My first week highlights of COP27

The magnitude of COP27 only dawned me upon its’ commencement. The scale of the event exceeded my imagination, almost akin to Alice discovering Wonderland after wandering down the rabbit hole. Looking at the sheer number of pavilions spread across a wide area, we spent all of Sunday exploring the blue zone after picking up our badges. One of the key highlights of my first day was a touch of nostalgia amidst the familiar sights, when I stumbled across the IFRC pavilion, the organization where I have volunteered for almost eleven years.

The blue zone, which hosted the side events of COP27 was a universe by itself. A diverse range of pavilions representing countries, NGOs, and other private sector actors with different visions and interests working together to identify solutions for climate change adaptation and mitigation. I was fortunate to follow a very interesting discussion between the Benelux countries and the Antwerp port CEO regarding the initiative of transforming the energy production of the port towards a 100% hydrogen based source. Following up on my curiosity I participated in a follow-up discussion about the sourcing of the hydrogen, including its form, the support from the Belgian Government towards this initiative, the policies that could potentially lead towards a larger transition to cleaner fuels in Belgium and the broader EU region, etc. I was in awe of the CEO’s technical knowledge and passion for the environment, which further impressed upon me the crucial role of the private sector in combatting the adverse effects of climate change.

It was heartening to observe the increased recognition and participation of the private sector towards identifying solutions to the climate crises. This was reflected in both the terminology, “public and private resources” as well as in recognition of the magnitude of the private sector. Private companies are understanding the importance of being environmentally friendly and carbon neutral and are trying to shift their production chain in these channels, attracting more clients while creating a positive trend.

A large part of my COP27 period was following the negotiations amongst countries regarding loss and damage, adaptation, climate financing, etc. I was very eager to try to understand the process even though it was much larger than I could fully absorb. In the beginning, the negotiations were more deliberate and closely related to ToRs, Structures, and other terminology that I wasn’t familiar with, which laid the framework for the overall negotiation process. The third day the negotiations started to heat up and continued to be more and more interesting in the following days. The Adaptation Fund negotiation was one of the critical aspects of the conference, characterized by substantive albeit heated discussions. In the initial phase, the involved parties were generally in favor of the proposed text by the secretariat. The negotiation here was on specific terminology, where the developed countries wanted to avoid mentions of specific financial commitments ($ 100 million) from paragraph 7 in favor of a more generalized context, while the developing countries were pushing a more aggressive position, insisting on changes to the terminology towards “at least doubling the financial commitments” for improved resource availability. One memorable incident of these negotiations was regarding the participation of the US representative in negotiations pertaining to the Kyoto Protocol. The US delegation left the discussions in protest, after their standing in the discussions was questioned and subsequently dismissed amidst heated debate, in light of their failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol themselves.

In the end, COP27 was a life-changing opportunity for me and I am very grateful to Duke university for making this dream come true. As the first week is over, I look forward to the progress of week two and the final texts of the secretariat reflecting the decisions made in the negotiations, and hope for positive outcomes.

 

 

Exhaustion and Hope at COP27

Touching down in New York City, after a twelve-hour flight from Cairo, my WhatsApp notifications started buzzing. There was a decision on the loss and damage fund. I was incredibly exhausted and disoriented, but hopeful. Something big came out of COP27 and the United States moved, after thirty years of resisting calls for a loss and damage fund. This news right as I came back to the United States was a lovely welcome home and ending to COP27.

This sudden excitement and hopefulness paired with long periods of exhaustion and disorientation sums up the rest of my experience at COP27 as well. Coming into COP27 I did not comprehend its scale, with hundreds of events and 44,000 people navigating a labyrinth of buildings for two weeks straight. It was challenging to navigate the space and sort through the hundreds of negotiations, side events, press conferences, and pavilion events happening simultaneously all day. Before going to COP I did not understand that it is also a conference and trade show bringing together people to discuss issues, technologies, and solutions all related to climate change. Seeing the sheer number of side events and walking through the pavilion spaces filled me with hope to see so many people coming together from across the world to discuss this existential problem facing our planet. I moved from events discussing sustainable governance of aquatic foods, to near term actions in U.S. climate policy, to riverkeeper organizations across the world dealing with harms from dams, to a brief on U.S positions at COP27 from John Kerry, to the role of criminal law in climate action.

But spending time at the negotiations truly made this experience meaningful. I focused mostly on the loss and damage negotiations, so I noticed the power of groups like the Alliance of Small Island States and the G77+China. At each negotiation I scrambled to get the most updated text to follow along and see how even just one word could make one party unwilling to support a document. The process moved incredibly slowly, and delegates were often repetitive, but through patiently waiting I also heard how some parties’ positions began to shift, while others dug into their positions

During one afternoon one of my classmates heard about a Santiago Network negotiation that was added to the calendar last minute and was open to observers. I rushed across the COP27 grounds to arrive at a huge huddle of delegates in one corner of the room. I waited for about 20 minutes and then suddenly delegates began to clap. They took their seats and shared with the co-chair that they had agreed on text to operationalize the Santiago Network, a technical assistance network for loss and damage from climate change. Moments like this made me hopeful that this process was working, and some important global climate action would come out of COP27.

What an unforgettable week at COP 27

Back in Durham, I’m still in the process of organizing my thoughts and reflecting on the countless impressions I gained during the last week at COP 27 in Egypt. The time passed by incredibly fast, and I tried to absorb as much knowledge as possible. It seems like only yesterday that I was entering the venue for the first time and being completely overwhelmed by the sheer size of the conference. I was surprised to see that the actual negotiations cover only a small proportion of the venue while the pavilions offer so many interesting and diverse events. I do not know how often I got lost during the five days to find the right event location in the different buildings. The huge number of negotiations, official side events, and pavilion events taking place at the same time made it very hard to decide where I would like to spend my time. Mostly, I attended events focusing either on carbon markets and Article 6 or climate finance. They helped me a lot to improve my understanding of the current difficulties in these fields.

It was a unique experience to attend the negotiations, witness the slow processes and to see how difficult it is that all Parties agree on one text. I did not anticipate how crucial the rule of the presidency and the co-facilitators are and how often country representatives complain about the late release of important documents. Together with my client, I mostly followed the Article 6 negotiations. At this year’s COP, they were highly technical and focused on the detailed implementation rules. Despite all my preparation, it was still sometimes hard to understand why countries have such strong opinions in technical details and are not able to compromise.

The event I learnt the most was a panel discussion at the pavilion of the Global Environment Facility. I enjoyed the critical and constructive discussion which I sometimes missed at other pavilion events which were just highlighting the positive outcomes of their own efforts. Representatives of Small Island Developing States vividly highlighted the current problems of climate finance in their countries. Processes to apply for funding require high upfront investments to write the application and take years until the money flows. But the biggest problem is that the funding is just not sufficient. In Vanuatu, the average damages by only one storm amount to $500 million. Currently, this sum must be covered by the countries’ public budget. Their reconstruction budget is as high as the one for education which shows the big burden climate damages are already now for these vulnerable countries. Besides that, they underscored the limitations of the current narrative that the private sector needs to step up and invest in climate finance. There might be interesting investment opportunities for mitigation projects but for adaption and loss and damages, there is in most cases no return which makes it unattractive for the private sector. Hence, the polluting states are urged to support these vulnerable states. Fortunately, a first step was taken at COP 27 by the decision to establish a loss and damage fund.

To sum up, attending COP 27 was an unforgettable experience for me and I am more than grateful for this unique opportunity offered by Duke.

COP27: a Launching Point for Loss and Damage

As I reflect on my experience from the second week of COP27, I’m flipping through my notebook full of commentary and notes on side events, pavilions, and negotiations. This past week was one of the most riveting weeks of my academic career. It exposed me to ideas and topics that I had yet to encounter and provided a platform for voices that are traditionally not heard from in the policy sphere. The topics of events that I attended ranged from blue food systems to green hydrogen innovation to local, state, and federal partnerships in the US to JETPs to early warning system applications to translating science into community knowledge. The vast array of topics was incredible and I found myself constantly updating my schedule to fit in events that I stumbled upon while walking through Zones B and C or to attend negotiations that were announced at the last minute. Even as I’ve described events and interesting information to friends since being back, they have all commented on the excitement in my voice as I reflect on this past week. There truly is nothing like it and I feel so fortunate and privileged to have attended and been able to go from event to event.  

As I mentioned in my first blog post, the area of interest that I went into week two with was loss and damage and this was what some of the most stimulating events and negotiations were centered on. This topic was obviously hotly debated throughout COP27 and negotiators reached a conclusion only in the final hours of the conference. While I loved learning about climate mitigation and adaptation through the various lenses of the events that I attended, loss and damage really captivated me. I had the opportunity to hear from and speak with Professor Saleemul Huq, the Director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development and one of the foremost experts on loss and damage. His comments and reflections on COP27 really being COP1 for loss and damage were eye-opening and inspiring. My conversations with Nate Warszawski and Preety Bhandari from the World Resource Institute really delved me further into the complexities of loss and damage negotiations and revealed so much insight into the politics of COP27. These discussions truly made my COP27 experience. I was lucky enough to be in the room when the draft texts were agreed upon to operationalize the Santiago Network on Loss and Damage, a process that was two years in the making. It was conversations with Nate that provided me with the background to understand the process of the negotiations and the gravity of this moment.

COP27 confirmed to me that this is the work that I want to do in the future. Loss and damage is inherently complex because it reaches so many aspects of our lives but the difficulties in quantifying its effects should not cause us or negotiators to underestimate or undervalue how deeply loss and damage impacts climate-vulnerable populations. These events, the negotiations that I had the pleasure of attending, and my work with WRI really underscored the importance of this work to me. We can surely expect to see more work on loss and damage in the future and I’m looking forward to engaging in it. 

Reflecting on My Experience at COP27: Policy Ideas & Purpose

Looking back on the past 5 days, I would say that it was the most concentrated period of learning on climate-related topics I’ve ever experienced. There were three main ways I spent my time at COP27: open-door official negotiations, official side events, and pavilion events.

I spent a bit of time following the negotiations, especially on Monday and then the last two days. While they were interesting to an extent, I found that they moved very slowly and got bogged down in small details. Furthermore, I came to realize how much background knowledge and technical understanding you needed to truly comprehend what was going on in any given negotiation I did appreciate the chance to sit in on negotiations, and to get a first-hand perspective of the procedures behind the big announcements that arrive at the end of COPs. And although I found the dialogue interesting at times—for example, when I got to see negotiators from India, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil attempt to convince negotiators from the US, Norway, small island states, Canada, and Australia to push the finalization of a document titled “COP27 overarching decisions”—I learned that I am more interested in tangible climate policy solutions that can be implemented at the local level. Therefore, I spent the majority of my time at official side events and pavilion events learning from a range of experts, policymakers, advocates, and businesspeople.

On Day 1, I heard from US legislators about how they are bringing their constituents into the climate movement. “Show, don’t tell” was a piece of advice from Rep. Christopher Rabb. Later, I learned about the potential of green hydrogen in the context of the maritime shipping industry—they have set an ambitious goal of having 50% of shipping activity run on green hydrogen by 2050, and they stressed the importance of policy to align supply-side and demand-side stakeholders. After that, I made my way to a different pavilion to for two events on the potential of carbon-dioxide removal (CDR) strategies and on US climate policy post-midterms. Finally, I went to an event hosted by the US Conference of Mayors on the intersection of social justice and climate policy in cities. My highlight was hearing Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf talk about how she uses both data and personal stories of her constituents to design innovative policies. For example, after looking at data on how EJ communities are more dependent on cars than other communities and hearing from community members about why, she implemented a policy she termed “Universal Basic Mobility” which granted them free access to many different modes of transportation: bikes, scooters, trains, and busses.

I learned just as much over the next couple of days. The theme of Tuesday’s pavilion events was energy, and I learned so much about green hydrogen, scaling up existing renewable energy and storage technologies, and nuclear power. I also ended the day at what became my favorite pavilion: the climate justice pavilion. There, I attended a panel discussion on approaches to Loss & Damages funding, moderated by Manish Bapna, the CEO of the NRDC. I heard from Dr. Saleemul Huq from Bangladesh as well as Dana Ahmed, a youth activist from Sweden. On Wednesday, I attended a slew of official side events on sustainable urban resilience in cities, where I learned about new urban climate policy ideas for mitigation, adaptation, and climate justice. Later, I attended events on the importance of community knowledge as well as policies to create “zero-waste cities”. Finally, on Thursday, I heard about nature-based solutions, as well as attended an amazing presentation at the Resilience Hub on using evidence-based indicators of resilience—essentially, an area’s ability to survive and thrive amidst the likely effects of climate change—to design local policy.

Overall, I valued my experience at COP27 for a number of reasons. First, it was an amazing opportunity to be in the same space as 44,000 other people who were passionate about the same things I was. I met so many cool people, had interesting conversations, and got to be in the presence of people like Brazilian president-elect Lula da Silva, US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, US Special Envoy for Climate John Kerry, and many other high-level government officials and businesspeople. Second, I learned so much about energy & climate-related technologies, urban policy, and climate justice—I was exposed not only to novel policy ideas, implementation strategies, and experienced advice, but also to useful resources that I will be able to reference in the future. Finally, I learned a lot about my own interests. As I watched the negotiations, had conversations with people, or attended events, I found myself thinking about how I could apply what I was learning to climate policy at the local level. I found myself fascinated with cool, innovative approaches and lost in thought about implementing them in my hometown of Boston.

I had such a great learning experience at COP27, but I would be remiss not to mention the major outcome of the convention related to Loss & Damages—I will reflect on this in my next blog post!

 

 

 

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