From local to global

17 year-old campaigner Hattie Phillips works with the WI and others to influence MPs in Essex on climate issues. With COP27 underway, she reflects on the parallels between local and global.

By Hattie Phillips

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Hattie Phillips headshot
Hattie Phillips

Growing up in a conservative and primarily older small estuary town in England could, on the face of it, be seen as an exhausting and uphill battle in respect of taking action for the climate and ecological crisis.

But far away from Maldon, Essex, COP27 is currently taking place in Egypt.


I travelled to Glasgow last year as a Youth Ambassador for the WWF. Five days at COP took me two weeks to recover! We often hear about intention, giving our all, committing ourselves to being in the moment. Most of those working at COP27 will be doing all of these things every minute of the day to make sure that every second spent there is valuable. But also that their presence is validated, and worth it. No one should have to go through this to keep the planet viable.

It’s hard to pin down exactly what I want to be achieved by COP27. Not being a scientist, I mostly leave the facts and figures to others, but an overall shift from reactive to proactive decision and policy making would be a nice outcome.

We need Governments to be proactive in their polices and act now to protect the future. Already we are seeing huge environmental damage being created across the globe and these extreme weather events we have seen so much this year are only going to get worse. It should be at the top of every agenda at every meeting but sadly, particularly in the northern hemisphere, the priorities are misguided. The penny hasn’t dropped yet: you can’t spin your way out of a climate catastrophe; by the time the penny does drop, it will be too late and no fiscal event will be able to recover the losses.

Hattie and other WWF youth ambassadors at COP26 in Glasgow
Hattie and other WWF youth ambassadors at COP26 in Glasgow

All about relationships

COP is a unique bubble and having had the pleasure of experiencing it, I now appreciate the luxury of being able to develop good working relationships in my local community. Ones that can develop over time is something that cannot be underestimated and should be valued.

I am not going to deny it, there are many times when I have wished there was greater support and unity from local leaders and my community. However, despite difficulties, we have made a difference in recent years – and pushing for change has shown that success is possible. Not in all areas, and nowhere near as quickly as required but positive nonetheless and in a way that could have been quicker but might not have been suitable for this community. Treading gently, and being the whispering voice in the ear may not suit all campaigners but as a 17-year-old climate campaigner in this community at this moment, it feels the best option to me.

There are, I think, parallels between the global and the local.

From local to global

Firstly, you have to operate at different levels and often, to make changes, you have to do things more than once.

Hattie with globe

Like many towns in the UK, Maldon has both District and Town Councils; different responsibilities, different Councillors, but one issue that has huge crossover, the environment. The District council released their long awaited Climate Action Plan and recently appointed a Climate Officer. Like COP, local politics can be a unique bubble! But the work has filtered out and it feels like the initial aim to create awareness is now complete, the next project is to challenge and encourage ambition – engagement that could be achieved with only a small investment.

Young people’s voices

Secondly, the voices of young people are crucial. Locally, we need an increase in intergenerational projects that support those who want change locally but can also learn from one another. There are very few intergenerational projects specifically related to the Climate movement and those that exist are not feeding into policy. They are too often informal gatherings and the desire to learn from ‘elders’ is strong but often ignored.

I would like to see youth engagement projects being offered in creative and innovative ways. Too often the presumed solution to obtain a ‘youth voice’ is through a youth council or panel session – too often a one-off. We need, as WWF and others seek to do at COP, to bring the voices of a wide range of young people from all backgrounds and life experiences into the process; not just the ones that are able to put themselves forward for a council or a meeting. I have yet to be successful locally to gain continued support for these ideas as it requires long term commitment and risk-taking to step out of the normal ways of working but I haven’t given up!

Crises and competing pressures

Third, whether national ore local, we live in a time of crises, where tensions are high and the sense of urgency to act, particularly in terms of environmental matters can risk seeming to be lost to more immediate issues.

The gentle nuances when making respectful communication and relations are threatened by the rapid-fire exchanges on social media in a sense of desperation to get the job done. Of all the things I have learnt since I started campaigning the most important is that we need each other. Being a young female activist means I have years ahead of me – I’m in it for the long game and have plenty of time to collect people with experience, knowledge and wisdom as I move from one stage of my life to another. I like to imagine I am trailing moss through a forest and people will stick to it like attractive clumps of lichen!

Trust and confidence

Relationships do not form in a day – or even two weeks in a conference centre in Scotland or Egypt! it takes time to develop the confidence and trust needed. Campaigning is often about having difficult conversations and it is much easier to share views and listen when there is mutual respect.

I wonder if on a local level things would have happened quicker if I had taken a different approach? I will never know because I am not willing to sacrifice the relationships I have made even if I must hold my nose sometimes.

I hope that those at COP27 who carry so much weight on their shoulders – the weight of my generation’s future – are still able to create an inner sense of calm as they face the challenge in front of them. I think that if I was going this year, I would try to imagine that every meeting was outside in one of my favourite natural landscapes. For me this would be right in the midst of the mossy Dartmoor valley, as I look around at the natural perfection of this place that is what drives me to push those in authority to make decisions that are moral and sustainable for all generations to come.