Why Am I Here? – Dr. Mark Urban

Why am I here at the climate summit called COP 27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt? Why did I leave my family behind and travel halfway around the world? Why would I expend that CO2 from my flight, fully knowing its contributions to climate change?COP27 fellows

As an ecologist, I should be working on my backlog of academic papers that address how climate change affects biodiversity and ecosystems and how to mitigate those effects. In my field, these papers likely have a more direct effect on climate change versus my interaction with global colleagues at the COP.

I am here because I have come to believe that one of the most important actions I can take to reduce climate change is to provide the information and experiences to create the leaders of tomorrow who will solve this climate crisis.

We started the UConn@COP program by bringing our first set of undergraduate students to COP 21 in Paris.

COP21 Students

We were not officially badged at our first COP, but attended the extensive side events and public “Green Zone.” The feedback from students was clear – the trip had transformed their perspectives on climate change and empowered them to become leaders in their respective areas. Following Paris, we went to the Marrakech COP and received U.N. observer status by the Bonn COP, which provided a small number of passes to get into the official events. We have now been in Katowice and Madrid. We took students to Glasgow at the last minute and tested for Covid-19 every day. And now here we are in Egypt.

The trip is for the students, for sure, but I also come for the hope I find here. I gain hope as I see most of the world coming together to solve the climate crisis. The process is incremental and not nearly fast enough to prevent the onslaught of climate-induced disasters. However, I always find some hope somewhere between the negotiating rooms and the pavilions, on the long bus or train rides, and between sleep-deprived nights and our “breakfast club” conversations. I see hope in the diversity of people from around the world – all so different and yet also so much the same. I see hope in the small victories of words moved from bracketed provisional text to unobstructed official language. And above all else, I see hope in the students that fearlessly approach world leaders, bring their experiences back to their friends, university and communities, and continue on to careers as leasers at the forefront of climate action.

Is COP 27 worth the carbon dioxide spent? I won’t know unfortunately until many years into the future, when the students of today bring about the changes that finally solve the climate change crisis.