Menu Menu

Fear, powerlessness, and hope at COP26 – is this the last chance?

At COP26, Force of Nature went to every corner – the Blue Zone, the Green Zone, the New York Times Climate Hub, the UK Youth Climate Cafe, the trailblazing campaigners in the streets, and everywhere in between – to gauge the emotional climate.

We have had the ingenuity, technology and resources to solve the climate crisis for decades, but we are, critically, lacking the mobilization of mindsets by those in positions of power.

So, we set about asking people to open up about how the climate crisis makes them feel.

In this 3-part series, we will be sharing what we heard from policy-makers, decision-makers, media giants, scientists, activists – human beings – when we asked them about their eco-anxiety.

What is COP26?

World leaders, policy makers, youth activists, industry representatives, scientists and civil society gathered in Glasgow from October 31-November 12 for the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference.

COP stands for “Conference of Parties”, referring to the number of stakeholders, or “parties”, gathering to discuss the planet’s future.

To hear a little bit more about COP26, and the agreements that came out of it, check out this web page which provides a factual breakdown of what came out of the negotiation rooms.

So…did it succeed, or fail?

Despite the conference being lauded as the most pivotal climate talks since the 2015 Paris agreement, negotiations continue to take place behind closed doors with the voices of those most affected by the crisis being largely excluded from decision-making rooms.

At the same time, thousands around the world feel paralyzed by hopelessness and fear at the thought of our future hanging by a thread.

With the eyes of our future on world leaders in Glasgow, the narrative characterizing every conversation from dinner-time banter to media coverage has been one of intense urgency.

COP26 was both too much and not enough – negotiations were inaccessible, venues were disappointing, and our governments failed to protect those most vulnerable to the crisis. Headlines like “The Last Chance” from The Guardian and “When will we know if Cop26 has been a success?” from The Week UK indicate the success-failure binary that people all around the world have been hanging their hats on.

One Google search yields countless results characterized by some iteration of the assertion, “Why COP26 was a failure”; a dangerous narrative to play into when many of the most important voices were missing from the conference.

While it is refreshing to see the climate crisis taking its rightful and central position in our minds and hearts, it begs the question – is the “last-chance” rhetoric just as damaging as the “nothing is wrong” rhetoric for our eco-anxiety?

As Joycelyn Longdon (@climateincolour on Instagram) points out:

“The real work isn’t just happening outside the conference in Glasgow… it is happening as we speak in the schools, forests, oceans, low-income communities, research labs etc by the global community who have been and will continue to work tirelessly for decades to create change.”

Credit: Force of Nature

The “Emotional Climate” – How does the climate crisis make people feel?

Many people felt fearful during COP26 because they felt as if this was our “last chance” to solve the problem.

As one young activist in FoN’s community said, ‘You have my future, the future of my generation and just the future of our planet in your hands. So many people are watching COP26 unfolding and they’re pinning all of their hopes on it. Please act now and please act decisively, because it is our last chance.’

While youth rallied trans-nationally to bring world leaders to bear, there was a stark contrast between the energy in the streets and the uncomfortable, buttoned-up tension incubating inside the negotiation chambers.

Everyone was fearful; but while leaders shut down in the face of their fear, and failed to make the brave strides that we need towards climate justice, young people took matters into their own hands and stepped up to challenge the incumbents.

The importance placed on the conference was essential to hold people in power accountable, but the fight against climate change is being fought by people on the front lines, not those in the boardrooms – and yet our hopes and fears hinge on either the “success” or “failure” of a two-week period of closed-door conferences.

The conferenced failed to deliver the commitment to rally around those most vulnerable to the climate crisis, but this cannot be an excuse for us to turn our back on climate action when accelerated action and accountability is desperately needed.

Is this eco-anxiety?

The media will try to play into the narrative of a “success” or a “failure”, shunting you into one camp or the other based on your Google search terms.

The fear, a common facet of our eco-anxiety, is completely normal; fear is not misplaced, but rather a direct effect of the inaction of people in power who are ignoring the voices and solution from communities already experiencing the effects of the climate crisis.

What do we do now?

Strong emotions are proof of our empathy. Opening your heart to the emotions can be difficult to bear, but it allows us to build internal sustainability and solidarity with others.

It is essential to remember that COP26 is not the beginning or end of climate leadership; we must continue dreaming, imagining, and taking action to bring that better world into reality.

Two (non-policy) pieces of hope to take from the conference:

First, the up-cropping of hundreds of thousands of fringe events, including the New York Times Climate Hub, the Extreme International Hangout, the Climate Fringe Cafe, She Changes Climate, Indigenous Listening Events, and the COP26 Coalition.

These are just a few amongst the hundreds and thousands of gatherings, strikes, and events that took place outside of the official delegation zone. As Malala Yousafzai noted in her Panel to the New York Times: “It is the young people, especially young women who are the voices of the climate movement, and that gives hope to so many people.”

Secondly, the unprecedented focus on emotion and humanity. Previous climate negotiations have been largely built off of a false nature-culture dichotomy and has thus numbed many of us to the issue.

Activists like Vanessa Nakate, Tori Tsui, Tasneem Essop and Little Amal, who spoke powerfully to the heart-wrenching reality of living with the impacts of the climate crisis, re-grounded the crisis in human empathy and emotion.

From our research: What climate stories need re-writing?

At Force of Nature, we have identified self-limiting beliefs that we all hold about the climate crisis and our role in it, that keeps society sleep-walking towards the abyss. These key climate stories keep the system moving towards graver inequality and climate collapse.

  • The problem is too big.
  • It is too late; the system is too broken.
  • It is someone else’s responsibility.

Identifying and re-writing these stories is one of the most powerful things that you can do for yourself and for the planet.


Force of Nature is helping people share their emotions about climate crisis, in order to challenge these climate stories and take agency on the issues they care about.

The team was on the ground in Glasgow, spreading the word about the Call Your Mother campaign – a guerrilla public engagement project, spread by stickers, posters and QR-codes, and a roving green phone booth.

The activation is linked to a digital interface where users can answer questions about their messy climate emotions and interact with others who feel the same way. Go to to record your message.

Remember! Eco-anxiety is a normal and rational response to the depth of the crisis. It is the difficult emotions that have been felt for years by individuals experiencing the climate crisis, and is exacerbated by the perceived inaction of those in power.

Eco-anxiety does not just look one way – it shows up in a diversity of emotional responses. Hope, despair, urgency, anger and grief may all be aspects to eco-anxiety.

Eco-anxiety is not the issue; how we recognize these emotions, and then how we build community, action and hope with them, is the important part.

Next week’s piece on the Emotional Climate at COP26 will be about the feeling of powerlessness, as expressed by different people, and pose the question that seems to be on everyone’s tongues: “Where is my seat at the table?”

If you want to participate in the Call Your Mother campaign, go to

This campaign was built in collaboration with Justified Studio, Vurvey, and Hello Lamp Post, along with the Force of Nature team and volunteers – proof of the change we can create when we join forces for both people and the planet.


This article was originally written by Sacha Wright, Research and Curriculum Coordinator for Force of Nature. Click here to view her LinkedIn and click here to view the FoN Twitter page.


Thred Newsletter!

Sign up to our planet-positive newsletter