An open letter to COP26 leaders: putting people at the heart of change

This week sees the start of COP26 – a conference of global leaders billed by many as the world’s last opportunity to combat major climate disaster and save our planet. The outcome of the climate change conference is critical for all life on Earth and will have an impact at all levels – on people across the globe, in the UK and for us in Oxfordshire. Urgent action is needed. Here is our letter to those in Glasgow currently discussing the fate of our planet.

Dear Earth’s Leaders,

We urge you to be thinking and acting as people, as a society and as the inhabitants of our home planet, in a very different way. The world urgently needs multipurpose and multifunctional green spaces. Climate Change is running in parallel to the crash in biodiversity and the mental and physical health crisis. But green spaces, the ecosystems they provide and the habitats and species they support offer multiple benefits for our environment and health. If those green spaces are accessible, natural and multifunctional then they are going to reap rewards for us in future. To create and maintain these vital green spaces, we need to pull together in partnership to think about, act and invest on a bigger scale than we ever have before.

We have 3 interrelated requests: focus on action, think holistically and put people at the heart of change.

1. Focus on action
We recognize that discussion and talk is important. But rarely does talk get converted into action. While we hope that talk at the Climate Change Conference leads to agreement of meeting a 1.5C target, this must be coupled with the revision of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and the agreement and investment in set action plans.

2. Holistic system thinking
Life on Earth functions through interconnected ecosystems. It is these ecosystems that are being damaged and destroyed by human intervention. Our natural resources are precious, and water – along with soil – is particularly precious to us – as precious as carbon. Our bodies are 60% water. Perhaps our hardest working resource, water enables many natural ecosystems and wildlife to survive and thrive. The water that we wash our hands with, that we swim and play in, that boosts our health when we are near it, is the same water that nourishes our crops, wetlands and marshes. It is the same water that falls as rain and, in the future, causes more flooding events. It is the same water that freezes at the Earth’s poles. It is the same water in the Thames and its tributaries and floodplain. In all regions, but particularly high growth development areas such as Oxfordshire and the South East, we need to be investing in all green spaces. These provide biodiversity, food and timber, and when functioning well help mitigate climate change, store water and carbon as well as boosting our physical health and mental wellbeing – acting as a natural health service.

3. Putting people at the heart of change
We need to put people and communities at the heart of all this action. Because it’s people that will be making decisions about all our futures and the future of our children and grandchildren. So, while legislative frameworks and action plans are desperately needed, please don’t forget it’s people we need to connect with and engage. If we get access to and engagement with green spaces right, these multifunctioning places can catalyse action and empower people. Through these connections people learn to love and care for the environment and are able to make better decisions in their lives, for the environment and therefore the planet: one green space at a time.

With hope for the future,

Jayne Manley and the Earth Trust team