Month: November 2022

Compromise on Progress? – Lillian Adamo

Attending the UN Conference of the Party (COP) has been one of the most incredible experiences and I am immensely grateful for this opportunity. It allowed for unique access to the highest level of climate discussion in the world. These discussions utilize many unique formats. There are engaging panels, reporting mechanisms, and negotiations that all occur simultaneously. At times it can be overwhelming, but it allows for a well-rounded perspective of climate action at multiple scales. There are visible differences in the structure, organization, and often even the atmosphere of different events.

COP27 panel

I had the opportunity to attend the Special Report on the Emission Gap Assessment. This discussion presented the sobering reality that we are not on target to meet the 1.5 degree Celsius of warming which is a threshold in which the impacts of climate change will have increasingly devastating consequences. We are currently already at 1.1 degree Celsius of warming and the window is closing to minimize warming to 1.5 degrees. Each increment of warming has a profound impact and steps need to be taken to minimize each decimal point of warming to prevent greater adverse consequences. This presentation was data-oriented and comprised of implementation components, overall assessment, and explanations. It allows for a reflection that was made in the past year since COP26. This report is the compilation of numerous data collection points synthesized into major takeaways. There needs to be a 45% reduction in greenhouse gasses to hit the 2 degree Celsius threshold, but there has only been a 1% reduction. This highlighted that we need wide-scale, rapid systemic transformation to meet these goals. This discussion was dynamic and visual with the use of presentations and graphical figures. Audience members had the opportunity to interact directly with the panelists following the discussion of the report which promoted a sense of collective action. While it is challenging to hear these statistics and how far we are from our collective target, hearing this information relayed firsthand from United Nation Officials, such as Inger Andersen and Simon Stiell, was inspiring because it is a reminder that there is accountability through reporting.

Additionally, I came into the conference knowing that I wanted to see a negotiation firsthand within a negotiation room. The goals of negotiations themselves are to provide a space for the delegates to craft documents, develop frameworks, and reach a consensus. The party members are representatives of their respective countries and aim to ensure that their agenda is advanced throughout negotiations. Ultimately it is where decisions are made. As a result, the information, content, and format are less accessible. For example, it can be challenging to find the documents that delegates are reviewing. The session I attended was spent going through a document about clean development and proposing changes to the language within the document. While somewhat dry and challenging to follow, these negotiations allow interesting insight into the structure of the UNFCC. Negotiation is also the backbone of the international agreements and ultimately actions that emerge from this conference.

In complement to attending a negotiation, through the YEAH Network, we had the opportunity to directly interact with two United State negotiators, Laura Ashley and Dr. Evan Notman. It was clear that there is an overall position that the negotiation team predetermines. While it is positive to have targeted action items it seemed like this could stifle progress. Especially in a partisan nation such as the U.S., it seemed as though there would have to compromise on progress for the sake of collaboration across party lines. There also seems to be a lack of transparency in terms of who is setting and contributing to the U.S. agenda and the level of influence that even the negotiators themselves have. The negotiators seemed to be primarily focused on adaptation efforts and when asked, they seemed to believe that the U.S. was making progress. And while there have been observable incremental improvements, it is important to hold these individuals, and the United States as an institution, accountable for comprehensive and timely climate action and mitigation.

Every discussion at COP has encouraged me to rethink my perspective, undergo personal growth, and well as remain critical of the system around me. These discussions were shaped by the modality that they were in whether that be a report, a negotiation, or a personal meeting. Throughout the week there have been moments of inspiration, but also of frustration as well. One thing is clear, action on climate change is long overdue and there needs to be collective, international change now.

Can We Improve Youth Influence at COP27? – Laura Augenbraun

Until I was walking into the UN COP Climate Change Conference in Sharm El Sheikh after receiving my pass, I did not believe that I was going to be attending such a life changing event. I am incredibly thankful to have been given this opportunity to not only attend COP, but to do so alongside such amazing UConn students and faculty. After being at the conference for just three days, my viewpoints on climate-related subjects have been shifted completely, my original thoughts challenged, and my mindset on tackling the climate crisis changed, all in the best ways possible. Laura Augenbraun at COP27

While I recognize that I am incredibly lucky to be speaking with some of the world’s top leaders on fighting the climate crisis, something I have noticed the lack of representation of the younger population at the conference, specifically those from developing countries. This observation was striking, considering climate discussions very frequently boil down to how it is my generation’s responsibility to fix and that only the younger population has the power to make a change. Additionally, it’s been brought up in multiple discussions how the effects of climate change hit minority communities and developing countries the hardest. Yet, these exact people, young students from developing nations, are not the ones in attendance. I understand that many may not have the time nor money to travel far distances, and that is why I’ve been thinking about and want to pursue the idea of creating a UNFCCC grant. Any type of organization or person could have the ability to donate to this grant, and the UNFCCC should allocate a specific amount of money each year to give to it as well. The money that is raised would be given to several students that deserve representation and a place in the discussions, panels, and negotiations.

The application process for this grant should be through a program the UNCCC either creates or works with that sends reporters and journalists into parts of the world that are experiencing disastrous climate change-related events to interview and find potential applicants. It’s important to give the application process more humanity instead of simply looking at an online form – you simply cannot express everything through an essay.

We need to bring students who have experienced life-changing events due to climate change to COP because their story is what most people will follow and listen to. On my second day of the conference, I attended a presentation given by the BBC called Fact-Based Storytelling versus Misinformation. During this presentation, Marsha Ochieng, the Growth Editor for BBC Africa, discussed the company’s findings when studying which stories received the most views out of their coverage of COP26 last year. What they found was that, rather than watching stories on activists and policy makers presenting facts and figures, their audience was much more receptive to listening to the horrors climate change has brought onto normal people. The difference in the types of stories had as much as a 500,000-viewer difference.

What was particularly exciting about learning this was that it ties perfectly together with the work I do in my Environmental Justice Leadership Program that I lead at UConn with four other students and a professor. During our discussions on how to gain support on campus, we spoke about how “people follow people” and the presentation by BBC was a perfect representation of that. Therefore, it is so important to give those who have stories about how climate change has altered their life a platform to speak, not only to gain support from those outside of the conference, but also to push climate legislation and negotiations that are happening inside.

Although the conference has been a fountain of information with opportunities to learn all around you, I think there are still some important people missing from the conversations, people that are dealing with the effects of climate change on a first-hand basis, and could make a large impact on both the following of COP by outside viewers and how successful the conference is in terms of pushing forward climate legislation.

Inclusivity for LGBTQ+ at COP27 – Samuel Kocurek

COP27 has been one of the most overwhelming yet formative experiences of my life thus far. Meeting some of the most influential activists, community organizers, and politicians has been humbling and enlightening. I have met various people who have left me in tears including Ms. Elizabeth Wathuli. During my very first panel at COP, she spoke about the disproportionate effects that women feel from the climate crisis and about her work in Nairobi, Kenya where women dig wells so deep that they get buried alive due to sediment collapse. I have tried to be a sponge, absorbing the knowledge that all these professionals have, especially as it pertains to clean, renewable energy since that is where I believe my career interests lay. Getting to exchange contact information with people like Ms. Ann Ohloff, the chief scientific editor of the Emission Gap Report, and Louise Burrows, an Energy Advisor for E3G’s Coal Transition team, feels surreal and as I write this blog, this very much feels like a fever dream. I am beyond grateful to be in this space and I feel that with every panel I change my perspectives and grow as a young climate activist.Samuel Kocurek

However, I have noted a distinct lack of queer representation at COP27. Many (not all) panels show a diversity of gender, race, and background yet noticeably, there is no discussion about queer people existing in these spaces. I come from a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies background so I feel keenly aware of how LGBTQ+ people occupy spaces and feel comfortable to express themselves in these spaces. To say I am disappointed is somewhat of an understatement. There is so much wisdom here at COP at the variety of panels and events which tells us that diversity strengthens humanity and climate resilience as a whole. So to see a whole group of people ignored and made invisible feels disenfranchising.

This is when I feel thankful to be a UConn student. This cohort of young undergraduates and graduates makes me feel hope when we begin each day with stimulating and engaging ‘Breakfast Talks’ where we discuss our thoughts and feelings about the conference. All the fellows come from a variety of backgrounds and throughout the day we all venture into different panels and learn such a plethora of knowledge. During our morning ‘Breakfast Club’ I find the points of views expand my knowledge of COP27 and give me greater agency to squeeze every ounce out of the conference. I am excited for solutions day tomorrow. Climate activism can be heavy and discouraging so it is important to embrace these solutions and recognize that any change is positive change.

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.

We Want to Save the Planet, Damnit! – Maggie Singman

My first days at the Sharm el-Sheikh Climate Change Conference of the UNFCCC have been, in short, absolutely life altering. I want to start with the sentiment that I am extraordinarily privileged to be able to attend such an important global gathering which brings together not only party negotiators, but other representatives from various nations, passionate campaign and organization leaders, fierce Indigenous peoples, impacted community members, determined scientists, and concerned observers (like myself). The ability for over 50,000 people to gather in one space (although a seemingly disjointed one) is a groundbreaking feat that cannot go unnoticed. I have learned that we need to absorb and appreciate climate change wins wherever we can, even if it’s seemingly as simple as putting experts within the same four walls.COP27 protest

Throughout the last 72 hours, I have listened to human beings telling their stories about how the impacts of climate change are affecting their own lives, and those that they’re tasked to represent. Climate change is literally taking people’s ability to exist in this world away, and I get the chance to look at people’s faces while they convey these sentiments. I get to see the despair in their eyes. Despite their devastating experiences, these strong individuals remain positive and convinced that those in power at this conference (the negotiators) will act with their best interests because not only is it what they deserve, but because the only other alternative is their slow, painful extinction.

While attending a panel on ending fossil fuel investments on Wednesday, I listened to a BIPOC woman leader of an organization in Louisiana beg her constituents: “We don’t want resilience—we want equity, we want environmental justice, we want help.” Afterwards, a campaign lead of Power Shift Africa named Dean Bhebhe was on the verge of tears when he spoke the following: “We want to build our own narrative. It’s like these fossil fuel industries are trying to build telephone lines while we Africans already have mobile phones; it makes no sense. We say no to that, and yes to our own agency in decision making and a just energy transition.” As one of many observers in the room that day I was extremely moved. But I have to ask this—where were the 600 fossil fuel representatives whose passes were approved to attend the conference in order to network and increase their capital while these conversations were happening in the same vicinity? Why aren’t these perpetuators of colonial racism and resource exploitation calling upon love and empathy instead in order to resonate with the very people they’re killing? Why don’t they care enough to show up and just listen?

Unfortunately, this hasn’t been an isolated incident at COP27. Whether I attended an event on environmental health and nature-based solutions, green hydrogen power, measuring the health of coral reefs, growing sustainable infrastructure, or the finance sector’s investment portfolio transition towards renewables, this lack of empathy has remained constant. People are facing the disproportionate impacts of climate change right now, especially here at the “African COP”, and they’re deliberately being left out of solution making processes at the top. They’re just begging the negotiators to heed their warnings to prevent irreversible climate disaster and for their fundamental human rights. But the negotiators aren’t listening, or attending these crucial “side event” panels (they are poorly named as such).

However, these people are strong. These people—those from marginalized communities, the most vulnerable to climate change impacts and those who have time and time again been left out of conversations to develop policies that could actually work—don’t give up. They maintain hope, positivity, passion, and drive. They fill others in these spaces with the same feelings by sharing their stories. How do they do that? I want to learn from them; they truly fill me with inspiration. And so I won’t give up on them, on the problematic COP27 conference, or on our warming planet.

I will carry my privilege with me and use it as a tool to do my part to help support, enact hope like those I have witnessed, and carry the stories of those who are not given a voice with me. I ask the leaders of my own nation to recognize their own privilege, call upon empathy, and turn both of these things into REAL action aimed at those who truly need it most.

Innovation vs. Fear – My Experience at COP – Sofya Levitina

My very first day at COP, the main problem of sustainability became glaringly obvious to me. After attending two environmental policy events and two environmental science events it was clear that the communication between the two fields is practically absent. Politicians starting every claim with an assurance that it is based on scientific evidence created a narrative that did not match up with what the research community was screaming around them. Frustrated scientists looked for ways to make their findings more accessible to the general public, digesting their figures and conclusions into simplicity bordering nonsense. The hopelessness of climate change that consistently brought my delegation to tears was perpetuated by the organizing parties of the COP conference and disproved time after time by innovation, technology, and concrete science based panels. COP27 fellows posing

The issue was especially highlighted during my second day with UConn@COP. The theme of the day was renewable energy, my main area of interest. I lifted myself out of bed as early as I have ever woken up to make it to every event that could answer my questions on what the state of energy in the world looks like. The first event I attended that day talked about a report on Chinese efforts to reduce the use of fossil fuels and their increasing investment into clean energy. The panelists announced with bright faces that Chinese emissions into our atmosphere will peak in 2025 because China is undergoing a steady transition into solar, wind, and nuclear powered energy supply.

The second panel I attended was full of CEOs of nonprofit and for-profit organizations as well as smaller governments who discussed their successes and innovations in the fields of green hydrogen energy and other sustainable sources. The technology that is being developed in front of our very eyes made my hand shake while I was filling my notebook with ideas and impressions. The world around us is ever-changing and it is going in the right direction. The biggest world governments have stated that green energy is not only cost-efficient, but also profitable and creates industries and infrastructure. It has a real appeal now.

I was elated by the promise of an improving world before I attended my last panel of the day hosted by the UN. Ten politicians and activists from the largest climate change initiatives on the planet joined together in an agonized scream about the goals of the Paris agreement not being met, the responsibilities not being followed, the world not being saved. It was shocking to witness the despair in the room after I just heard how far our scientific progress has brought us. The panelists repeated that we have to do more, seemingly unwilling to recognize that change needs time. The technology in place cannot suddenly reverse the emissions a country is releasing, it takes a longer adjustment and trial period. The systems to reduce global emissions coming from unclean energy sources are in place, the curve of CO2 gas emissions is hitting its maximum and changing concavity. From this point on change is exponential, as policy and technological innovation work together to keep up momentum. If you are feeling hopeless about the obvious climate crisis, you are missing the key point of progress: it’s resistance to linearity. Based on scientific evidence, our future is bright.

The Urgency of Just Energy Transitions- Sydney Collins

Fossil fuel protestThis past Tuesday, our cohort attended an event presenting on the Emission Gap Report by the United Nations (UN). This report provides an updated assessment on the gap between our current global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and our goals for 2030 to limit the global temperature below 1.5 degree Celsius. This is necessary to minimize the most significant harm from climate change as determined by the Paris Agreement of 2015.

The presentation was devastating. In 2021, total GHG emissions across the globe set a new record. The gravity of the situation felt clear and real. We are not getting better, we are getting worse.

To limit global temperatures below 1.5 degree Celsius, we need to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030. The UN announced that current commitments for GHG emissions, known as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), would decrease global emissions by 17%. So far from where we need to be. Current emissions would increase our global temperature to 2.7 degree celsius causing unlivable conditions on our earth.

After the presentation, we quickly transitioned to a panel discussing climate solutions. But, I couldn’t release my feelings of betrayal. How dare you talk about the work you are doing to reduce emissions when it is so unfathomably inadequate? There was no space for me to grieve, to reconcile, and to feel the humanity that I felt was being threatened. I cried, and I wanted them to see it. I wanted them to look me in their eyes and see, through their numbers, data, and reports, the person inside that was scared. If these are our leaders, why aren’t they protecting us? Did they even care?

The work that needs to be done can no longer be incremental change. We need transformative, large-scale action. As the panel went on, I heard a speaker talking about just energy transitions. Our current systems are built on social injustices. Environmental degradation, such as fossil fuel infrastructure or mining, can happen because low-income communities, indigenous peoples, and peoples of color burden the toxics that these activities produce. Big corporations sacrifice the bodies of these communities in the pursuit of wealth. It is disgusting. These communities are also disproportionately affected by climate impacts due to the locations of their neighborhoods and the conditions of their life.

Thus, climate change cannot be solved without changing the fabric of these systems. You cannot develop solutions using the same instruments that cause the problem. To address climate change, we need to address racism, sexism, and the economic system of constant growth that exploits our land and people. We need climate justice.

The urgency of just energy transitions is now. “Just energy transitions” call for the eradication of our harmful systems based on fossil fuels to cleaner, more equitable systems based on renewable energy. We must support local communities, and listen to the voices of indigenous peoples and peoples of color to guide our solutions. We cannot address systemic injustice without centering communities that have been victims of oppression and learning how they strive to liberate themselves. This is not just an opportunity, but absolutely necessary to stop the driving forces that prevent us from tackling the climate crisis.

Youth recognize the urgency to address the climate crisis and aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. We must recognize the power of our voices together and call on our leaders to invest in a future based on justice for all.

The Power of Story at COP – Monet Paredes

COP27 Coral panel discussionBefore my arrival at COP27, I had a dream that I could open any book, jump into its pages and be immersed in its story. I woke up imagining all the stories I would want to live. But simultaneously I thought of the stories I would not want to experience. These are the ones that frightened me or made me feel anxious, alone, helpless.

It is during my past two days at COP27 where I have had the opportunity to jump into a glimpse of people’s stories from around the world surrounding climate change.

During my first encounter at the conference, I met Briony McDonaugh, a professor at the University of Hull. She described her research that studies the effectiveness of using storytelling to get communities to care and act on climate change. Her research has shown storytelling to be an incredibly effective tool when dealing with the climate crisis. This concept was fascinating to me and compelled me to seek out stories.

Later that day I attended Lalela uLwandle (Listen to the Sea): spiritual, cultural and scientific understandings of the oceans in a time of climate change. This was a play communicating the stories of coastal South African communities. The theater group described their process of collecting stories from real people affected by the destruction of the South African coast and sea. The actors’ emotion and the powerful contents of the play left me in tears and I was struck with such a powerful story.

The COP is a space for negotiations, politicians and world leaders, but I have found it is also a catalyst for storytelling. Such stories may not always be the ones we want to hear. But they are important and need to be amplified so that we may deal with this crisis at face value. At the “Global Farmer’s Market”, farmers from Puerto Rico, Cambodia, India and others shared stories of struggle; lack of financial support, lack of technology and a need to restart their farms every year when extreme weather and disaster strikes. I wonder if these stories lack the amplification for those in positions of power to hear. By this I don’t just mean world leaders, but also administrators, CEOs, local government and more. COP is somewhere when I have been able to hear such stories. It seems when I am at UConn, I am not forced to see the effects of climate change everyday. But here, people are sharing and communicating real life affects that threaten their livelihood.

While there are many other stories heavy with fear and despair, there are also many stories of hope. Today – on my third day at COP – I heard a talk called “Google Arts: Calling in Our Corals” hosted by a team that developed research into a project for coral reef restoration. They explained their process of collecting underwater sounds from coral reefs in which they train people to acknowledge when they hear fish sounds in the recordings. This data is then used to program AI to do the same thing which is used to measure the health of the reef. What they found is that if they have a reef that is in need of restoration but lacks biodiversity, they can play the recording in an underwater speaker to attract the fish back to the reef to increase its biodiversity and thus its health. After the presentation I had the chance to speak with the head of the project. With confidence he said “I believe we will get through this climate crisis”. While only a small remark, it struck me as it can seem there is no progress being made. The pace of negotiations and frustration at the conference can make our future seem bleak. But is it with the story of hope that my presence at the conference seems worth it. There are so many people at COP that are here because they care about this crisis and it feels powerful to have them all congregated in one space.

As I have been able to jump into a variety of stories, I feel as if I am able to acquire new knowledge that I will be able to translate into my future work.  It seems COP27 has allowed me to live out a dream in reality through voices of diverse storytelling. Yet still, as negotiations wrap up in these next few days, I wonder what will be the story of COP27? What will we look back on these past two weeks with triumph? Or wish we would have done more? Will our children and our children’s children be satisfied with the story we tell?

“Not a Single Town in my Country Doesn’t Have a Wastewater Issue” – Caroline Webb

US COP27 PavilionOne of the most impactful experiences I have had as an observer at COP27 occurred at a small pavilion hosted by an NGO. I wasn’t initially planning on stopping by the pavilion, but a representative saw me walking by and asked if I would be interested in participating in a small group discussion with other COP27 participants. Often, many of the country negotiators (the ones actually writing and reforming policy) are noticeably absent from the bustle of the pavilions and panel discussions. Instead, these spaces are usually filled with activists, organization members, or observers, while negotiators tend to stick to meeting rooms and work offices. I was therefore surprised when I joined the small group– in addition to organization members and observers, I was sitting next to negotiators from France, South Sudan, and Yemen.

The topic of the small group discussion was methane pollution, and began with a 15 minute presentation from two scientists, or “experts” on the topic. One of the scientists presented a slide with graphs depicting the methane production of three groups: developed nations (US, EU, Australia, etc), BRICS nations (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa), and developing nations. From a strictly geographical standpoint, methane production in the BRICS and developing nations was roughly four times higher than the developed nations, with much of the methane coming from agriculture, energy, and waste management. At first glance, it would be easy to assume that global methane pollution is largely the responsibility of these nations.

After the presentation from the scientists, our group of about 12 people was organized into even smaller groups, where I was paired with the negotiators from South Sudan and Yemen. Both negotiators emphasized early on that the graphs presented earlier were misleading– how could one assign methane pollution to nations purely on location, and not supply chain? How much of the methane produced in the developing nations was a result of the capitalist systems of the developed world? The negotiator from South Sudan went on to claim that even the examples provided by the scientists were not accurate for his nation, where it was rice paddies and not cows that were the most significant sources of methane.

As we continued our conversation, we began to discuss the feasibility of plans to reduce methane production, and thus global warming. The negotiator from South Sudan emphasized that solutions must be considered from a strictly investment returns perspective, and that language such as “pension” rather than “carbon tax” were needed to gain support for change. Not just in the US, but also in nations that face significant poverty and corruption, climate change is often seen as secondary to other social issues. Yet, claimed the representative from Yemen, this does not need to dissuade climate action. He explained that “not a single town in my country doesn’t have a wastewater issue” and elaborated on how solutions like wastewater treatment should be enthusiastically pursued– you don’t have to care about the climate to advocate for cleaner water.

When the few smaller groups gathered back together for a conversation, the discussion moderator said he wanted to hear from those who were the quietest first. Unsurprisingly, he started with me: “What are your thoughts, Caroline?” Sitting in a circle with negotiators and organization representatives from around the world, it was hard to believe that what I could contribute would be important. “My role here, as a student and observer,” I explained, “Is to first and foremost listen.” Particularly when I was placed in a group with negotiators from nations that have little power on the international level, I found it most valuable to learn and listen from their own perspectives and lived experiences.

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.