UConn@COP

1,450+ Solutions- Laura Augenbraun

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. 

Laura and Sofya at COP27My 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.

Key Outcomes of COP27 – Sydney Collins

Located in Egypt, people referred to COP27 as the “African COP” with the hope for a focus on  equity and supporting developing countries who will be disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis.

Let’s look at what we achieved during COP this year and what remains undone. 

COP27 achieved the first ever “Loss and Damage” Fund in history. Big developed nations, like the US and those in the European Union, are major contributors to the climate crisis as they have released the largest amounts of greenhouse gasses. Thus, G77 members, which is a coalition of developing countries, amplify that those most responsible for emissions should pay for the cost of damage for nations most affected by climate impacts. However, who will pay into this fund, how much, and which countries will benefit was not established and pushed off until COP28. On a positive note, agreements confirmed to operationalize the “Santiago Network”, which is a platform that connects developing countries to technical assistance and resources to address loss and damage

Developed countries previously committed to providing US$100 billion by 2020 to developing countries to finance mitigation projects, to reduce nations’ greenhouse gas emissions, and adaptation projects, to build more resilient infrastructure to climate impacts. However, this goal was not meet with countries only providing US$83.3 billion in 2020. COP27 had plans to double the adaptation finance; however, no new goals were developed, and the commitment for doubling adaptation finance was pushed till 2025. Additionally, studies have shown that developing countries actually need US$1 trillion in 2030 to support external finance – far off from current commitments

COP27 failed to get a commitment from all parties to phase out fossil fuels – the main cause of global warming. Vague language was included instead to  “[accelerate] efforts towards the phase-down of unabated coal power and phase-out of inefficient fossil fuel subsidies”. This is included in the Sharm el-Sheik Implementation Plan which summarizes the main decisions determined during party negotiations. The words “unabated” and “inefficient” allow for interpretation and loopholes that continue the use of these high carbon-emitting resources.  

Many firsts did occur at COP27. Negotiators acknowledged that the “transformation of financial systems and its structure and processes” is necessary to deliver climate finance – which recognizes the current inadequacies of capitalism to address climate change. Language about human rights, such as the right to clean, health, and sustainable environment, was written in the final COP text. The importance of nature-based solutions and ocean-based action was recognized. More holistics approaches to agriculture that include food systems, food security, nutrition, role of Indigenous peoples, women, and small-scale farmers was recognized through a 4-year work programme. The first-ever youth envoy was adopted at COP27 to highlight the need for children and youth representation in decision-making! The first work program on Just Transitions was established to build workforce development opportunities for communities in need – a major demand with indigenous, labor, youth, women and gender, and disability justice advocates

The honesty and power of climate justice leaders keeps me sustained and empowered in this movement. While this is a global issue, the solutions are local – and we need to listen to frontline communities and support community-based work. Transformative action to keep global temperatures below 1.5 degree Celsius continues to stall due to interests of big fossil fuel companies. We need to hold our leaders accountable to supporting the well-being of people and recognize the power we have to enact change. 

Over the next 7 years, we need a rapid deployment of clean energy technology to achieve the United States emissions reductions of 45% by 2030. I want to be a part of work programs that center Just Transitions and create job opportunities for low-income communities and communities of color. I call on all students at UConn to imagine, believe, and become the future you want to see. We cannot let the 1.5 degree Celsius goal slip. Start to envision how you can align your personal, academic, and career goals with climate action, and join us in community as we transform our culture to a more just, clean place. 

 

Sources:

  1. https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/cop27-ends-announcement-historic-loss-and-damage-fund
  2. https://www.escr-net.org/news/2022/cop-27-delivers-progress-loss-and-damage-fails-fossil-fuels
  3. https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-glasgow-climate-pact/cop26-outcomes-finance-for-climate-adaptation#developed-countries-have-pledged-usd-100-billion-annually-to-developing-countries.-how-much-of-this-is-destined-to-go-towards-adaptation?-
  4. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/docserver/d28f963c-en.pdf?expires=1669824599&id=id&accname=guest&checksum=F66741C6CA5F8EFA514700BB75E45393
  5. https://www.reuters.com/business/cop/cop-27-developing-countries-need-1-trillion-year-climate-finance-report-2022-11-08/#:~:text=%22The%20world%20needs%20a%20breakthrough,summit%20hosts%2C%20Egypt%20and%20Britain.
  6. https://unfccc.int/sites/default/files/resource/cop27_auv_2_cover%20decision.pdf

Heirlooms of Change – Monet Paredes

I can’t pinpoint the first time I ever learned about climate change. I don’t recall it being mentioned in my education before senior year of high school and it didn’t seem to show up in my early exposure to pop culture. But I can pinpoint the many times I have heard generations before mine apologize for leaving us with the climate crisis. The week before leaving for Egypt, I overheard a teammate remark on how they “think climate change is a conspiracy theory”. I was taken back by such a statement, but also took it as a moment to check my reality. While I hoped at least all young people would see the severity of the climate crisis, my teammate reminded me that this is not the case.Monet parades

As a young student at COP27, I felt a great heaviness being a part of “the generation that will solve climate change” (or at least that’s what every other generation seems to be saying). Such a responsibility brings with it a lot of pressure. In the 27 sessions of COP, this year was the fi rst time there has ever been a youth pavilion. That is about a whole generation’s worth of time, just to include a youth pavilion. But such a phenomenon shows us that it takes a whole generation’s worth of time to get new perspectives in the conversation. I wondered how this process could be sped up. One of the most frustrating positions to be in at COP was the position of the observer. Some negotiations filled up too fast or were closed to observers all together. I physically could not be in the room that was making choices about my future well-being and that of my children and my grandchildren.

On the other hand I did get to hear about many amazing ways youth were being involved locally. Leslie Shultz – a member of the Ngadju Community in Australia – highlighted their Indigenous Rangers Program. There they train people to care for the Great Western Woodlands and the Nullarbor plains. Shultz especially emphasized how they focus on bringing in youth to this program so they may sustain these efforts in the future. Similarly a representative from the Zimbabwe Farmers Union presented on their efforts to create a new school curriculum on sustainable land use. This led me to reflect on my early school curriculums and realize, they hardly included lessons on climate change, environmental injustice, indigenous perspectives and a variety of other crucial topics that relate to the climate crisis.

climate change clockAfter my initial frustrations about not being able to contribute to international agreements, I realized change does not have to come about in such extravagant gestures. While the COP was a place for parties to meet internationally, it was also a place to share smaller successes that can be duplicated throughout local communities. I witnessed how youth were being involved in various spheres which made the problem of climate change not seem so daunting. Throughout my time at UConn I have been so focused on policy as the way to solve the climate crisis. What COP has put into perspective for me is that policy may be written and implemented by policy makers, but it is the attitude of the people that shape it. One way to shift such attitudes and accelerate the inclusion of new perspectives is through youth involvement and education. When kids can grow up learning about, experiencing and understanding our planet there is greater room for change. I always told myself I wouldn’t go into education. But I have since seen how influential my role in educating generations even beyond mine could be. Climate change is a crisis that my generation has inherited from generations before mine that did not deal with it. It is inevitable that the generations that come after mine will inherit the crisis however we choose to deal with it (or not). Climate change most likely won’t be solved in the next 30 years and even if it is, the Earth needs time to heal. One thing I hope I can do is leave the next generation with the adequate tools to continue on the work my peers and I are doing today. While this isn’t a path for myself that I have explored indepth, my time at COP has contributed to this new avenue.

A Test of Knowledge and Resolve: COP27’s Call to Action – Sam Kocurek

students at YEAH booth at COP27COP27 was one of the most meaningful weeks of my life. Full of dynamic challenges, I feel my worldview of climate change vastly evolved and broadened. COP27’s goals were to implement policies on adaptation and mitigation and loss and damages: two concepts I only tangentially worked with. I realized the importance of these missions when I heard this quote at the Ocean Alliance pavilion: “conservation without funding is just conversation.” Spending so much of my time at UConn connecting with the land, I feel I dismissed the financial aspect of climate change. It seemed unimportant when I could listen to the trees and the animals. But hearing the cries from people for the implementation of loss and damages, awakened me to the importance of finance. I attended a panel discussing financial changes since the adoption of the Glasgow Pledge during COP26. It was a contrasting panel: people from the global south passionately and desperately asking for progress at this COP and people from the global north indifferently talking about frivolous roadblocks to reparations and justice. So distributing that funding is immensely important to conservation work. Without that action, we are simply engaging in tedious conversations that don’t further climate policy whatsoever. COP27 opened my world to a whole new sector of sustainability.

 

Alternatively, it expanded my perspective on a sector I thought I understood. At UConn, I help submit the greenhouse gas inventory. I collect data from the university’s departments on emissions and then submit those statistics to an online platform that pulls it all together into a coherent distribution. I had the privilege of attending a panel on the Emissions Gap Report 2022 at COP27. The report looks at humanity’s current emissions relative to where we should be based on the promises of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. In the context of my work, I found their report to be innovative and inspiring. The collective intellect of the group yielded a holistic report that is used as a foundation for so much climate policy and activism – you have to appreciate its ingenuity and utility in the emerging world. But a quote from the panel set in the gravity of our situation: “The reality is that we are currently in a 1.12°C warmer world and it is already a living hell for many communities.” Reconciling my appreciation for the numerical analysis of climate change with my understanding of climate change as a human rights crisis is something I haven’t confronted to this point. Academia can be somewhat isolating, I think. It can feel theoretical reading about the climate crisis, and I think as a result, a sort of naivety developed with regards to climate change. So, it makes sense that my undergraduate degrees (Mathematics and Environmental Science) have felt separate. Moving forward, my task is to marry these two to strengthen my environmentalism.

 

I think I’ll use the words of author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to capture my closing feelings after COP27: there is no single story on climate change. To buy into this narrative of doom and guilt is unfair to all the meaningful climate work done by people like those at COP. It erases their stories and discourages others from ever wanting to improve the world. Of course, climate work is upsetting. I sobbed multiple times throughout the week and had to excuse myself from the room. It means I have empathy: that I understand this is a living nightmare for our plant friends, our animal friends, and of course, our human friends. But to let those feelings consume yields nothing. Instead, I feel a buoyancy I didn’t possess before the conference. COP27 was a further call to action for me. I will always devote myself to helping the plants, the animals, and my fellow humans. I care for the Earth, and I know it does the same for me.

Human Rights Cost of Renewable Energy – Jocelyn Phung

Throughout the week of UN COP27, I attended panels and discussions ranging from coral reef restoration to net-zero technologies to climate finance. One that stuck with me was Voices of Indigenous Rights Defenders: Cases of Criminalization Across The Globe at the Indigenous Peoples’ Pavilion. The panel highlighted that the development of renewable energy requires
increased extraction and mining of transition minerals, which leads to violations of Indigenous rights and criminalization of Indigenous rights defenders. I heard from Yana Tannagasheva of the Shor people from western Siberia, Russia. She comes from the Kazas village, which was burned down by a coal company nearby because the Indigenous people residing there refused to sell their houses. In her video series Ten Stories About Coal, she described the grave impacts of open-pit coal mining: black rivers, black snow, polluted air, deforestation, loss of biodiversity, cardiovascular and respiratory illnesses. Tannagasheva had to flee her homeland and seek asylum elsewhere due to prosecution and threats from both the coal companies and the government for speaking out.

But that is only the coal industry, right? Renewable energy will be different; renewable energy is clean and green. At the same panel, I heard stories from human rights defenders from Nepal, who were arrested, detained and tortured for opposing a hydropower project in their sacred rivers. Another speaker detailed that Indigenous rights defenders who opposed lithium extraction in the Salar de Atacama salt flats were arrested, detained, and brutally beaten under police vigilance in Argentina, and many were murdered in Chile. No free, prior, informed consent was obtained from the communities from the mining operations.

Is renewable energy an equitable solution to climate change? The global demand for lithium carbonate, and as a result lithium mining, is projected to increase sixfold between 2019 and 2030 for clean technologies such as electrical vehicles and solar panels. Neodymium mining for wind turbines will have to increase by 1000-4000% in coming decades. Indium mining for solar semiconductors will need to increase 8000%. Cobalt for energy storage batteries will increase by 300%-800%.

While the sun will always shine and the wind will always blow as long as we are alive, the development of renewable energy infrastructure and green technologies requires more materials and minerals than we are currently extracting from the Earth for coal, oil and natural gas. That is not to say that fossil fuels should be a part of our future – fossil fuels must be phased out entirely. At the same time, we cannot operate under the illusion that climate justice will be delivered with continual overconsumption and waste of energy, even if that energy is coming from renewable sources. The global demand for energy and thus materials will have to decrease significantly in order for renewable energy to be sustainable. Indigenous rights violations from mining of transition minerals is only one issue that comes with renewable energy. The climate crisis is the most pressing issue of our generation, but climate action cannot come at a cost to human rights. Solutions to the climate crisis must be rights-based, community-based and equitable. Corporations involved in mining operations should be obliged to conduct human rights due diligence, risk assessments and seek free, prior, informed consent from potentially impacted communities. Renewable energy can be a solution to climate change, but we need to consider more than simply the technical aspects, and human rights need to be prioritized.

Takeaways from COP and Moving Forward – Claire Lee

Coming into COP27 with a cohort of like-minded, passionate students and faculty and high expectations for our world’s climate leaders, I was met with a firsthand view of global negotiations and action. The reality of global negotiations is far more complex, difficult, and time-consuming than we think. This year, negotiators arrived at a landmark “Loss and Damages” agreement that established a fund for allocation to vulnerable countries and their communities that are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. Their arrival at this consensus marks the culmination of decades-old pressure applied by countries that need the greatest assistance in adapting and combating the detrimental effects of climate change.

Every year at COP, hundreds of nonprofit organizations, government officials, companies and other stakeholders within the environmental sphere congregate to exchange ideas and foster a space for multifaceted conversations. The space of environmental activism can be overwhelming, and I often find myself wondering where my role as an undergraduate student lies amongst other young environmentalists. Attending COP27 allowed me to connect my previous life and professional experiences to new knowledge that I absorbed with every panel discussion, every interaction with a fellow environmentalist, and every pavilion visit around the Blue Zone. As an incubator for diverse thought, this conference challenged me to examine climate issues through different lenses and encouraged me to continue learning through the experiences of others. I realized that the most impactful takeaways I had gathered stemmed from the bridging of various experiences and perspectives.

One topic that I found particularly fascinating was ecocide and its implications for the field of environmental law and activism. I had the opportunity to attend a panel event hosted by the nonprofit organization “Stop Ecocide International,” seeking to elevate ecocide to international recognition as a crime. Defined in simple terms as “the mass damage and destruction of the natural living world,” ecocide has become a burgeoning problem that necessitates a global response to mitigate further destruction. Attending this event allowed me to delve deeper and gain new insights on a topic that my previous research work had focused on from the surface level.

My experience at COP reinforced my desire to pursue a career in law and expanded the scope of environmental legal issues that I was familiar with prior to attending the conference. While immersing myself in the discussions surrounding environmental law and policy, I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions. There were many moments where I felt hopeful for the tangible, positive impact that legal climate action holds for our planet’s future, while simultaneously feeling overwhelmed by the obligation to understand these broad legal frameworks and processes of climate litigation and justice in one sitting. Above all else, I have been able to broaden my previously rudimentary understanding of climate litigation through this experience to guide my interests in a potential legal career.

Finding Encouragement Amidst the Disappointment – Erik Choi

Group of students infront of COP27 signMy time in Sharm El-Sheikh was a display of the progress made in the fight for climate justice, but a sobering reality of how much further we have to go. I came to the conference with a desire to see ardent talks making monumental progress, but I was faced with stolid negotiations focused on the minutiae rather than tangible, large-scale solutions. Everytime I sought progress, I was met with compromise. Perhaps the zenith of COP27 was the announcement of a “Loss and Damage” fund intended to assist those countries most affected by climate change. Yet, there is no clear indication of who will pay into the fund, where the money will come from, or who will benefit.

A part of me anticipated this from the beginning. I appreciated how hypocritical it was to host an environmental conference in Egypt. The in-person conference poses large accessibility issues, both in terms of financial cost but also ideological freedoms for individuals identifying with certain groups. This is in addition to the massive carbon footprint created by thousands of people traveling to and from the conference.

COP is merely a microcosm of the greater unjust systems around us that oppose equality, freedom of speech, and the environment. While I write this, thousands of fans are gathered in Qatar for the 2022 FIFA World Cup, a sporting event riddled by corruption and bribery, and being hosted over the dead bodies of 6,500 migrant workers. I write this to the backdrop of months of protests in Iran over the murder of Mahsa Amini, and to Alaa Abd el-Fattah’s hunger strike against the repressive Egyptian government. I thought things would be different at COP, but it was very much the bureaucratic, sanitized process we’re used to seeing: a façade of rhetoric, but a dearth of real action.

Despite all this, I found the silver lining in the young voices at the conference, particularly in my fellow UConn students. This is what encouraged me and helped me appreciate how important this conference is. The conversations between UConn students and faculty were filled with emotion, determination, and genuine passion. I was uplifted by experts committed to making a change in their field, as well as by the first person accounts of indigenous peoples. The enthusiasm was palpable at one of the most seminal events at this year’s conference: the invitation of the president-elect of Brazil. Lula. There was a fervor around his environmental politics and hope that his work will be a step in the right direction to reverse the work of his predecessor.

To me, this is the true purpose of COP. The conference has the power to light the fire under thousands of young activists who are eager to enact change. Bringing people together to collaborate then dispersing them with newfound knowledge and motivation is difficult to do. It is how change begins from the ground up globally. I hope the organizers of COP embrace this aspect of the conference; the goal should be to increase access to the conference and invite young activists who bring a hunger to change their communities.

Climate Change Cafe – December 9

CCC Details Repeated from tExt

Climate Change Café

Friday, December 9

4-6pm Drop In

Student Union Room 304

Refreshments provided.

 

Fellows from UConn@COP, grantees of the Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants Program, and students from ANTH 1010 Global Climate Change & Human Societies will be sharing posters:

 

UConn@COP

14 students were selected to attend the United Nations’ COP27 global climate change conference in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt a few weeks ago. Fellows will be sharing their lessons and experiences as official observers of the climate negotiations, educational panels, and even personal discussions with John Kerry.

 

Environmental and Social Sustainability Small Grants

Five student/faculty teams were granted funds this past winter to tackle sustainability projects on UConn campuses. Learn about their projects and findings from local farm procurement, opening the UConn Swap Shop, building an ADA composting privy and more.

 

ANTH 1010 – Global Climate Change & Human Societies

Students will be sharing their research posters on specific aspects of Climate Change ranging from emissions, environmental racism, green transportation, endangered species, denialism, and so much more. You can also catch these on December 7th in McHugh from 11:15a-12:05p.

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.

Climate Law: One Solution to the Climate Crisis – Karen Lau

COP fellows in front of COP signWinning a monumental court case should feel incredible, right? The opposite was true for Luisa Neubauer, the plaintiff in Neubauer et al. v. Germany. In 2019, Neubauer began organizing against climate inaction with Germany’s Fridays for Future. She sued the German government because its target of reducing greenhouse gases was insufficient and had violated her human rights. In April 2021, the Court ruled that Germany failed to set provisions for emission reductions beyond 2030, ordering the government to increase its climate ambitions. Ironically, the government applauded the youth’s win, calling it a victory for the climate movement. Since the circumstances of her win were devastating, Neubauer recalled that it was a sad day. No young person should have to sue their government for climate inaction, especially in countries with a reputation for defending human rights. Neubauer’s case was one of several climate trials I learned about on Solutions Day. 

Hearing about the losses endured by these selfless plaintiffs and their courageous lawsuits taught me how climate litigation advances climate justice. At the core of each case were their humanity and morality. Mike Smith, the plaintiff in Smith vs. the Attorney General, spoke about protecting the Māori people. He argued that the New Zealand government breached its public law duty to protect its citizens, particularly the Māori people, from the dangers of climate change. Smith emphasized the morality of climate change. Greed and selfishness are at the heart of climate change. Courts and labs cannot solve these moral issues; instead, we must look within ourselves to shift our morality and repair our relationship with nature. We must prioritize our customs and cultural traditions over capitalism and overconsumption. Only then will the law change, as Smith claims, “dragged kicking and screaming along behind public sentiment.” 

For Pabai Pabai, a plaintiff in Pabai Pabai and Guy Paul Kabai v. Commonwealth of Australia, his culture is inseparable from the land. A First Nations leader from the Gudamalulgal nation of the Torres Strait Islands, he sued the Australian government for its failure to reduce emissions, leading to the forced migration of his community and the destruction of their sacred sites. Pabai describes his motivation for this lawsuit; “I will fight to stay here…This is my land. I want my kids, grandkids, and future community to know that this is my dad’s land. This is how he identified himself to us.” With the threat of rising sea levels preventing his posterity from inheriting cultural traditions tied to the land, Pabai is determined to defend his land and the memories it holds. 

The lessons of resilience, morality, and cultural identity shared by these plaintiffs will guide me in my activism for climate justice and my future career. If we have the privilege of arming ourselves with legal education, we should use it to protect the environment. Criminalizing the destruction of the planet is the minimum legal requirement for justice. According to Stop Ecocide International, “ecocide” means “unlawful or wanton acts committed with knowledge that there is a substantial likelihood of severe and either widespread or long-term damage to the environment being caused by those acts.” Jojo Mehta, the Chair of the Stop Ecocide Foundation, spoke about codifying ecocide in the international legal order with sanctions similar to genocide. While I listened, I reflected upon UConn’s connection to international criminal justice through the Dodd Center for Human Rights, named to honor Senator Thomas J. Dodd’s work to prosecute the Nazis at the Nuremberg Trials. Dodd’s prosecution of war crimes is precisely what these plaintiffs and climate lawyers are trying to achieve–punishing those who have irreparably harmed the environment. Learning about ecocide and how criminal law can mitigate the climate crisis clarified my goals for public service. I aspire to amplify the stories of climate refugees, activists, and Indigenous peoples and urge world leaders and policymakers to listen. In my future legal career, I hope to help build an international criminal law framework to prevent and deter ecocide.