COP26 – a climate challenge for countries and a language challenge for interpreters

Around 30,000 people are gathering in Glasgow at this very moment for the 26th United Nations Conference of the Parties on Climate Change (COP26).

From 31 October to 12 November, 120 heads of state are expected to attend and some of them have already taken the floor in the first few days to raise awareness of the urgency of the climate situation and find solutions.

Politicians, activists and citizens from all over the world are listening carefully to what is happening in Glasgow.

What commitments will be made?

More than 80 countries are committing to reducing methane emissions by 30% by 2030. Although absent from the conference, India wants to be carbon neutral by 2070, announced the Indian Prime Minister.

More than 100 leaders, representing 85% of the world’s forests, are pledging to halt deforestation by 2030.

These commitments are only the beginning of a list that will continue to grow in the face of the climate emergency.

But how can these ambitions and commitments be translated?

Climate is a global concern, most countries are involved, which implies a large number of language combinations. There are as many countries participating in COP26 as there are languages to be translated. Every speech must be understood by everyone. While many speak English, translating speeches from Indian or Nigerian into Chinese or Swedish, for example, is less common.

This is where the need for professional interpreters and translators comes in.

Global warming, carbon neutrality and deforestation are sensitive and complex issues. The physical presence of interpreters who can master the vocabulary of climate and environmental issues, as well as diplomatic and geopolitical jargon, is indispensable. Translators and interpreters are the ones who will be responsible for passing messages between countries and for negotiating, and they play a vital role.

Who are these interpreters and how are they organised?

At international meetings, there are always professional and specialised interpreters. They are members of the United Nations and are responsible for the official interpreting at COP26. They participate in technical negotiations, conferences, etc.

For the conferences to run smoothly, they are meticulously prepared in advance with an order of appearance for the speakers: for example, on 2 November, the presidents spoke in a precise order so that the interpreters from each country could prepare themselves. Speakers were given a time limit of 3 minutes to speak. Statements and speeches were sent to the interpreters about 30 minutes before each speech.

Some of the conferences and meetings are held online. This was the case for the Queen of England, who was unable to attend this COP26, and who made her statement live via video conference. However, these online conferences can become an obstacle to understanding each other in international negotiations of this magnitude.

Once ended, COP26 will allow countries to negotiate and agree on key issues to fight global warming and save our planet. The main challenge for countries is to limit global warming to 1.5° by the end of the century. The language challenge for interpreters will also be over.

What is the role of translators?

Agreements will be drafted and it is the translators who will have to translate these agreements and official documents into the languages of the signatory countries.

Just as for interpreters, this COP26 is also a linguistic challenge for translators

In the face of this urgency, let’s hope that interpreters and translators will pass on the right messages to the leaders so that they too can take up their climate challenge!

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