate adaptation, with cyclone early warning systems and shelters saving countless lives in recent decades.
In an episode of Costing the Earth, Qasa Alom looked at how Bangladesh ‘has been quietly finding ways to adapt and to build back after disaster’. If you’re losing faith that there are practical solutions out there, I’d urge you to listen. From changing local farming techniques to preparing for climate refugees countrywide, it gave real hope that communities vulnerable to increasing heat, floods and sea level rise can change their future. Homes, livelihoods and lives will be saved.
‘In Bangladesh, we see challenges rather than problems… and we have a long history of rising to challenges,’ Professor Saleemul Huq from the University of Dhaka told the programme. ‘What we learn will be a global learning. It will be useful in the UK… for New Yorkers whose subways are flooded… We are not letting [the damage we are suffering] be the story.’
In Cameroon, Esther reflected: ‘I hope that the situation can change one day, because I do not know what kind of world my children and grandchildren will live in when I am no longer there.’
3. Work together
We have one planet and no country can escape the consequences of global inaction. We need our global leaders to work together and prioritise resilience-building. As Professor Huq suggested, little will be achieved without working together.
International cooperation has the power to achieve so much. Just look at the rollout of the world’s first malaria vaccine this month. Governments must work together to share technology, knowledge and experience across borders.
We owe it to every generation – present and future – to make bold decisions at COP26 and follow up with action from community to community, and nation to nation.
In the wake of a disaster, none of that learning, resilience and progress can happen without everyone having a secure place to recover. Because when you have a home, hope follows.
Join the fight against climate injustice.
Quick facts about COP26
What is COP26?
COP26 is this year’s United Nations climate change conference.
For nearly three decades the UN has been bringing together leaders from almost every country in the world for global climate summits – called COPs – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. In that time climate change has escalated to a global priority.
When is COP26?
COP26 is taking place from Sunday, October 31, 2021 – Friday, November 12, 2021.
Where is COP26?
This year, the UK is hosting the COP26 conference in Glasgow.
What does COP26 mean?
COP26 stands for Conference of the Parties. COP26 is the 2021 UN climate change conference.
Banner image: Drought in Somaliland, Olly Burn