World leaders must commit to actions rather than promises, renewable energy rather than fossil fuels, and future security rather than present consumption, according to hundreds of messages from Guardian readers and supporters submitted to the Cop26 climate summit.
As policymakers gather in Glasgow for the two-week summit, readers and supporters called for rapid divestment from fossil fuels, deeper investment in renewable energy and regenerative agriculture, and an end to the fixation on GDP as a measure of progress in society.
The summit, which culminates on 12 November, will consider concrete cuts to carbon emissions, following the 2015 Paris agreement in which nations pledged to keep global temperature rises to “well below” 2C above pre-industrial levels.
A callout asking readers and supporters what messages they would like to impress on world leaders as they head to Glasgow elicited more than 800 submissions from around the world. Hundreds of respondents implored leaders to think about future generations and the burden they will bear as a cost of inaction.
Readers emphasised the need for people in richer countries to adapt their ways of living, while a number of messages urged world leaders to understand that the summit is humanity’s “last chance” to implement meaningful climate solutions.
A sample of responses follows.
‘We need world leaders to commit to taking drastic action and to actually do it’
“I live on the Caribbean island of Trinidad and Tobago. We, like the rest of the Caribbean, are paying the price for climate change even though we have contributed very little to it. Storms, droughts, rising seas – my children are going to suffer, not only for things you did but for the things you have avoided doing: reducing emissions and taking drastic action to prevent global warming. Where I live now is likely to be flooded out by rising seas in less than 100 years. It means my grandchildren are unlikely to continue to live in our generational home – I’m the third generation to live here. The area we live in used to flood once every 10 years, now it’s every year. In the Caribbean, it’s become a waiting game every hurricane season. There is a sense of helplessness. We need you to commit to taking drastic action and to actually do it. There is no more time left to delay.”
Sachin Ganpat, 44, IT professional, Trinidad and Tobago
‘Treat the climate crisis as an emergency’
“Around the world, governments acted to treat the Covid-19 pandemic as an emergency. We saw the money they’re prepared to invest in order to deal with the pandemic. We’ve not seen anything like a similar response for climate change, which, without a doubt is a much bigger threat to our future survival. Why are governments failing so spectacularly to treat the climate and ecological crises as the emergencies they are? These are the defining problems of our time. The planet is fast approaching cascading tipping points which threaten the stable climate our planet has known for thousands of years, and with it, life as we know it.”
Julie Parker, early 60s, retired research scientist, Bristol, UK
‘End the blind pursuit of GDP’
“We have to acknowledge that blind pursuit of GDP is the root cause of the climate crisis. In the case of countries like Indonesia, where most people live outside of the GDP, in the informal sector, to talk about GDP constantly is actually destructive. Much of Indonesia’s GDP comes from extractive industries like palm oil and building infrastructure, which often relies on land-grabbing. This colonial-style economy is why we are in trouble – land use and deforestation is Indonesia’s number one contributor to greenhouse gases. By design, the pursuit of GDP is destructive. We know that it’s not possible to grow infinitely in a finite world, but the very nature of GDP is that you always want more. We must shift this distorted view of the economy.”
Melissa Kowara, 32, wooden toy maker and climate activist, Jakarta, Indonesia
‘Stand up to multinationals and fossil fuel companies’
“Time is running out. The vast majority of politicians will not be alive to see the worst consequences of the climate crisis, but those of my generation are keenly aware that we will be the ones to deal with a crisis we did not create. If ever there has been a time for selflessness, for leadership in the face of adversity, it is now. Stand up to multinationals and fossil fuel companies, to corporate interests weaving their money into political campaigns. Tax and emissions loopholes allow the largest polluters, including fossil fuel companies, to move their emissions around and use smart accounting to hide their emissions and avoid accepting responsibility. Stand up to those that say capitalism is the only solution, and dare to think differently. Listen to young people, and give us a seat at the table like the rightful stakeholders we are.”
Nick Gutkin, 26, intern at a carbon crediting company, Rotterdam, the Netherlands
‘Talk about fair distribution of our planet’s resources’
“We need to talk about what it means for us in the global north to lower our standard of living in order to save the world’s resources. How can we bridge the gap between people’s expectations and the reality of what one planet can offer, for a fair distribution? What are the dreams we can dream and what are the dreams that are someone else’s nightmare? Does lowering our standard of living necessarily mean lower quality of life? I think we have to reconsider a lot of the things that we take for granted: fashion, travel, lifestyle choices like that. Things that perhaps Covid restrictions showed us that we could actually do without.”
Marianne Morild, 49, artist, Bergen, Norway
‘Reduce animal agriculture’
“Animal agriculture is one key area which is not sufficiently talked about. Globally, livestock use more than 80% of the world’s farmland and 56% of the greenhouse gas emissions from food. Reducing animal agriculture would have positive implications for food security, climate change, pollution and biodiversity. It would free up huge amounts of land which could then be rewilded. It is important to work closely with farmers to support them with any such changes. But we cannot keep ignoring this elephant in the room.”
Hannah Howarth, 31, postgraduate student, France
‘Think about future generations’
“I don’t expect you who are reading this to care about me, beyond in the most abstract sense. I want you to think about your children instead. Your grandchildren. Your nephews. Your nieces. Anyone you personally know and love under the age of 30. I want you to think about how your actions will shape the world they inherit. I want you to think about how [people in power are] pushing us further to the end of human civilisation, the death of progress, and the extinction of almost every living thing on this globe. Young people see no future.”
Fergus McAteer, 30, quality assurance engineer, Edinburgh, UK
‘Solving the climate crisis is a question of political will’
“We live on a finite planet, and economic growth is no longer a viable measurement of success, especially when surplus wealth is concentrated into a few hands. We need to act more urgently than we have ever done anything as a species. End all fossil fuel extraction now, stop cutting down the world’s tropical forests, invest in renewable energy and regenerative agriculture. We need to invest the carbon budget into expanding renewable resources as quickly as possible, but also with drastic cuts in energy needs in the western world. It’s a matter of political will. We don’t have time for more of the same schemes, clever accounting, and broken promises – the future of all species is at stake and you are failing us.”
Andrew Payton, 35, works in online education, Virginia, US
‘Time is running out – I want to see actions, not promises’
“I want to see actions instead of beautiful and unrealistic promises, I want to see trees being planted, I want to see renewable energy sources and cutting emissions. While you are postponing real and concrete actions, my country is drying up, our forests are being consumed by hell-like flames, my body is being exposed to harmful temperatures, our animals are being extinguished at an unprecedented level. I want to see progress – it’s just a matter of time until the irreversible. We’ve had a lot of summits but not a lot of action. The current president has weakened environmental protections – Brazil needs laws to regulate agriculture, mining and logging in the Amazon.”
Wellington Vitor da Silva, 21, software quality analyst, Londrina, Brazil