Following a year of historic weather events across the globe, the 2021 United Nations Climate Conference, or COP26, began on Oct. 31, bringing together world leaders, environmental advocates, and key players in the fossil fuel industry to negotiate the planet’s future. The event, which is still in progress and taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, ends on Nov. 12. Our staff reflected on the ongoing results of the conference and on the role we all play in working to mitigate the effects of climate change.
Nations attending this year’s climate conference are already making promises to protect vital aspects of the environment, such as forests. So far, over 100 world leaders have vowed to end deforestation and begin to reverse its adverse effects by 2030. Efforts will include directing funding toward developing countries to restore damaged land, tackling wildfires, and supporting indigenous communities. Some countries also committed to removing deforestation from the global trade of food and other products like palm oil and cocoa. This marks the first official deal made during the conference, with countries like Brazil, where stretches of the Amazon rainforest have been clear-cut, signing on to cooperate.
Other results include a pledge by 45 nations to shift to sustainable methods of conducting agriculture and a promise made by 95 companies, including the World Bank, to become more “Nature Positive” by 2030. The “Nature Positive” sentiment has major companies agreeing to work on the affordability and attractiveness of sustainability.
While these promises sound hopeful, we want our leaders’ promises to live beyond the summit. Without the cooperation of major industries and fossil fuel companies, which are responsible for most of the earth’s global carbon emissions, governments can make little progress in fighting to keep a habitable planet.
The pledge by 95 companies to become “Nature Positive” does not match the urgency of the environmental crisis in the slightest. Having companies agree to begin to make sustainability attractive in the business world seems like a baby step in place of what should be a massive leap. Equally as alarming is the fact that 503 attendees of the conference have been identified as fossil fuel lobbyists. We assert that conversations about ending fossil fuel consumption cannot reach fruition with fossil fuel lobbyists present as some participants might operate with ulterior motives that benefit their agendas.
Though we cannot directly influence the outcomes of this global event, COP26 brings up urgent conversations around climate change that need to be had on a local level, starting with our University.
Since the start of this school year, the University has vocalized its commitment to combating climate change in various ways, mainly through widespread discussion. For example, this semester, the Honors College is focusing on the theme of “Voices for Environmental Justice,” hosting interdisciplinary student-faculty panels that are open to all students. Thacher Gallery’s current exhibit, “All that you touch: art and ecology” also centralizes environmental themes.
Other tangible changes include Bon Appetit’s operations as the company now offers sustainably farmed meats and produce in all University cafes. Options like “mindful meats,” organic, non-GMO, project verified, pasture-raised beef, are being offered from Marin Sun Farms. The menus also have vegan and vegetarian alternatives to meat-heavy meals, and these options allow students to make conscious choices about their diet and their connection to the environment.
Additionally, the University has promoted campus resources like the USF community garden, where students, especially those with food insecurity, can be provided fresh food for free. This space promotes sustainable agriculture at USF and gives students a way to directly interact with food at its source.
Compostable boxes and utensils used in University cafes are also a significant step towards sustainability since it is estimated only six percent of university campuses compost. However, despite the signage on trash bins all over campus, we feel that students remain largely uninterested in how to properly separate their trash, with recycling rooms in residence halls often overflowing with uncrushed cardboard boxes, food scraps in the recycling bins, and plastic mixed in with compostables.
We believe that the University sufficiently promotes a sustainable and environmentally conscious mentality. However, we find that more work can be done to highlight the efforts and resources put forth by the Office of Sustainability. Events like trivia nights, DIY interactive activities, and documentary showings are held weekly but the lack of advertising hurts attendance. The University should loosen its physical poster restriction and advertise these events in newsletters to create greater awareness and increase student attendance.
That being said, while appreciating the work the University has done to promote sustainability, students also need to avoid complacency and embrace the opportunities provided to us to live a sustainable lifestyle while on campus. For instance, making the effort to eat in the cafeteria and use a reusable plate rather than paying for a to-go box is an accessible step that is right at our fingertips, yet many ignore it.
Being proud of our University for its sustainability efforts while also demanding more requires self-accountability. With increased participation in sustainability efforts on campus, we can confront the enormous challenge of climate change knowing we are contributing to effective solutions in the ways we can.
For more information on USF’s sustainability efforts and up to date events offered for students, follow @sustainabilityusfca on Instagram.