To close out an excellent conference, we were asked to participate in the closing plenary of ECCA. Having had 10 2050 Climate Group members participating in the conference, I was asked to close out the conference with some reflections from young people.
Throughout the conference, 2050 Climate Group attendees reported back on the outcomes and learnings from each of the sessions they attended. Some of this can be found in the form of blogs published on our website.
When it came time to participate in the plenary, it was clear that the topic of young people, their voice, participation and value had been a key topic discussed throughout sessions. This is largely due to the foresight of the local steering group in inviting the 2050 Climate Group to participate, and the excellent work of Sam Curran and Shona Rawlings, who represented the organisation in this forum. Through this partnership, a programme emerged which highlighted young people in each plenary session, and also featured a range of young researchers and school children. This is the first conference that I have attended where I felt that young people sufficiently input into the design and development, as well as attendance and sessions as they ran through. To include young people in each plenary, was a significant decision of the Glasgow ECCA organising committee, one which we think shows a positive step towards further inclusion and value of the perspectives of young people in an integrated and inclusive way.
In the plenary, I was asked to participate in a discussion which focussed around the following three questions.
Question 1. Where are we in Europe with Climate Change Adaptation?
In response to this question, I highlighted the way that we can see a change in how we look at the change in language that we use….
“We are and we continue to be quite detached… both in time and space from the reality of the largest biggest impacts and from the scale of the task at hand. I think this detachment makes us less urgent – this is true for both for mitigation and adaptation. This can be seen in the way we use language now. For example take the word capacity. The way we use this has changed and it seems to have lost all meaning… When we talk about capacity, as almost every presentation did, we refer to building capacity or our adaptive capacity. Somehow this is different from what capacity should be, which is human resources, brain space and funding and financial resources.
Another key word is vulnerability. We have really changed the meaning of this when we talk about adaptation. We have started to use the word vulnerability to be almost synonymous with risk, but this is not the case. Vulnerability is inherently human, it is emotive, and psychological, and we’ve lost touch with what it actually means to be vulnerable to climate change because it is a different thing than measuring risk.”
Question 2. What are new insights from ECCA for science, policy, business and practice?
I started this discussion by agreeing with the points that the other two before me had made, which is that the greater inclusion of stakeholders in this conference is significant. Noting that there was the feeling at this conference that a diversity of stakeholders actually mattered, and this was a significant change from previous conferences.
Following this, I also reflected on a new trend that I noticed that could be capitalised on, and this is the narrative. It is apparent, especially in Scotland, that the narrative around climate change adaptation is changing. A focus on co-benefits, a focus on inclusivity of stakeholders and participation, and a focus on innovation and excitement about the future. The future is sexy … everybody loves to talk about it: future tech, future visions, future generations, futuristic media & culture. Adaptation is pretty fundamentally about the future. There’s more work to do on narratives that hook people, but we’ve come a long way in a short time on this… and I’m quite proud of the work that’s been done in Scotland on this.
Question 3. New challenges, new questions, new directions emerging from ECCA 2017
For me, the next challenge is how do we deal with the inherent injustice in climate change adaptation…
I don’t like to admit this in private, let alone to a large audience, but by the time I’m in my mid 40’s, according to current projections, we’ll be living in a 2 degree warmer world. That means, if I’m lucky enough to live that long, I’ll spend half my life in a world with the consequences of 2 degrees of temperature rise.
Let that sink in… I find this utterly terrifying. And I don’t even live in a small island state, or rely on agriculture for my well-being. I’m not particularly vulnerable like so many of those around the globe, I just happened to be alive at a certain time.
Personally, I believe that as long as we continue to talk about climate change in terms of ppm, degrees of temperature, CO2, cm of sea level rise… using our current models and metrics … instead of talking about it in terms of human lives lost or ruined, we will not progress with the scale and urgency we need to. We also need to learn to value this measurement, the measurement of the human life… and by this I mean the human life everywhere. Climate change is global. The value of my life does not matter any more than that of someone in a Pacific Island state, or South Sudan.
Many of us working in this field are scientists… we’re trained to deal with this a certain way… but at the end of the day, the front line of climate change adaptation is someone terrified about what their future holds. We need to look that person in the face…
I think we all have a responsibility to make that future positive, both by injecting ourselves, our institutions, etc. with a bit more urgency, and also by painting positive pictures of what the future can be. Everybody these days says love trumps fear… will I think hope trumps fear…. Hope of a better future rather than a catastrophic one, and everyone in this room has a responsibility for developing that positive vision and for collective action.
Written by: Elizabeth Dirth, Trustee & former Chair