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COP26 is a reflection on the actions or inaction, the urgency and process for transformational change

Aaron Durnbaugh

Was COP26 a success? Was it a failure? Is this just a bureaucratic exercise while the world burns and the greedy profit? I won’t suggest that I know (or that any observer can know) the full outcomes of this process but I can say that what gets agreed to at COP is an important demonstration of global decision-making leading to real progress and unfortunately, is completely insufficient to the scale of the challenge.

It is an honor to experience COP26, meet climate champions in-person and virtually, and take in the complexity and shared commitment of this global process. As the only multilateral, global structure to keep the atmosphere’s warming within safe limits, witnessing 197 countries, official observers, and countless engaged parties come together during a pandemic is a true wonder.

Recognizing the omissions of many important voices, I observed the inclusive intent leading to strong contributions from indigenous and youth parties. Indeed, in almost every event I saw a commitment to diversity, non-state actors, and civil society that may have been missed if you only read media reports or follow on social media.

As a representative from higher education, the inclusion of scientists and other content experts, and youth and students was appreciated as we need to ground the process in the limits of atmospheric chemistry and social policy, while continually developing the next generation of climate leaders.

I visited the Blue Zone of COP26 on 4, 6, and 8 November as a member of the America Is All In coalition, a group of US-based state and local governments, businesses, faith-based and cultural organizations, and institutions.

Loyola University Chicago is committed to keeping our elected officials at the local (Chicago), state (Illinois), and national (USA) levels moving aggressively to the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement. The university itself is 56% of our way to our climate neutral goal illustrated in our 2015 climate action plan, A Just Future.

Just weeks before COP26, Loyola announced our most recent progress with our Sustainable Investment Policy, divesting from fossil fuel companies and making commitments to clean energy and other sustainable investment opportunities going forward.

During my time in Glasgow I also attended educational programs in the Pavilion Zone, the Sustainable Glasgow Landing, and Glasgow University. I attended the Saturday march and rally consisting of tens of thousands of voices (despite the cold, wind, and rain) urging more ambition.

But for me personally, as someone working for change in my home and in my community, I was most encouraged by the outstanding participation of American governmental leaders. From participation at the highest level of President Biden and his cabinet members, 18 US Senators, 25 US House of Representatives, at least 7 state governors, and the strong leadership and dogged negotiations of Climate Envoy John Kerry and members of the State Department team, the US Government brought its resources to the occasion. At the same time, a transformative infrastructure bill and the “Build Back Better” legislation informed by a 1.5 degree limit is moving through the legislature to turn intent into action.

COP26 is neither a success or a failure but a reflection on the actions or inaction, the urgency and process, that are required of transformational change. It is a change that we each must consider and participate in. To be successful in averting the very worst impacts of our own hand on the climate system, everything must change towards a more just, sustainable, and equitable society respecting all inhabitants and the planetary limits to our own growth and economies.

Aaron Durnbaugh is the Director of Sustainability at the School of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola University Chicago and joined meetings of the Ecojesuit COP26 virtual and in-person delegation.

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