I’ve wanted to witness a COP in person since my first undergraduate environmental science class. The intrigue was simple. Here was this global effort that combines elements of so many concepts –science, legality, politics, finance, negotiations, and more — into multilateral cooperation and environmental governance for our planet. Stitching the fabric together  is complex, with success often framed through “agreements”, “protocols”,  and“funds”. As with many things, COVID-19 disrupted my opportunity to attend COP26 with my alma mater in 2021. Now, I am grateful I am attending COP28 as a student of environmental governance with much more work experience and exposure to the issues. 

At COP28, I am mainly tracking oceans. Ocean-based solutions mitigation and adaptation are gaining momentum within the UNFCCC. I was delighted to see a booth for the U.N. Decade in the Oceans pavillion because it elevates the call to greater invest in ocean science to fill gaps we aren’t aware of. This will better inform how we manage crucial systems, such as fisheries and marine protected areas. Even so, it seems that dialogue surrounding oceans are still siloed to specialists. Most people connect ‘sea-level rise’ and ‘extreme weather events’ when I first mention my interest in oceans. It’s only when I explain the economic, cultural, and social impact of oceans, the positive contributions they make, that it dawns on people. One woman and I had a fruitful conversation about the impacts of ocean-based jobs on gender, especially in inland water ways. This interdisciplinary probing is the exact reason why I think global forums like this are necessary.

Over the summer, I worked on global women’s issues with the U.S. Department of State, so I am also looking forward to following gender-climate related issues. I made a connection while eating lunch with a South African women that will be on a few panels throughout the week, although the majority of them are during week 2 when I will not be there. I think socialising really helps to personalise the experience with specialists outside of sessions. Many are busiest during the pre and post session preparation, so I am glad we are able to network before the thematic days for gender and oceans.  Our conversations make me more privy to how prior years’ dialogues went. It also illuminates which pavilions I should explore to learn more. 

Finally, I am surprised how many people I recognised throughout the day. As soon as I walked in, I saw a LinkedIn connection that also works with ocean conservation advocacy and youth activism. Another member of the U.S. Youth Advisory Council to the U.S. National Committee to the UN Ocean Decade was present, so we were able to reconnect after doing most of our organising virtually. I am looking forward to using the rest of my time here to explore other areas as well, such as public health and waste management. 

 Everyone always mentions the most important conversations are the informal ones at the water fountain or doing a coffee break. My first day experience shoes this doesn’t apply just for the negotiators.