For my final post I will give some insights into what this experience means for my understanding of climate resilience and how it has influenced how I view my role in tackling the climate crisis. There are three themes I noticed throughout COP27 that I feel are important to mention:
First, there was a strong emphasis on action at all levels of governance. Despite being an international conference, the calls to action extended all the way down to the local level. While my primary focus and interest is in federal-level policy, I found myself particularly inspired by the leaders of local communities. The mayor of Oakland, CA, Libby Schaaf, put this quite plainly when speaking on a panel on coastal resilience by saying, “we are the ones that know our communities best, we are the ones implementing these projects to tackle climate change, so why wouldn’t be involved in these conversations?” This emphasis on implementation and solutions that are tailored to meet the needs of each community really resonated with me. To me, this is a reminder that global commitments, bilateral agreements, federal policy, and state programs all need to eventually flow to the community-level to be successful. This is particularly true for climate resilience efforts.
Second, COP27 made it abundantly clear that we’re overdue for project implementation to bolster climate resilience but we’re still staring down a large funding gap. Over and over, I heard panels, side events, and discussions that lamented the lack of funding for implementation. Even with large country commitments like the U.S. Inflation Reduction Act, there is still a large amount of unmet financial need as well as technical hurdles. Hurdles including the lack of technical knowledge and staff capacity to even access funding opportunities in the first place. Ultimately, there needs to be a concerted effort to identify funding opportunities from both the private and public sector. Whether that be through additional federal grants or private bonds or insurance options, this needs to be done now if we are going to protect communities that are already experiencing the devastating impacts of climate change.
Finally, I think it’s important to remember that COP negotiations should be thought of as a floor not a ceiling in terms of climate action. COP is often criticized for its lack of action and lack of binding commitments. However, I don’t think we should be looking to COP negotiations to deliver dramatic, cutting-edge climate solutions. Instead, the added value lies in the ability of negotiations to yield important baselines, increase global coordination, and hash out important technical agreements. The negotiated agreements that come out of COP are equalizers. They pull country’s lagging in their climate goals up and they try to hold wealthy nations accountable for the tool of their carbon-intensive economies. That said, the value added by country, state, and local stakeholders is the continued drive for innovative change and the push for greater progress.
With these three considerations in mind, I look forward to continuing to work in the environmental policy field as I finish up my MPP and transition to my post-grad career. After this experience, I am even more committed to working to increase the scope and accessibility of federal funding opportunities that help states and localities implement projects that increase resilience to climate change. I hope to continue to devote my time and energy to ensuring financial and technical resources are flowing to the places that are at risk of losing their homes, communities, environment, and culture to both the acute and slow-onset impacts of climate change.