COP26 climate change summit: World leaders should take a trip to sacred island of Iona to witness the beauty and fragility of our planet – Ewan Aitken

I’ve just had the joy of a week on the sacred island of Iona. It’s a place I have returned to many times since I first went over 40 years ago, a place of mystery and awe which holds a special place in my heart.
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This week I saw dolphins in the Sound of Iona for the first time. I stood in awe as they leapt and pirouetted in and out of the water with such elegance, I was reminded of the beauty and fragility of our planet, and our responsibility to care for it.

The gathering of political leaders (though not all of them...) in Glasgow is a make-or-break moment for our planet. COP26 is the 26th gathering of the Conference of the Parties, where representatives from around the world will discuss progress and develop new targets for action.

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Although it’s built on individual countries’ commitments, it requires everyone to commit fully. Sadly, our leaders are already dampening down expectations because they have failed in their role to bring together “the Parties” in a way which means progress – real, radical, system-changing progress – might be made.

It all seems too huge a task for any of us to influence. We can shout all we like from outside, but it’s what goes on in the room which will make (or fail to make) the difference. At least that’s what it can feel like. But there are things we can do, personally and collectively, which will make a difference.

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We can speak up. Despite the apparent lowering of expectations by UK political leaders, they don’t want this to look like they failed, so let’s keep the pressure on them. Writing as a former elected politician and from talking to those who have been “in the room”, I can assure you letters, emails, symbolic acts of protest, petitions and everything we do to make our politicians hear our views do all add up in the minds of those who want to get re-elected. So don’t stop, futile as it might seem.

And we can act personally. Despite the Prime Minister’s claim, recycling does work. Every choice we make to reduce our consumption and reuse or recycle what we buy makes a difference. Yes, the big systemic changes needed to turn the tide require political leadership, but so many of them will need us to change our habits. So the sooner we get started and the more we can do, the better!

The sight of dolphins jumping from the sea reminded Ewan Aitken of the beauty and fragility of our planet (Picture: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)The sight of dolphins jumping from the sea reminded Ewan Aitken of the beauty and fragility of our planet (Picture: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)
The sight of dolphins jumping from the sea reminded Ewan Aitken of the beauty and fragility of our planet (Picture: Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)
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At Cyrenians, we use the natural environment to aid recovery and well-being. Our organic farm makes money for work tackling the causes and consequences of homelessness, and helps train young people in sustainable farming practices.

Our community gardens support people in managing mental health challenges and we distribute surplus food to folk in need, instead of leaving it to rot in landfill. We choose ways of working that embed the goodness of our environment, instead of exploiting our planet.

Our choices are not perfect. We have a long way to go to reduce our carbon footprint. But by embedding positive environmental choices at the heart of all we do, we can make a bigger difference. As the environmentalist Jane Goodall put it, “cumulatively, small decisions, choices, actions, make a very big difference”.

Ewan Aitken is CEO of Cyrenians Scotland

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