Manasi Mulay is a PhD student in Martsinovich group in department of Chemistry and Grantham Scholar at the University of Sheffield, and an official ‘observer’ of COP26 with access to the blue zone of the conference. Her research focuses on advanced water treatment techniques for pollution caused by industrial, agricultural and domestic wastewater. She writes of her experience at COP26

I am a PhD student at the Grantham Centre for sustainable futures and was an observer at the COP26 Glasgow in week one. It was a unique experience to attend events as an official representative of the University of Sheffield alongside world leaders.

In the COP26 blue zone, I attended various events that highlighted the impact of climate change on water including effects on habitats and availability, emphasising the urgency of water related research and development. I was disheartened to hear that 14,000 glaciers in Tajikistan have been melted, 50% of coral in the great barrier reef has been destroyed since 1995 and children in Kenya and some parts of the world have to walk 12-15 miles in search of water – all as a result of climate change. 

On Ocean day, attention turned to ocean pollution, and ocean based solutions to climate change with discussions by oceanographer Sylvia A. Earle, climate envoy John Kerry and UK minister of state for climate Lord Goldsmith among other climate experts and leaders. There was also the first ever water pavilion at the United Nations COP at COP26 where experts came from various backgrounds in discussing water. I spent most of my time at the water pavilion during the conference as it was a great opportunity for networking with eminent researchers, organisations and government representatives. 

The challenges are extreme but I felt privileged to witness some of the actions being taken to address these issues, including the first announcement  and meeting the first few signatories of the Glasgow declaration for the fair water footprints.

Though queuing for the registration and security check every morning was time-consuming, it was interesting for a language enthusiast like me as one could hear different languages being spoken while waiting in the queue. The first week of conference also coincided with Diwali, an ancient Hindu festival from India to be celebrated with people and lights. Though I was not with my family during the festival, I am glad that I was among the people from across the globe brainstorming about the future of the planet along with my colleagues, which made this Diwali more special to me.

Overall, it was a fantastic experience for a PhD student like me to be involved in the world’s largest conference. The myriad of experts, leaders and climate enthusiasts from all backgrounds was inspiring and I felt included in a large team that is continuously striving towards one common goal – the sustainable future of the planet!