It was a long first day in Dubai at COP28. Don’t get me wrong: I had an incredible time and am excited (with other mixed emotions) for the week to come. I have been dreaming about what an experience like this would be like, and despite the blisters on my ankles from my loafers and the jet lag from our almost 24-hour travel day, I am already thinking about how I can continue this work and come back in the future. Still, physically, mentally, and emotionally it has been overwhelming. 

Before arriving, I had no idea what to expect. Of course, I’ve been in a semester long class on the UNFCCC and I have followed climate change news for a while, but I still didn’t know what it be would like to sit in on real negotiations, to attend events sitting next to delegates from all around the world, etc. In the weeks leading up, I secured my visa, joined Whatsapp group chats for researchers and youth attending the conference, and tried to learn about organizations that would be in attendance and find a client to work with.  

Coming from a physical climate science/data science background, I realized at the beginning of the semester that I had no idea how this science is actually incorporated into policy and decision making. I have learned in most of my classes about the seminal works of scientists that have informed our understanding of the crisis we are in today – but the legal and political pathway for their operationalization was (and still is) unclear. And I think this gets to the route of the issue – why are we even on COP number 28 if scientists have been pointing to climate change for decades and decades? During our class, I learned about the complex pathways of science implementation and political decision-making within the UNFCCC (it was the topic of my final presentation – anyone at Duke can check it out here, or the UNFCCC website), and now actually being at COP28, I am eager to see how science is present in day-to-day activities especially though the Global Stocktake. Throughout my week here in Dubai, I will be tracking how science is operationalized and used in negotiations and throughout the COP process.  

But what was it like on my first day? It is a weird juxtaposition, landing in Dubai and being surrounded by new skyscrapers in the middle of the desert while listening to the COP28 opening session on the urgency of climate crisis, caused by our extraction, capitalism, and consumerism. It was also incredibly cool to be able to enter a UN facility, get a badge with my photo on it, and be able to walk around the massive Dubai Expo City complex knowing that I will be able to observe events that I used to only be able to read about on the news. I am excited, nervous, empowered, frustrated, and a whole range of other emotions just from the first day, and I am eager for the days to come. It is an incredible privilege to be here and it comes with a responsibility to advocate for climate action and climate justice, as well as share all that I experience with others. 

I want to end my first blog post by expressing my immense gratitude towards Dr. Jackson Ewing (our instructor), Gabriela Nagle Alverio and Ina Shih-Hsuan Liao (our TAs), and the Nicholas Institute for giving me and the rest of our class this crazy opportunity.   

Thanks for reading and stay tuned – check out our classes’ blog posts in the coming 2 weeks.