My real wake call was a discussion with African and Pacific island climate activists
I am a novice when it comes to climate diplomacy. Back home, I studied environmental and political science. Therefore I was so grateful for the opportunity and trust Youth and Environment Europe gave me when I was selected as a part of the delegation. My main task was to follow the topics of Adaptation and Climate-induced migration, strictly correlated and fundamental subjects also in the framework of loss and damage, which turned out to be the crucial point of this COP. Furthermore, I was pleased to design and facilitate our “Intergenerational Dialogue about Climate-induced Migration in the framework of Adaptation”.
Although I participated in multiple calls and training about negotiations, COPs and UNFCCC, I believe there is no better way to prepare yourself for it than just experiencing it right on the spot. The arrival at the venue was overwhelming, and I was constantly getting lost between the pavilions and negotiation rooms. The pavilion themselves were an expression of each delegation; however, I sometimes felt like I was at a technological fair or art exhibition instead of a climate conference—usually, the pavilions were designed in a very techno optimistic and anthropocentric approach. Except for MENA pavilions, for me were, Japanese and Brazilian Pavilion quite a disappointment because of their flashiness and their strict focus on energy while ignoring the issue of biodiversity loss, which really puzzled me, especially with Amazon burning. Clearly, in the delegation’s minds, there is no voice questioning the growth imperative.
There is a vast disparity in the blue zone when the negotiation rooms and areas with pavilions, events and activists are physically divided by a road. During the first days, I even felt somewhat unwelcoming, that I do not belong to those negotiation rooms. This sensation was only enhanced by the fact that I was not allowed to enter multiple negotiations. Especially in the case of discussions around the Adaptation Fund, I felt sincerely disappointed. Not only because adaptation was the key topic on my portfolio, which I had followed for many months prior to COP27 and adaptation finance was named as a crucial issue of this year’s COP. Civil society deserves to have a voice present as the adaptation measures and projects should be principally locally led and this flagship discussion should be open to everyone. But also that the decision makers literally labelled this COP as a “Adaptation COP” in which we are all “together for implementation”. Does this slogan ring a bell for you? Yes, that is an official slogan for this year’s presidency. However, it seems that we are not that together after all, and some of us are simply more exclusive. Civil society is left behind closed doors as we are observers who cannot observe.
The sentiment of detachment followed me through the whole week. I spent my day passing by in the corridors and rooms with strong AC, either to simulate Artic weather or maybe to distract us from maintaining the temperature goal and that there is no climate crisis at all. I felt there that real-life problems exist in some other dimension. And the whole COP27 was set in an artificial environment, in a manmade resort with five stars hotels where real-life problems seem to not exist. But only seem, you can feel the elephant in the room in the form of human rights abuse and poverty being present at every step. I constantly had to remind myself what I am advocating for. And I wonder, when I have a problem focusing on what is right here, how must the decision-makers and negotiators feel? My real wake call was a discussion with African and Pacific island climate activists. It is eye-opening to hear their stories about how devastating it is for their communities and how, with tearful eyes, they explain to their children that they might lose their homes soon and never come back. It also made me realise how fundamental the concepts we are talking about (adaptation, loss and damage) are, how they already impact so many people worldwide, and why we are just reading about it in newspapers. Even though I read and studied about these issues for so long, suddenly, I found myself there so emotional and ashamed.
“Adaptation is for us is a story of grief. No matter how we adapt, we will lose our homes.” – Marshall Island Activists.
It is tragic, however, when you realise that in the pavilions, activists are crying for their voices to be heard and strong measures to be implemented. Yet, the pledges from the politicians, who are seated a few meters away, do not correspond with this humanitarian and ecological catastrophe. I felt incredibly humbled while also ashamed while listening to them. And I wonder why these conferences are not held in burning Amazon, in sinking islands or in drought-sued African communities? Let the leaders go to see the climate hell on their own eyes!
Instead of focusing on what matters, COP27 hit the headlines with its scandals: the scarcity of food and water, sewage rivers or Coca-Cola sponsorship. Although that created severe difficulties for me as a Climate Activist, I would appreciate if the world knew more about the actual outcomes (or rather lack of it) or about the human rights issue. This COP was a terrifying and stressful experience for many both local and international activists. Civil society had to deal with many forms of humiliation and terror (last-minute cancels of hotels and Airbnb, scams, constant passport scanning, spying mobile apps, presence of secret police in the venue etc.). The disappointing results feel like the last punch into the face.
It is clear now that COP27 was not successful, but it is also questionable how to measure success in terms of the climate crisis. That is why I find it so strange that we are discussing solutions to climate change, as there is no solution, we can only create an airbag, but now it is clear that this airbag will not be accessible to everybody. When drafting my research for COP27 on Adaptation, I had a motto of my supervisor and mentor in my head: “The less we do in mitigation, the more we have to do in adaptation, if not the more we have loss and damage.” I would rather not like to believe that is the tale of this COP when a loss and damage fund is established while fossil fuels are burnt. Together for implementation…of loss and damage, indeed.
Therefore, I cannot simply describe how I feel after COP27 since there are so many aspects. But although now I focused primarily on criticism, and I dare to say rightly so, I also had a great time with my team. Also, I am incredibly honoured that I could facilitate our side event. I met up with so many inspiring and kind people during the week too. And I believe, that is what COPs are also about. Nevertheless, I am proud to say that this week made me a better, stronger and more humble person and I will surely retrieve from this experience for a very long time in my professional and personal life.
Let me just say on the very last note, stop haggling about where the next COPs are going to take place; climate action must happen now!