How community action can equal global change

After finishing her role with the UK’s youth delegation at Cop28, Southgate resident Arianna Abdul-Nour reflects on what was achieved and what still needs to be done

Cop28 in Dubai (credit Republic of Columbia) where (inset right) Ari Abdul-Nour was a delegate and (inset left) tree planting in Enfield
Cop28 in Dubai (credit Republic of Columbia) where (inset right) Ari Abdul-Nour was a delegate and (inset left) tree planting in Enfield

The science compels, and scientists are slowly running out of adjectives to describe what is happening.

With temperatures on course to surpass 1.5°C and approximately 250,000 additional deaths predicted per year between 2030 and 2050 as a result of changes to our climate, the statistics are enough to make anyone think that events such as the United Nations Conference of Parties (Cop) must be falling incredibly short on their brief.

But while the figures suggest this may be the case, it is important not to think in binary. We must assess the value (and shortcomings) of these international assemblies in order to take the appropriate next steps and ensure sure the science doesn’t get scarier.

Cop agreements are integral to a co-ordinated response and it is important to remember the agreements set the floor, not the ceiling, for what can be achieved. With this said, what floors were laid this year? And which ceilings do we still need to set?

Serving as a UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) delegate during 2023, the hottest year on record so far, certainly holds significant distinction. Representing the UK on the global stage at the world’s biggest sustainability conference during the midst of climate collapse was both an honour and scary – and came with great responsibility.

While many people had strong opinions about the UAE presidency hosting the conference in 2023, with thousands rightly refusing to attend out of principle, our delegation felt that if the big oil giants were going to have a physical seat at the table, so should we.

There was a landmark agreement at Cop28, with governments unanimously committing to transition away from fossil fuels. This was a victory of multilateralism; language on a “just, orderly and equitable” shift from fossil fuels in our energy systems was included for the first time by the 198 parties privy to the UNFCCC, heralding the beginning of the end for fossil fuels.

Granted, this haste did not permeate all of the conversations. Progress on securing the promised £100billion-a-year for the world’s developing countries to navigate the climate crisis continues to be slow (despite being three years past its initial deadline) and the final loss-and-damage agreement failed to adequately recognise the onus of developed countries to supplement the fund. While the UK promised to contribute £60m, this pledge still requires a rapid scale-up.

The UK is the fourth-largest emitter of emissions historically and stands alongside the US and China as the most liable for the global climate crisis. Therefore, we should contribute accordingly. Reparations and developments cannot be seen without an appropriate increase of climate finance, something the UK must act upon by Cop29.

Yet, more than the official policy outcomes, attending Cop held value in other ways. While the big dogs were debating over the bureaucratic wording of phasing ‘down’ or ‘out’ like a faulty pendulum, meaningful relationships were being fostered between individuals that don’t typically share the same room. In my own role helping run the Caribbean Climate Justice Leaders Academy with my organisation, Island Innovation, a key highlight for me was connecting our Caymanian delegates with Pacific islanders from Tuvalu, who were supported by the Global Centre for Climate Mobility.

In a small back-room, a friend and I who worked for these respective organisations arranged an informal meeting for young people from these Small Island Developing States (Sids) to share their experience of suffering from climate change challenges, discussing best practices for adaptation, and exploring next steps on how they could work together to combat mutual vulnerabilities. While there is no clear litmus test for success, I believe it is meaningful conversations such as these that serve as a real testament to the power of people and civil society.

If nothing else, attending Cop taught me that community-level action can equal global level change. Now I am back in North London, it is organisations such as Enfield Climate Action Forum (EnCaf) that inspire me to keep the movement going locally.

Known for its grassroots initiatives, EnCaf has spearheaded projects ranging from tree planting to educational campaigns on sustainable living. Their efforts resonate not only locally but also serve as inspirational models for similar grassroots movements worldwide. By empowering people to take tangible steps towards sustainability in their own communities, EnCaf embodies the ethos that collective action, no matter how small, can catalyse significant change. They offer a beacon of hope, demonstrating the power of ordinary citizens coming together to address extraordinary challenges.

Looking forward, this year’s Cop hosts Azerbaijan bring with them their own set of complexities. Another conference, another oil-giant presidency and, with it, further conflicts of interest. While the energy-rich Caspian nation, which gets roughly two-thirds of its income from oil and gas, may be looking to transform its reputation as a polluting authoritarian state, it got off to a poor start with its initial all-male board. With much still clearly to learn, Cop29’s title as the ‘finance’ Cop holds great weight in the face of deficient loss-and-damage agreements. As the saying as goes: while men argue, nature acts.

As our world continues to get hotter, the important question is, will we be the last Cop delegation to say we served during the hottest year on record? Or will this be the new norm? Time to start setting some ceilings before we blow the roof off.

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