COP26 and Climate Exp0 Conference: Thoughts and reflections of a critical climate decade

Eleanor Godwin, Socio-legal Studies, University of Liverpool (2020 Cohort)

Between the 17th – 21st May 2021 I (and my dog, as pictured!) attended the Climate Exp0 conference, including volunteering as a student rep on the Friday. This was first conference of its kind organised by the COP26 Universities Network and the Italian University Network for Sustainable Development and supported by the UKRI, Cambridge University Press, and the Conference of Italian University Rectors. With the weight of support behind it, this conference presented the latest thinking in issues related to the climate, as part of the official All4Climate Pre-COP26 Programme. This blog post will firstly look at what COP26 is and the purpose behind the Climate Exp0 conference, then it will provide key takeaway points from the conference itself.

COP26: What is it?

Considering the reason for the Climate Exp0 conference was in preparation, and in some ways speculation, about what decisions may be made at COP26, you may be wondering what COP26 is. Well, COP26 is the UN’s Climate Change Conference of Parties, which is being held in Glasgow in November. There is rapidly growing recognition that the climate emergency is just that, an emergency, and there is further realisation that the Paris Agreement which came out of the COP21 in Paris in 2015 did not go far enough to alter the course of the climate disaster. Therefore, this COP has a certain, possibly unique, feeling of urgency.

COP26 has four goals:

  1. To secure global net zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  2. To adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  3. To mobilise finance
  4. To work together to deliver

The cynic in me says that COP26 may not go far enough either, but we can only hope. However, the level of expertise and empirical evidence presented at the Climate Exp0 conference provides a force to be reckoned with.

Climate Exp0: A whirlwind conference

This fully virtual conference included 450+ speakers, including academics, ministers, policymakers, practitioners, students and members of the public from 150 countries, with over 5200 attendees throughout the week! Climate Exp0 revolved around 5 themes of green recovery, nature-based solutions, mitigation solutions, adaptation and resilience and lastly, finance and regulation.

My PhD is on corporate ecocide, looking at corporate accountability mechanisms with an interest in law. Therefore, the theme of finance and regulation on the Friday was the reason I attended the conference, as it had its base in environmental law, with the session on climate law and governance providing me with a real insight into legal issues and governing them.

Conference key takeaways:

1. The importance of universities in the climate crisis

From the COP26 President Delegate Rt Hon Alok Sharma and Italian Minister for Ecological Transition’s Roberto Cingolani’s opening speeches to Nigel Topping’s closing speech, the message to be taken away from this conference is that academics and universities are and will continue to be critical in the quest for a carbon-free future. Research, development and innovation within these universities needs to be encouraged, fully supported and continued. Furthermore, Nigel Topping encouraged universities to join the Race to Zero Campaign, as well as calling for students and academics to continue to demand action from state as well as non-state actors.

2. A ‘just transition’

The idea of ‘just transition’ has become one of those climate buzz phrases and was key throughout the conference. A just transition means a fair transition towards an environmentally sustainable economy, ensuring social inclusivity with the eradication of poverty. The Paris Agreement includes the idea of just transition as one of its key principles.

3. The ‘local’ in the global

Whist universities were repeatedly noted as key, Minister Annie-Maire Trevelyan called for academic research on climate solutions, which are put in place by governments and businesses, to respond to the local context and communities upon where they are based. We need to ensure that the communities who are most impacted are given solutions which accommodate their local needs.

4. Law and financial flow

There was a collective overarching belief that implementing climate laws would change the behaviour of the private sector; we have to mobilise the private sector to collaborate and celebrate their successes rather than necessarily punish them. This is one idea I found questionable, but it certainly gave my own literature review another angle to follow and include. Other ideas were based around contract law as they key to changing the flow of investments; changing the rules of the game, making anything that impacts the investment a financial risk. In essence, we need stronger laws and regulation to encourage the private sector to consider the climate and to change the flow of investment away from fossil fuels.

Overall, I encourage anyone interested in the environment to check out the Climate Exp0 website, it has an excellent array of information on these themes, with catch-up on demand sessions still available, as well as a poster hall, media library, blog and highlights reel from each of the 5 days. Get inspired to help in the fight for our climate; join the movement for change in this critical moment of change for us and for future generations! Because if not now, then when?

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