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Climate / The islanders who brought a Shetland flavour to COP26

Photo: United Nations

THE COP26 summit brought world leaders to the table in Glasgow to discuss how to tackle the climate emergency – as well as experts and industry.

But there was also a Shetland presence at United Nations’ global conference earlier this month, with a number of islanders heading to Glasgow to speak or take part in events.

Roseanne Watt and Donald S Murray both spoke at an event designed to bring together island poets to discuss climate change resilience and adaption.

Both writers said it was an “honour” to provide an islands perspective at COP26.

Watt hoped the “message that our islands are places of people and community first and foremost, and not just resources, was heard a little louder”.

“It was a strange experience being in the actual venue of the Green Zone,” she added.

“Seeing the presence of these big companies, many of them with ties to the fossil fuel industry, all adorning themselves in green messaging using language that seemed to shift the responsibility of this onto the individual consumer.

“It felt quite at odds with the events programme, which featured a plethora of many voices from across the world, many of which focussed on collectivity and resilience in the face of the crisis.”

Roseanne Watt and Donald S Murray.

Watt believes the response of the western world leaders to the climate crisis was “disappointing to say the least, but outwith those halls of power I think there is a real sense of collectivity and urgency amongst normal folk”.

The poet also said it was “hugely inspiring” to hear indigenous voices of the Global South at the rally in Glasgow Green.

“My feelings are currently sitting somewhere between pessimism and optimism — Rebecca Solnit eloquently articulated in her book Hope in the Dark that it is between these two polarities that hope and the ability to act lie.

A photo from the conference from Roseanne Watt.

“So that’s where I’m at; trying not to give in to the paralysis of pessimism, nor the complacency of optimism — to stay with the action of hope.”

Murray recalled rising tides in both Benbecula, where he used to teach, and the neighbouring North and South Uist.

“This includes a tragedy in January 2005 where five members of the same family were lost,” he continued.

“Clearly this had a horrendous effect not only on that household but also the community at large.

“Parts of the Western Isles are often losing five metres or so of land due to winter storms and no island – including those in Shetland- are going to be immune from this problem. Attending the conference was a reminder that this is not a local issue but a global one.

“I would like to thank Ewan McNaughton for arranging this talk, which took place in English, Gaelic and Shetland dialect. The people in island communities share many concerns. It is time to recognise and acknowledge this.”

Hannah Mary Goodlad.

Meanwhile Hannah Mary Goodlad was part of a team presenting a new documentary showcasing future energy projects in Scotland.

Goodlad, who leads Baltic Sea renewables development at Norwegian energy firm Equinor, said the project was undertaken by the Energy Institute to promote STEM subjects at school.

She was joined at the event by fellow islanders including Daniel Gear and Angus Grains.

Goodlad said a few hundred watched the event online in addition to a similar amount in the auditorium.

“It went really well,” she said. “We had a very good turnout.

“The video has been viewed now thousands of times.”

Goodlad said it was a “once in a lifetime” thing for people in Scotland.

“I felt it was a really big responsibility to go there and listen, to talk obviously – to put forward ideas on how the energy industry is part of the solution.

“It’s a responsibility that I don’t take lightly, but one that I really, really enjoyed.”

She added that it was important to have “difficult conversation and uncomfortable questions” – with the route to net zero needing all parts of society to work together.

When asked if she is hopeful of positive change coming from the conference, Goodlad said she was “cautiously optimistic”.

“If you lose hope, you lose direction,” she added. “And if you don’t put forward an ambition out there, where on earth do we go from here? If folk lose hope then they will never get there.”

SNP hopeful Miriam Brett: 'an election like no other'.
Miriam Brett.

Miriam Brett also had a busy time at COP26 – taking part in a Local Zero Podcast exploring how strategies can decarbonise local economies while addressing inequalities.

“Holyrood Magazine also hosted a panel on democratising land and nature, where we analysed the need to address concentrated land ownership and enhance the stake and say of local communities and build community wealth,” she added.

“I was also asked along to a brilliant evening at Sunny Govan Community Radio alongside other climate activists for an evening of music and discussions about what climate justice means and why it is urgent.”

Brett – a Shetlander living in London – is a director of research and advocacy at Common Wealth, a think tank working on ownership strategies for a democratic and sustainable economy.

She said it was “energising to see this global event take place in Glasgow, with activists and movements from every corner of the planet bridging struggles and joining forces to demand change to address the intertwined challenges posed by climate breakdown”.

“But the difference between the scale and pace of ambition of those at the forefront of climate breakdown and the voices of those driving emissions is evident,” she warned.

Meanwhile the ORION Shetland energy project was represented – mainly through a presentation from Gunther Newcombe at a hydrogen event.

An ORION spokesperson said the presentation at Scotland’s Climate Ambition Zone went “very well” and that it was good timing as the Scottish Government’s hydrogen action plan draft was published on the same day.