At next month’s long-awaited United Nations Climate Summit in Glasgow, all eyes will be on national leaders to make commitments that give the world a chance to limit average global temperature increases to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. At a recent youth-led event, Hilda Nakabuye, founder of the Ugandan Fridays for Future movement, articulated the impatience felt by young people across the world, calling on global leaders to finally “put on their big boy pants, to stand up and to take concrete climate action!”
All the focus on the leaders at center-stage, however, risks missing the action taking place in the wings—the “circus” surrounding COP26, where NGOs, business leaders, young activists and representatives from marginalized communities will be mobilizing for change. Without the action there, our goal of Net Zero will remain a distant pipedream.
The world needs the COP circus, and all its performers, for two reasons. First, if we are to meaningfully address this planetary emergency, actors from all parts of society will need to push in the same direction. Second, in doing so, we must keep in mind the hopes and expectations of those who stand to lose the most from climate change. These people, for whom the circus will be the only avenue into COP26, remind us of what is at stake if we fail to both act urgently and keep on a sustainable and equitable path to Net Zero.