We asked the Tzu Chi Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Action Team to share its reflections after participating in COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties in Glasgow, Scotland. The summit drew together the Parties, signatories of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and over 38 thousand delegates from around the world to address the global climate crisis.
Jimmy Yang, lead of the Tzu Chi COP26 delegation, has been on Tzu Chi’s UN team the longest. His first summit was COP20 in Lima, Peru in 2014 – a “life-changing experience,” he said – and he’s attended each climate conference since then. He joined the panel at one of Tzu Chi’s press conferences at COP26 as Special Project Lead on aid in Zimbabwe.
Tzu Chi volunteers and married couple Jan Wolf and Mea Feng Lin have been delegates at several COP summits together as both are members of Tzu Chi’s UN SDG Action Team.
Everyone was in action mode at COP26, she said. “The team [was] in the spirit of mission fulfillment, working closely together, using wisdom and perseverance to make daily activities go smoothly and successfully so that Tzu Chi can exert the greatest influence in this climate meeting.”
The 2017 COP23 summit in Bonn, Germany, was Jan’s first, and he’s actively participated in subsequent years. He moderated two Tzu Chi press conferences this time, on topics gravitating around weather and land-related issues and Africa’s food crisis.
Ashley Yong, Tzu Chi’s Civil Society Youth Representative to the UN Department of Global Communication, became part of the team three years ago, and this was her second COP summit. She spoke at two press conferences and one side session, bringing a perspective on youth action and, as a program manager, sharing about Tzu Chi’s aid in Sierra Leone.
And for Tiffany Tu, this was her first COP since joining Tzu Chi’s Global Partnership Affairs Department (formally known as the United Nations Task Force) in 2020. She opened Tzu Chi’s final press conference featuring interfaith reflections on COP26 and the road forward. Overall, the summit was eye-opening:
A Milestone to Celebrate
As a Buddhist faith-based non-governmental organization, the team felt that Tzu Chi has a unique role to play at United Nations climate conferences.
Mea Feng Lin shared that “religious groups in the climate conference represent not only the religious communities in the world today, but also speak for three categories.” Namely, they must be a voice for the world’s poorest populations, living creatures who can’t speak for themselves, and the people of the future who have yet to be born, since the environment then will be the result of humanity’s way of life now.
Tzu Chi had the opportunity to team up with existing and new partners at COP26 to promote plant-based diets, jointly amplifying the necessity for a global transition to more sustainable food systems.
There were some welcome signs of growing environmental awareness for those who had been to previous COP summits. For example, the organizers had prepared reusable water bottles for delegates instead of the single-use plastic bottles offered before. And, at least 50% of the meals served at the conference were plant-based this year.
Still, once all was said and done, how did the team feel about the outcomes of COP26, the Glasgow Climate Pact?
Mea Feng Lin recounted that “at the opening ceremony, General Assembly President Alok Sharma emphasized that the 26th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is the ‘last and best hope’ for keeping the global warming range within 1.5 degrees Celsius in accordance with the Paris Agreement’s goals.” So, did this “last and best hope” bear fruit?
Tiffany Tu and Ashley Yong, relatively new to the global dialogue on climate, were somewhat upbeat in their assessments:
Jan Wolf, Mea Feng Lin, and Jimmy Yang, with several summits behind them, had more reservations about the outcomes:
Lin agreed and elaborated further on the need for collaboration and consensus:
As for Jimmy Yang, while he applauded the agreements reached (summarized on page 33, at the end of this issue’s cover story), he also detailed his misgivings:
A Commitment to Advocacy and Personal Action
Participating in the COP26 global dialogue on climate change is just one aspect of the Tzu Chi SDG Action Team’s resolve to help deter climate change through personal action and advocacy. Nonetheless, they gained knowledge and drew insights and inspiration from the experience, spurring further action.
Jan’s wife, Mea Feng, explained more about the couple’s mindful lifestyle, which is continually evolving:
For her part, Ashley Yong is making a concerted effort in her lifestyle choices, planning to do even more, and hoping to encourage others to as well:
As a veteran of COP summits, this being his seventh, Jimmy Yang shared a very nuanced point of view on tackling climate change, one where individual agency as well a broad systemic transformation must play a part:
For COP newcomer Tiffany Tu, it boils down to being a light, and joining forces in solidarity with others to illuminate the way forward, because lasting change can start one action at a time:
Read more about Master Cheng Yen’s fireflies analogy in the teachings section on page 58.