01 Dec 2023
by Aida Ferrer Aguilar

Interpreting the future of the planet

As COP28 gets underway, this article from our Bulletin archive describes Aida Ferrer Aguilar's experience of interpreting at COP26 in Glasgow back in 2021.

How did I get involved in interpreting at the 2021 United Nations Climate Change  Conference (COP26)? It’s a curious story…

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 it would take place and how I could participate.

Initially, I signed up as a volunteer with one of my best friends, but the organisers 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 make my own contribution to the climate change cause.

Months later, on the eve of the event I was still feeling upset. Not wanting to believe that  I wasn’t participating in COP26, I decided to go to the cinema with my partner to rewatch one of the Harry Potter films, in the hope 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 shuffled awkwardly out of the screening and phoned back; and it was a client, offering me a last-minute interpreting assignment at COP26! He told me it would be a press conference with the COP26 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 – and also scared I wouldn’t be able to fulfil the event’s expectations.

Two and a half hours to get into the zone

The event was divided across two venues: the Blue Zone in the Scottish Event Campus, for the politicians and delegates; and the Green Zone in the Glasgow 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 and a half hours to get in.

During the two-week event, I interpreted for different delegates and ministers: Alok Sharma (the president of COP26 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 because China had an urgent announcement to make with the US: the ‘Declaration on Enhancing Climate Action in the 2020s’. It was a shame, but I am grateful I was able to meet and work with important people who are influencing and setting our future direction.
Imagine having to interpret for people who hold your future in their hands, tackling the worst disaster that humanity has ever faced

Aida Ferrer Aguilar

A huge responsibility,  with unexpected moments

From my point of view, the conference itself was an immense challenge. Imagine having to interpret for people whohold 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 to deliver the correct message to a broad audience.

It wasn’t the smoothest or best-organised event either, for a number of reasons including Covid. Most of my assignments were ‘last-minute’ meetings, further compounding my feelings of stress and anxiety. The cameras didn’t help either.I did, however, experience some sweet moments too.

After my interpretation at the press conference with President Guillermo Lasso 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 strongly enough for someone to ask to take a photo! After she had taken the picture, a man I never realised was behind me said: ‘Señora Presidenta, ¿puede venir un momento?’ (‘Madam President, could you come here for a second?’) – she was Guillermo Lasso’s wife! And she was the one asking for a picture with me? This could not be happening to me! But even now, 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.

Change is coming; but we can fight it

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, with one purpose was so inspiring. I remember one of the topics on which I interpreted with a particular fondness: the expansion of the Galapagos marine reserve, which was announced by President 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 square kilometres to the 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 have a particular interest in this matter and sympathy for these islanders since I was also born on an island that is currently in danger and will suffer from significant climate change consequences soon.

Talking to politicians, volunteers and staff members made me realise that climate change is on our doorstep. I have seen it with my own eyes. I remember when I was growing up on my beautiful island, a warm summer’s day would have been between 23 and 28ºC. Now, it can get up to 40ºC some days, which feels like hell. I also remember we used to have snow. I would go to my gran’s and make snowmen. Today, it just snows in the mountains, but the snow barely lies. Winters also feel much warmer. In fact, this Christmas we had a couple of days with 21ºC and bright sun, which was a nice change from the gloomy and ‘dreich’ Glasgow weather, but it shouldn’t be like that.

These extreme weather events are caused by the climate change that humans have brought about, 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.

This article, with the title Words for a failing planet, was first published in the March-April 2022 edition of ITI Bulletin.

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