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First Impressions on Oceans Related Issues at COP28

I’ve wanted to witness a COP in person since my first undergraduate environmental science class. The intrigue was simple. Here was this global effort that combines elements of so many concepts –science, legality, politics, finance, negotiations, and more — into multilateral cooperation and environmental governance for our planet. Stitching the fabric together  is complex, with success often framed through “agreements”, “protocols”,  and“funds”. As with many things, COVID-19 disrupted my opportunity to attend COP26 with my alma mater in 2021. Now, I am grateful I am attending COP28 as a student of environmental governance with much more work experience and exposure to the issues. 

At COP28, I am mainly tracking oceans. Ocean-based solutions mitigation and adaptation are gaining momentum within the UNFCCC. I was delighted to see a booth for the U.N. Decade in the Oceans pavillion because it elevates the call to greater invest in ocean science to fill gaps we aren’t aware of. This will better inform how we manage crucial systems, such as fisheries and marine protected areas. Even so, it seems that dialogue surrounding oceans are still siloed to specialists. Most people connect ‘sea-level rise’ and ‘extreme weather events’ when I first mention my interest in oceans. It’s only when I explain the economic, cultural, and social impact of oceans, the positive contributions they make, that it dawns on people. One woman and I had a fruitful conversation about the impacts of ocean-based jobs on gender, especially in inland water ways. This interdisciplinary probing is the exact reason why I think global forums like this are necessary.

Over the summer, I worked on global women’s issues with the U.S. Department of State, so I am also looking forward to following gender-climate related issues. I made a connection while eating lunch with a South African women that will be on a few panels throughout the week, although the majority of them are during week 2 when I will not be there. I think socialising really helps to personalise the experience with specialists outside of sessions. Many are busiest during the pre and post session preparation, so I am glad we are able to network before the thematic days for gender and oceans.  Our conversations make me more privy to how prior years’ dialogues went. It also illuminates which pavilions I should explore to learn more. 

Finally, I am surprised how many people I recognised throughout the day. As soon as I walked in, I saw a LinkedIn connection that also works with ocean conservation advocacy and youth activism. Another member of the U.S. Youth Advisory Council to the U.S. National Committee to the UN Ocean Decade was present, so we were able to reconnect after doing most of our organising virtually. I am looking forward to using the rest of my time here to explore other areas as well, such as public health and waste management. 

 Everyone always mentions the most important conversations are the informal ones at the water fountain or doing a coffee break. My first day experience shoes this doesn’t apply just for the negotiators. 

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.

Final COP27 Reflections and Personal Goals

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.

The Trust Edge at COP

After a marathon negotiation running 40 hours beyond the Friday evening deadline, parties have achieved an agreement on setting up a loss and damage fund. This achievement is deemed a major milestone for vulnerable countries. However, to the dismay of many, some countries reneged on the commitment to phase out fossil fuels to keep global temperatures from rising and the promise of providing 100 billion dollars per year for climate finance.

The decision-making process for the final text was not transparent and inclusive. Political maneuvers were made to make countries agree on the text that had been formulated. For example, in loss and damage negotiation, developed countries, including the United States, the European Union, the United Kingdom, Australia, and New Zealand, changed their stance and proposed draft text at 11 pm on Friday. Meanwhile, the second draft text summarizing the negotiations’ outcomes was released around 1:30 am on Saturday, which was beyond the scheduled finish time. Negotiators were overwhelmed with new text in the early hour morning. In addition, some small island leaders had flown back home.

“From what I ascertain, there is equal dissatisfaction in all quarters,” said Sameh Shoukry, COP27 president and Egypt Foreign Minister.

Grueling night discussion and the last-minute change leave parties with no choice but to accept the text. The final text, “cut greenhouse gas emissions,” was approved by the depleted and tired negotiators on Sunday morning. Likewise, in COP26, the text regarding coal was changed from phase-out to phase-down in the closing plenary. Under pressure from civil society to have an outcome for COP26, most countries accept the change with great reluctance. If the climate actions fall into the purely political calculation, countries need to worry about either they are excluded from the decision-making process or there is a “secret text” hiding in the treaty, how could we expect that international climate actions could move forwards?

Trust is the critical piece in negotiation. When that trust is missing, what we have is just a document. In 2009 at COP15, developed countries agreed to mobilize 100 billion dollars to developing countries annually by 2020. However, according to the OCED report, the total climate finance for developing countries was 83.3 billion in 2020. Developed countries have failed to meet the $100 billion goal and extend the deadline to 2025, which has eroded trust in the agreements.

“By the time we get to Glasgow, if they haven’t given us another $100 billion for 2021, then they are completely unable to meet their obligations,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development before COP26 in Glasgow.

The failure to meet the $100 billion dollars goal has not only raised the trust issue among countries but also added a question mark on funding sources for the loss and damage fund. In addition, if there is no trust among countries, how could we work together and find solutions to reduce the impact of climate change?

The Private Sector Players from Africa Were Absent in COP27

COP27 which was tagged an African COP had the highest number of participants so far in the history of COP. Participants ranging from Negotiators, Parties, Observers, Government officers, and private sector players are all duly represented. However, there is little or no presence of private sector players within Africa including banks, insurance companies, asset managers, and other trade associations. Given the importance of the private sector in the attainment of the Paris Alignment and the impact Climate change will have on Africa and other developing countries, I find it extremely odd that the owner of capital did not deem it fit to infuse themselves into the conversation.

According to the report of the independent high-level expert group on climate finance, emerging markets and developing countries other than China will need to spend around $1 trillion per year by 2025, and around half of the required financing can be reasonably expected to come from local sources. This report further highlights the role of the private sector in domestic resource mobilization and project execution.

I have highlighted below a few reasons why domestic investors are key to climate goals

  • Domestic investors face less credit adequacy restriction compared to cross-border investors. domestic investors who are not exposed to exchange rate risk and country risk tend to build more resilience compared to their foreign counterparts
  • Countries without effective capital inflow sterilizing mechanisms might find themselves dealing with high inflation, currency appreciation, and an undermined domestic export due to huge reliance on cross-border investors.
  • Heavy reliance on cross-border investors exposes the country to huge global risk: Increased interest rate in the US means an increase in the cost of borrowing from the international market. The increased interest rate tends to affect renewables more than the fossil fuel industry because renewables are Capex-heavy.
  • Domestic investors create systemic impact: Achieving Net Zero has the potential to destroy existing jobs and domestic investments are better equipped to create new ones.
  • Information Cost: The combination of local information and global expertise leads to higher profits

It is high time that private investors including banks, asset managers, and pension funds within the continent come together to drive domestic mobilization. While it is commendable that Glasgow Financial Alliance for Net Zero (GFANZ) – a global coalition of leading financial institutions committed to accelerating the decarbonization of the economy- recently launched its African network, I am looking forward to seeing the domestic players leading conversations.  I was disappointed when I looked around the pavilions and booths at COP27 and none of it was devoted to the financial market players in Africa. It is also interesting that right in the middle of COP 27, a leading bank in Nigeria announced a funding stream for oil exploration and export. Combating climate change is a global action and we need everyone as a stakeholder and participant, not a spectator.

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