What we learnt from Walk2COP26

The Glasgow conference disappointed, but the journey there didn’t. Sam Baker reports on what those who took part in WALK2COP26 learnt from town-hall style events and other collaborative exchanges on the way.

Walk2COP26

Copyright: Walk2COP26

Sam Baker

COP26 has come and gone. Today, five weeks later, I have scanned the Sunday papers and am staggered by the reduction in coverage of climate change – particularly given the miserable outcome. As feared by Carla Denyer (see 12/11 Green World), the final agreement does not deliver on the main ambitions set for the conference. In her excellent podcast Global Optimism, Christiana Figueres always asks guests whether they feel more outrage or optimism – the Glasgow Climate Pact delivery should spark universal outrage. We need to re-build the momentum. 

One ‘co-benefit’ though, as noted by Jack Kidder (see 10/11 Green World) was the presence in Glasgow of tens of thousands of people who weren’t directly involved in the negotiations but represented civil society groups, companies, and sub-national authorities. The sense of purpose, the hunger to talk and learn, the high level of concern about the lack of urgency on display in the main negotiations was palpable even from my limited standpoint. I hope and believe that many of the connections made will result in catalysing change. 

The belief that we need to be far better at combining forces, collaborating, and inspiring each other to greater efforts, was at the heart of Walk2COP26. Planning began in March this year and we finally hit the road on 7 October. The basics remained steady throughout – a small group walking the 500+ miles from London to Glasgow, covering 20 miles a day, seeking to engage government, business, civil society, students, and citizens both individually and together on climate action. We planned engagement via townhall sessions, visits to specific projects, schools, conversations with those we met, and plenty of social media and press. 

Unlike COP, the walk was pretty much all that I hoped for. The core team of six put a huge amount of effort in both before and during the walk to make this a success. Being part of this small team was fulfilling in itself, but this was multiplied by the development of a deep and broad network of individuals and organisations who helped us along the way, including those who did the hard work setting up events. Moffat was one such example – we relied on Leys from the Moffat and District Community Council, Hannah from MyEcoMoffat, and Gareth from SSE to help us organise a school visit, a town hall discussion, a walk out of town the following day, and a visit to a wind farm. Great interactions and engagement, brilliant, lasting memories, and new relationships formed. 

The walk was punishing at times, particularly when blisters or shin splits struck, or the rain was relentless, but the positives were huge and included the simple pleasure of putting one foot in front of the other, the sense of progress, the conversations on the way, and the beauty and wonder of England and Scotland. In total, two of the team walked every step of the 507 miles across 26 days, four were on the journey from beginning to end, 17 walked with us part of the way, and 200+ walked with us in solidarity from their own locations on 31 October. 

Introducing new team members during the walk was really positive for us – invariably interesting, but also a great help in getting the message out to new constituencies. One such team member who will be of particular interest to this readership was Nicole Griffiths, Green Party councillor and co-leader of the Green Group at the London Borough of Lambeth. Nicole got in touch via our website and we were delighted to sign her up on the spot. She helped educate us and many others on council politics, on advocacy more generally, and spoke passionately as part of an event on Climate Justice that we organised in Glasgow.  

Planning our engagement with others was an ongoing sink of time and generator of stress, but, again, the challenges were far outweighed by the positives of our own development and learning, the joy of bringing people together, and the visible impact that the events and interactions had on people. By the end of the walk, we had held six town hall events with more than 60 participants each, more than eight project visits, three school sessions, and countless conversations on the way. Schools were a highlight: knowledge, curiosity and challenge all very much in evidence. My favourite event was probably our last which brought together as many other journeys to Glasgow as we could find – we had 15 on stage telling their own stories. 

One important dimension we found more difficult to deliver on was the planned 500 climate change-related conversations along the way. These were intended to make sure we didn’t just interact with the converted. Whilst we had many conversations, and each proved massively rewarding, the time for these discussions was squeezed and to my regret, this didn’t become a primary pillar of our walk. The joy I felt from visiting schools also made me wish I had organised many more school visits.

As we moved up the country, we tried to distil all that we heard about climate action into a small number of lessons that we could both learn from and communicate to others. Here’s a flavour of them, they apply to both organisations and individuals. 

Collaboration – The magnitude of the task ahead and the time we have means we need to pool our resources. We need to leave behind short-term competitive behaviour and work together, it’s a duty, not a choice. 

Inclusion – We need to design the transition in a way that not only brings the majority with it – which is critical to political support – but also the minority. Ensuring the climate transition is just is a unique opportunity to make sure the new order is better than the old, and important to lasting success. 

Prioritisation – Climate change isn’t front and centre of the decisions made in governments, companies, at home, or pretty much in any other incumbent organisation. If we were on the war-footing that was described in the opening talk at COP, it would be. It needs to be. 

Communication – Climate change has to be normalised as a topic of conversation. We need to communicate what we, or the organisation or interest we represent, is doing clearly, simply, openly and invite comment and critique. This is key to accelerating our own and others' learning and buy-in. 

Action – Addressing climate change is very often full of trade-offs and dependencies that we might not be in control of. But there are plenty of actions to be getting on with that reduce our negative impact on the world. Start if you haven’t, learn in the process, bring others in, talk about it! 

It’s difficult to quantify any impact the walk may have had, but I believe in the butterfly effect. At the very least, it’s instilled in me and my fellow walkers an enhanced focus and determination to help address climate change. 

So, what’s next? COP27 is in Egypt, and we need some mass-participation initiatives. If interested, let’s join forces – I am at sambaker@impactstrategy2030.com.