Challenging My Perspectives of Climate Action & What Solutions Look Like – Jocelyn Phung

Indigenous COP27 panelAfter three days of the conference, I am still in disbelief that I have the privilege to be in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt for COP27. Expanding my knowledge on climate change started on the bus to the JFK airport, in discussions with my peers about their perspectives on clean and renewable energy, Indigenous approaches to climate action and more. Intellectually I am attempting to absorb as much information as I can on everything that I am interested in or know nothing about. It has been an emotional rollercoaster going from being overwhelmed by the breadth and depth of climate change, to realizing that heartbreak for the destruction of life on our planet is the reason we are drawn here (Professor Phoebe Godfrey said it best), to contemplating my role in climate action, and to gaining hope for our future from all the technology, knowledge, innovations, art, poetry, and passions showcased at the conference. Each day I wish I could be at multiple places at one time and jot down everything I am learning. Every day I am humbled by how much I didn’t know about climate change and climate solutions.

The first two days I was fascinated by all the new technologies, innovations and financial partnerships presented to mitigate and adapt to climate change. From green hydrogen to private-sector investments in developing countries, it was amazing to see experts from different sectors coming together and sharing their life’s work. On the third day, however, I looked at all the information and narratives presented from a more critical lens. I reminded myself to be more critical of the solutions and data presented to me, of who is in the room and who is excluded, of who is represented, and of the interests behind narratives that are being pushed forward. From attending the Indigenous people’s panels and speaking to grassroot climate justice activists, I learned about false solutions and thought more critically about how many initiatives discussed at COP27 perpetuate green capitalism and reinforce the racist, sexist, imperialist and elitist structures that destroyed our beautiful planet in the first place. It was argued that if we continue with our existing systems, the root of the problem remains unsolved. I also learned about the significance of ancestral knowledge and Indigenous perspectives as climate solutions, and how they are largely ignored in the mainstream discussions.

The conflicting narratives from different groups of people at COP27 are something I need to explore more in the remainder of the conference. My perspective as of tonight is that mitigation, adaptation and dismantling our oppressive systems can happen at the same time. It is clear that the climate crisis is here and we need to take concrete and equitable action; we also cannot continue with our “business as usual” model, prioritizing profits over people. In the meantime, I think there could be potential for the science, technology, and research to be grounded in ancestral knowledge. In addition, data and trends need to be contextualized to center the communities that the data comes from and can be applied to. Coming from a chemical engineering background, I am interested to see how data can be utilized to inform decision making and actualize climate action, especially in developing countries and vulnerable communities. For the remainder of the conference, I am curious to learn more about the role of businesses in mitigating climate change, the health effects of climate injustice, an alternative economy and our innate spiritual connection to nature.

Ultimately, I am immensely grateful that I get to be in this space and have access to COP27 as well as the faculty members and cohort of students who are on this trip. I have learned so much and my perspective is being challenged constantly. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and words cannot describe how thankful I am. I have learned to ground myself amid the urgency and anxiety and grief by reconnecting with nature and immersing myself in the Red Sea, which I think is key for navigating COP27 and the climate space in general.