Climate Change


Climate Podcast: Post COP26: Where are we now?

This week we are talking COP26: what happened, what it means and where we go from here. Our host Helen Czerski is in conversation with Prof Kate Jones, Dr Priti Parikh and Ryan Philip from the St Kitts and Nevis delegation, and they are discussing the COP agreement, what was missed, the big wins and the big misses.

This episode covers the main takeaways from COP from deforestation to adaptation, loss and mitigation. We get into who was left out of COP, the impacts on the Small Island Alliance and the problem of western countries causing damage and expecting others to fix it.


UCL Minds  0:02  
We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.

Priti Parikh  0:10  
At least we have kept the 1.5 degrees dream alive, even though it may be on life support.

Ryan Phillip  0:18  
And we're looking to the developed world that basically put us in this position to help us to recover from some of the disasters and events that we're faced with.

Kate Jones  0:28  
And this link between the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis is really, they're intertwined.

Helen Czerski  0:36  
This is generation one from UCL University College London, turning climate science and ideas into action.

I'm Helen Czerski. And in this episode, we're taking a deep breath, after all, the excitement and drama of cop 26. And we're going to be sitting down to digest what actually happened and what it means for what happens next. We're recording this on the Monday just after it all finished. So we'll be bringing you the first reactions from a range of experts, as they nurse whatever the copper equivalent of a hangover is.

Mark Maslin has spent the past two weeks in Glasgow, so mark, you've just come out of the fray of Glasgow two whole weeks there. What are your impressions, at the end of it all, 

Mark Maslin  1:22  
it was the most frantic two weeks of my life, what I'm really excited about is that they really did hammer home and actually get to what we are now calling the Glasgow climate pact

Helen Czerski  1:36  
Obviously, the negotiations in the middle of the other really central bit, but then there's lots of organisations and people and lobbyists all around the outside of that. What were they doing while all this is going on, but they just listening in? Or were they was that a separate thing. 

Mark Maslin  1:51  
So cop is basically four meetings in one, there's the heart, which is the negotiations, where everybody is trying to actually get an agreement, then outside of that is within the cop process is countries and organisations presenting what they're doing to decarbonize. Then in Glasgow, there were businesses and other organisations having side events, trying to basically build business to business and connections. And then there's the protesters and the activists who are incredibly powerful, who are organising protests. So COP is, basically, four meetings in one. And sometimes those bits don't even connect at all. And that's why it's so huge and so noisy. 

Helen Czerski  2:38  
We're going to be talking a lot in this podcast about the big agreement itself and the details of what was in it, but just give us a flavour of some of those other bits, like what were people learning from each other? Were they listening to each other? Were they all just shouting at each other, like what was happening around the sides? 

Mark Maslin  2:53  
So around the sides, there are huge numbers of deals. So you saw that the USA and China had had something like 30 secret meetings over the last couple of months. And suddenly on the Thursday of the last week announced, yes, we're going to collaborate on dealing with climate change. We also had lots of businesses coming together, and actually creating new partnerships, to decarbonize, say, waste streams or looking at how to actually change transport networks. And actually, lots of money was changing hands. You saw that companies were actually engaging with countries and actually writing checks. Right on the table going right, we will find this part of your decarbonisation pathway. 

Helen Czerski  3:40  
I mean, it's amazing how much gets discussed that cop, just finally. So you were there for the full two weeks, I think and it sounds like it was frantic and loud all the time. Do you get to collapse in a heap now or this is just where the work starts? 

Mark Maslin  3:53  
Oh, the unfortunate thing is, I'd love to collapse in a heap. But of course, like all of my incredible UCL colleagues that were there, two weeks away from UCL means all we do is come back to the teaching that we've missed the administration that we have to pick up on. And of course, we all have to try and pick up on our research. So unfortunately, I'd love to sleep for a week. But no, it's back to work. 

Helen Czerski  4:17  
Well, I will let you get back onto that. But thank you for joining us. Pleasure. 

UCL Minds  4:20  
Hello, you're listening to generation one from UCL turning climate science and ideas into action.

Helen Czerski  4:27  
Today in 2021, Earth is home to 7.9 billion people spread throughout nearly 200 countries with different languages, different cultures, different vulnerabilities to climate change, and different historical contributions to the problem. But we all share this planet and we all share this truly global challenge. Cop 26 represents the best attempt to date to include all of those voices in weaving a fair and effective framework for the future of Earth's climate. But humanity needs action not words. So let's get into the details of what actually happened at COP 26. We have three guests joining us today, because on this topic, we really need a wide range of perspectives. And our guests are Professor Kate Jones, Dr. Priti Parikh and Ryan Phillips. So let's start if each of you could introduce yourself and your connection to cop and climate issues. Kate, let's start with you. 

Kate Jones  5:22  
Hi, brilliant to be on the podcast, Helen and great to be with all of the other guests. I'm Kate Jones. I'm a professor of ecology and biodiversity at UCL. I'm interested in nature based solutions, like how we use nature to achieve some of the mitigation and adaptation goals. And also, I'm a scientific adviser for the UK climate change Committee, which is independent body, which tracks how well the UK is actually delivering on its climate change pledges.

Helen Czerski  5:53  
I'm very glad that someone is keeping track and Priti, how about you? 

Priti Parikh  5:57  
Lovely to be here, everyone and I'm Dr. Priti Parikh, associate professor in engineering and international development. And my link with climate therefore is thinking about infrastructure solutions for climate adaptation. I had the privilege of being part of UCL delegation to cop 26 and I was at cop last week.

Helen Czerski  6:17  
Brilliant. And last but not least, Ryan. 

Ryan Phillip  6:19  
Thanks so much for having me, Helen. My name is Ryan Philip. I am an international postgraduate student here at UCL. I'm from a tiny, small island developing state called St. Kitts and Nevis. Fortunately, I was able to join my country's delegation at COP 26 and participate in a few events during the final week.

Helen Czerski  6:38  
 Well, for the two of you that were there, let's just get a quick flavour of what stood out. We're going to get into all the details, but just on the big picture stuff, Priti what are your big takeaways? What happened? What didn't happen? What was it like to be there? 

Priti Parikh  6:52  
Oh, gosh, it was quite external extraordinary to see the difficult dialogues shaping out. For me in week one, I remember when the Indian prime minister came in and made a pledge to reach net zero in 2070, for the first time, which received criticism was but was a big step forward, as it affects a billion people in this region. And also it is a nation which is highly dependent on coal. But what was interesting was to see the kind of tensions between the nations at doping nations play out right to the end, in fact, to the last hour of cop 26, where there was a push to change the language on phasing out of coal, which was watered down to facing down of coal. But for me, it was exciting to see that at least we have kept the 1.5 degrees dream alive, even though it may be on life support. But it was disappointing to see that there was still a lack of will and investment into climate adaptation, which is what the developing nations will need. 

Helen Czerski  8:01  
Well, we'll get into some of those details. But for that, Ryan, what was your kind of big, big picture big takeaway? 

Ryan Phillip  8:06  
Well, firstly, it was very tiring, you know, there was a lot happening. I think even if you weren't a delegate, you're just an observer, you can have a full eight to five day just attending side events and what not, it was my first time at an event like that. So the biggest takeaway for me from cop 26, was that most parties now agree that we have to target 1.5 degrees instead of two degrees, which was kind of what was looked at in the Paris Agreement. 

Helen Czerski  8:39  
Before we get to the progress. Kate, obviously, we've had a we are having a global pandemic. And, you know, there was six years in, in the end between the Paris meeting and this one. So how did the pandemic influence progress towards the Paris goals and the whole discussion of what we do about climate change? 

Kate Jones  8:58  
That's an interesting question. I think it's acted as a as a kind of a delay, I would guess, in some ways because of the delay in the cop, and also the problems with organising it, but also, I think it also acted as a wake up call. So I think there are positive and negatives for the pandemic effect. So the pandemic is probably and I say that with some knowledge probably caused by our environmental degradation, and, you know, deforestation and cutting down habitats and degrading landscapes so that animals which weren't in contact with us are more in contact with us and and speak and pathogens can jump into human populations. And so their kind of degradation and the environmental degradation that's that's being caused by human activity is the root cause of the pandemic. 

Helen Czerski  9:54  
It certainly feels as though the idea of an existential threat is being taken a lot more seriously. Even in this country, which was not at risk of societal collapse as a result of the pandemic, you know that the panic over toilet rolls which people, you know, people take the mick out of that a lot, but it was a small, tiniest, tiniest piece of insecurity. And people were terrified. And I feel that it did, it did actually help people take things like that seriously. Priti, what do you think about the effects of the pandemic? 

Priti Parikh  10:22  
Well, I work with communities who, even before the pandemic struggled to survive. And with the pandemic, we saw that they started to revert back to using polluting fuels. So for example, some of the communities who were being transitioned to renewable energy to think confused, they could not afford to pay their bills, their energy bills, and started reverting back to use the coal and good. So from that perspective, if we are asking those households to make this transition, it is going to be a difficult conversation. And I felt that some of those difficult dialogues did play out in cup and there were discussions about loss and damages when they were discussions about climate, climate adaptation, finance and technical assistance. 

Helen Czerski  11:09  
Ryan, you mentioned coming from a small, small island perhaps for those who don't, whose geography needs a bit of a bit of revision just remind us how big St. Kitts and Nevis is, but but then tell us what do the small islands is their voice heard? How is it heard? 

Ryan Phillip  11:26  
So like I said, I'm from St. Kitts and Nevis, it's about 68 square miles, we have about 50,000 people population. So you know, it's really tiny, really relaxed place. But in terms of, if our voices are heard, at a major conference, like cop, we come together, and we form what is called the AOSIS. Alliance of small island states. And we kind of negotiate together because we have similar vulnerabilities, we have similar aims. And one of the major things that we we speak about, especially at COP is climate finance. And one of the disappointing bits about cop 26, is that, you know, loss and damage wasn't included in the final agreement. And so basically, loss and damages that we as developing countries that haven't contributed much to the climate crisis, are the most affected and the most impacted. And we're looking to the developed world that basically put us in this position to help finance, you know, some of the events or help us to recover from some of the disasters and events that we're faced with. 

Helen Czerski  12:40  
Kate, we hear a lot about adaptation and mitigation. And I think it's not always clear, you know, in the general conversation, what the difference between those two things is, could you just clarify that for us? 

Kate Jones  12:51  
Yeah. So mitigation is all the things that you do to take care of the emissions that we already have. So it could be that you so that that are being emitted into the atmosphere. So you could extract some of the carbon by planting trees, for example, which soak up carbon and give off oxygen. But adaptation is adapting to the climate change that's already here. And often is thought of the kind of Cinderella of the climate change movement, because it's kind of ignored. And I'm not sure how, how well understood it is that we are already facing over one degrees of, of climate change, and, you know, without and we've got what, like 1.5 baked in to the system by 2050. And so in order to stay where we are we and also meet some of those mitigation targets, we actually have to put in a lot of adaptation. So these are things like green roofs, planting more trees for, you know, adapting to the higher temperatures, creating cooler environments, sustainable urban drainage to cope with the flood risk planting, and or restoring peatlands, so it can actually absorb carbon so that it's more resilient, having high biodiversity so it's more resilient to shocks when climate change happens. So I'm not sure that the kind of adaptation needed by all countries on the planet and also the UK is actually understood. And so I think I was a little disappointed that adaptation didn't feature as much as it should have. And this link between the biodiversity crisis and the climate crisis is really, they're intertwined. Right. So and I think we're tracking and treating them separately at the moment in some of these international agreements. 

Helen Czerski  14:49  
It is just so many very big issues and it sounds it sounds crazy in a way that if, as you said, we've basically locked in 1.5 degrees of change, that we're not putting a lot of time into thinking about how to deal with that, but obviously there's a priority to stop it getting worse. Priti, how about you? What do you see when it comes to adaptation and mitigation in your area? 

Priti Parikh  15:08  
So I agree with Kate, I think there needs to be much stronger emphasis action in climate adaptation. My take on this, and this is the white elephant in the room that no one talks about that between now and 2050, we're going to add 2 billion people to this planet. Most of this population growth is going to take place in developing nations, and even within those countries in low income settlements, where there are already gaps in housing and infrastructure. So the big question is, how are we going to provide housing and infrastructure to this additional population in a way, which is climate resilient, take countries which have 70% dependency on coal at the moment, for them to make the shift requires huge undertaking. And I feel that this has been underestimated. And then developing countries feel that their voice is not being heard with a lot about targets. 

Helen Czerski  16:02  
And I'm just quite interested in the question of targets. Because you know, every time there's a big international meeting, there are some targets, people promise stuff. And that's one thing, but if you don't actually deliver on that target, you're not it's not you're not necessarily helping. Well, let's perhaps talk about one of the targets that was announced, which was about deforestation, that there was a big focus, I think more than 100 countries signed up at this cop to improvements in deforestation. So Kate, perhaps what happens next, was that good enough? And what will happen as a result of it? 

Kate Jones  16:34  
Well, it was a great start, I don't want to be negative about it, I think is a really brilliant start that that was on the, you know, that was in the forefront of people's minds. I think the key thing for it to be delivered, is the mechanisms for how if you're a local person, and local community, and you're, you know, have low income, and you need, you know, funds and food and shelter, what's to stop you doing that deforestation. And I think that there was some commitments on private and public funds, about 14 billion to support that and to support is to support indigenous local communities. And that's really brilliant. But you know, how those mechanisms actually work? How do you make sure that they go to the right communities, and they go to the right projects? But also, I think this is really important. How do we stop those production change that we're that say, using in the UK, we don't realise that we've deforested half of Indonesia to have palm oil, you know, in our breakfast cereals? 

Helen Czerski  17:36  
Well, you raised a really important point there, which is that, you know, if you live in a rich Western nation, which a lot of the loudest voices are, it's very easy to say, Oh, well, they they someone over there is causing a problem and often the people who are actually cutting down the trees in this case are you know, they're poor. And and how I just curious about each of you how much you feel that we are, this is rich country saying, Oh, are you over there have to do something, but they're, they're sort of ignoring, not just as you said, the chains, but the fact that there's a lot of poverty, that you're asking poor people to make themselves poorer? And Priti, what's your take on that?

Priti Parikh  18:13  
 So I was really pleased by this commitment for deforestation, which was signed by 100 nations, it's a step in the right direction. But once again, I have questions on implementation of this. I'm working with communities, low income communities in East Africa, to transition them away from using coal, charcoal, and wood for cooking to using LPG, which I know is not a perfect solution, but it's a cleaner and better solution. And what we're finding there is at the moment, women spent hours collecting wood, bringing the wood back, cooking, subjecting themselves to indoor air pollution. So if we were to transition them to clean fuels, it would have a huge implication both for the health and well being but for the forestation, but the problem is that a lot of those households cannot afford to pay for LPG. And especially in the pandemic, we found that a lot of those households, were reverting back to using polluting fuels. So I think for low income households, that day to day lift experiences are shaped by how to survive, how to get access to basic services, and this needs to be considered in climate adaptation and resilience plans. 

Kate Jones  19:28  
Can I try to maybe add one thing? I guess, I would say that there's this, you know, sometimes there's this vision of that we're saving the planet and these world leaders are saving us were, you know, all to be saved by their benevolence. But let's just take a look at that. The reason these world leaders got together, and the real reason that they're trying to do something about climate change, is because in the long run, it will cost 200 300 400 500 times more than, then it will if they didn't do anything about it. So it's a pure financial thing that we're dealing with here, it will cost a lot more to fix the problem after it's we have runaway climate change? 

Helen Czerski  20:19  
Well, let's just pick up as finance was a big issue. And Ryan, I'd like your opinion on this. So you mentioned that loss and damage was not in the final agreement. Just give us some practical a practical view. So if if it had been if this money had been offered, what practical things would the small island nations be doing with it? You know, what do they need to do? 

Ryan Phillip  20:39  
So I will use where I'm from, as an example. So in the Caribbean, we're extremely vulnerable to hurricanes, they happen yearly. And one for one, we always need funding for rebuilding when an island is impacted, you know, it can take a significant percentage of their GDP just to rebuild and recover once the storm passes. So if it is that we are impacted by a storm right now, you know, we would need funding to recover. But we will also need that funding to become a bit more resilient, you know, Bill, see differences we really need to prioritise in smaller islands. 

Helen Czerski  21:22  
Thank you, I think it's so important to connect the small scale things on the ground where an individual is looking at their beach or their home with these big international agreements, because sometimes they can seem so so far apart. Now, we've got a question from a listener who recorded a question for us. So here it is. 

UCL Minds  21:42  
What do you think is the value of COP, particularly when activists such as Greta tunberg, have recently dismissed it as ineffective.

Helen Czerski  21:49  
And so I'd like each of your responses to that Priti, let's start with you. 

Priti Parikh  21:54  
So I would say that it's not quite blah, blah, blah. It is a small step in the right direction, at least now the climate science has is agreed, there was a common alignment on the 1.5 degrees goal. And there was a recognition that we need to work together to move forward. And there was a call to get countries back next year, with their national targets. I think it's a baby step. I agree that the there were gaps in the final document around loss and damages around adaptation, also 100 billion dollars were promised, and they have not been forthcoming for adaptation. So we're not quite there yet. But it is a step in the right direction. 

Helen Czerski  22:39  
Kate, was it all just blah, blah, blah.

Kate Jones  22:42  
I think I agree with what Priti was saying there about that is a small step. And I do worry that it's we're not going fast enough. And I think people like Greta, have been so inspirational. And I think she needs to keep and we all need to keep going and move on conversate she's, you know, been really instrumental in moving the conversation and bringing that onto the agenda all the time. And I think that pressure needs to be sustained, we need to, to shift up the pressure so that they move faster. So I think the framework is there, or it's beginning to be there. But the speed isn't quite there. 

Helen Czerski  23:20  
And Ryan, your first time at COP, you're seeing all these big discussions for the first time. Did you think it was just a talking shop? 

Ryan Phillip  23:27  
Yeah, so like you said, I think if I didn't experience, you know, getting experience for the negotiations and the actual process, I might have thought, you know, maybe it was a blah, blah, blah, maybe, you know, nothing substantial came out of it. But I would have to agree with Priti and Kate, you know, there are small steps. And like I mentioned earlier, one of the biggest things for me is that there is a common consensus that we have to stick to 1.5 and not two degrees. I'm not sure if you guys would have heard but the prime minister of Barbados, she Mia Mottley, she would have said that, you know, two degrees is a death sentence for us in the small island developing states. And it really is there is, the scientific community has come together and said that we have to stick to 1.5 and I'm happy that that has come out of the conference. Are we on the path to 1.5 We aren't quite there yet. It's a very slow process. 

Helen Czerski  24:27  
Fantastic. So to finish with, we are going to dip into our time capsule to ask each of you to contribute to the time capsule we're building up. Just as a reminder, these can be things either that you would like to leave in the past and they're going in the time capsule, so that people in the future can put them in the museum and hope they never have to see a real whenever again, or it could be something that you want to put in the time capsule because you think the future really needs this and it shouldn't get lost. And so I'm going to ask each of you very briefly just to pick your object to leave with those in our time capsule. Priti would you like to go first?

Priti Parikh  25:03  
Sure, why not? So I'm a huge fan of Doctor Who. So what I would like to put in the time capsule is Doctor Who's TARDIS. Because today as I sit here, I'm cautiously optimistic that in 30 years time, our world would be a better place. But I would like each iteration to be able to travel back to see what was the havoc that we created on this planet, and see how difficult those dialogues and discussions have been to get to a point where the future is better. So I'm foolish, I'm optimistic, and huge Doctor Who fan that is a brilliant contribution. I love that we will be on the phones doctor who immediately, Kate What would you like to leave in our time capsule? Well, I want to be best friends with prissy now because I'm also a big

Kate Jones  25:52  
so mine is a bit more conceptual a bit more boring. But I'd like to consigned to history, this rational economic man model of economics. Now this is where this is kind of started by Adam Smith. In his book Wealth of Nations. This was where economics was thought to be self interested. It's have rational actors who know what they want. They make rational choices to maximise their utility. And it's broken is totally wrong. It's It's led to a kind of economic model where all the intrinsics, which we rely on like clean air, clean water, people to look after the children while somebody else goes to work are not counted for and that has caused us to not value the environment. So I will consign rational economic man to history.

Helen Czerski  26:43  
Very good, Ryan. Last but not least,

Ryan Phillip  26:46  
Yeah, mine is a bit different to Priti and Kate. And I would compile a document I sent this is basically of what we have done to rectify the climate crisis for future generations. But I just want to let people know, you know, what was done, and how much we did till you know, conservative futures.

Helen Czerski  27:12  
It's a critical point that really understanding history is a very important part of understanding what to do in the future. So that's a great addition to the time capsule. Thank you very much to all three of you. You've been fabulous guests, of course, and it's been fascinating to talk to you. So thank you very much for joining us. To be pleasant, thank you. We want to leave you feeling that there's plenty that you can do to keep the world moving towards a better future. Because it's true, there are loads of things that you can do. We've got some suggestions on the UCL generation one website, and anyone can make a pledge there to commit to these actions, and you can also see what other people have pledged to do. So the top three pledges at the moment are shopping at charity shops and swap shops for clothes. Number two is checking tire pressures to better fuel efficiency. And number three is checking out the NASA app to weigh your local trees to find out how much carbon they're storing. So you can look at the whole list and make your own pledges on the website. And you can also suggest your own pledge. You can do that on social media via the hashtag UCL generation one, and you can also keep up to date there with all the other climate action at UCL. If you've got comments about the podcast or ideas for things we could cover, or anything else you'd like to let us know about, send an email to podcasts@ucl.ac.uk And that's it for this episode of generation one from UCL turning climate science and ideas into action. I'm Helen Czerski. And my thanks this week, go to Kate Jones, Priti Parikh, Ryan Phillip and Mark Maslin. In the next edition of generation one from UCL will be next Wednesday, where we'll be talking about trees they matter, but just how much? Goodbye for now.