Author: Sandunie Liyanagamage

Final COP27 Reflections

It has been 3 weeks since I returned from Sharm El-Sheikh after an unforgettable experience at COP27. I will be reflecting on a few of my key reflections and takeaways from all the events and conversations that I had while I was there and how it will impact me moving forward.

  • Go beyond acknowledgments and amplifying underrepresented voices when discussing climate issues. For those of us who are already in the environmental field and are already aware of the environmental injustices taking place throughout the world, it’s important to not just bring awareness to certain issues but also to figure out how you can support the work of individuals and organizations beyond words. This requires a reflection of your own personal skills, talking to the leaders in such organizations to understand where you’re needed (and not needed), and continuing the conversation after your initial conversation (whether it was at COP or any other event). 
  • Success is measured in many different ways at COP, considering there were approximately 35,000 attendees representing nearly 200 countries. I remember reading many different articles as soon as I returned from COP, calling it a failure. And to the people whose issues did not see any traction or whose voices were silenced, it truly was a failure. But to the people who built partnerships to continue the hard work they are carrying out in their own countries to address climate change and to those who have been calling for a loss and damage fund, this was a successful COP for them. 
  • Genuine allyship is key to building strong partnerships in the climate space and requires a considerable amount of time and effort. Some of the people I truly connected with were people I had reached out to prior to landing in Sharm El-Sheikh. So, as much 
  • For anyone going to COP28 and reading this post, remember to take the time to truly talk  to the people you meet and listen to their interests and experiences. Some of my favorite memories from COP are the moments where I got into a conversation on sustainable tourism with someone I introduced myself to while standing in line for food or chose to miss a highly anticipated panel because of a meaningful discussion I was having with someone on diversity in the oceans space. One of those people led me to the COP Solutions Dialogues, an evening dinner discussion series hosted by SEKEM outside of COP. It was at this event that I met an Egyptian UNDP Project Officer who also had a passion for sustainable tourism so we got along right away. I’m sure you get the drift by now..conversations can lead to unexpected surprises that may not have happened if you are too rigid with your time at COP.
  • Take the opportunity to challenge your pre-existing notions about climate issues or to improve your knowledge on topics that you aren’t familiar with. Nuclear energy is not an area I have been following; however, when I happened to meet a student from Ukraine who had thoughts to share based on her own experience, I learned some useful perspectives that should be considered when talking about the energy transition.

I plan to keep these thoughts in mind as I continue my career in the sustainability space and I’m grateful for Duke for giving me the opportunity to learn and challenge myself through this COP27 experience.

How blue was COP27?

One of the main topics I focused on while I was at COP was the role of the ocean in climate action. To my surprise, even outside of Ocean Action Day, there were many ocean-related panels happening throughout Week 2 of COP. I found myself having to choose between ocean events taking place on the same day at the same time! This was exciting to experience since it reflected the rising significance of the ocean in climate discussions.

Blue Carbon was one of the trending topics during COP27 based on the number of side events that were organized around this natural climate solution. Blue carbon is the carbon captured by coastal ecosystems and it is being explored as both a climate mitigation and adaptation solution by many different stakeholders. What makes blue carbon attractive is that not only does it have a high carbon sequestration potential, but it also has multiple co-benefits for the communities that live in locations surrounded by these ecosystems. Therefore, groups that are exploring the potential of blue carbon as a solution in the climate change discussion must be aware of their value beyond carbon. In an effort to expand blue carbon expertise and scale up projects in Southeast Asia, Conservation International and Amazon along with support from the Singapore Economic Development Board launched the International Blue Carbon Institute. For anyone interested in learning more about this institute, check out this article:

In addition, the high-quality blue carbon principles and guidance were launched by Conservation International, along with Salesforce and other ocean leaders, in an effort to ensure transparency and accountability around blue carbon projects. These principles will be a starting point for project developers who want to achieve high quality results which will help maintain the demand for blue carbon credits. The guidance can be found here:

Ocean Visions hosted an event on ocean-based climate solutions and how the ocean can play a role in CO2 removal. The event brought speakers from different stakeholder groups: academia (Georgia Tech),  nonprofit (the UN Environment Programme) and government (the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs at the US State Department and Senior Advisor for Innovation to the Presidency of Kenya). As the need to understand the value of the oceans was discussed, there were some important points made about how scientists need to understand the dynamics of international negotiations and the role of a political scientist to push things forward when scaling the ability to manage oceans.

The ocean was also featured in the final declaration, with the preamble stating “the importance of ensuring the integrity of all ecosystems, including in forests, the ocean and the cryosphere, and the protection of biodiversity” and to the “the critical role of protecting, conserving and restoring water systems and water-related ecosystems in delivering climate adaptation benefits and co-benefits, while ensuring social and environmental safeguards”. In addition, ocean-based climate solutions are addressed in the final decision through the following language in Article 46: “encourages Parties to consider, as appropriate, ocean-based action in their national climate goals and in the implementation of these goals, including but not limited to nationally determined contributions, long-term strategies and adaptation communications;”

Even though COP has ended, I hope the conversations around the ocean’s role in climate action will continue to grow and countries will act on the commitments that were made in the last 2 weeks to ensure the long-term health of the ocean while meeting their climate goals.

Reflections from the Ocean x Climate Summit

Last Friday, I attended Oceanic Global’s Ocean x Climate Summit which centered the potential of the ocean within the climate change narrative while focusing on multi-stakeholder action. It was an engaging event that included the voices of youth, communities, governments, and industry. I especially enjoyed the panel on localized action against a changing climate, which featured Mayor Mary-Jean Te (Mayor of Antique, Philippines), David Obura (Director of CORDIO, East Africa), Daniel Lin (Pasifika Storytelling Lead of Nia Tero) and Sefanaia Nawadra (Director General of SPREP). All the panelists shared the importance of engagement between multiple stakeholders at a localized level, in islands and cities, to establish long-term systemic changes within their communities. It was a refreshing discussion because amid businesses and governments making high-level commitments, we rarely hear the voices of the people who are on the ground carrying out the work towards environmental sustainability. The atmosphere in the room shifted to one of celebration as the speakers spoke up about amplifying local voices.

One person who I was especially inspired by was Mary-Jean Te. She is part of the Coastal 500, the largest global network of mayors and local government leaders, that was formed during the pandemic last year to work towards thriving and prosperous coastal communities. The purpose of the group is to amplify the voices of leaders who are representing millions of small-scale fishers across the developing countries. Mary-Jean shared how she and other leaders have been working on projects to address climate change even before the term was well-defined. Her work is important as she understands the needs and challenges of her communities; therefore, armed with her passion for the environment, she can inspire her own community to take action. Listening to her reminded me the importance of the role of a local leader in this fight against climate change.

At the summit, I had the opportunity to be a coordinator for a roundtable discussion on creating a common agenda for the ocean. The group I was with specifically focused on outreach and engagement and one of the first questions we discussed was understanding which stakeholder groups are left out of these important conversations and what we can do in our own capacities to bring them to the table. Many people mentioned that usually small-scale fishers, locals, and indigenous peoples are left out of the conversation. Someone brought up a really important point about how though a lot of people talk about amplifying voices of indigenous peoples and local communities, they are missing the steps of listening and taking action. Though they might be inviting marginalized groups to events to speak on panels, it’s not enough – we should be creating spaces that are equitable and allows them to participate with agency. Another important takeaway was the power of language. Since a lot of the conversations happening during these climate discussions are in English, important points that don’t translate well fall through the cracks. In addition, someone who has a lot of expertise may not be feeling comfortable enough speaking up since they are feeling conscious of their English not being perfect – again, excluding their important perspectives in these conversations.

These are some thoughts that I will keep in mind to ensure that I am listening with intention when I meet people at  COP27 starting tomorrow.

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