Reflections from a Week on the Red Sea – Caroline Webb

Ellie Goulding at COP27Sharm-el-Sheikh, the location of COP27, is a coastal Egyptian resort town that is adjacent to the Great Fringing Reef. Located in the cooler waters of the Red Sea, this reef is one of the most resilient reefs in the world; it is no surprise that COP27 publicity and advertisements repeatedly featured images and videos of the beautiful and vibrant underwater world. On one panel, “Hope For Coral Reefs,” singer-songwriter Ellie Goulding praised the reef’s “sheer visual beauty” and encouraged the audience to “please experience this reef yourself.” Yet at a conference where activisists and negotiators are working long days– and sometimes overnight– there seemed to be little time left to enjoy the beauty of nature.
Aware of this incongruence– as even we observers spent nearly the entire day caught up in the exciting bustle of the conference center– mid-way through the week a small group of us decided to wake up early and head down to the water. On one of these days, Dr. Phoebe Godfrey began the morning with a meditation. We were instructed to hold our breaths until we felt the urge to breathe again, understanding how dependent and interconnected we are with the air and world around us. On the other mornings we would wake up before dawn in an attempt to watch the sunrise and swim in the Red Sea. One of the regrets I had leaving Egypt was that I did not spend more time immersing myself in the culture and nature around me. After all, one of the most incredible parts about the COP27 Fellowship Program is the opportunity to travel across the world to attend the conference.
View of the Red SeaAt the same time, it is important to recognize the privilege and responsibility that comes with being able to attend COP27. Very few people have the opportunity to travel to the conference, and it is especially rare to be able to do so as a student. To have spent a week in a hotel along the coast of the Red Sea was amazing, with that luxury in juxtaposition with many of the stories told by activists from communities where significant impacts from climate change are already being felt. However, I also believe that the coming together of activists, politicians, negotiators, citizens, and indigenous peoples from around the world in one place is invaluable, and that finding joy in the world around us is necessary to sustaining activism. Particularly as frustratingly little progress was made on reaching a 1.5 degree warming target, it is important to take time to reset for the continued fight for a more equitable and sustainable future.