16 December 2021
Climate Change

Just a COPout?

Laura von Allwörden went to Glasgow to watch the over-caffeinated delegates of the COP26 try to clean the Augean stables that is global multilateral decision-making in order to save the world.


Power play

Amongst the furious flurry of multilateral negotiations, Von Allwörden was intrigued by the bigger picture: “I find power dynamics very interesting. On the one side, you have civil society – or at least an increasingly vocal part thereof – pushing for urgent action and on the other side politicians representing the status quo and moderating any push for change. Even though they say the right things, there is a discrepancy with the actual implementation.”

A contrast also reflected in the discrepancy between the vibrant sense of optimism and urgency she experienced in the pavilion, where representatives of the member states, but also institutions, corporate, NGOs and activist groups engaged in lively discussion, and the higher-level conference where official representatives read out brief statements in carefully worded political language. “No matter the wording of this non-binding agreement, the proof of the pudding is in the implementation.”

Implementation following preceding COPs hasn’t been very promising. “In the end, power lies with the powerful. The decisions made by political leaders are still based a lot on domestic interests and relative international power structures.” Yet, Von Allwörden thinks there is hope: “The political is personal and vice versa. Those decision-makers are all people who want to keep their integrity – and that entails standing – at least to some degree – by their progressive statements.” 

Increased focus

Von Allwörden, who studied US power as early as her undergraduate degree, was amused by how star-struck people were by the American A-listers like President Obama and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. “When you see the reactions, you can really sense what power is.” At the same time, she was concerned about some celebrity appearances that seemed almost ironic to the occasion. “Jeff Bezos, of all people, was there to speak – how bizarre was that?”

Von Allwörden is not a specialist on the content of the actual agreement, so she can only draw conclusions on the reaction of the organisers. “The overall mood at the end was really quite devastated. They achieved much less than they had hoped for…” What gives her reason for hope, though, is that COP26 received a lot more international media attention than any of its predecessors, which might indicate a shift in public awareness.

Von Allwörden's observer pass

By: Florian Raith