Editor’s note: UConn@COP25 Fellows were asked to share their first impressions of their experience at the COP after the first two days of the conference. Here’s what they had to say:
42 Hours in Madrid – Louanne Cooley
Approaching Environmental Issues on an Individual Level – Sarah Schechter
The Impacts of Climate Change on Moana and Pacific Island Nations – Lauren Pawlowski
Thinking Beyond Borders & Labels – The Reality of Climate Migration – Megan Ferris
Commonalities across Cultures: Injustice for Identity Minorities – Xinyu Lin
Additionality a Must for Carbon Offsets – Hope Dymond
42 Hours in Madrid
Louanne Cooley – JD, School of Law
As I write this, it’s 1 AM and we’ve been in Spain for about 42 hours. Every minute here reveals greater depth and texture as I come to know more about this remarkable group of students, faculty and staff, all learning together about the complex issues around climate change, and all committed to expanding our role as citizens working for solutions.
That we are here at all speaks to that commitment. UNFCC COP25 was originally to be hosted by Brazil, but with the election of a populist president a year ago, they withdrew. Chile stepped into the gap so the conference could still be held in South America, but the civil unrest in October of this year caused Chile to pull out too. With a month to go before the conference, Spain worked with Chile to provide a venue, and people worldwide scrambled to change travel plans to make it work. It’s a testament to how important these issues are that we are all here, eager to talk, listen, learn and take action, but many could not travel to Spain, and it is important to recognize that their voices won’t be heard this year.
The staff at UConn’s Office of Sustainability made a heroic effort to get us here, changing flights, finding new accommodations, making sure we would still have access. We arrived excited and grateful for the opportunity. After taking in the artistic treasures of Spain at the Prado and wandering the rainy streets of Madrid sampling tapas and churros yesterday, today was all business. We arrived at IFEMA Feria de Madrid early Monday having picked up our passes yesterday evening. The COP25 organizers have pulled off a real coup managing to move the venue from Chile to Madrid with a little over four weeks to completely revamp and reorganize. We jumped right in to attend side events, visit pavilions, and most importantly, meet people and learn about their ideas.
I’m a law student at UConn Law working at the Center for Energy & Environmental Law so I was eager to learn about legal frameworks for implementing climate action. The EU pavilion hosted a side event, Fighting Climate Change: The Legislative Response addressing a proposed EU Climate Change Law. Yvon Slingenberg, Director of International, Mainstreaming and Policy Coordination at the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) in the European Commission, talked about a proposal to implement a system of tariffs on goods coming from countries that have failed to make their emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. That would be real change in policy to put a financial penalty on countries doing business in Europe to force climate accountability. I’m eager to learn more about the EU Climate Change Law and watch how it is debated and what provisions are enacted in the weeks to come.
In addition to the law surrounding climate change, I am also interested in how climate issues are communicated, especially to people without a science or technical background. One way to do this is through art. I’m a knitter and I’ve been involved with a global project originating in the US called the Tempestry Project. Conceived by Emily McNeil, Justin and Marissa Connelly of Anacortes, Washington, a Tempestry is created using climate data to make a visual representation of temperature change as fiber art. For the last month, I’ve been working on a “Global New Normal” Tempestry using annual deviation from average temperature from 1880 to the present and inspired by Dr. Ed Hawkin’s warming stripes climate visualization work. Working on the project is a way to engage with the process of temperature rise which isn’t really perceptible on a day to day basis. Watching the years of progress as I knit, the darker blues dropping out to be replaced by lighter colors, then darker and darker reds, it is impossible to ignore how our planet has changed. I had a chance to talk to Rahul Bansal of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat at the UNFCCC Pavilion about the project and showed him my work. Seeing and touching the Tempestry is a very powerful way to connect with what can be an abstract process. Rahul was so taken with the project that he thought the UN might be interested in displaying Tempestry next year at COP26 in Glasgow. Being able to connect to people is one of the huge benefits of being here at COP25. Many of the speakers I heard today made the point over and over that climate change is about people. Solutions need to be people focused and need to reach everyone. Everyone has a role to play, whether as a scientist, policy maker, educator or citizen in accepting responsibility and working for change.
It’s now Tuesday and after a few brief hours of rest, we are back at COP25. Today there are more pavilions to visit, events to attend, and people to talk to. So many people to talk to with ideas and hopes and fears, willing to listen to each other and work together. That really is the most hopeful part of being here, surrounded by people, all in it together. It is time for action!
Louanne Cooley is a third-year student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She is a research assistant at the Center for Energy and Environmental Law at UConn Law and is pursuing a Certificate in Energy and Environmental Law. Follow Louanne on Twitter @louanne_cooley and on Instagram @louanne.at.cop25
Approaching Environmental Issues on an Individual Level
Sarah Schechter – BA Environmental Studies and Anthropology
We constantly hear the phrase “think globally, act locally,” but how do we actually put that into practice? When we act on a local level we are trying to benefit the town or municipality that we are working with, but what if that’s still too large of a scope?
Walking into Day 1 of COP25 I was unsure of what to expect, in awe of the bright lights and intricate booths. One was made from cardboard, another had a wall of plants, and still another had a giant Earth sitting in a dish of ice.
I made my way to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) booth, prepared to discuss volunteering with them later in the week. I was then introduced to the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Dr. Youba Sokona, who asked the group “What are you doing on an individual level?” We started to answer with what was being done in our communities, but he adamantly asked again, “But what are you doing?”
I chimed in with what I try to do on a regular basis and he seemed satisfied. However, this spurred my mind in the direction of how we go about solving daunting environmental issues. Perhaps we aren’t breaking them down enough, clouded by the anxiety of the terrifying concepts.
Later I attended a side event titled, “Global climate action: Indigenous rights, territories and resources” in which the Director of Energy 2050 posed a similar question. He looked at the room full of international individuals, all with diverse backgrounds spurred by different interests, and he asked, “What are you doing?” He followed this with encouragement to go out and educate the world, echoing with the idea to “Do your part.”
There it was again, a reminder for individual action and that everyone’s contribution matters when combating climate change.
Another side event, “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” focused on the production and consumption of food around the world. Plant-based diets were heavily discussed by the panelists, who supported the act of becoming vegan or vegetarian for health and environmental purposes. Deputy Director of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Zitouni Ould-Dada, said that the responsibility is on the people. He made it clear that he was not there to force anyone to switch to a plant based diet, but he reminded the room that each person decides what they choose to eat. While there was some controversy regarding this statement, due to socioeconomic factors that can take away choices, he still brought up the idea of individual action.
In one day, I heard about approaching environmental issues on an individual level three times. Clearly, there is the desire to break down problems surrounding climate change into more manageable tasks. While I personally think that acting on a larger scale is still valid and important, because it allows for a broader response, I do see why individual action must still be present in the conversation. I look forward to the rest of my time at COP25 and I wonder when the call for individual action will be mentioned again.
Sarah Schechter is a junior from Danbury, CT, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology.
The Impacts of Climate Change on Moana and Pacific Island Nations
Lauren Pawlowski – BA Environmental Studies and BS Economics
In the first hour I spent at COP25, I felt lost. This is my first time at a conference this huge and important; I didn’t want to miss out on any chance to listen to world leaders, talk to representatives of international organizations, and see all of the exhibits. There were so many events happening all at once — I couldn’t decide where to head first. However, I quickly figured out where to go to see each country’s exhibit space or “pavilion” and where to listen to panel speakers at the side events.
Part of the magic of COP is finding out about little happenings from talking to different people you meet. Towards the end of the day, a group of the UConn@COP25 Fellows and I were tired, hungry, and mentally drained, but we met a funny man from the Himalayas who convinced us to stay longer.
He told us about his work in planting millions of mangrove trees in the Pacific Islands region and why this was so important to restoring coastal ecosystems and maintaining indigenous communities. His passion for the oceans drew us to stay and participate in the ceremonial welcome event at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion, which was happening in 10 minutes. It started out with the island natives performing songs and saying blessings in their indigenous languages. They also taught us traditional greetings in these languages as well. I quickly learned that the term “moana” is used to describe the sea or the ocean and that these island communities from countries like Fiji, New Zealand, and Tuvalu are very proud to be presenting a unified front focused on the importance of oceans at COP25.
In a collective communal prayer, they were thankful for having representation from the island countries, for being in a space to talk and share experiences, and for the opportunity to connect with as many people as they could at this event. It surprised me how welcoming they were to all, even though their island nations and tribal communities are facing the worst effects of climate change, including sea level rise and collapse of coastal ecosystems. They were insistent on having everyone try the kava drink, which is a tea-like beverage often used for medicinal purposes in Fiji, and on taking a group photo with flowers in our hair.
While this welcoming ceremony was peaceful and sweet, the UConn Fellows and I learned more about the issues the islands face when talking to the delegate from Fiji. He told us how frustrated his community was with the conversations at COP; he believed they were too focused on emissions reductions and energy. He told us that his goal for this conference was to add the topic of oceans to the mix, because he said that without protecting aquatic animals, plants, and the coastal ecosystems, indigenous communities could lose their livelihoods. Everyone around the world relies on the ocean for fish, other food products, recreation, and ecosystem services. He said even if we prevent emissions we must also prevent ocean pollution and degradation. Without this, the world will face legal challenges to deal with climate migration of island communities. One of the closing remarks at the ceremony was from the Fiji representative, who spoke about how we are all in a collective canoe, which “takes the message of our people, of our life, of our ancestors” and how we must join in this canoe together and share experiences to tackle the climate issues along this journey.
We cannot forget the voices of indigenous communities and the sinking islands around the world. We must not only prevent climate change, but also protect existing aquatic and coastal ecosystems for a socially and environmentally sustainable future.
Lauren Pawlowski is a sophomore from Shelton, CT. She is pursuing a BA in Environmental Studies and a BS in Economics as part of the UConn Honors Program. Follow her on Twitter for the latest COP25 updates @laurepawlowski
Thinking Beyond Borders & Labels – The Reality of Climate Migration
Megan Ferris – BS Environmental Science
What I was most excited about seeing at COP was the involvement and discussions of climate migrants. During previous years at the COP, the term “climate migrant” wasn’t mentioned quite as much as it already has been in several of the opening panel discussions at COP25. The concept of environmental migration — a very politically — and socioeconomically-charged issue has been swept under the rug. But as our seas rise, more people from island nations and coastal communities are being forced to move inland or to mainland countries to look for new homes -two examples of this displacement are the Carteret Islanders and the people of Bangladesh.
After just the first day at COP, and with a hopeful mindset, I attended two side events revolving around issues of environmental migration. At one of the events, the speakers brought up a new potential solution called the Nansen Climate passport, which would secure migrants’ access to Germany and remarked, “at least the kinks start the discussion.” This acknowledges the importance of beginning the conversation about new solutions and getting past the hurdle of inaction, despite the challenges and issues that will inevitably occur.
Another aspect of this issue I found interesting was the notion of clear and unambiguous terminology. Referring to “climate-induced migrants” directly assigns responsibility and raises awareness about the consequences of climate change, especially as they affect populations that have had so little to do with causation. I find that accepting responsibility is something many countries fail to do.
With this in mind, it would help to observe the inter-sectional realities of a country’s citizens, including environmental migrants, who were forced to leave their homeland, and shouldn’t be penalized or criminalized for doing so.
The panel brought up a point that I appreciated, which was to “think beyond borders, beyond labels, and as a global community.” No one wants to leave their own home, and as the number of climate-induced migrants increases each year, we need to start raising awareness and motivating more solutions to this complex interdisciplinary issue. We need to make sure that climate-induced migrants of the world are protected. As I continue my experience at COP25, I hope to see more discussion and solutions proposed!
Megan Ferris is a senior from Danbury, CT and class of 2020 Environmental Science Major/ Animal Science Minor
Commonalities Across Cultures: Injustice for Identity Minorities
Xinyu Lin – BS Civil Engineering
The American environmental movement is not secretive about its lack of diversity in leadership. Despite recent pushes to increase representation for identity minorities in decision-making positions, the gender and racial gap is undeniable. Women of color are left unheard while suffering the heaviest effects from the climate crisis.
As my third day at COP25 ends, I’m left reflecting on how diversity & representation issues appear across different cultures. It might seem obvious that there are marginalized groups in every country, but I’m well-aware that my understanding of equitable participation is heavily rooted in the uniquely diverse makeup of America. These past few days at COP have provided me with a privileged opportunity to interact with people in other countries experiencing climate injustice first-handedly, and to thoughtfully process these ideas in conversations with other UConn@COP Fellows.
A side event I attended titled “Indigenous Women: Frontline Defenders in the Fight Against Climate Change,” featured women with origins ranging from Tanzania to Myanmar sharing their experiences as leaders at the front lines of the climate emergency. Even in these countries with racial homogeneity and defining cultural identity, indigenous women are the pillars of community and hold sacred knowledge on medicinal practices, ecology, and food production. As Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact said, “we are the ones who protect the land, and who have been doing it for a long time.” Her voice is a reminder of the knowledgeable female leaders who are well-informed on the problems and solutions facing their own peoples.
A powerful theme amongst identity minorities is amplifying across national boundaries. Despite the Global North’s attempts to propose market-based solutions and technological fixes to the climate emergency, efforts must be concentrated towards funding projects at the community level. We need our decision-makers to reflect the people being most directly affected.
Xinyu Lin is a senior studying Civil Engineering with minors in Environmental Engineering and Math.
Additionality a Must for Carbon Offsets
Hope Dymond – BS Environmental Engineering, Minor Human Rights
I assumed I would know most of the buzzwords here at the Conference of the Parties. For example, you will hear about the Paris Agreement, signed in 2016 as a treaty among many of the world’s countries. In the agreement they committed to reducing emissions, adapting to climate change and financing these shifts. NDC’s, another important term, are Nationally Determined Contributions, made by each country to define the amount it will “contribute” to the global effort to reduce emissions; a country by country target required by the Paris Agreement.
However, if you walk around this ye
The third person to speak was a slender French man with glasses. I sat down with my tiny notebook open, and just like I had done for the other two speakers, I wrote down his name and started jotting in bullets of what he was saying. Soon this name, Guilles Dufrasne, was surrounded by stars denoting real importance.
What was he saying? That we need to “finalize the rules for carbon markets.” Ok, cool. He continued, “There are 19,000,000,000 carbon credits crushing the Paris Agreement from the inside.” Dramatic! I was intrigued. “Article 6 is where this will be discussed.” Now I had to learn more about this Article 6, whatever it was. Turns out it is part of the Paris Agreement, a part they are working on finalizing this year at COP in negotiation halls.
A visualization came next. Guilles said picture a huge bathtub, one with many little holes in it. The point of carbon markets here is simple. Emissions of greenhouse gasses that warm the planet are assigned a price per unit. If I am a country, say Spain, and I want to reach my Nationally Determined Contribution target, I can lower my own emissions. But that might not get me all the way there, and I still emit. So I can “buy” carbon credits from another country, say Costa Rica, which is basically me investing in a carbon reduction project there. There are many examples of projects that take greenhouse gasses out of the air, and the result of these market efforts should be an eventual lowering of overall carbon emissions. Back to the bathtub. Carbon pricing has been tried many times before, and failed many times before. All of the little holes in the tub are places where the policy is “leaky”.
One hole in the tub is extra carbon credits from previous projects. If there are trillions of them they will flood the market and crash the prices. Countries will just use these “credits” from the past to trade, and no real reductions project will take place. I am no economist, but this made dire sense to me.
One hole in the tub is lack of additionality — where projects that can be invested in for carbon credits are not sucking in any more carbon from the air than they would have in the first place. Forestry projects are a good example of this. Pretend I am Spain again. I buy some carbon credits from my pal Costa Rica, paying them to protect 1000 acres of trees to offset a certain amount of CO2. We all know trees are good for that! But the trees were already going to be protected. We had no plans of cutting them down! In fact, my carbon offset has created no additional reduction in atmospheric carbon, while I am polluting to add additional carbon into the air.
These failures in policy are grave. One tiny hole in the tub and all the water — every drop — will come flowing out.
If carbon markets are done incorrectly they will add carbon to the air in vast quantities; according to a World Resources Institute report the amount of carbon added through faulty implementation of Article 6 could be more than all the reductions proposed by every country’s NDC combined! Before this policy could even begin to be implemented on a worldwide scale, it has to be airtight. No leaks.
This is not an easy thing to do. In reality, it is a momentous task, and there is a diversity of opinion on every aspect of carbon pricing. In my subsequent days at COP the knowledge and controversy on Article 6 just kept coming in. Some people I listened to at COP say it is all pointless, some say it will always have negative consequences. I have talked to other experts that insist it can be done to great benefit, and understand the intricacies of involving human rights into the conversation. These are all topics for my next blog post. I hope I have left you more informed and a little more intrigued.
Hope is studying Environmental Engineering with a minor in Human Rights.