Discovering the COP26 venue

Date: 02 November 2021

By Shakil Karim

Shakil is an international consultant with experience in community relations, youth advocacy and organisational change management.

People are shouting and chanting, a man with an orange megaphone leads the way through an endless number of checkpoints. People are hastily moving from place to place – a scene that would rival Tokyo or London. Giant posters, plants on walls and a giant floating ‘Luke Jerram’ earth is suspended in the middle of a dark atrium. Is this a bizarre dream? Or is this COP26?

After a mad train delay out of London yesterday, thirty hours later I am finally here, and the first thing you notice is the bureaucracy of it all. Screenings, bag checks, ID’s and a pat down – though nothing an airport hasn’t already taught me. My mind is racing: “Was that Nicola Sturgeon who just went by? And that giant crowd looks like the official delegation from France.” Public figures are everywhere and there are so many people they seem to be humming. I wonder what birds think when they see these human formations from the sky… 

The venue is large, and though I am a day late I waste no time circumnavigating the event space. I attended the second session of a Periodic Review in a giant theater, which I’m told is nicknamed the “Armadillo Building”. The Review Panel was partly on the subject of Climate Finance Flow, a niche area that tells you a lot about where and how much money is moving, or more specifically, how valid the reporting is. While I am no novice to a periodical review, the live panel engaged my ideas on world financing and had me second-guessing information I thought I knew. Let’s just say that my brain felt all fuzzy afterwards.  

A delegate from India captured my interest with their question regarding how many climate grants are actually qualified as loans to developing nations, and what interests are on these loans? However, the answer didn’t reveal itself as the speaker had to end the session early, leaving an obvious silence that seemed to spark a noticeable theme – what is not being talked about? And why aren’t some questions being answered?

Towards the end of the day I was able to meet with the rest of my delegation team under the Giant Floating Earth – a feature that is becoming a firm favorite. We connected over the attitudes and perspectives of how we see our regions in the face of this global effort. Unsurprisingly, it all came back to a conversation around equity and justice, and by the end we were exhausted.

YMCA delegation – Left to right: Tudor, Sofía, Silke, Amy-Beth, Dwight, Mary-Jane and Shakil inside the blue zone yesterday evening.

The next day of COP was a big stage event, and while political leaders dominated the scene, young energetic individuals and groups filled a challenging atmosphere. Global Surface temperature and land sustainability were the big topics of the day, but behind the stage, you could see casual conversations turning into ideas. That perhaps was my favorite thing about today – the amalgamation of people, ideas, and architecture coming together to generate a wild party of solution thinkers. That’s COP26.

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