COP26: Where do we go from here?

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In an open letter, CEO of the Soil Association and and organic farmer, Helen Browning, gives her views on the 26th United Nations Climate Change conference, held at the SEC Centre in Glasgow over the past month.


It’s hard to know how to feel about the long awaited and much hyped COP26. As I write, the final text is still being debated, there is progress but it’s clear that it still won’t be enough. Over the last fortnight, the voices that have had the biggest impact on me are those from the less developed world, or from the island states, whose future is being decimated by the mess industrialised and thereby rich nations have wrought. I feel the same outrage that I first felt as a teenager, when I failed to comprehend how it was possible to enjoy our relatively comfortable lives, knowing that people in many parts of the world were starving. I despair of our humanity, and therefore for humanity.

I despair too, of politicians and business leaders who cannot lead beyond their self interest. But then, they have no alternative model for their businesses or their economies. How does Saudi maintain its way of life beyond oil? What can New Zealand do without ruminant livestock? How does BP thrive in a world without fossil fuels? And how unfair is it to expect countries still at the beginning of their development to give up the cheap fuel that has allowed us to become wealthy, without adequate help and compensation? The transition to the future we need will be tough for many countries, businesses and individuals, and yet we have to make that transition, and fast. Are we really up for that? That’s an ‘us’ question, not a ‘them’ one. For states and businesses to act, they need to know that their citizens and consumers will back them, that we will accept the privations and disturbance to our current way of life. We must signal that, loud and clear.

What the Soil Association, with our many partners, can show is a way of living that puts the organic values of care, health, ecology and fairness at the core of our decision making process, at the heart of our food system. 

We cannot have everything, but we can have enough. There is joy in constraint, of living within our means, of making things last, of moving away from the fast food, disposable fashion, single use world. And we must maintain the joy we experience of this extraordinary world, with its extraordinary people, alongside the anger and frustration. Relentless urgency, bold ambition, brilliant execution from a place of calm detachment and compassion.

Thank you for your support.

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