“It is not just words we are conceding, it is our lives, livelihoods and our future”. That is just one example of the many heart-wrenching statements that were heard on the last day at COP26. It is often too easy to get enamored by glamorous world leaders like John Kerry or Nicola Sturgeon speaking to us on a global platform like in Glasgow, but it is hearing the humbling words of those like Lia Nicholson, a negotiator for the Alliance of Small Island States, or AOSIS, and others including indigenous leaders, youth activists and underrepresented vulnerable communities that are at the forefront of the climate crisis that reminds us that this is an urgent, arduous but worthwhile fight. 

For the first time we heard our voices, the youth voices, being heard inside the plenary rooms. And somehow, it still seemed to only be matched by empty words and empty promises that have long stood undelivered. Being at COP26 has been an entirely humbling, disillusioning and tiring experience — learning the truth that we have made leaps and bounds of progress today that we never could have imagined, but also, we are still failing in the face of real climate change and justice. 

But it’s at times like these when the whole world gets a wake-up call that it’s worth remembering, failure is not an option. 

Thinking doom and gloom is a slippery slope that we do not have the time for — it’s instead the time for all of us as individuals, communities and institutions to make significant and meaningful change. 

Climate change is a social justice issue and, especially in New Haven, one rooted in structural urban inequality. Yale University has a massive role to play within the wider city context. It needs to ramp up its goals, strategies and investment within not just the University’s net- and absolute-zero future, but also in the New Haven community. 

Even as individuals, it is our responsibility to be conscious of our choices and be critical of our leaders. And within our capacity as students in one of the world’s largest and wealthiest institutions, Yale University, we have a voice and an obligation to make sure that we are on the right path.

With COP26 revealing some of the most pertinent yet contentious issues, climate finance and loss and damage, it’s time we start thinking about how, even in our own little Yale bubble, we can create systemic and institutional change to address these — would it be something like introducing a degrowth framework to how Yale works, or ideas of climate reparations or working more closely with the New Haven community to tackle climate justice issues rooted within deep urban injustices like the food apartheid? 

With the student-led organizations like Yale Endowment Justice Coalition and Yale Student Environmental Coalition and Yale-affiliated programs like the Urban Resource Initiative working both within Yale and within the wider city context, we have seen many successes in how the students, faculty and community can campaign and work toward effective change. There is an increasing academic imperative for Yale to expand the research and teaching within climate change and related mechanisms of innovation. What we need is a social and infrastructural shift that works with the highest level of possible ambition followed by action to achieve net-negative emissions, climate justice and climate education at Yale and in New Haven. 

Our current fight to meet our goal of 1.5 degrees Celsius is a lifeline; this is our moral obligation.  

ARUNIMA SIRCAR is a second-year student in the School of the Environment. Contact her at arunima.sircar@yale.edu.