Sadly, today is our last day at COP23! We arrived to an increasingly empty Bonn Zone as pavilions were wrapping up their programming for the week. It was a stark contrast to the chaotic excitement that we experienced earlier in the week. The day felt calm and subdued and lent itself well to some reflection on our week at the conference.
Experiencing a COP is unlike anything I could have imagined. It was exciting, inspiring, challenging, and exhausting all at once. The opportunity to immerse myself every day for a week in learning and discussing climate policy and action was instrumental in helping me gain a new understanding of where we stand and where we need to go as a global community. I was surprised at the amount of organizing that goes into such an event at this scale and the sheer expense of it all. At times the conference felt superfluous. Did we really need all that free coffee and chocolate? How many resources went into building a conference space that saw over 20,000 people pass through its walls? I’m still not sure how I feel about all the money and resources that surely must go into putting on such an event every year, but I do know that gathering together as a global community on climate change is a necessary and valuable endeavor. It encourages knowledge sharing, collaboration and enables the critical task of negotiating international agreements. Despite the fact that my experience at COP was so valuable to me personally and academically, I have concerns - and many of these concerns were discussed in our first event of the day in the German Pavilion on climate diplomacy in a post-Paris world.
From L to R: Moderator, Ambassador Jumeau, Krishneil Narayan from Climate Action Network, Peter Fischer of the German Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister Sopoaga
This side event was one of the most impactful events I attended during my week at the COP. The panelists included the Prime Minister of Tuvalu, the UN Ambassador from the Seychelles, an official from the German foreign ministry, and the director of the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network. In some of the most passionate and engaging remarks I heard this week, Ambassador Jumeau criticized the climate “inaction” of the Bula zone, the lack of urgency of Western climate professionals, and the condescending treatment of island states, while advocating for a better integration of youth in climate action. This was followed by Prime Minister Sopoaga calling for action to help those most vulnerable to climate change - the Pacific Islands. They made clear that while the Pacific Islands are most vulnerable to climate change impacts, they are at the center of climate action - they are leaders, innovators, and pioneers and should not be viewed narrowly as victims (which is a role that some at this COP has subscribed to them). Ambassador Jumeau said, “We cannot afford for this to be an academic exercise”. He elaborated that he is not interested in seeing people getting doctoral degrees in human impacts from climate change - it is almost demeaning because people are really suffering and losing their livelihoods.
This event caused me to think more critically about how this COP was conducted - how was Fiji and fijian culture represented while holding the COP Presidency, whose voices were amplified and whose were not, and what role does/should academia play in the subject of climate change? While I have been skeptical about the efficacy of academic work to actually translate in helping people in areas such as climate change impacts, this discussion problematized the issue even further. I do believe that the work that we do at institutions like Macalester is important, but is not the most important when it comes to climate action.
This is something that I will continue to think critically about the rest of my time at Mac and into my future career.
Photos: From upper left to lower right - Fiji Pavillion, Trying out VR glasses in the Fiji Pavilion, Negotiation meeting during the last day, Christmas decorations at the central train station in Cologne