Local environment activist Malaika Collette reports back on COP26

Collette offers a youth perspective on the climate change conference and why it was ‘disappointing’

In November, world leaders, climate activists, lobbyists and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) went to Glasgow for the United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP26. The stated aim was to unite the world to take action against climate change, by committing to action to slow global warming by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change. 

Recent flooding in British Columbia in addition to the local 2004 flood are reminders that climate change impacts everyone. 

Among the world leaders and NGOs was local Peterborough activist Malaika Collette, who attended the conference as an observer. Peterborough Currents interviewed Collette about her activism and her experience at COP26.

Interview: A youth perspective from COP26

This interview was edited for clarity and length.

Peterborough Currents: How did you get involved in climate action?

Malaika Collette: I’ve spent time connecting with the land. But it was when I did the Youth Leadership and Sustainability program that really got me much more involved in activism. Through that program, I was provided with different ways to get involved, and talk more about what was happening and how we can make a difference.

What was your experience at COP26 like?

I experienced these kind of conferences and what happens on the ground, seeing firsthand the rooms where negotiations take place, seeing the politicians walk by me in the halls, and just kind of being in that space, for the first time was such a new experience, but eye opening to be able to see it all.

I think there’s a difference between the outcome of COP and my experience because the outcome was obviously very underwhelming and frustrating and disappointing. But on the other hand, I was able to connect with so many other young activists. And I was holding the politicians accountable in whatever way I could.

You said that you were disappointed about COP26? What were you hoping to come out of it?

I think a lot of people are disappointed with the outcome because of the final passed resolution but also because of how exclusive it was. 

There were so many different things that we could see both from the inside and from the outside that could have been done better, especially with two years of planning. It was frustrating to see the wording of ‘phase down’ instead of ‘phase out’ fossil fuels, which was a change made last minute.

The loss and damage fund to send money to Global South countries that are already feeling the damage of climate change, which was supposed to be put into play this year was not finalized. It would have been good to see that.

And we aren’t even on track for the 1.5-degrees Celsius [of global warming above pre-industrial levels by 2030] benchmark anymore. When you add up the nationally determined contributions (NDCs) it’s actually closer to 2.4-degrees Celsius which is frustrating.

Do you think that this exclusivity was a result of the pandemic? Or do you feel there’s more to the exclusion?

I think it was definitely a bit of both for sure. COVID played a role because of the vaccine inequity from the Global South. But again, the UK Government said that they were going to support vaccination in people’s home countries. I don’t think they quite followed through. There was [also] a limit of the number of people in the room. A lot of those high level meetings were really limited to just the ministers, keeping out those voices that needed to be in the room.

I remember seeing that there wasn’t a wheelchair ramp so a minister from one country couldn’t attend. The UK Government could have been a lot more inclusive.

What are some local connections you see from COP26? 

It all comes down to the local level, because without taking local action, we’re not going to get much action at the national or international levels of government. 

We should be talking about how they [The City of Peterborough] declared a climate emergency two years ago, and how not every one of their decisions seems to reflect that. 

We have to focus on the bike lanes, the transportation, public transit, and who we are thinking about? And how can we afford the planet? And the kind of thinking about the environment. When we’re thinking about these kinds of choices that will be affecting the city for the next five, ten or whatever years in the future. Are we putting people first? Are we putting the planet first? How are these decisions being affected?

I’m wondering if you have a message to politicians with two elections coming up? 

If you want to be in office, you need to be in office. for the right reasons, don’t do it to be re-elected. Do it because you care. And if you’re going to get that position, then you need to commit to fighting climate change, and listening to the needs of your citizens because so many politicians are going into office for the wrong reasons, or just not following through on their promises. My message to them is to put climate change, first, it trickles down and affects all other areas and be in office for the people in your community.

Did you see anything positive about COP26, or the activism surrounding it?

It’s the number of people that show up for the movement and also the people that are organizing all the time and seeing how quickly, young people and people of all ages can organize at the turn of the moment. I think it’s really about the people that make up the movements.

I read that there were more fossil fuel delegates than Indigenous Peoples. What are your thoughts on this? 

It’s definitely disappointing. It makes me ask: Who has been prioritized? Who’s making these decisions? Really, because if you’re letting Jeff Bezos go in and speak, at the world leaders’ summit, or wherever in the COP, but you’re not letting young people in to even watch, whose voices are they listening to? I think Indigenous voices are so central to this movement. They are who’ve taught us so much about what we know about fighting climate change and living with the land.

I asked Collette what can be done regarding climate change. She said that we need to have conversations with friends, family and strangers, though that individuals will not be solving climate change so messaging government and industry leaders is important. 

For those interested in doing more, she suggests reaching out to groups working on climate change, organizing meetings with politicians and campaigning for candidates with productive track records.

“The change that we need to see is not going to come from inside those four walls [of the COP26[ negotiation room,” she said, “it’s going to come from outside.”

Robert Gibson is a writer and environmentalist in Peterborough. As a young person, Robert watched Princess Diana’s funeral and became interested in watching news. Later Robert learned that severe weather, projected to get worse due to climate change, had an impact on peoples lives and that there are social costs. There is one line from an article which is “Municipal Governments cause flooding” which is thought about often. Through volunteering with local environmental and social justice organizations as well as media Robert hopes to inspire others to take action in order to benefit people and the environment. In addition, to this Robert is an alumni of Trent University, Fleming and Durham College in the environmental field. 


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