Bridging Collaborations at COP28 and in College 

This story was submitted by Clara Kilburn (she/her), ’24 Chinese Language major at Pomona College, who connected with the Swarthmore student delegation for the COP28 program.

At COP conferences, a large number of countries have dedicated pavilions. At COP28, this took the form of spaces in identical buildings laid throughout the venue. Depending on the country, pavilions hosted presentations on climate issues faced and modes of solving them in the respective country. 

The U.S. Center was clearly one of the more popular ones, reflecting the large number of Americans at COP28 and the fact that many foreign nationals were interested in U.S. issues. From my perspective as an American attendee, the U.S. Center illustrated the ways that the U.S., (for better or worse) is critically important in the climate crisis. In a multipolar world, the U.S. still holds outsized influence in global politics and is one of the largest per capita greenhouse gas emitters. 

One of the events I attended at the U.S. Center was hosted by the Conservative Climate Foundation, advertised as a “Fireside chat with House Republicans about how the House Energy and Commerce Committee is working to advance a new era of innovation and American leadership to reduce emissions, bolster energy security, and raise the country’s standard of living”. The official recording of the event can be watched here

The event featured Rep. Kelly Armstrong  (R-ND), Rep. Buddy Carter (R-GA), and Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks (R-IA). 

During the event, listening to the Representatives, I felt a bit like a small fish in a big pond at COP28. I became acutely aware of what had been missing in my experience of COP28 thus far. The Republican Representatives’ personas were distinctly different from previous Americans I had interacted with at COP28. Rep. Buddy Carter’s striking southern accent was particularly notable. I realized that as a Michigander and current student of a very politically liberal California school (Pomona!) attending COP28 with the logistical support from another school with a liberal-leaning student body (Swarthmore!), I had not thus far pursued opportunities to listen to people of a “conservative” political background talk about their concern for the climate and their strategies for solving problems. 

The U.S. House Republicans talked about their personal passions for protecting the environment and their sincere belief that protecting the environment is also crucial for protecting the American economy and security. Rep. Miller-Meeks at one point made a contentious comment that startled the room, to which a couple of individuals who looked not unlike me (young women at COP, possibly fellow college students) walked out of the room in protest. I too was initially shocked at the comment, but after listening to what she had to say afterwards realized she didn’t mean to “stir the pot” and went on to say less controversial, and rather in my opinion, quite rational comments. 

During these few minutes of her speech, I faced the daunting realization that too many conversations along those of different ideological backgrounds and with different ideas in the climate space are shut down before they even begin. 

At COP28, this phenomenon appeared to happen more broadly as people (scientists, entrepreneurs, engineers, social scientists) who work on the same issues and likely have the same opinions, can connect, network, and collaborate during the two weeks of COP. Those who don’t agree don’t have to interact as they follow different negotiations, attend different side events, and have different professional networks. Social cliques and professional huddles of people were plentiful all around COP28. 

This experience made me think about how the most formal global pursuits to fight climate change rest on agreement between all nations (political negotiations) but more collaborative productive action among groups who think differently is potentially lacking. Not just global pursuits, but also U.S. pursuits against climate change that involve various groups. Collaborative efforts among the diverse peoples of the U.S. in the fight against climate may also be lacking, and this House Republican event helped me reflect on the following:

The USA, being a critically important country in the global progress of fighting climate change, unfortunately cannot meet holistic climate goals if only the “blue” states do so. So, in the current state of partisan politics, the climate crisis needs to not be a blue issue and rather a bipartisan one. The only way for it to become a bipartisan issue is for it to include, and welcome, “Republican” voices and others stereotypically thought of as being “disbelievers” and enemies of those who care for the environment. 

At COP28 there was a guiding concern in many of the discussions about the negotiations that the state of global environmental protection efforts are currently “not enough”. Observing this phenomenon of those who think alike grouping together at COP, and realizing the lack of diverse representation of Americans at COP28 from the event, it became clear to me that the climate crisis isn’t going to be solved with the people already engaged in climate working harder, it is going to be solved when more people are engaged in climate. 

This experience and subsequent realizations at COP28 have significantly impacted my professional goals. As I’m completing  my last semester at Pomona Spring 2024, I’m hoping to engage with others who are different from me now and post-graduation. I hope to further discover how I can contribute to motivating and bringing others into the climate space. 

In addition to the great experience of attending COP itself, I think the structure and activities at COP can also serve as an example to students of what they might be missing in their Swarthmore/Pomona/College experience – whatever that may be for each student as we sort out where we fit best to support the global fight against climate change. 

Environmental Defenders are Forgotten by COP

“Environmental defenders are forgotten by COP.”

David Munene, the Programs Manager of the Catholic Youth Network for Environmental Sustainability in Africa opens this panel discussion with these harrowing words in a room where many of those forgotten sit. 

Let me set the scene for you some. I am at one of the many COP28 side events where  panel discussions of any and all topics relating to the environment take place. While I specifically chose to go to this event, I couldn’t have expected the impact it would have on me and how grateful I will continue to be to have been in that space. The event, “Youth Rising in Solidarity for Environmental Defenders and Safeguarding Lives, Nature and the Future”  was a storytelling event that shared lived experiences of a few youth environmental defenders. According to the UN, environmental defenders are “individuals and groups who, in their personal or professional capacity and in a peaceful manner, strive to protect and promote human rights relating to the environment, including water, air, land, flora and fauna.”

“They offer you protection where there is none to be offered.”, Munene says in his introduction.

As you can see from the above photos, the panel chairs at the front of the room were empty. Unlike every other panel event I went to all the panelists were scattered throughout the audience seats. It was made clear by the event hosts that speakers should be at the same level of the audience, not above them. Wow. It is easy to forget the hierarchical and authoritative practices that seem to weave throughout almost everything we do. But this emphasis on having all individuals on the same footing begins to show you the extreme power this room holds to unravel the institutions that seek to destroy them. There were five speakers in total and I will highlight some of their stories. 

Nansedalia Ramirez is a youth leader from Mexico. She says that her and her community have suffered due to mining and hydropower.  Her home is among the forests. Her home is being logged and destroyed, and due to her activism she has faced several threats.

“As youth, we want to unite our voice, voices who can’t be heard, who are putting their lives in danger on a daily basis.” – Nansedalia Ramirez

“A young girl is being threatened for carrying the heart of the community.” – David Munene

Nidia’s family was forcefully displaced due to hydropower infrastructure in 1974. She wasn’t able to learn her own language. Her people lost their traditions, their dances, their culture, their food sovereignty. Her organization works to recover everything they lost. It was from her father that she inherited this fight and fighting spirit. Her father had been imprisoned due to his activism and his fight for his people’s rights and land tenure. She hopes to convince other youth to also continue this fight and to fight for their ancestors. 

“Someone will publish a language that was lost…How do you discover a language that was lost?” -David Munene

Munene then ends with asking a woman named Annabelle to come up to the front to play violin for an “intermission” to “heal the soul.” The song is called “The End of the World”.   

The last speaker I will highlight and the last of the speakers was Ina-Maria. She is from Namibia but was born in exile in Angola during the liberation struggle against South African apartheid occupation in Namibia. Her father, a commander, was killed in the war from a car bomb. She grew up in a refugee camp for a few years before being displaced to the former East Germany in 1985. This is why she speaks German as well now. Growing up in East Germany, she was told to fight capitalism from a young age, something she still holds in her heart now.

After 1990, she returned home to Namibia but notes that she “never really felt at home”. She was too black for the White elite in Namibia but too white for Black people there. 

She found her passion in fashion design, but knew that she could not work in the fashion industry. She could not look past the industry’s exploration of the environment and of people, so she found her calling in community work.

In 2020, a Canadian company was going to begin fracking for oil and gas in the Kavango Basin. She felt betrayed. The actual people living there, never benefited or gained anything from the war. And since independence, the government has been captured more and more by corporate powers.

“But for me, you are not going to touch the Kavango. That is our homeland.”

Namibia is a very dry country, the Kavango delta is the only place they can grow food. It is the home to several endangered species. But it is also home of the first nations, to the San people. They are hunter gatherers who depend on their land. 

Since many knew of her father and many of the kids that were exiled have become part of the elite community, she actually got a call from the Secretary General of the ruling party (who was actually her neighbor and someone she thought of as a friend before) to intimidate her from her activism. Unfortunately it did not stop there. After organizing a protest where they went to an UNESCO office, since the basin is an UNESCO heritage site, a PR person from UNESCO used their profile to get information about Ina Maria. This was a further attempt to intimidate and silence her and her efforts.   

This Canadian company did zero community engagement early on. Without a newspaper article that came out about the fracking, no one in the community would have known. So when they were finally forced to start doing community engagement, Ina Maria went to one of the events. She asked them about their lack of community engagement, putting them on the spot. On her way out, she was approached by two police officers. They wanted to arrest her for causing a disturbance. She said she didn’t know how she got the strength, but she pulled out her phone and started filming them and told them to leave her alone. They got so scared that they let her go. But this was just a start, unfortunately. At COP26 she was chased and intimidated. She was able to speak before Greta Thunberg spoke, and was able to raise awareness about the campaign. After the conferences she had to stay behind for several weeks to do security training and other security measures. Even when she goes to a club or a restaurant she sees people taking photos of her that she knows are part of the oil industry. This happened that week as well during COP28. But no matter the threat and the difficulty, she is not afraid. 

“Fear is not something in our hearts. I don’t even know what fear is. I just know I have to defend my homeland. There is space for a better world.”

Annabelle is then invited back up and is asked to also introduce herself. She is a young woman from Hong Kong who uses music to spread the message about climate change. “Music is always a tool to inspire, to empower people.”

Her second and final song is titled “Heal The World”.

“This event shows me why I am here.” – a man from west Papua says about COP when the floor is opened up for anyone to speak. 

Munene ends the panel part, reminding everyone to “Now give names to environmental defenders…they are not just a statistic”, and to “call out their names when we need courage.” Environmental defenders; “they are just like you and I, but they are not afraid.” Fear isn’t in the vocabulary of environmental defenders. They knowingly put their lives in danger everyday fighting for the environment and the people. But they cannot stop, because if they dont fight, then who will fight for them? They continue to fight after seeing their land destroyed and threatened over and over again. But they prove their immense power and ability to organize, and protect the people and land over and over again. 

For the last five minutes of the event, everyone is asked to stand up and to hold hands with the person to your left and right. We all end up in a big circle of sorts and are led through a spoken meditation. We are all reminded once again of the power love holds in all of us. To use love in our fight and let it flow throughout us as we go into the world. I close my eyes and take in all the feelings and emotions I have felt and seen today. It’s truly beautiful. I may not know the two people I am holding hands with nor all the people in the room personally, but I do know we all hold the same love and want to protect. I leave the room with nothing but hope.

I am a little bit outside the camera view but that’s my hand being held on the right side!

“There is no climate justice without human rights”: The People’s Plenary

By: Emmy Li’25 (she/her)

Grandmother Mary Lyons, Anishinaabe-Ojibwe Elder, from the Indigenous Peoples Organization giving the opening speech at the People’s Plenary.

For the second year in a row, the Swarthmore delegation attended the People’s Plenary, a large gathering of civil society representatives making their voices and demands heard. Similar to COP27, this event was nowhere to be found on the UNFCCC COP28 Daily Programme schedule despite being an official UN sanctioned event. However, after learning of it in group chats, we officially marked it on our calendars and excitedly attended. 

The People’s Plenary, by far, did not disappoint. After spending nearly two weeks sitting in on stalled negotiations or witnessing the constant greenwashing around the venue, it was rejuvenating to hear the voices of those fighting climate change on the frontlines. Representatives from Indigenous Peoples, youth, women and gender constituencies, environmental NGOs, trade unions, and farmers all came together to give impassioned speeches calling for real climate solutions – ones that recognize Indigenous rights, labor rights, land rights, and human dignity. Hearing their voices gave me hope that we will find real solutions to combat climate change. That eventual fossil fuel phase out is possible despite parties blocking it from happening in negotiations currently. 

A noticeable theme across speeches at the People’s Plenary this year was a calling for the immediate ceasefire in Palestine. During the opening speech, the co-chair started by stating that she is from Palestine. Immediately, the whole room erupted into cheers of support and solidarity that continued for more than a minute. The calls for solidarity with Palestinians continued throughout the People’s Plenary, despite the regulations put in place by the UNFCCC Secretariat. I later learned from an organizer with the Climate Action Network (CAN) Australia that protests at COP28 are all strictly approved, controlled, and enforced. In regards to support for Palestine, protestors are not allowed to mention Palestine by name (despite the State of Palestine having a designated pavilion), cannot chant “From the River to the Sea,” and can only call for a “Ceasefire” but NOT “Ceasefire Now”. If protestors violate these restrictions, they risk having their badge taken away and being barred from attending COPs in the future. Despite these restrictions, those who spoke at the People’s Plenary asserted their voices to echo the overall theme that “there is no climate justice without human rights.” 

Image from a protest earlier in the week. Notice how the sign can only display “Ceasefire” but cannot display “Ceasefire Now.”

Given the various moving speeches, I would like to take the rest of this blog post and dedicate it to sharing the voice of the people. Representatives from all across the globe emphasized their extreme frustration with the existing UNFCCC system, a need for a just transition, and an overhaul of the existing capitalist, exploitative system that causes marginalized BIPOC communities to suffer the most at the hands of rich countries in the Global North.

From the Co-Chairs of the People’s Plenary:

  • “There is no climate justice, without human rights” 
  • “Ceasefire Now!” 
  • “What has Palestine got to do with climate change? It has everything to do with climate change! It is the very same system that is responsible for climate change and colonialism.”
Image of a protest from a video that was shown during the People’s Plenary. Given that protestors cannot mention Palestine by name, people have resorted to holding up posters of watermelon as a symbol of Palestinian resistance and persistence.

From the Representatives of the Indigenous Peoples Organizations (IPO) Constituency: 

  • “I am the water and the water is me. I am the fire and the fire is me. I am the air and the air is me. I am the earth and the earth is me.” 
  • “You cannot put a price on humanity and nature.”
  • “Earth, air, fire, water show no prejudice. Greed, greed created that.”
  • “We are the regions [Global South] that have the most killings just because we defend our lands.”
  • “When they talk about nature based solutions, we are part of the relationship with nature to engage in activities. We are the solutions.”
  • “We should stop commodifying indigenous territories, Indigenous lands. We are not an economic resource for the system and we will fight towards the end.”
  • “We are not here as passive observers, but experts, custodians of knowledge.” 

From the Representatives of the Youth (YOUNGO): 

  • Naomi, a 13 year old girl from South Sudan:
    • “I come from a country where children’s rights are being deprived because of flooding.”
    • “We’ve attended 28 COPs but nothing has been implemented from what we speak.” 
    • “If there was action, children wouldn’t die in rural areas, there wouldn’t be hunger in places.”
  • Roa, a youth from Sudan:
    • “An error does not become a mistake until we refuse to correct it.”
    • “If we don’t work together to save the environment, we will be equally extinct.”
Image of a protest from a video that was shown during the People’s Plenary.

From the Representatives of Trade Unions (TUNGO):

  • Joy Hernandez, a trade union worker in the Philippines:
    • “There is no just transition without labor rights.”
    • ”A just transition must be an opportunity to uphold our dignity.”
  • Bert Del Wel, the head of TUNGO:
    • “A just transition is about solidarity and justice. It’s about a decent life and jobs for everyone and everywhere. It’s about justice in and for Palestine. It’s about cooperation and support for equality and protection of the rights of Indigenous Peoples.” 
    • “We need organized workers. We need collective bargaining, social dialogue, and a social protection system to deliver this climate justice.” 

From the Representatives of FARMERS Constituency: 

  • “We need protection of land rights, because land is the fundamental source of life.”
  • “How many people at this COP talk about land as the source of everything we need. They talk about markets. They talk about oil. They talk about money. Yet land is where we are rooted.”
  • “The agribusinesses that are here today trying to say that they provide the solutions to feeding the planet in the place of increasing climate chaos are not the ones providing the real solutions. The small scale farmers are.”
  • “They thought they could bury us, but they didn’t know that we were seeds. And that’s exactly what small scale farmers do. They provide the seeds of the future. When you bury us, we will grow.”
Audio from Ayshka Najib’s speech on behalf of the Women and Gender Constituency

From the Representatives of the Women and Gender Constituency: 

  • “There cannot be climate justice on occupied land.” 
  • “The elephant in the room is demilitarization.” 
  • “We are tired of being your bargaining chips.”
  • “We call resistance. [Repeated in Arabic]. We call liberation. [Repeated in Arabic]. We call equity. [Repeated in Arabic].”
  • “The silence and global north organization in positions of power is unbearable. The limitations on freedom of speech imposed in this space by the UNFCCC are left on the shoulders of the civil society movement is unacceptable and beyond paid for.“

From a Representative of an organization to demand climate justice: 

  • “La tierra no se vende, la tierra se defiende.” 
  • “Nobody is free until everybody is free.”
A hug between Tasmeen Essop, the director of CAN, and the Co-Chair from Palestine.

From the Representatives of Environmental NGOs (ENGO) Constituency: 

  • Tasmeen Essop, director of Climate Action Network and from South Africa:
    • “The governments today are disappointing us and our Palestinians. But it’s the people across the world that are rising up and standing with Palestinians. That is our power. We will not let down our brother and sisters in Palestine, just like we did let down the people in South Africa”
  • Speaker 2: Male representative from the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice:
    • “Their broken promises on climate finance, on equity, and on justice litter 28 COPs. Their empty words no longer fool anyone. But our fight has never simply been about reducing carbon. Our fight has always been about ending injustice and inequity.”
    • “Our goal is to uproot this rotten system and injustice of 500 years of exploitation and extraction.”
    • “Our fight is not just about a just transition.  We want a justice transition. Our fight is a fight for humanity.”
    • “Yes, we say ceasefire now. Yes, we say end the occupation….And yes, we say we want an end to this rotten system. POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” 
The lyrics to the climate anthem that we sang as we marched out of the People’s Plenary.

As the People’s Plenary concluded, the collective call for climate justice continued to echo through the halls of COP. We all marched out of the plenary led by youth activists to a climate parody of the Backstreet Boys’ song “I Want It That Way.” I hope that seeing, reading, and hearing these activists make you feel as empowered as I do for the future of climate action.

The Shifting Sands of COP28

By Prof. James Padilioni, Jr.

Como arena entre los dedos. For some reason, there are certain phrases that strike me as more evocative in my heritage language of Spanish than their translation into English, my dominant tongue. One of these – como arena entre los dedos / like sand between the fingers – describes the futility of exerting more and more energy trying to accomplish something that is fundamentally structured in an antagonistic or unproductive way. 

For the last week I have attended side events, plenary sessions, and policy negotiations at COP28, and despite the goodwill for building sustainable futures carried to Dubai Expo City by many of the over 80,000 registered attendees, all I keep hearing in my head is the endless refrain that so much of the intentions uttered here will amount to nothing more than a Sisyphean effort to grab hold of the earth como arena entre los dedos. Though I strive to model for my students that “my default position is wonder [in the face of the beauty, magic, miracles, and patterns of the world], I am not without critique, disappointment, frustration, and even depression when I contemplate humanity.” 

Prof. Padilioni with Swarthmore-Pomona delegation (and friends!) at COP28

Since the 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement, much fanfare has been made around the target of slashing emissions by half their current rate prior to 2030 in order for humans to have a chance at limiting global average temperature warming to only 1.5°C beyond pre-industrial levels (with a 2.0 degree average warming placed as the upper threshold of acceptability.) However, report after report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the World Meteorological Organization, and other climate science researchers over the course of 2023 in advance of COP28 has continued to sound the alarm that, with our current carbon emission rates, Earth is likely (66%) to exceed the 1.5°C benchmark prior to 2030, despite the now-eight-year global campaign to mitigate this outcome. Additionally, since the 2015 adoption of the Paris Agreement, it has also been known that COP28 would form the first global stocktake, defined by the UNFCCC as “a process for countries and stakeholders to see where they’re collectively making progress towards meeting the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement – and where they’re not.” As an accounting and inventorying measure, the global stocktake was intended to enable the world to “identify the gaps, and work together to chart a better course forward to accelerate climate action.” 

But I am pained to report the global stocktake is, perhaps, the grandest staging of political theater humankind has ever had the opportunity to witness. For eight years now, various carbon markets and other trading schema have emerged to help facilitate a country’s net reduction in fossil fuel emissions so they can meet their obligations according to their nationally determined contributions (NDCs). But, at best, this stocktake is a ruse that, como arena entre los dedos was never intended as a true or accurate accounting measure, as country NDCs and their concomitant stocktake do not account for carbon emissions generated by militarism and warfare. Here, I find myself once again turning to sand as a proverbial figure for human futility: how utterly absurd it is to speak of reducing carbon emissions while simultaneously sticking one’s head in the sand as it relates to the ecological cost of warfare writ large. One cannot claim to care about the environment on one hand, while ignoring a primary vector of environmental degradation on the other. To ignore military fossil fuels on paper, while espousing “net-zero” carbon arrangements via financial and credit instruments is the height of absurdity. The reality of our warming atmospheric condition abides, regardless whether we factor military greenhouse gases into our bookkeeping measures or not. 

Graphic advertising the Peoples Plenary for Climate Justice at COP28

From the Steppes of Eastern Europe to the Levant of the Eastern Mediterranean, and down through the Sudd wetlands of the Upper Nile to the ​​Jebel Marra and beyond, the ecological destruction of warfare is on full display as we “doom scroll” through our social media feeds. As The New York Times has made clear, it should be obvious to any half-aware person that “Wars destroy habitats, kill wildlife, generate pollution and remake ecosystems entirely, with consequences that ripple through the decades.” But that which is seemingly-obvious is often elusive to collective human efforts, and thus, while the UNFCCC climate regime seeks to reign in excessive carbon emissions, warfare and genocide form the durable, though apocalyptic, signs of our times. Since February 2022, the Russian-Ukrainian War has expended over 150 million tons of carbon, or “more than the annual emission of a highly developed country like Belgium” according to Viktoria Kireyeva, Ukraine’s deputy minister of environmental protection and natural resources, who addressed this matter at the COP28 side event, “Climate damage of Russia’s war in Ukraine and the knowledge gap on conflict and military emissions COP28.” Likewise, in just the first month of Israel’s besiegement of Gaza, over 25,000 tons of munitions rained down upon the coastal strip the size of Philadelphia, with a carbon expenditure equalling the “annual energy use of approximately 2,300 homes, or the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from approximately 4,600 passenger vehicles.” And even in so-called peace time, the world’s militaries, with their aircraft, tanks, and weapons, and via their drills, exercises and other daily operations, are estimated to account for 5.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, this is only an estimate because the Paris Agreement contains no operationalized mechanism to provide a true accounting of militarism’s carbon budget. 

Grandmother Mary Lyons, Anishinaabe-Ojibwe Elder, opens the People’s Plenary

But this is not the whole story. Or at least, I refuse to accept that this be the whole story, for I am convinced that hope is the precondition of all social movements for justice. A young activist addressing the crowd gathered for the COP28 People’s Plenary evoked yet another metaphorical figure of sand and soil that also resonates with me more evocatively in Spanish than English, on account of the fact I first learned of this popular Mexican dicho while visiting the revolutionary murals of San Diego’s famous Chicano Park in Barrio Logan. Despite the seemingly-nonstop onslaught of bad news, we must never let ourselves feel beat down, but, rather, remember this truth: they tried to bury us, but they forgot that we are seeds / intentaron de enterrarnos, pero no sabían que somos semillas. While the shifting sands of time and the fog of war obscure our utopian visions for desirable sustainable futures, may we never forget our collective power to sprout, set roots, and flourish. 

COP28 Private Sector Idealism Over Realism

By: Ethan Weiss ’25 (he/him) and Emmy Li ’25 (she/her)

Hi everyone!  While we come to you rather late into the process of this year’s Conference of Parties, we would like to share our thoughts, reflections, and ideas as we wrap up week one of COP28 Dubai.  For those that are not familiar with the UNFCCC and COP, we will do our best to explain!  The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change operates as the international body upon which climate policies are negotiated and adopted.  The Conference of Parties (COP) is an annual two-week convention where all representatives come to ‘finalize’ the year’s worth of smaller discussions into larger bodies of work.  These smaller discussions occur in cities like Bonn, Germany, and New York City, USA, to build negotiations upon previous meetings, set agendas moving forward, and build slowly toward the culminating work that occurs at COP.  While COP is the big summit of this work, it is not just an event.  It is very much a process.  Hannah’s post from earlier last week does a great job explaining this more!

This year, COP28 is characterized by a unique level of controversy due to its host nation.  Dubai is a state (emirate) inside one of the UAE, one of the world’s largest oil exporting countries.  Until very recently, the UAE’s economy has been based solely on its fossil fuel industry.  Development as a world wonder and shifts in investment toward sustainable systems have backed the UAE’s aspirations to be a role model for climate action.  That being said, they still export industry-leading amounts of oil with no plans to stop.

Days before the conference’s official start, the BBC released an investigative report outlining leaked memos that indicate the UAE’s intention of creating new oil deals during the COP’s proceedings. COP President Sultan al-Jaber had long faced criticism for his conflicts of interest as the head of a state-run oil company.  A main agenda piece of COP is solidifying commitments to alternatives to fossil fuels and shifting toward a renewable future.  If the leadership is entrenched in the industry that their conference seeks to absolve, how can they effectively fulfill their responsibility?

These thoughts remain at the forefront of our approach here in Dubai.  Week One consisted of a mix of attending negotiation sessions, protests, and side events in a venue that seems to purposefully isolate these avenues of engagement.  While the locations of these conversations are widely spread, the seemingly constant presence of fossil fuel private sector representatives trips our internal alarms.  Save for the party-only negotiations and informal consultations, there have been executives, representatives, or lobbyists for  pollutive industries at every single event we’ve attended.  This ubiquity is not just anecdotal.  The Associated Press counts a record-setting 1,300 oil representatives registered in attendance at this year’s COP.  This is triple the number from last year at COP27 Sharm-el-Sheikh.  Expo City’s blue zone layout includes one-hundred buildings, which breaks down to an average of thirteen representatives per location.

Hey everyone, Ethan here.  My interests lay primarily within the realm of carbon markets.  Such markets exist at different scales.  Under the UNFCCC, Article 6.4 of the Paris Agreement addresses a forthcoming framework for an international carbon exchange scheme.  There are also voluntary carbon markets (VCM), country- and state-specific compliance markets (Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) and California Air Resources Board (CARB)), and union-level markets such as the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme.  Discussions over non-Article 6.4 matters have occurred at side events in the form of panel discussions.  These panels on voluntary carbon markets have all had a mix of independent research leaders, institutional representatives, and our ever-present fossil fuel lobby.  Their contributions (as our title suggests) are rooted in idealism that lacks substantive backing.  An American oil executive was a panelist at the opening remarks for the thematic day on methane reductions where, upon first opportunity to speak, the conversation shifted to self-congratulatory remarks on their recognition of the need to abate methane emissions.  Their commitments reduce methane, but not GHG emissions overall.  Their comments are framed as “we should” or “we must” in reference to changing fossil fuel dependency.  Their action smells distinctly of self-preservation.

Those that are on the side of creating offset solutions for voluntary carbon markets are at fault as well.  One panel discussion, entitled “The Science Behind Carbon Markets,” was composed of two independent research representatives, a state environmental manager, and two forestry-based offset project firms.  These two private-sector project developers spoke to the successes of their companies and the great potential of carbon sinking in creating forests.  Items left unmentioned by any panelist were the fact that an estimated 80% of carbon offsets from forestry projects are either non-additional, reversed, or leaked to other areas.  Pervasively low prices that do not reflect social costs of carbon were also omitted from the conversation.  With the voluntary carbon market already under great duress from lack of confidence by investors, representing this topic with individuals from projects with arguably the least integrity is not only unhelpful, it’s embarrassing.  Members from a previous panel spoke to the end-goal of uniting voluntary offset projects under a set of identified best-practices such that their contributions would be recognized by international regulatory markets.  If this truly is the anticipated route, someone needs to tell these folks.

Hi! Emmy taking over!  Looking beyond the carbon markets, panels directly engaging in discussions with private sector banking executives do not seem to offer any more hope either.  These executives continue speaking to what should be done rather than what they are doing to fulfill these needs. In an event titled, “Accelerating Private Capital into Nature-based Solution Projects: a multi-stakeholder collaboration approach” in the Capacity Building Hub as part of Private Sector Finance Capacities Day, the speakers from various banks such as Barclays and HSBC came together to discuss how to channel more private capital funding into nature based solution (NbS for short) projects, specifically exploring the Mangrove Breakthrough Initiative created at COP27. However, once again, instead of explaining the process to de-risk the environment to encourage more private sector financing, the panelists focused more on highlighting how the current market into investing into NbS projects does not exist and will likely struggle to exist in the future as projects are not “bankable” in size, in addition to country scope issues. As I walked away from this panel, I was left with a more pessimistic view and one big question as to how to scale up private sector financing: if everyone thinks that private sector financing is supposed to facilitate early activity, where does talk stop being just talk?

We hope that as the conference moves into Week Two, more substantive answers will arise.  Side events seem to take a back seat to the larger negotiations with the shortening timeline, though we will be keeping a keen eye on the contributions of private sector speakers around the conference.  Perhaps their language will become more specific if the higher-level negotiations begin to settle on debates surrounding Paris Articles 6.2, 6.4, and 6.8.  We look forward to keeping track of these discussions.

Till next time,

Ethan and Emmy

Hello from COP28!

Today, the Swarthmore delegation embarked on it’s first day at COP28 in Dubai, United Arab Emirates!

COP28, which officially kicked off on November 30, 2023, stands for the 28th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Sounds simple, right? In reality, it’s incredibly complex, with this title actually referring to negotiations on multiple international climate agreements happening in parallel to each other.

The Swarthmore delegation is attending COP28 with observer badges – a designation that provides the opportunity for those outside of party delegations to essentially observe the negotiations. While this also sounds pretty simple, observers have valuable roles to play in transparency, advocating for certain outcomes, and bringing innovative research and ideas to the table. During the next 12 days, we’ll be navigating the complexity of COP28 to engage on a wide variety of topics and share what we are learn. Check out our first impressions and what we’re looking forward to below. Follow along on this blog for updates from our delegation!

First impressions:

Oviya Kumaran (’24)
“You are able to experience and see so many different aspects of the world of climate action. I got to sit in informal meetings relating to the Green Climate fund and gender and climate change but also attend a panel on the intersectional climate action being done by local communities and indigenous community leaders . Everyone is truly represented in the climate world.”

Emmy Li (’25)
“I am extremely grateful to be a part of Swarthmore’s delegation to COP28 this year! COP is the largest annual climate change conference, and after the first day, it’s been very inspiring to be surrounded by over 70,000+ people who are all passionate about solving the climate crisis. In addition to attending negotiation meetings on the Santiago Network and the Green Climate Fund, I attended a side event titled “Operationalizing the Loss and Damage Fund with Equity and Efficacy” and explored a few country’s pavilions (Palau, China, EU, and Nigeria). Overall, I’ve noticed that while negotiations may progress at a very slow pace, it’s been super rewarding to engage in conversations with fellow attendees to learn more about their background experiences and passions.”

Hannah Ulloa (Climate Action Manager)
“COP is this massive convergence of people and ideas. At first glance, you might think you are witnessing a two-week event with a set beginning and end. But really it’s a culmination of months, even years, of work to move forward on international climate agreements. Every COP builds upon the last, just as every meeting or event you attend while there builds upon the previous one. It’s a fascinating process to follow and incredibly valuable context to discuss climate action on any scale.”

Looking ahead:

Ethan Weiss (’24/25)
“The negotiations that take place over how to proceed with existing protocols, namely Kyoto and Paris, take place across multiple scheduled events that cause pauses in conversation. Such pauses slow the process of mending agreements, though this makes sense given the need for group consensus. Chatting with other observes and folks in the Green Zone has been just as informative as meetings in the Blue Zone, so I look forward to the rest of my time in both!”

Emmy Li
“Throughout the next two weeks, I am most interested in following negotiations and events surrounding climate finance, specifically looking at scaling up finance from all stakeholders from public, private, and multilateral channels for mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damages. It’ll be particularly interesting to see how the details shake out with the L&D fund (such as whether more pledges come in), considering that it was officially operationalized on the first day at COP28.”

Oviya Kumaran
“I’m looking forward to topics related to a just transition, aviation, carbon offsets, the global stocktake, and the role of indigenous groups.”

We Are Not Defeated, And We Will Never Be Defeated: The People’s Plenary.

By: Olivia Fey ’23 (she/her) & Anna Considine ’23 (she/her)

People raising their fists in solidarity in the UN Plenary room.

For the past couple of years, the UN has officially sanctioned an event called the People’s Plenary: a moment for civil society groups to take the main stage at COP and make their voices heard. Despite its importance, this crucial event was nowhere to be found on the official schedule for COP27. By complete accident, Professor Ayse Kaya walked into the Plenary on Thursday. On stage were representatives of Indigenous peoples, trade unions, environmental NGOs, the women and gender constituency, the disability rights movement, and youth. She sent our delegation a text, and we all immediately rushed off to witness this powerful moment.

The People’s Plenary, and the ensuing protest, was by far the most impactful moment of our time at COP so far, moving all of us to the brink of tears. The speeches at the People’s Plenary highlighted the lack of hope and real solutions found in UN deliberation halls. The representatives instead called for real climate solutions that resist colonial, capitalist, patriarchal and ableist structures. Each representative ended their speech by saying the same powerful words of solidarity and strength: “we are not yet defeated and we will never be defeated.”

Jacob Crane of the Tsuut’ina Nation, displaying the flag of his people.
“Reconnecting to your culture is climate action and climate justice.” ~ Jacob Crane

During the speeches, fists rose in the air and people stood up and sang in the otherwise formal, sterile halls of the UN. These moments were made especially powerful in the context of the suppression of activism at COP27. A letter was read out during the People’s Plenary from the mother of the Egyptian activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah, whose imprisonment and hunger strike made headlines at the start of COP. The plenary called for his, and all political prisoners’ release.

While protests at COP27 are meant to be restrained to officially sanctioned events of about a dozen people confined to small platforms, at the end of the session, the crowd marched through the halls of the UN calling for climate justice now. Unified in song with people around the world, we could feel the power, the energy, and the hope that had been lacking throughout the rest of our experience at COP. The protest culminated in a powerful reading of the People’s Declaration for Climate Justice. We ask that you read through this document built out of solidarity between peoples around the world. More importantly, as the representative of the frontline for gender justice asks, “don’t just read our declaration… take action.”

After the Plenary, the crowd took to the area outside of the conference hall, in peaceful protest.

Overwhelmingly, we are left with the feeling that the People’s Plenary is what a plenary at the largest global conference on climate change SHOULD FEEL LIKE. We are currently awaiting the release of the agreements reached at COP27, but we wish to make clear that the real fight, the real solutions, and the place where we must derive our hope comes from the work of the people, not the halls of COP.  

We want to use this blog post to share some of the words of the incredible activists that assertively and bravely took the world stage. Their words speak of extreme disappointment with the progress of the UN negotiations, the violences of the climate crisis already affecting their communities, and their belief in the power of people. We would love to share the link so you all can watch it yourself; however, in-keeping with a running theme of lack of access or transparency at COP27, we cannot find a recording of the event so far.

A flag at the protest, reading “APMDD: Asian Peoples’ Movement on Debt and Development.”

These are the messages of the people: 

From All:

We are not defeated, and we will never be defeated.

From the Representative of Indigenous Peoples:

“Without [Indigenous] leadership, even a nature-based solution becomes another false solution.”

“We demand direct access to resources that uplift our solutions, distinct life ways, worldviews, and Indigenous sciences. Our battles do not begin or end here at COP. When we return to our respective homes, we will continue the real work on the ground. We must pick up the work where states fall short. Supporting the self-determination of Indigenous peoples is the best for all peoples and [the] planet.”

“There is no climate justice without the rights of Indigenous peoples.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Indigenous Peoples:

“Carbon offsets, net zero, and nature based solutions are a new form of colonization that further threaten our communities. These are false solutions.”

“It will be Indigenous and frontline communities that will bring forth the solutions that are needed.”

From the Representative of the Women & Gender Constituency:

“They may have drawn imaginary borders to divide us [and] color to segregate us, but they will not be able to break the collective power of our voices.”

“The chains of oppression must be broken.”

“We will not support your predatory economic system for greed and opulence.”

“We will rise like the water. We will stand strong as mountains. Our voices will be lifted by the wind. Our collective power will burn as brightly as fire.”

From the Representative of the Frontline for Gender Justice:

“We may sound loud in this room, yet we are not a part of any decision making.”

“Despite all these beautiful speeches on gender on gender day, gender is still not on the agenda. We are still not a priority.”

“When we ask for climate justice, do you think we are beggars asking for pity? Do you think that we want more loans and debt? Do you think that local communities do not have local solutions?”

From the Representative of Trade Union NGOs:

“[We] are paying a high price for lack of decisive leadership on climate action. […] We demand more.”

“We say no more. We urgently need a just transition. We ask for mitigation and adaptation, loss and damage mechanisms, all debts paid in the Global South. Just transition needs workers at the table. Others should not decide about our future. Labor rights are human rights.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Workers’ Rights:

“We want to […] be independent, to be able to move forward as the working class of Africa, the Global South. We are not victims or beggars. We are demanding what is ours.”

“This is a class on whose back renewable technologies and the future for a green life are being based on. This is a class that may never have access to renewable energy, a class that will never have dignified work and will continue to be under the dark mines of Africa. […] As trade unions, we are here to warn and to caution that we must not repeat the history of the mining sector of our continent.”

“We demand to participate in a formal social engagement framework.”

From the Representative(s) of Environmental NGOs:

Speaker 1:

“We endorse this declaration. We do so because our people are suffering across the world. Their suffering and their vulnerability to climate change is caused by the structural injustices of economic and political systems.”

Speaker 2:

“We should not be surprised that for two weeks, those leaders of rich countries have been saying they believe in science, saying they believe in [the] 1.5[°C global warming limit], that they care. We are absolutely sick of their empty words – hypocritical words – and outright lies.”

“We have always known one truth: that this fight will never be won in the negotiating halls. It will only be won by the power of our movement […]. They treat the lives of our sisters and brothers as disposable. For us, they are non-negotiable.”

“We stand in defense of the 1.5 [limit], beyond which will be a death warrant for millions of people across the world. We believe as people we need to stand in solidarity to build a future of peace and justice. We believe it is only through the power of people that we can build a better world for all. We are unstoppable.”


From the Representative of the Struggle for Youth Justice:

“How do we find hope when our current and future world is on fire? […] We practice hope every day because we don’t have an alternative.”

“Every thought and action has a collective impact. Collective drops create rivers, and rivers carve canyons. We can change the world.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Climate Justice:

“We cannot continue going forth without looking at what brought us here today. We blame [climate change] on colonialism, on patriarchy. These systems must be changed […] before we can start talking about climate change.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Environmental & Racial Justice:

“We have to repair our ecology and we have to repair our relationships with each other. We have to love each other.”

“We have nothing to lose but our chains.”

From the Representative of the Disabled Rights Movement:

“I will be brief in my statement, but not as brief as [the mention of] disabled people in the Paris Agreement.”

“Like climate change, disabled people have been left behind.”

“No human rights without disability rights. There is no climate justice without disability justice. Nothing about us, without us.”

From the Representative of the Frontline Struggle for Disability Rights:

“When I left the safety of home, I realized my colonization had affected my ability to recognize that I was not the problem, but the systems were.”

From the Family of Egyptian Activist Alaa Abd el-Fattah:

“Show us every day what courage and determination look like.”

“[There is a] shared pain of those who believe in a better world.”

“You told us we are your family; our pain is your pain. You made no empty promises. You simply told us that we stand with you.”

“Everyday, we survive. We matter, just like every tenth of a degree matters.”

“Together we can break the walls of fear. Our horizon is freedom for all.”

Chants Filling the Plenary:

“The people, united, will never be defeated!” / “El pueblo, unido, jamas sera vencido!”

“Free Alaa; free them all.”

“Solidarity forever.”

“Power to the people.”

“When the world that we know is under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

“We are the people / The mighty, mighty people / Fighting for justice / And for liberation / Everywhere we go / The people ought to know / Who we are / Who we are / So, we tell them / …” (repeat)

Thank you enormously for taking the time to read the voice of the people.

Signing off,

Olivia & Anna <3

Banner at the protest, reading “our sky, water, soil & forests are not for sale.”

Please note: we transcribed these quotes during the Plenary to the best of our ability, but they may not be perfect as a result. In any case, we hope to have accurately captured the sentiments of these powerful activists.

Additional resources:

Memorable Moments for Week 2

By Hannah Ulloa (she/her), Swarthmore Climate Action Manager

Today is the last scheduled day of COP 27 and though negotiations are ongoing, it’s a great opportunity to take note of the most memorable experiences for our Swarthmore delegation so far.

What we are seeing:

An expansive conference location that is bustling with activity every moment of the day.

Gathering spaces and negotiation rooms where world leaders are discussing and debating global climate agreements.

Individuals and communities from all over the world coming together to raise a common call for urgent climate action.

Who we are learning from:

Environmental Justice pioneers, like Dr. Robert Bullard.

Indigenous leaders, environmentalists and advocates.

Scientists and policy-makers for a range of climate issues including climate resilience and finance.

Where we are exploring:

The cultural context in the surrounding city of Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

The experiential art and sustainability interventions in the “Green Zone” area of COP 27.

To be clear, it’s difficult to identify a moment that is NOT memorable, but I’ve captured some of the highlights and given you a window into the COP27 experience. Stay tuned for more in-depth updates from our Swarthmore delegation this week!

Hold On… What Even is the UNFCCC COP27?

By Anna Considine ’23 (she/her) & Olivia Fey ’23 (she/her)

The Week 2 delegation has officially arrived at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt! After receiving our official observer badges, learning to navigate the maze inside the conference center, and taking in the whirl of events and negotiations to attend, we have successfully made it through our first two days. Before diving into our reflections and takeaways of our experience, we want to sloooowwww doowwwnnnn for a second and talk about what exactly is this conference that we’re attending?

Your week 2 student delegates, Olivia Fey ’23 (left) & Anna Considine ’23 (right)

What is the UNFCCC?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international treaty that binds its signatories to cooperate in limiting global temperature increases and address the adverse effects of climate change that have not been successfully avoided. Adopted in 1992, there are currently 197 signatories: 196 individual countries and the European Union (EU), which ratified the convention as a bloc. 

“The ultimate objective of this Convention … is to achieve … stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system. Such a level should be achieved within a time-frame sufficient to allow ecosystems to adapt naturally to climate change, to ensure that food production is not threatened and to enable economic development to proceed in a sustainable manner.” ~ Article 2, UNFCCC

So… what is a COP?

All parties to the UNFCCC meet annually for a Conference of the Parties (COP) to agree on actions to implement commitments. The COP is the supreme decision making body of the UNFCCC. The two most commonly highlighted agreements you may have heard of that have risen out of COPs are: 


Adopted in 1997 and entered into force in 2005, the Kyoto Protocol is a treaty that commits developed country parties (those historically responsible for high atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations) to reduce their emissions by a certain percentage over various commitment periods. 


Adopted in 2015, the Paris Agreement aims to:

a. Hold the increase in global average temperature well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels, recognizing that this would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change

b. Increase the ability to adapt to the adverse impacts of climate change and foster climate resilience and low greenhouse gas emissions development, in a manner that does not threaten food production.

c. Make finance flows consistent with a pathway towards low greenhouse gas emissions and climate-resilient development. 

Today, parties that are signatories to the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement meet annually to review progress and amend the documentation. 

A Disclaimer…

Before continuing, it is important to note that there are many differing viewpoints on the successes and failures, efficiencies and inefficiencies of COP. We are approaching COP from a more critical viewpoint… does its structure allow for the adequate representation of historically and currently marginalized voices? Are developing nations really able to have the same footing in climate negotiations as the high-polluting, control-heavy developed nations? Are non-state actors and activists able to have an influential role in the COP process? These issues have been brought up since the beginning of COPs.

But enough with the history… what’s actually going on right now?

… and what’s COP27?

COP27 is this year’s COP, taking place in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt. The official COP27 website broadly states the mission of this year:

“To accelerate global climate action through emissions reduction, scaled-up adaptation efforts and enhanced flows of appropriate finance. We recognize that ‘just transition’ remains a priority for developing countries worldwide” (COP27). 

In our experience, this COP definitely feels like an “implementation” COP. From past years, agreements have been made and goals have been set, but negotiations this year seem focused on ironing out the details of how to actually implement those decisions. 

For example, during COP26 in Glasgow, there were crucial debates over the topic of loss and damages, wherein developing countries were pushing for the recognition that adaptation is not enough when places around the world are experiencing the violences of climate change right now. These discussions are definitely ongoing at COP27; however, focus has shifted to how to actually distribute and reduce barriers to accessing finance. Currently, small communities are struggling to access even the finance that is available, and determining who is most in need of finance is still a contentious issue. Pakistan especially has been asserting their voice at COP this year in the wake of devastating floods through 2022. Despite their vulnerability to climate change, however, they are definitely not at the top of any financing lists as Adnan Khan, a youth delegate from Pakistan made clear at a panel in the Climate Justice Pavilion.

Adnan Khan (second from the right) at the Climate Justice Pavillion Event, Environmental Racism, Local Community Resilience, and the Humanitarian Imperative (USAID).

A further example comes from Dr. Ma Laurice Jamero from the Phillipines who described how her island was devastated by Supertyphoon Rai. While some funding was provided by the World Bank, it was far from sufficient. When they requested more funding, they were instead greeted with instructions on how to create a project proposal. 

 Dr. Ma Laurice Jamero, third from the left, at the Ocean Pavilion event, What’s at Risk: Defining Resiliency in a Rising Sea

How are we here?

Swarthmore College was granted NGO observer status to the UNFCCC COP in 2013. Since then, delegations of students, faculty, and staff have been sent to observe the negotiations that are attempting to combat the climate crisis. While the success of these agreements is questionable and COP itself is flawed in many ways, observing the attempts at international collaboration is an incredible opportunity.

Who else is here?

SO many people, to put it bluntly. COP is packed with 200+ national delegations of country representatives, leaders in international businesses, intergovernmental organizations, observers like us trying to absorb as much information as possible, and tons of media personnel. This year was anticipated to be the largest COP in terms of attendees, with ~35,000 people all in all in Sharm El-Sheikh over the two-week span of the conference. Although the pavilions and plenaries of COP are in reality quite spacious, the sheer number of people creates a chaotic environment, with people hustling and bustling between back-to-back meetings, panels, speeches, and other events. 

A courtyard at the conference center, filled with people rushing between events and stopping for frequent cups of coffee

What are these other (arguably more important) people doing here?

There are many different types of events at COP, several of which happen at the same time, making it absolutely impossible for anyone to attend everything. Simultaneously, with negotiations between delegations, private meetings between representatives, side events hosted by non-government organizations (NGOs), activist gatherings, etc, there are an extraordinary number of simultaneous events occurring at any given time throughout the conference days. Here is a brief rundown of the different kinds of events that go down at COP:


  • Plenary meetings: these are open to all attendees. Each national delegation has to meet in plenary in order to adopt agendas, agree on other procedural matters, and adopt decisions or conclusions. 
  • Contact groups: these are open to all parties, but not necessarily to observers (like us). The COP may decide that certain agenda items merit further discussion because they are likely to lead to or play a big role in the overarching COP decision, and so smaller discussions known as contact groups are set up. 
  • Note: there are several other event types including bilaterals, drafting groups, informal consultations or spin-off groups, stocktaking meetings, etc.
Above: Example of a negotiation – delivery of national statements in the plenary. Observers are more physically distanced from the speakers, which are country representatives.

Events alongside the negotiations:

  • Side events: opportunities for parties and observers to share their views and work at the meeting venue. Observer organizations also hold ‘unofficial’ side events outside the COP venue to open the discussion to people who do not have UNFCCC accreditation (these occur in the Green Zone, rather than the Blue Zone, which is where the negotiations between national delegations occur).
  • Workshops: These events are not a space for negotiations but are meant to support the negotiation process. They may be set up as a way to share experiences, gain clarity on an issue from technical experts, and/or brainstorm about an issue with a view to inform or advance negotiations.
  • Press conferences: used to raise the profile of a particular issue in the talks (these are oftentimes webcast and can be found online if you are interested!)
Above: Side Event: Indigenous Knowledge in Global Climate Science, Policy, and Action. Observers are positioned closer to the speaker, unlike in many negotiation events.

Now that we’ve laid out what exactly COP27 is all about, we’re excited to bring you our reflections, insights, and updates through the week. Stay tuned for more content to come. Thank you so much for taking the time to read.

Signing off,

Olivia & Anna

Anna Considine (Left) and Olivia Fey (Right), your week 2 student delegates

Source for UNFCCC COP history and logistics: International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Becoming a UNFCCC delegate: what you need to know. October 2016. 

Nothing for Us, Without Us

by Chris Stone ’23 (he/they)

Let me start off by following up on a few of the things I was looking for in my last blog post:

  1. Yes, I did find a handful of other peers from Myanmar.
  2. Yes, I did find a better understanding of why it matters that I attended this conference.

The two are closely tied. After panels, there’s often space made for the audience to pose questions to the panelists or contribute comments based on the topics raised. Through these opportunities, I spoke about issues concerning Myanmar and it’s people, both within the country and outside of it. It was a chance to bring to light that even if we aren’t being brought to the table, our voices should still be heard. I’m reminded of the slogan that across the Pakistan Pavilion.

The slogan, “What goes on in Pakistan won’t stay in Pakistan”.

The mentality by those in positions of power that the issues they’ve caused within the sacrifice zones, ones they benefit from, won’t have any negative repercussions disregards the ways we are inextricably linked. The climate catastrophes in the Global South and reconstructions of the Global South won’t stay there either. As to the campaign led by the Climate Action Network International (CAN-I) on Friday: The Flood Is Coming, and that means to everywhere.

Similar to the pavilions themselves, sharing my voice publicly at the conference drew others toward me. At first, those people included high schoolers to professionals interested in what I was sharing about heritage, (climate) refugees, and food systems. Until finally, after one event, I met several friends from Myanmar at once working on issues from indigenous advocacy to climate finance. I was overjoyed, even while we had to jump between English and Burmese to keep up the conversation, to meet others also conscious of how often topics around climate change are quick to brush over the needs of people in Myanmar. It gave me clarity that the direction I have been heading in hasn’t been for nothing after all.

Having lunch with my new friends from Point Myanmar, an advocacy group for indigenous peoples in Myanmar. I had the chance to have some homemade lahpet thoke!

It also became clear to me how my platform can be used to share information that those who remain in the country may not be able to speak up about without risking their livelihoods. This was a harder thing to face, both that as diaspora I had the power to address a particular leverage point at the seams of systems of oppression, and that it might mean all the longer that I am unable to go back.

I think back to how I felt when I first learned the term transgender. Joy: the past fourteen years of my life finally made sense. Fear: the rest of my life will be spent facing discrimination.

Joy: I have a whole community and history of trans folx to stand alongside.

It may be a long time till I return to Myanmar… but as I eat lunch alongside the Asian Pacific Islander Caucus, where uncles and aunties have brought back food they cooked back in the places they’re staying, I know that home is here too.

A mix of goodies including: Laphet Thoke from Myanmar, a “Filipino dish made with Malaysian ingredients that tastes Nepali”, and both white and purple rice.

The networks that others had been connecting me to while I had been searching for others from Myanmar were not for nothing either. Through them, I found opportunities to participate in some of the demonstrations happening around the conference. In these messages, I learned that the venue had designated action zones and that these actions had received approval from the UNFCCC, though I’m not sure how many action zones there are, where they all are, or how many actions actually receive approval.

At the Asian Pacific Youth meet up!

The majority of demonstrations I saw took place at “Action Zone 1”, right by the entrance, though I saw demonstrations at two other locations. Primarily led by BIPOC folx, they were for the purposes of demanding loss and damage finance or climate reparations or for demanding an end to fossil fuels. The two I participated in were organized around youth and Asian identities.

Asian People’s Movement Loss and Damage Demonstration

As soon as we showed up, signs were handed out to us, so we could jump right in. One person would take point on the mic, explaining the purpose of this demonstration, sharing chants with the rest of the rally, and passing off the mic to others to share their stories. Stories that showcased how the people experiencing the very worst of climate change are the least responsible for it. Sometimes people would jump in to share chants from their own related movements, and I don’t just mean in terms of campaigns, but also cultural songs and dance of political resistance.

The People!


Will Never Be Defeated!

During the demonstrations, I had men touch and move my body without my consent. There were men who would repeatedly move me out of the way to get a closer shot of someone else, or raise a camera directly into my face, or grab the sign I held beyond my reach, only to hand it back to me once their colleague was done taking a photo of them. Even while feeling empowered to be in solidarity, I marveled in the ways our actions seemed to be interpreted as a photo op.

Despite being surrounded by cameras, I heard some organizers reflect that they themselves were unable to take any photos because reporters and passersby were blocking organizers from getting to each other. They would just have to hope that they’d get photos later. As someone without mainstream social media personally, I still found pictures of me online.

No more blahblahblah

Loss and Damage Finance Now!

At one panel, an executive from a Big Tech company expressed:

Maybe it’s a good thing that the conference is taking place in countries like Egypt, and should continue to do so. It forces global leaders to see what it’s like on the ground and it will motivate them to actually take action.

Unfortunately, I cannot help but disagree. The Global North already takes their chances to travel to the Global South as an opportunity to engage in the tourism economy (or even the more philanthropic “voluntourism”) that perpetuates the commodification of cultures and is not doing anyone favors. As we see this conference stress test the capacity of Egypt to respond to the high expectations of leaders and delegates from the luxuries of “developed” countries in the Global North, I would be pained to see this repeated again and again across the Global South. Frankly, people from the Global South and reconstructions of the Global South in the Global North have been stating clearly for decades what the circumstances are like as a consequence of climate change. Instead of coming into our homes and gawking, listen to us. These people do not exist to perform as trauma porn just so that the Global North will take us seriously.

Pay Up!

Pay Up!

Pay Up for Loss and Damage!

It’s true that developed countries are the most responsible for climate change, that’s why they’ve been given the responsibility to take leadership in reducing their impact. However, so long as they remain accountable to themselves, the conversations will keep centering their issues foremost conference after conference. I believe that if instead, the so-called “developing” countries, countries treated as “poor” when we are rich in our own ways, were centered in leadership, then there would be no COP27. We might have resolved this all a long time ago.

A loss and damage demonstration on the way from the pavilions to the plenary rooms.

You giant carbon emitters, you owe us this money!… Let’s not go to COP28 with the same conversations! For how long are we going to talk about climate finance? Every COP, every COP we get and have conversations, same conversations! Can we get done with climate finance on COP27, please? Next year, COP28, let’s have other conversations! We can’t keep talking about the same. We are wasting time, resources, money, everything, we are wasting a lot of time. It’s overdue. This money will help a lot of countries that have a lot of loss and damage. Please pay up today! Thank you.

Transcription from the demonstration

Also, make sure to check out the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Key Takeaways on Climate Finance:

Climate change will not be solved by financial mechanisms – they are a cause of it. Real solutions foreground Indigenous Peoples and Mother Earth, not financial institutions.