My performance at COP26 – Words for a failing planet
Updated: Apr 20
How did I get involved?
I am writing this article in January 2022, after a lovely and necessary Christmas, Hogmanay, and Reyes Magos break. To answer the question of how I got involved in the event I need to tell you the whole story, as I think it’s curious how I ended up interpreting at COP26.
Early in February 2021 I found out that the next United Nations Climate Change Conference would be held in Glasgow, and I immediately started searching for information about it. I wanted to know when it was being held, where exactly in Glasgow and how I could participate. Initially, I signed up as a volunteer with one of my best friends, but the organizers turned down our applications. I also tried my luck sending my CV to a few direct clients I knew were going to the event but received no response. I was gutted because I really wanted to do my bit and contribute to the climate change cause.
Months later came the eve of the event. Still feeling upset and not wanting to believe that I wasn’t participating at COP, I decided to go to the cinema with my partner to re-watch Harry Potter thinking that this classic could cheer me up. A few minutes after the film started, I noticed that my watch was vibrating – I had forgotten to turn my phone off! I suddenly had this gut feeling telling me it was vital I pick it up. So, that’s what I did, I awkwardly shuffled my way out the screening, and phoned that person right back. Sure enough, it was a client of mine that wanted to offer me a last-minute interpreting assignment at COP26!! He told me it would be a press conference with the COP President and a few delegates from South America. No more details were disclosed.
As you can imagine, I was over the moon, feeling so empowered and grateful. All the while scared I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the event’s expectations.
What happened: what did I have to interpret?
The event was divided across two venues: the Blue Zone, held in the SEC (Scottish Event Campus), for the politicians and delegates; and the Green Zone, held in the Science Centre, for general public events and activists’ speeches. Both venues were located on the River Clyde in the West End of Glasgow. I got myself to the Blue Zone very early the first day. It was absolutely jumping, with loads of people ready to kick off the conference. It took me two hours and a half to get in.
During the two week-event, I interpreted for different delegates and ministers: the President of COP himself, the President of Ecuador, the US Delegation, the Mexican Delegation, Scottish Ministers, and the Uruguayan Delegation. I also nearly interpreted for US Climate Envoy (and ex-presidential candidate) John Kerry!!!! Unfortunately, that last meeting was cancelled due to an urgent matter: China announcing their ‘Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in 2020s’ with the US. It was a wee shame, but I am thankful I managed to meet up and work with important people that set a precedent for our future.
I interpreted a few different topics, all of them climate change and sustainability related. I remember one of the topics with a particular fondness: the Galapagos’ Marine Reserve Expansion. This announcement was made by the President of Ecuador, Guillermo Lasso, during Ecuador’s Climate Declaration. These pledges and promises are very important for the inhabitants and the wildlife of the Galapagos. Lasso promised an expansion of 60,000 km2 to the already existing marine reserve. This ambitious plan would guarantee major protection of the Ecuadorian waters and would allow the government to have broader control over the Galapagos’ environment. I suppose I empathise with these islanders since I was also born on an island that is currently in danger and will suffer from significant climate change consequences soon.
The sweet and sour
From my point of view, the conference itself was an immense challenge. Imagine having to interpret for people who hold your future in their hands, in an event that will decide what actions are going to be taken to tackle the worst disaster that humanity has ever faced. I felt a huge responsibility of delivering the correct message to a broad audience.
Due to several reasons, partially because of COVID-19 disrupting the smooth organisation required for these kinds of events, I think COP26 wasn’t the most organised. Most of my assignments, were ‘last-minute’ meetings, further compounding my feelings of stress and anxiety around the campus. The cameras also didn’t help.
I did, however, experience some sweet moments too. I remember after my interpretation at the press conference with the President of Ecuador, a woman came up to me and said ‘I loved your performance. Are you from Scotland?’. I told her I was from Mallorca and she enthusiastically switched to Spanish. We were having a wonderful conversation about islands around the world and their rich nature, when she asked if she could take a picture with me. I was so happy to see my interpreting message coming across strong enough for someone to ask to take a picture with me! After she took the picture, a man I never realised was behind me said ‘Señora Presidenta, ¿puede venir un momento? (Madam President, could you come for a second?) – she was Guillermo’s Lasso wife! And she was the one asking for a picture with me? This was not happening to me!!! But even now, two months later, I look at the picture and remind myself it did indeed happen, and just for a moment I feel very pleased with myself.
What can we do as linguists about climate change?
How can we do our bit? I truly believe that as linguists we can contribute by sharing our personal experience translating or interpreting about climate change or sustainability; following clients that support climate change causes and offer sustainable platforms to work with; and joining web seminars to expand our knowledge in the matter.
Then, as an individual citizen, I always try to read more about climate change, how it affects my local community and what sustainable measures I can put in place as individual; get to know more about renewable energies and their application for a greener future (plus this is one of my specialisations, so I do it as a CPD as well); recycle, re-use and reduce plastic and any other contaminating materials.
I felt extremely lucky to have been a part of the UN Climate Change Conference. Seeing all these people gathered in Glasgow, a city that feels like my second home, to fight against a unique goal was so inspiring.
Talking to politicians, volunteers, and staff members, made me realise that climate change is on our doorstep. From when I was a wee girl until now, I have seen it with my own eyes. I remember growing up on my beautiful island, a warm summer’s day would’ve been between 23-28ºC. Now, it can get up to 40ºC some days, which feels like hell. I also remember we used to have snow. I used to go to my gran’s and make snowmen. Today, it just snows in the mountains, but it barely sits. Winters also feel much warmer. In fact, this Christmas we had a couple of days with 21ºC and bright sun, which was a nice rest from the gloomy and ‘dreich’ Glaswegian weather, but it shouldn’t be like that. These extreme weather events are caused by man-made climate change, and they have dire consequences. But it’s not too late to turn it around by making climate change everyone’s priority and putting pressure on our elected officials to act now, and quickly.