17 January, 2022

Sustainability Manager Holly Arnold shares her reflections from COP26

I had the privilege of attending COP26 last week on behalf of Coffee & TV. It was an opportunity for me to join climate discussions outside of my industry, discover innovative solutions, and immerse myself in the event itself. As a sustainability manager who is constantly learning from those around her I want to share some of my experiences and reflections.

Through following and supporting Make My Money Matter, a campaign to help people demand a pension to be proud of, I was invited to the reception and screening of Our Planet: Too Big to Fail. It documented eloquently the transition we must make to finance solutions that work for nature not against it. The panel included founders and sustainability leads from WWF, Triodos, Scottish Widows, MMMM and Aviva who all agreed that net zero targets were a long way off from being achievable in the finance sector. However, clearer fund options and customer finance education is improving the demand for responsible investments.

I was also fortunate to find the speeches from the indigenous peoples‘ when I was walking over the Clyde Arc Bridge, another novelty of attending COP26 – you never know what you’re going to learn outside of the headline events. I had been following some of their stories on social media and a couple of weeks previously I had donated to Greenpeace to help them travel and stay in Glasgow, it was a brilliant moment to see. Although some of their group couldn’t make it, it was a brilliant moment to see. They spoke while holding a copy of the Financial Times newspaper which read ‘Carbon Offsetting Is Tearing Us Apart’. The indigenous leaders, each from different corners of the globe, spoke of the western world’s broken relationship with the natural world. I listened to each word feeling grateful to be standing in front of them and embarrassed at how far removed we are from their wholesome and holistic lifestyles and heritage.

Holly Arnold:

"I was also fortunate to find the speeches from the indigenous peoples‘ when I was walking over the Clyde Arc Bridge, another novelty of attending COP26".

I have felt for some time now that I don’t know who to trust when it comes to carbon offsetting. We have a very small amount of emissions to offset at Coffee & TV as we have been working hard since 2019 to reduce them, but I question what nature based solution projects accurately measure carbon credits? Are they sustainable, and more importantly if they involve local communities in just and fair ways (not taking land which is already protected). I have been following the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI) which gave me hope that responsible accredited projects could exist. However, with some companies threatening to continue business as normal and scale offsets, I question if the voluntary carbon market should exist at all. A brilliant metaphor by Greenpeace’s Jennifer Morgan at COP26 ‘It’s like saying you’re going on a diet but you keep eating cake while paying someone else to eat lettuce.”

Headlines from the COP26 Blue Zone were echoing through Glasgow: ‘World leaders promise to end deforestation by 2030’, ‘More than 40 countries commit to quit coal’, ‘US & EU methane cut pledge’ but the more talks I join, and voices I listen to, the trust in these claims dwindle. Laurence Tubiana, a key architect of the Paris agreement said “Greenwashing is for me now the new climate denial,” and I agree. With insights like 503 delegates at COP26 are associated with fossil fuel industries (Earthrise) it is no wonder we continue to hear empty promises from the Blue Zone.

I attended Voices from the Forest: A Film Showcase For People and Forests. We heard from the indigenous communities who risk their lives to safeguard the forests that are so crucial to our existence. There was hope that, if given enough resources and help (from organisations like The Environmental Investigation Agency), local communities can continue to conserve forests and restore biodiversity.

The good news is, it’s not all doom and gloom. Listening to Albert’s event Telling Climate Stories Together: In Conversation with Broadcaster CEOs, it is clear that broadcasters are taking action to incorporate the climate crises into daily coverage in creative ways, to help the general public understand the worst effects of climate change and encourage them to change their behaviours to make a difference. Within the advertising industry this is something we have been working on too with the help of Purpose Disruptors, watch their most recent Good Life 2030 film here.

The last event I attended was Fast Forward: A series of short films that explore five artist’s dreams for a regenerative world, and its panel blew me away. Each artist reflected on the lack of inclusiveness of COP26 and the role of art and culture in connecting people, addressing injustices, engaging emotion, and going beyond what is perceived as feasible. They stated that the role of the artist is to make the climate movement irresistible, this is what excites me about working in a creative studio.

Alongside my role at Coffee & TV it is the youth that continue to keep me optimistic about our future. 30,000 youth activists turned up to demand immediate action at protests in Glasgow on Friday, Greta of course being one of them. She gave up her speech to let indigenous leaders and climate activists from across the globe share their stories. It is clear we need to hear from those already suffering from the front line of the climate crises, to learn from their resilience and bond with nature. In 2019 David Attenborough told us ‘The stability of nature can no longer be relied upon’. COP26 reiterated that we are feeling the truth of that statement in every part of the world already. From individuals to businesses and world leaders we all have to play our part.

UK COP26 media wrote that ‘95 high profile companies from a range of sectors commit to being ‘Nature Positive’, but my fear is this is just another phrase to brainwash audiences into false confidence. Yes we must mitigate our emissions. Yes we must finance innovative solutions. But we must do this together through tackling climate justice, racial justice, and by adapting to our natural world whilst helping indigenous peoples protect it.