I know, you may have read a lot or even maybe too many articles about COP26 by now, but this one will cover exclusively my experience there as a newbie in the picture, startup founder, there to genuinely offer her help without asking for anything, who decided to head to Glasgow to offer her support and solution at the very last minute, ended up going to a large range of fringe events and dinners, with all sorts of profiles to discover the reality of climate actions, day after day.
-1 month: Preparation
Beginning of October, I told myself that I actually had to go to Glasgow, no matter what. I mean… for once it’s in the UK..! To build connections, introduce myself, The EA Project and The Circular Society Network, maybe grow my team, recruit new members and build partnerships.
Applications for accreditations were stopped 1-2 months after The EA Project was created so obviously I wouldn’t be accredited this year. However, I had a look at the accreditation criteria and unless you are an NGO, you need to be part of one of the parties or a delegation, so I didn’t quite see where I would fit at the time. The way the selections are made too let me wonder…where are civilians represented? How can individual, independent, non-biased organizations have a voice and reach out to these decision makers to make things change? Oh, in the Green Zone, far away from any decision making process (?). Some would say politicians represent people but I don’t believe in this anymore (who does?). I was more thinking about an independent delegation where civilians from all countries would have elected some delegates to represent their voice for example. That or a delegation of local civilians. So politicians can actually hear what is happening on a grassroot level from people usually never included and non-activists.
And so I searched for official events where accreditation was not required. And then I saw that my only option for an access to an “almost official zone” for young startups like mine offering solutions, was around 750GBP for 1 day (cheapest option). So the planet is on fire and we are literally charging people for finding solutions. Interesting.
In the meantime, I also had a look at other open events, more reasonable, and once my agenda was full of interesting events, I booked my accommodation and train tickets…And what a surprise! The prices for accommodation in Glasgow had multiplied by 10. Thankfully, I don’t remember the train tickets being so expensive.
So after spending around 2k in transport and accommodation for 12 nights, I contacted the organizers of this 750GBP event, introducing my solution and asking for support. I am still waiting for a response today and obviously never got a chance to attend to their event and share my solution with these decision makers. Event planners, don’t forget your own social and environmental responsibility!
Day 1: Meeting at the HQ of Climate Reality (Activists)
First day waking up in Glasgow, and as a recent Climate Reality Leader, my first wish was to head to the Climate Reality Café and meet up with my fellow leaders, exchange any tips, build connections and start enjoying the program!
I had such a great day meeting with other like-minded people, and building connections with people who truly care. Cardboard stands, edible coffee cups, and a venue open to all, these climate cafes were accessible using a dedicated electric bus, in partnership with First Bus who has very ambitious targets in terms of reducing their emissions.
We received a visit visit from a representative of the Government of California, pictures were taken, we didn’t discuss with their team and they left as fast as they appeared.
I stayed there all day, and in the evening I had dinner with a few climate reality leaders, including Raj, who flew all his way there from India, one of the biggest activists of his country, who has worked with many scientists, went on incredible expeditions with them and represents indigenous communities with his own organization. Raj has been by my side most of the following days and has shown his support on so many occasions already. He has became a member of The Circular Society Network and we still continue supporting each other since. I think I’ve made what we call a friend.
Day 2 : Diversity & Inclusion
I attended to day 1 of The Holyrood Festival to listen to panelists discuss about topics that really matter in tackling the climate crisis: Diversity & Inclusion.
I really was excited about hearing from open-minded people. Because you have to be open and welcoming when you are on stage talking about diversity and inclusion right?
This is potentially the right place for me to offer my help and maybe get some of these people on board with The Circular Society Network.
Right after a panel full of women promoting how women need to support each other and explaining why and how important it is to include and represent all of us as a Society in the decision making process, I naturally decide to introduce myself to these women and explain what The Circular Society Network does and how we can collaborate to take concrete action in deploying what they have been talking about for about an hour.
I literally have no words to explain how awkward it felt. I didn’t know that the room could get any colder because it was already freezing in there, but here we are. I got out as fast as I got in and never ever heard back from them.
Maybe my approach was not the best, maybe concrete actions were never really in the program in the first place but clearly, I’ve seen the values of diversity and inclusion stay (& die) on stage that day and it hurt.
The following panels were about Raising the voices of the Youth to Participate and about BAME voices and Climate change which I thought were talks coming much more from the heart and since I am creating a bridge with the Youth via our virtual coffee shop on Gather, I contacted one of the speakers of the Youth panel and she kindly invited me to meet her the next day in another venue, nearby the university to discuss this further.
That night, I met up with like-minded people at the local stand up comedy café to meet local people from Glasgow and exchanged with entrepreneurs and scientists and we also had a great time while we got slightly roasted by comedians!
Day 3: Meeting the Youth, Indigenous communities and artists, discovering sustainable innovations and the extras.
That day I think was the day I walked the most. In heals. I told myself that I would walk any destination that is situated around 30 minutes from the very central place I was staying.
The previous day I got invited by a Youth organization leader to join her and discuss about ways to collaborate together in order to engage the Youth nearby the university which was 35-38 minutes away…. A good way to visit Glasgow and do a lot of steps!
We discussed about eco-anxiety and about my virtual coffee shop. The exchange was warm and short. I left and since I had some time before my next event at 2pm, I decided to start walking near the blue zone. Once there, I saw all the barriers and security, so I gave up and walked back to my room, before heading to a fringe event, this time about ways to reach net zero now, focused on climate solutions, climate tech and climate finance, on the opposite side of Glasgow, another 25 minutes away.
I had the chance to meet an interesting entrepreneur, who uses waste to produce construction materials and it was already time for me to leave for my next event, this time, a dinner organized by Heal R World, at The Hilton Hotel. Several local entrepreneurs were recognized for their solutions, and many innovations were launched that night, from food nutrition using sea weeds, a credit card that shows the consumer the amount of CO2 related to his purchases, to the massive Peace Boat.
Music 4 Climate Justice was officially launched that night too, with the support of incredible artists like Akon, and we had the chance to assist to live performances from AY, founder of Battery Tour and Raine Stern who was a contestant on The Voice Season 20, both promoting climate action.
That night, I met indigenous people who flew from The Amazon to defend their rights, their land and biodiversity (or should I say ours too). It was such a special moment and seeing them for the first time, in-person, made it feel more real and made me realize that more people need to see and hear them, for the values and knowledge they have to share and also so they can stop considering them as being part of the past when they clearly represent our future.
We also got invited to participate to EarthX 2022 which will take place in April or March 2022, in Dallas, Texas.
That day was probably my biggest one, rich in diversity and steps for sure!
Day 4: Nature & The Environment
Back to the Holyrood festival and today was focused on nature itself, and biodiversity. Necessary panels to remind us and give us ideas on ways to connect people back to nature and the environment. Circularity, land restoration and ways to democratize nature were mentioned.
I think it may that day I got to discuss with DHL and learn more about their Youth management program. We shared ideas about how they could use their new transportation solution in collaboration with other industries to go even further and about their future responsibilities as leaders within this big corporation. They were fascinating and motivated. It’s crazy what you can learn and the impact you can have just by being kind & interested in people. By the way, did you know DHL can collect your old mattress, avoiding people dumping it on the streets?
Day 5: Building partnerships, Scotland’s ambitions to net zero and Scotland’s Food and drinks sector tackling the climate emergency (caution: green washing alert)
Where to start with this one…!
Let’s go straight to the last event of the day. Friday afternoon, many people left, probably knowing what was going to happen with this last session “Scotland’s Food and drinks sector tackling the climate emergency“, represented by this famous red and white logo brand, a member of Scotland’s Government and Zero Waste Scotland.
I think we were approximatively 10 in the audience. 10 remaining, here with our hope to finally hear something from this “red brand”. 10 still “giving them a chance” to say something or demonstrate they finally take responsibility, as the biggest drink brand of the world, to actually show the way in our transformation, show some innovation here.
After approximatively 45/60 minutes listening how the final consumer is responsible and should return themselves drinks packaging (deposit return schemes), or how convinced they are about the fact that everything produced will be returned against money, targeting a “bold ambition” of 100% returns of drinks packaging, and listening how plastic is great and how creative people actually are reusing these plastic bottles to create new products, I just couldn’t applaud. I was absolutely shocked, speechless.
When it came to taking questions from the public, it only got worse when I thought it couldn’t.
The organizer gave the mic to this lady, insisting on only asking questions, who started by saying “actually this is not a question but a comment” and said what many of us were thinking: “I had hope. I thought I was going to learn something about what the food & drink industry is doing to tackle the climate crisis and all I’ve heard was about recycling and reusing plastic bottles. Something we have been talking about for four years now and I didn’t learn anything. I am disappointed.”
I have so much respect for this lady speaking out! She got cut off by the moderator/organizer as soon as it was possible which I also thought was very biased and not inclusive at all. Shocking to see this from event organizers in 2021 after they had been promoting a panel about diversity & inclusion themselves… What people would do for sponsors….very disappointing to end the festival on this note.
I had to fight hard to stick to my principles of non-judgement and support during this transformation and decided to give it a try and wait for the “red brand” speaker to be approachable and talk to him about how our community can support them. No judgement, new outlook, access to resources, experts and leaders, matchmaking events, all free of charge…focused on their needs and challenges… genuine people are usually excited about this.
After 30 seconds, I was offered the “here is my LinkedIn QR code, let’s keep in touch” card. Everybody knows what it means. This person not only seemed affected by what happened with the audience, but also couldn’t care less about taking action. He looked bored even before I even opened my mouth. I obviously am still waiting to hear back from this person or to see my connection request accepted.
In the evening though, I had the chance to meet up with my newly activist friend who introduced me to scientists and NGO leaders over dinner.
We discussed about what was happening on a grassroot level and solutions being developed in the Himalayas where the situation is critical and where people are literally trying to fight against sunlight with reflection panels, their needs and challenges and also about Climate Restoration, Philosophy, Politics and Economics.
I even got a white paper from Peter Fiekowsky called “The Climate Restoration Imperative, What it means, Why it matters, How we can make it happen” (Forthcoming book: “Climate Restoration: The only future that will sustain the Human race”) with Carole Douglis. It includes an inscription from Peter himself (very kind words of support, thanks again Peter). Peter is a physicist and engineer, a serial entrepreneur, a philanthropist, and a social innovator and his book will be available on March 2022. More information here: https://www.peterfiekowsky.com/book
Day 6 & 7: The Investment COP and Earth X dinner
Day 6 & 7 were quite difficult for me. After one very intense week my body started to feel weak but as always, I was testing regularly and as long as I could, I would keep going. I had the morning off on day 6 & 7 and connected with investors, who seemed really concerned by their impact and willing to take action so that was a very good confirmation of what I already heard, NGOs and Universities, (including people from Cambridge University I am still in contact with today, willing to support The EA Project) at lunch time and during the networking breaks and cocktail evenings. I also got to meet a future start up member there and discuss collaboration with the organiser of the summit: The World Climate Foundation.
This two-day event ended with a speech from First Minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon which was a good surprise. She reminded to investors their responsibility in our transformation and of course, how much Scotland is great!
I attended some conferences and joined an Earth X dinner in the evening of the 6th day. There I got to see people I already met previously like Peter, NGOs, discussed with a member of The United Nations based in Ghana, a potential media partner and a future new member representing an investor network. It was also Earth X founder’s birthday and we had a vegan menu (I hope I had seen this more often. Most of the time my vegan colleagues had a more challenging journey and this is such a shame for COP!).
Day 8: The New York Times Climate Hub & She Changes Climate cocktail party
I was a bit left with what was available when it comes to The New York Times Climate Hub registrations still available after COP26 began, because obviously all the superstar days were sold out probably for weeks, before I even started considering going to COP, so I didn’t really know what to expect with the program of the day I picked but I wasn’t disappointed.
That day was the first day and only day of my trip I would take an Uber. The New York Times was in an industrial venue, pretty cool but not so easy to access. The venue was huge and although a lot of people had already left Glasgow after the first week, I was expecting to see more people than I saw (at first). There was a lot of security systems operating which I think was probably necessary, and after going through 2 security gates and walking a little bit, I finally reached the main hall to get my pass and attend the first conference of the day:
“Deep Tech for Climate Solutions”, followed by “Local and Global Climate Journalism in Action”, “Plant Trees Not Just Seeds: Counteracting Deforestation”, “Returning to the Heartwood”, a conference with monks where we got the chance to do a meditation session with them and also listen to a fabulous musician, and last but not least, “Climate Justice Means Racial Justice“. After my first conference I discovered another place, the cafeteria, where you could buy coffee, lunch, network and visit an exhibition held by IKEA.
I got to learn more about what IKEA was doing, like collecting old jeans to create furniture e.g, selling small vegetable gardens, and had a great chat with the IKEA representatives I think I will remember for the rest of my life. I went through all sorts of emotions during COP26, and sometimes I felt very lonely and overwhelmed trying to convince disconnected stakeholders to take action and at least listen to my solution.
But then I met this young woman and she was absolutely amazed about what I was saying and thanked me so much for giving her hope, giving her a new outlook on many topics & opportunities that come with every crisis. It still makes me feel emotional even writing about this 2 months later. Thank you for being so supportive if you are reading this. These people are really the ones who keep me going. That really shows how a simple thing such as a conversation between to random people can go a long way and proves that everybody as an individual has an impact.
I then had lunch and was joined by two people working on community building and marketing so we had interesting thoughts to share before joining the next conferences.
The previous week, Greta Thunberg and many other big names like former Vice-President Al Gore, Emma Watson, Matt Damon (visio), John Kerry and more, participated in conversations in a beautiful room full of trees, supposed to create an “jungle” in this industrial place to reconnect us with nature. Humidity, bird sounds and even real butterflies were present. Very beautiful. I hope this was designed and operated sustainably. Again, access to this venue wasn’t free but was more affordable than other events. Forum sessions with all these special guests were very expensive (£600-£700 if I remember correctly) and many of these special guests think Tanks were available at an extra cost. However, all sessions are available to watch here: https://climatehub.nytimes.com/
I highly recommend watching these sessions. The New York Times really did a fantastic job with these panels and events, non-biased, straight to the point, and intersectional, supported by big names to have a bigger impact. Exactly what we need.
At the end of that day, I called another Uber to go to the opposite side of town and join a cocktail party organized by She Changes Climate, (visit: https://www.shechangesclimate.org/), an organization fighting to represent gender diversity at COP to accelerate our transformation. I discovered this organization on LinkedIn through one of our Circular Society Network members and so I was very excited to meet her co-founder and other like-minded people. They had an event all day but I had already booked my day at The New York Times Climate Hub. I hurried up to not arrive late to the cocktail party and maybe get a chance to catch up with some people from the day talks I missed and show my support in real life.
I arrived early, right in the middle of the transition between the day time event and the evening cocktail. These events took place in a much less fancy venue, more closer to the locals and to the reality of most people’s daily lives, which was a deliberate choice. The organizers wanted their event to benefit excluded communities and an old venue that could need some works. I texted one of my friends activist to join me and we had a great vegan buffet thanks to a caterer using reusable packaging. This was only the second (and universal, not only an option menu) vegan menu I saw in two weeks time!
While waiting for my friend to arrive and for the co-founder to be available so we could have a chat, I got to chat with some young students who were not activists and were just curious, or helping out. They sounded a bit hopeless but really enjoyed the women speeches, and so I tried to offer them a new outlook on things.
Once my friend arrived and we had dinner, I got to discuss with the co-founder of She Changes Climate, after already chatting a bit on LinkedIn and learn more about their next steps, including COP27 taking place in Egypt.
The conversation was shorter than I thought. We began talking with another woman who disagreed or didn’t understand my outlook of non-judgement (until a certain extent). I don’t have a problem with people disagreeing on the way we address some problematics. I know that I would not tell a scientist he/she is wrong about a scientific fact, because I am no scientist myself. I would try to refocus on the general picture, because I am a generalist and my work here is to connect professionals and raise awareness among civilians about the bigger picture because they are not scientists either. She disagreed and thought I should be more involved in detailed opinions.
It is very sad to say but my friend and I left shortly after this because we both were very surprised about me being judged so quickly. I believe this was a misunderstanding or unfortunately maybe two opposite approaches confronting each other, a more radical one vs a more diplomatic one, but one thing we did observe is that no questions were really asked and conclusions were made really fast which was very disappointing to observe during an event officially supporting “women solidarity”.
If you have noticed, this is the second time I ended up in a difficult situation with women promoting women solidarity… It’s sad again, but the truth is, until all women understand that we need to remain united to make change before seeking for details to disagree on and divide us more than we already are, 50/50 gender representation at COP will remain a delusion.
Day 9 & 10: Meeting in real life a CSN member at the Marriott Hotel
Day 9 & 10 were a bit off for me. I still was feeling very weak every morning and just needed some rest urgently. I stayed in my cold hostel room and worked from there, had a couple of online calls and meetings. On day 10 I had a coffee planed with one of our Circular Society Network members and it ended up being an entire afternoon of sharing ideas and talking about future plans and collaborations. It was such a blast! In the evening I was supposed to attend an event for the construction sector and had to cancel it because I definitely still needed some more rest. What a week!
Day 11: Finance mobilization for Climate Resilient & Carbon Neutral Communities, meet up with other members in person for a live matchmaking and final goodbye.
Last full day in Glasgow! After having trouble waking up, walking under the cold rain of Glasgow for 20 minutes, I arrived late to this last event, a more local one organized by local councils and universities about Finance mobilization for Climate Resilient & Carbon Neutral Communities. It was very interesting to hear a down to earth, more realistic conversation about daily challenges faced by local councils and what they actually needed from whom.
I then finally got to meet Attila Suba, speaker at our first opening matchmaking event, who came from Amsterdam, in person for the first time too! He was with a journalist met the previous night there and we hanged out together all day. We went to a great art exhibition about climate change, had lunch in a pub, struggled to find a cozy coffee shop before heading back to Attila’s place where I met another of his friends and where I invited Raj to join us for a last moment all together. I knew I had to “match” these guys together and today I’m happy to say that they have remained in touch and are working together daily. This is why The Circular Society Network was connected so this means a lot!
In the evening my climate friend and I went to join our Climate Reality Leaders fellows for a last dinner together in an Indian restaurant. We had such a great time debriefing about these 2 past weeks and sharing this last meal together.
Day 12: Time to head back home – Conclusion
This experience was unique and although very intense, necessary for me to understand how bad some people are disconnected from the reality, going from one fancy venue to another, using an Uber, not seeing or talking to locals in the streets, not seeing or talking to under represented communities or profiles, not being genuine sometimes, no matter how inspiring their speeches on stage were.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there is good and bad in all social classes. Billionaires taking more concrete actions than high corporate representatives or politicians, division among activists themselves when they really want the same thing, but also unity, passion and intersectionality, never seen as much before, people who don’t care about you and people who look up to you, every single person, more than ever, has a role to play.
Because COP isn’t there to make things change. It is there for networking and PR campaign purposes. It depends on us to go there and make it change, take the best out of it and see the rest for what it is.
And people are starting to notice that and take action themselves, unite around climate action. Politicians will not make the change. We, People, are the change. And realizing this, is what makes the only success of COP26 because we will be more aware about what needs to be done, how and with whom.
I personally left COP26 and Glasgow with a lot of business cards, memories, new connections, new members, new potential partners, new prospects, and for that it’s great.
Keep in mind that your COP journey will first and foremost, represent who you are yourself and the actions you will take post COP are more important than the COP itself.
What are your thoughts on COP26? Were you hoping anything from it?
Where you there yourself? What is your journey?
Share with your comments to your own audience, so we can start taking action together faster.