COP27 was a whirlwind of inspiring and deterring feelings that left me both excited for my environmental work in the future, yet extremely worried about the state of the Earth. It’s no secret the outcome of COP27 was disappointing – many countries neglected to take on full responsibility to decrease emissions in an effort to keep our warming climate at 1.5°C – the necessary temperature to stay at in order to ensure we don’t reach a climate tipping point where the effects of climate change will become irreversible.
My hope for the future faltered originally on the very first day I attended the conference and listened to a panel about how corporations are resilient in the face of climate change. In this, there was simply no talk about the corporation’s plan for the future, or even what they’re currently doing to help reduce emissions and take part in the fight against climate change. Instead, all the speaker said were empty words that had no real meaning that fell along the lines of ‘we need to de-risk a small solution’ and that we must be ‘resilience multipliers,’ but what does that actually look like? What does that really mean? I remember being baffled at how little depth there was to the presentation, and walked out wondering if this was what the entirety of the COP27 discussions would be like. Thankfully, for the Earth and my sanity, it was not.
Unfortunately, though, the second day followed along a similar path. I attended the Emissions Gap Report, hosted by Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program, and Simon Stiell, Executive Secretary of UNFCCC. During this report, they spoke about how critical it is for us to reduce emissions by 30-40% by 2030, as this will be one of the only ways we prevent irreversible change to our Earth and climate. However, they followed this information with the fact that while this reduction in emissions goal has been set for the past ~10 years, we have only reduced emissions by 1% and we are currently on track for a warming of 2.8°C. I quoted Stiell saying that we are currently at 1.1°C, and many are already “in living hell” as a result. This reality hit me like a truck, that while it may seem as though the world is doing something to try and fix our climate issues, like hosting conferences, it really is not as productive as many may think. What really stood out to me, though, was the lack of humanity in the reporting of these devastating facts. As Inger said we have only reduced emissions by 1%, and as Chief Scientific Editor of the Emissions Gap Report 2022, Annie Olhoff, stated that we are on set to reach a warming of about 2.8°C, there did not seem to be any sort of falter or fear in their voices. It felt as though this information was nothing new to them, and at this point they seemed as though numb to it. What I want to bring back to UConn and share with my fellow students, friends and really anyone that will listen, is the humanity to this discussion. These are not just numbers that will someday a few years down the line maybe impact us. These are already impacting us. I listened to a representative for Pakistan speak about how ⅓ of his country is currently underwater, 8 million houses are destroyed, and there are millions of people living on the streets because of catastrophic weather events brought on by climate change. Disastrous events are already happening, and they will only get worse. We need to bring a sense of urgency back into the discussion because it is so much more than a simple worry for the future.
I know it may be hard to come back from hearing that, but I do want to shed some light on the more positive discussions I sat in on that made me feel as though not all hope is lost. On the second to last day of the conference, which was dubbed “Solutions Day,” I attended a discussion called 1,000+ Clean Solutions to COP27. In this, a handbook called the Solutions Guide for Cities Booklet was presented, which contained 1,450 solutions to climate change and emissions. Not only were they just solutions, they were companies that have researched and are currently implementing these solutions – and they’re working! For example, the CEO of Turbulent Hydro discussed what his company has been doing. Basically, they put turbines into waterways that create whirlpools within the water, which then turns the moving water into electricity, and provides energy to anywhere between 60 – 350 houses. They currently have 25 turbines working in 13 different countries, getting clean energy to houses without the use of fossil fuels. A second solution that was presented was by the VP of Sustainability at a company called UBQ Materials. This company takes waste that cannot be recycled and turns it into plastic and wood substitutes. The point was even made that UBQ Materials could have created all of the buildings Egypt had put up to hold the conference out of waste, using items that otherwise would have ended up in a landfill. This was the discussion that when leaving, made me feel extremely inspired and gave me hope for a future. There are people that are devoting their lives to helping combat climate change, and the number of those people is only increasing.