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Signs for COP26 in Glasgow city centre in Scotland. PA

'Cautiously optimistic': Are Irish people going to COP26 feeling hopeful about the summit?

We asked some of the Irish people heading to Glasgow: Are you feeling hopeful going into COP26?

TODAY WAS THE second day of COP26 – a conference where thousands of people from almost every country in the world have gathered to discuss climate action.

Alongside governments and key negotiators, there are a lot of people involved in the climate sphere who head along to the annual UN summit to attend events and participate in the proceedings.

Ahead of the all-important outcome in less than two weeks that will lead us to the next stage of the world’s action on climate change, we spoke to a few of the Irish people attending this year’s summit to ask: Are you hopeful going into COP26?

Here’s what they said. 

Sadhbh O’Neill, climate researcher at Dublin City University. 

“I can’t help but – just because you’ve asked that question – remember what Greta Thunberg said. I am not so much going with sense of hope, but a sense of panic. And I think panic is the right emotion,” O’Neill said. 

She said that it’s important to remember, however, that COP26 is not the “last moment” for climate action. 

“There will be many moments after this and many further decisions and COPs will be required to get things under control.

“With the understanding we have of climate science, with all the warnings we just got from the IPCC – this should be the moment when global emissions are peaking and everybody is co-operating in driving the emissions down so that we get as close as possible to net-zero emissions as soon as possible. 

So rather than hope, I’m thinking panic.

climate-cop26-summit Greta Thuberg at a climate protest in Glasgow today. SCOTT HEPPELL SCOTT HEPPELL

Seán McCabe, Executive Manager at the TASC Climate Justice Centre

McCabe said he is “not particularly” hopeful for this COP summit for a number of reasons.

“It’s not the COP itself, but one thing that has really shook my confidence in the multi-lateral process giving an outcome has been a failure to address vaccine inequality.

“A vaccine is so much easier to roll out globally than climate action, so that really does fill me with concern,” he said, referring to the unequal distribution of Covid-19 vaccines in different parts of the world.

McCabe described this disparity as a “litmus test for the climate crisis”. 

“Our leaders have to get real very quickly – we’re not on track,” he said. 

“But one thing that does give me hope is that there is greater attention than ever before. 

“I’ve been going to COP for a long time and I’ve never seen any kind of focus like this, not even at Paris [in 2015].

I think the pandemic has made people more aware of what happens when our natural system begins to break down a little bit.

“Catastrophes can happen on a global scale, and I think it’s made climate change more real for people.” 

Dr Diarmuid Torney, associate professor in school of law and government in Dublin City University

“The mood music isn’t great going into COP,” Torney said. 

“There’s been a number of key players distracted – the big political difficulties in the US, the fishing disputes between France and the UK, fines on Poland.

There’s a lot going on to distract world leaders.

Torney also said the fact the process is being “steered by the government of Boris Johnson” doesn’t give him a “huge degree of confidence”.

“Those are all reasons not to be particularly hopeful, but nonetheless it’s the big political moment for climate change and it’s an opportunity to shine a light on climate change.

He said it offers an opportunity for media to “generate more awareness” around climate change and for people to “hold their governments to account for the promises in the Paris Agreement”.

cop26-glasgow Boris Johnson arriving at the COP26 summit today. PA PA

Professor Brian Ó Gallachoir, professor of energy engineering at University College Cork

Ó Gallachoir said he is “fundamentally” optimistic going into this COP.

“When you think of who’s going to be there, it’s the key decision makers in the world coming together to work out how we’re going to address this challenge. What we really need is political leadership,” he said. 

He said changes in recent years such as the election of US president Joe Biden has “led to a different atmosphere, a different tone regarding the conversations on climate change and what to do about it”.

“The other part of that is that we’ve seen countries effectively putting each other under peer pressure to up their game.”

He is hopeful about ambition from large emitting countries, but said this ambition is “still not enough”. 

What I’m saying doesn’t take away from the fact that globally, emissions are rebounding from a slight reduction during the Covid pandemic.

“So when I say i’m hopeful, the ambition piece is very important, but of course we need to see that ambition translate into action.”

Mair Kelly, activist 

“I’m hopeful, but also very apprehensive,” Kelly said. 

“I know it’s very easy to get carried away with these big events… and I know how difficult it is to get something tangible from these things,” she said, adding that she is hopeful about many other elements of the conference itself. 

“I hope that the voices that really need to be heard will be heard, especially those from the most affected areas and I hope that people are listening and taking on board these voices. 

I really hope that people put forward a strong message of the importance of climate justice and a just transition and how we must bring everyone together for it. 

Marion Briggs, chairperson of Friends of the Earth Ireland

“I am cautiously optimistic,” Briggs said.

“I think that there’s a lot of momentum and focus on this COP to really set us on a better trajectory for the next decade.

However, there’s not a clear-cut outcome. In some areas, we’ll feel more successful than others and we’ll undoubtedly hear both narratives on the other end that this has been a great success, and that it has been an utter failure.

“It will be, no pun intended, a temperature gauge for how committed the world is to tackling the crisis that we’re facing.” 

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