Reflections from COP26, and its impact on the future

After the dust has settled on COP26, and the year in which it was held draws to a close, we’ve taken the time to reflect on the relative success (or not) of the summit, and put those reflections into the context of the situation in which it has left the world. Representing our teams from London to Sydney, a selection of Atelier Ten’s global team of environmental designers have weighed in with their thoughts, fears, inspirations and aspirations, as the world embarks on the first steps of the long road ahead.

Much like Nero fiddling while Rome burned, leaders flew to Glasgow on private jets to hear how the world was on fire, and left without doing much about it.
Meredith Davey, Director, London

In recognition of the momentum maintained in COP26, my general reaction is positive. The Conference of Parties is an essential mechanism in the complex road to decarbonisation, while admittedly one that also has some of the slowest moving cogs. It is perhaps late and slow, but those cogs are moving, and they are moving in the right direction.

However, my reaction is also somewhat negative because of how COP26’s outcomes stack up against what we really need to avoid climate catastrophe. Did COP26 move the dial enough to realistically give us a pathway to cap global temperature increase by 1.5°C, or even 2.0°C? In my view, nowhere close. But did it enhance motivation towards that goal and help us avoid some of the unthinkable consequences of where we’d be without COP26? Surely, the answer is yes.

COP26 was not a defining moment in our long journey towards climate justice, but it was an essential one. Its outcomes are far weaker than we’d like, but stronger than what we had before. More important than details of the outcomes, it did advance the slow but indispensable consensus building process we must protect in order to stand a real chance of tackling the climate crisis.
– Volkan Doda, Associate, London

Despite Australia’s limited contribution to COP26, I take solace in the fact that the two largest states in Australia have set targets of being net zero carbon by 2050, and are investing heavily in policy and action to decarbonise the power grid and built environment. Similarly, the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star rating tool now requires zero carbon achievement to earn certification, reflecting the property industry’s commitment to climate action. Despite the lack of national policy, project work here gets more ambitious and more committed to zero carbon futures by the day.

I also will continue cheer on all of the organisations, state and local governments, and people doing great work to carry out the spirit of COP26 and deliver a more sustainable future. In you, we put our faith.
Paul Stoller, Director, Sydney

Developed nations clearly have a responsibility to decarbonise, with existing infrastructure often needing to be made obsolete and replaced. But perhaps developing nations have an advantage here, in that by working in a different global system, they can build low carbon infrastructure as they develop, without needing to rely upon coal, oil or gas.

Both developed and developing nations must find ways of working together, if the years ahead are to be favourable for each of them – and the planet.
Roy James, Technical Director, London

“Success” depends on who you ask and the perspective offered by the glasses you choose to put on. In terms of mitigating the climate crisis, the relative success of COP26 was far from enough – no matter your prescription.

In terms of the symbolic value of progress these conferences offer, it was a step in the right direction, which I believe is essential if we want to maintain the Conference of Parties as a global forum where we come together to (ideally) agree on how tackle the climate emergency. Hosting the event has a value in itself, as a way of increasing awareness.

However, it is the spin-off events around COP26, and what happens after it, that really counts. During the conference, I was lucky enough to take part in unofficial events and discussions relevant to our industry, and not only was it one of the most rewarding aspects of it for me personally, but it left me with a feeling that there are actually a lot of people who do care, and who are striving towards the same goals. That may sound cliché, but it makes all the difference as we begin to turn our attention to what’s next.
– Marianne Lowgren, Environmental Designer, London

When I reflect on COP26, there are two images I can’t stop thinking about.

The first is not actually from COP itself, but on the eve of it, during the G20 summit in Rome: Global heads of state are photographed tossing coins into the famous Trevi Fountain. The sheer brazenness of the most powerful people in the world, tossing coins into a fountain for luck is deeply infuriating as well as deeply symbolic of their collective inaction: it’s symbolic of Mathias Cormann becoming head of the OECD, despite holding a disastrous record on climate; it’s President Biden approving a massive oil and gas lease sale literally days after the end of COP; it’s the embarrassment of Australia refusing to transition away from fossil fuels and hiding behind the creative accounting of emissions; it’s a failure of leadership.

The second image that stuck with me speaks more to the future. It is of a video clip, featuring global indigenous youth activists marching in Glasgow, chanting, waving their flags, some wearing traditional clothes under their raincoats. These activists travelled from all over the world, representing the most underrepresented, yet most vulnerable to climate change. They came to demand that their voices be heard, but ultimately cannot effect change on their own because they lack access to the entrenched global institutions of power. The same, thought-provoking imagery is conjured by Bajan Prime Minister Mia Mottley’s blunt and powerful speech condemning inaction; by Tuvalu’s foreign minister Simon Kofe speaking knee-deep amid a rising ocean; the countless teenage activists trying to make their voices heard in a world that tells them they are the future, while simultaneously dismissing their demands because they are children. These are the leaders we need, but we also need to face the truth.

“The youth” are not going to save us if they are not given the chance. We must empower them, if we are to save ourselves!
– Priya Gandhi, Associate, Melbourne