Can there be Progress in Climate Change without Equity and Binding Agreements? – Christabelle Calabretta

I came to COP expecting to see and learn a lot in a short period of time. I was ready to watch panels, negotiations, and high-level discussions that will shape the future of our planet forever. Although these conversations are incredibly important, and there are many positive aspects of the conference, I can’t help but feel like what I am witnessing are just conversations and will not have the impact that I was hoping for.Christabelle calabretta at COP27

COP does an amazing job at bringing together tens of thousands of people and providing a space for those who are disparately impacted by climate change to tell their stories. However, there is an overwhelming divide between the space where individuals are telling their stories in the panels and where the actual negotiations are happening. I found myself wondering if the negotiators from western countries are taking the time— or even have the time— to go to different panels and discussions where people are talking about the impact that climate change has on their land and resources.

It’s this divide, in my view, that stunts progress. The people who are leading negotiations have an inherent privilege in this conference, one that I did not think would be so prevalent. Developed countries have even more of a privilege at this conference and are able to dominate negotiations because of the abundance of resources available to them as they prepare for this conference. For example, today I met with an individual who is a lawyer in England. He does pro-bono work through his job and provides legal aid to developing countries and helps them understand the jargony text of the documents being discussed. Although it is incredible that there are organizations like his that provide free legal aid at these conferences, it is extremely problematic that the countries who are most affected by climate change are being put at a negotiation table with countries like the U.S. and Canada who have the privilege of having these documents in their first language and who have very influential voices in these negotiations because of how they are situated within the world.

Furthermore, on “Ocean” day there was a theme among the panels that I attended. Each panelist stated in their presentation that there was a lack of clear governance related to ocean protection. As a third-year law student who is very interested in policy and legislation related to climate change, those statements made a huge impression on me and sparked my interest to return to the U.S. Pavilion and see if any of our panels would be discussing new policies for governing oceans in the interest of protecting them. At the U.S. Pavilion, I heard John Kerry speak about a pact where fifteen countries pledged to protect up to 30% of the ocean within their jurisdictions. Although this “pledge” is a great idea and takes huge steps forward in uniting countries, it is not a binding agreement and I think that is a huge flaw in the way we address climate change at an international level. I find it hard to believe that any real progress can be made when there is no binding legislation. For example, I listened to a follow up panel with a high-up official in Greece who said that a huge concern is sustainable tourism. For concerns like this to be adequately addressed, there needs to be language in these agreements that binds the countries involved to certain practices— like banning chemicals from sunscreen that are not reef safe despite the effects that may have on big corporations— and that is something that I am not seeing from this COP experience.

However, tomorrow’s theme is “Solutions,” and I am really hoping to see some solutions that relate to legislation and governance at the federal level. I am looking forward to following the negotiations and hopefully seeing interaction between the parties and the NGOs that allows for people who are being disparately affected by the climate crisis to share their stories and impact the negotiations in a meaningful way.