This is our farewell to COP26, the 2021 United Nations (UN) climate change conference, in our Newsmagazine although we sincerely hope the agreements reached by the parties are lasting ones for the good of our planet.
European Psychologists attend COP26
European psychology attended parts of COP26 as members of the Global Psychology Alliance (GPA). This was through the American Psychological Association, which was accepted as an UN Observer Organisation to attend COP26. This was a significant opportunity. Nicola Gale, EFPA Vice President, summarised her thoughts on attending COP26 in these words, first presented at the “Psychology in Action: Leading for the Climate” GPA conference held post COP26.
1-2 highlights/take-aways from COP26
A big thing that struck me is the unifying power of the climate emergency, in bringing people together. This was evident at COP26 from the sheer number of delegates, the energy in protests, the range of organisations present, the high quality exhibitions, and the huge media interest. In the sessions government ministers, third sector, and business were all engaged, obviously with some different motives but by and large united in doing something.
The power of communities at different levels to try for change was evident, as was how easily some more marginalised voices can go unheard. In particular, hunger from young people for education and change was on display, in protests, as speakers, and in an exhibition of children’s touching letters. A very short and to the point letter displayed on a wall from a 9 year old to their teacher said simply ‘please can you make a lesson about climate change’.
Another key reflection was on what is joined up and what is separate. The big issues of decarbonisation and food / forestry and nature are only just being brought together. The technocratic solutions tend to remain separated from the human process. For a plenary I attended, though, this was different. This session was on an Indonesia / UK initiative called FACT, for Forest, Agriculture and Commodity Trade. Here there was real evidence that the skills opportunities and needs of peoples were being seen as a primary focus of intervention. This was about protecting and restoring the forests, and reforming the food and farming system, but doing so by taking into consideration the needs of smallholders and indigenous peoples as the guardians of the land.
1-2 ways in which those highlights inform the path forward for global psychology
There’s a lot of potential for psychology working at the community level to engage peoples for change. This means a role for the GPA and national, regional, international psychology bodies in bringing together community psychologists. Psychologists can draw on shared narratives of how to do this in different cultures and circumstances.
There’s a role too for psychology in bringing attention to the human factors, using the knowledge base to support behaviour change. This needs to include the systemic level of social infrastructure and not just point at individual level changes. In other words, what governments, public bodies, organisations need to put in place. Supportive of people interventions matter but it is interventions supporting change that will help solve the climate problem.
The report of the APA titled 'Advocating for psychological science at COP26' can be found here .
In it APA’s Senior Director for International Affairs Amanda Clinton, who coordinated the delegation to COP26, explains the aim to increase awareness of psychology’s contributions to addressing the climate crisis and discuss the role of psychological science.
You can watch the Global Psychology Alliance observers’ reflections on attending COP26 here
Amanda Clinton, Nicola Gale, Terri Morrissey, Tiago Pereira, Richard Plenty, Sofia Ramalho.