I’ve been to many international conferences before, but my experience at COP26 was different. It’s the first time that I’ve witnessed truly global participation, and my take-away is that there is a great deal of insight we can gain from listening to these diverse voices.
I had the privilege of access to the COP26 Blue Zone – the ‘inner circle’ where the negotiations over climate change agreements and actions happen. The vibrant heart of the zone are the pavilions – a global village of elaborate conference stands, each set up in a unique way to showcase key messages from individual nations and organisations. The village is a hive of constant activity, a walk through the lanes taking you past live presentations and panel sessions, delegations in national dress, and drawing you in to network (with stands competing to provide the best coffee to bring attendees together!).
Back in 2019 the Foundation’s World Risk Poll asked 150,000 people about their perceptions of the threat of climate change. The results have been widely reported – with nearly 70% of people worldwide recognising that climate change represents a threat to the people in their country over the next 20 years. So it’s clear that the message is sinking in. Analysis of the poll results tells us that in many countries, these perceptions are driven by people’s experiences of the impact of climate change (measured as severe weather). And we know that this is more important than formal education in driving perceptions around climate change risk. My experience at COP brought this finding alive, confirming that many individuals and communities around the world are already experiencing the effects of climate change. This isn’t a crisis waiting to happen – it’s happening now, and COP gives a space for communities at risk and impacted by disaster to articulate the urgency of acting now.
While the voices I heard at COP26 were personal and persuasive, the World Risk Poll gives us a unique opportunity to collate global experiences in ways that we can measure and compare, enabling us to understand the factors that are associated with greater exposure to risk and safety issues. While I was speaking at COP26 our partners Gallup were actively polling, listening to individuals from countries as diverse as China and Belgium, Sri Lanka and Iraq, Mozambique and Panama. And the questions they are asking will generate data from 125 countries that helps us to understand how resilient these communities are to disaster, and to empower them to take action.
The Foundation’s session at the COP26 Resilience Hub was scheduled as part of the COP26 themed day on adaptation. And there were many positive stories about how communities around the world are adapting to the impacts of climate change, and building more resilient futures. Resilience is built at many different levels – relying on personal elements as well as broader structures including community cohesiveness and governmental support. The 2021 World Risk Poll includes questions that will enable us to measure these elements globally for the first time. And we will find out – through the voices of their people – which countries in the world are prepared for disaster, and where critical services (food, water power, healthcare and communications) have recently been disrupted.
We may look back at the floods in Germany this summer, the extreme heat experienced in North America, and recognise a tipping point – where high income countries woke up to the accelerating impacts of climate change within their own communities. What is clear from COP26 is that many low income countries are years ahead in recognising that change is happening now – their experiences driven by the carbon emissions of high income nations. They have been forced to adapt, and are also years ahead in embedding learning on how communities can mitigate and prepare. The 2021 poll asks respondents ‘If a disaster were to occur near you in the future, do you have a plan for what to do that all members of your household know about?’. Having a plan is a key measure of personal agency and resilience – and I’m taking a punt now that most respondents in high income countries won’t have plans in place. It’s the insights from low income countries that will help us to understand the factors that build resilience, and shape a safer world.
We took the World Risk Poll to COP26 to build partnerships with organisations who can use the data to influence action. My trip to Glasgow reinforced the importance of listening to global voices – from understanding the impacts of climate change today, to learning how we can all adapt and prepare.