On Thursday, Alok Sharma, President of COP26, discussed climate anger, the pressing need for aggressive action, and the hope he sees in the young generation.
“I understand the anger of your generation,” said British MP Alok Sharma, opening his address Thursday at this year’s World Leaders Forum. Sharma has been a key player at the highest levels of climate legislation—helping negotiate the Glasgow Climate Pact in his role as President of COP26—but his address centered not on the geopolitical. Rather, he turned the issue back towards the attendees, challenging the young generation of college students present to face climate change head-on.
Sharma noted the justified outrage of the young generation due to the inaction of powerful world leaders and global corporations. But despite the anger activists might feel, Sharma emphasized that the situation must remain hopeful. If climate change is to be reckoned with, anger must not breed nihilism. Rather, anger must breed mobilization.
Sharma continued that—despite the hopelessness of many due to a system that seems unchangeable—the people, especially the young generation, have more power to affect change than they might think.
He called on each individual to harness their voice, emphasizing the “capacity of young climate activists—you—to hold [world leaders] accountable.” He touted the “boundless energy” of youth as one of the main sources of optimism in the climate fight.
This “boundless energy” was on display Friday in the global climate strike, as young activists around the world took to the streets demanding change. The global strike coincided with Climate Week NYC, the annual gathering of influential climate leaders across the private and public spheres attempting to tackle the issue from all angles.
But despite the glimpses of optimism hinted at by Sharma, the effects of climate change are already here. Sharma pointed to numerous disasters impacting the world, from flooding in Pakistan to Hurricane Fiona, as signs of more to come.
As Sharma put it, we are stuck in a “cycle of disaster, rebuild, disaster, rebuild.” Rather than contributing sufficient resources towards preventative measures, we are stuck moving from one catastrophe to the next, acting to respond rather than prevent. According to Sharma, we can do better.
Part of doing “better” is equipping the future generation to be prepared to respond to climate change in their careers, regardless of their field of work. As Sharma emphasized, it is a problem so large that it will take everyone to solve it. In any of the myriad career paths that Columbia students might take after graduation—whether in academia, finance, engineering, medicine, education, law, or any other field—there are contributions to be made in the climate fight. The key to success, according to Sharma, will be in the willingness of the next generation to find creative solutions in their fields, and the efficacy of the universities preparing them to take up the challenge.
He argued that the “promises” made by corporations need “advocates like you in the financial world…in the boardroom.” Without committed, passionate people to enforce agreements, policies are “nothing but words on a page.”
Yet, according to Sharma, to get to those influential positions, students need to be empowered with training and education, underlining the role that universities like Columbia must play in addressing climate change. New green jobs are being added to the economy every day, but universities must step up to the plate and train their students to be able to take on these careers.
He touted Columbia’s Climate School as a beacon of inspiration in this endeavor, echoing opening remarks from President Lee Bollinger, who expressed his pride in the founding of the school during his tenure.
Underlying Sharma’s address was a feeling of hope. But, without immediate, passionate, and aggressive action, any remaining glimmers of hope could be lost.
“Run towards the heart [of climate change],” Sharma implored the students in attendance. “Each of us has a voice.”
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