Author: Katie Maxwell

The Work Continues After COP28

My COP28 experience has now come to a close and I am back home recovering from the twofold setback of jet lag and a terrible cold I picked up during my final days in Dubai. On December 12th (my last day at COP28) I wandered around the Blue Zone with a friend and fellow Duke Student, Joy Reeves, who attended COP28 through the Christian Climate Observers Program.

The Blue Zone, which had been abuzz with activity just a day prior, was shutting down. Many pavilions had already closed and staff were taping up boxes. Others were hosting their final events and giving away remaining snacks and beverages. Singapore offered both cups of coffee and a special brand of beer made from recycled water that they called NEWBrew. At some point during our meandering, Joy and I came upon four domes that were part of a display neither of us had seen before.

They were called pollution pods. Three pods had mixtures simulating the pollution in Beijing, London, and New Delhi while the fourth offered solutions to clean up this pollution. Exacerbated by the thick smog blanketing Dubai every morning I was already starting to feel a scratchy throat and declined to enter the pods. I could smell the simulated smog from outside.

Dubai’s smog was a regular topic of conversation among our class. We were all wanting more information on its causes while we were there, data that is not available to its residents I later learned. A recently published Human Rights Watch report elucidated that the air pollution is dangerously high and cannot be solely attributed to naturally occurring dust storms. Fossil fuel extraction is a major source of the country’s poor air quality.

The mediocre results of COP28 are truly no surprise given that COP28’s Presidency was held by UAE oil executive Dr. Sultan Al Jaber who used the multilateral negotiations to broker new oil and gas deals. COP28 also admitted 2,456 fossil fuel lobbyists outweighing every party delegation save for Brazil and the UAE according to The Guardian. Official Indigenous representatives were outnumbered 7-1 the same article reported. The calls by AOSIS, Indigenous peoples, YOUNGO, and scientists for a fast, equitable, and full phase-out of fossil fuels to limit warming to 1.5C were disregarded in the final text.

COP is incredibly important because it is the one space where the world is forced to come together to annually negotiate climate policy even if the result is weak. The process reminded me how much it requires accountability from civil society and how much more work is left to do back home. Many of us from civil society in attendance left feeling disheartened and angry, but we also left with newly formed and strengthened relationships with one another. Before leaving, we made our anger loud and clear at a final set of actions in the Blue Zone. We were so loud at the last one I attended the UNFCCC staff told us to quiet down. That made me proud and also hopeful. Our futures are on the line and we shouldn’t go quietly.

Who or what does your work serve?

“Who or what does your work serve?” is a question Donna Chavis—notable environmental justice leader and elder of the Lumbee Tribe—posed to an audience of students and faculty on her recent visit to Duke this November. Her query is one that I knew I would be reflecting on during my time at COP28.

This is the midpoint in my week in Dubai and I have heard echoes of Ms. Chavis’ question from several youth and faith leaders. One LWF youth reminded a group of us in a reflection call last night that the climate crisis is an embodied crisis. We can become wrapped up in the headiness of climate negotiations and solutions ideation forgetting to feel the breadth of emotions that climate change evokes. But, if we take a moment to reground ourselves by noting the daily impacts climate change already has on our communities, we can allow ourselves to fully feel grief, anger, and even hope. We can use those emotions to fuel our continued advocacy for people and the planet.

Taking this thread further, Maureen Goodman, the Programme Director for Brahma Kumaris UK, framed the climate crisis in a panel held at the Faith Pavilion on “Faith in Action for Climate Justice in Addressing Loss & Damage” as a spiritual crisis. Exploitation is borne out of a lack of love for the self and for the world she said. She called on us to wield love for climate justice so that all beings can live lives of abundance.

As a young adult whose early life was shaped by extreme heat and intense hundred-year floods near my family home, I have considerable fear for the future. I could let that fear overwhelm me, and sometimes it does, but I try hard to channel my climate grief and anxiety into action. I come from a faith tradition (ELCA Lutheran) that encourages people to make their life’s work a vocation—living a purposeful life that serves the church and the world.

It’s why I have felt most alive during COP28 at UNFCCC Secretariat-approved actions and stunts. These actions hosted by Fridays for Future, ACT Alliance, and Christian Aid have centered equity for youth and structurally sound climate finance mechanisms. All actions at COP must be approved by the Secretariat and even then, they feel like a risk to participate in, but it is a risk I am willing to take to amplify the needs of the most vulnerable.

Dr. Ashley Ward spoke about energy affordability in the extreme heat panel she moderated at the WHO Health Pavilion. Air conditioning doesn’t help if people can’t afford it, she told the audience to underscore comments made by panelists. Energy access and affordability are issues I worked on at Faith in Place prior to starting at the Nicholas School. I hope to continue working in that space because it requires listening to low-income communities and advocating for energy policies that reduce their energy burden.

Looking Ahead to a Full Week at COP28

Hi, My name is Katie Maxwell and this is my first blog of my UNFCCC Practicum experience at COP28 in Dubai, UAE. Today is December 6, 2023, and I’m currently in the air flying over Europe as I write. A little while ago, we flew over Konstanz, Germany—the city where I studied abroad for a semester during my undergraduate studies at St. Olaf College. Now, I can say this is officially the longest flight I have ever flown on and we still have about five hours until we land.

I am looking forward to exploring the city a little bit when we arrive later this evening and settling in tomorrow as well. December 7th is a rest day at COP28 so a few of us arriving this evening may take the day to adjust and visit the Bazaar, something I hear is a must-see.

My schedule will be full of side events and meetings come December 8th. I am supporting the work of several faith-based NGOs during my time at COP28 because I have a particular interest in following their advocacy for climate action. To that end, A Rocha International and their partners are coordinating a side event in the Faith Pavilion on December 11th called “Exploring Religious Resistance to Climate Action” which I am particularly excited to attend.

The faith voice is a powerful and necessary part of the broader climate movement. I am inspired by the many young people of faith calling for the full operationalization of the loss & damage fund and a full phase-out of fossil fuels. Yet, it is also important to discuss why some communities of faith are uninterested at best and openly hostile at worst to protecting the environment. Furthermore, we need to discuss what we can do to shift the narrative to mobilize more people around the globe who profess a faith or spirituality to use their religious tradition to act on climate in their local communities.

One of the aspects that most excites me about this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is the chance to meet other young people from around the world who care about climate. I am most looking forward to meeting the Lutheran World Federation delegation which is made up of young Lutherans who like me will be observing the negotiations as well. I expect to attend Interfaith Liaison events with them and participate in UNFCCC Secretariat-approved stunts within the Blue Zone.

Additionally, I plan to attend several events on extreme heat and nature-based climate solutions, two topics that the Nicholas Institute for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability researches. Extreme Heat expert, Ashley Ward, has been asked to speak at “Building Heat Resilience: Actions and Opportunities for Healthier Cities and Communities” on December 9th from 11:15-12:30 in the Health Pavilion. That will be the premier event on extreme heat hosted by the UN this week. I am excited to see what I can glean for my communities back home in Chicago and Durham—two regions already experiencing extreme heat’s adverse health impacts.

I’m ready to get the week started!

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