Climate Voices

November 4, 2021
By: Bella Garrioch, COP26 Delegate

COP Language Three Ways

COP Language Three Ways - Photo

Last night, I was able to visit my aunt in Glasgow for dinner, and I’d love to discuss language and COP26.

Over an amazing home-cooked meal, we discussed Gaelic, a language that is extremely important to me and my family. She pulled a Gaelic-to-English dictionary off her shelf and told me about how connected the language is to nature. I learned some new words too (I already speak a small amount of Gaelic). “Àrainneachd” means “environment”, for example. As I’ve walked around Glasgow, I have been so delighted to see Gaelic under every English sign. It’s so exciting because Gaelic has been on the endangered language list for a long time.

This ties in to a topic very close to home at COP; endangerment (of environment and of people). Plus, the connection to Scottish nature overlaps with the goals of environmental protection even more.

This afternoon, I sat in a plenary session for the phaseout of global coal production and use. The topic was relevant to today’s COP theme; energy. I sat, eagerly, in the back of the room with other observers, staring at representatives sitting behind their country placards. As someone who studies energy production, the terminology is not foreign to me. Baseloads, photovoltaic cells, and carbon capture are terms that don’t need explanation. However, as soon as finance language was introduced, it was more difficult to understand what was happening. This highlights how important other kinds of language are in an event with people from all different backgrounds from all over the world.

Climate change is very difficult to grasp for most people. Carbon dioxide, one of the main contributors to the problem, doesn’t have a taste, a smell, or a color. The problem is also so large that it’s hard to wrap your head around unless you’ve been studying it for a long time. In general, COP has been a great place to ask questions and have experts help you through a deeper understanding of their specific field/topic. However, plenary sessions and panels have most likely been a stressor for those who are not well versed in those materials. Since negotiations at the highest level can often include delegates agonizing over single words like “climate”, communication is of the utmost importance.

The third, and final, type of language that I found myself considering today was that related to positivity. Or rather, negativity because most of the words I’ve heard from outside the conference have been really negative since yesterday. Today was actually one of the first days I talked extensively with people who are not physically here, in Glasgow. They asked me questions about how horrible it is to wait in line, how annoyed I must be that I can’t get into as many sessions as I thought I would, or how infuriating it is that we are never going to make it to 1.5 degrees Celsius at the current rate of negotiations. Maybe it’s because this is my first COP and I feel so privileged to be here, or maybe it’s because my lodging is close to the conference so I get to explore more at my leisure, but I don’t feel negative.

It will take another week, probably, for me to get the full scope of the conference and make my decisions about the final results of Nationally Determined Contributions. But in terms of my feelings being here at the conference, I couldn’t be more positive.

I’m at the beginning stages of my career and meeting people from all over the world in a city I love. I have been able to attend sessions, side events, and even the botanical gardens this morning. Nothing about COP this year is perfect. I agree with activists who say the world isn’t doing enough but I truly believe in the vision of COP and being here is a positive experience for me, personally. I hope this entry can provide some positive language for those who need it.

Bella Garrioch

Bella Garrioch is an undergraduate at Macalester College and a member of Climate Generation’s Window into COP26 Delegation this November. Within her major she emphasizes climate science and policy and is interested in the crossover between climate change research and political solutions to the climate crisis. Learn more about Bella and subscribe to follow her experience at COP26.