November 16th, 2022, was my third day as a Salve delegate at the United Nations’ 27th Conference of Parties. The theme of the day was biodiversity! I shared my experiences and takeaways from Biodiversity Day on the official Salve Regina Instagram account: @salveregina. Feel free to take a look at the “takeovers” story on their highlights to see my COP27 pictures, video, and event summaries!
Back to the Blue Zone: Learning to Navigate Egyptian Roads
One of the first culture shocks I experienced in Egypt was learning how to navigate travel. As a South African man from our hotel noted, simply crossing the road was like a game of “Leapfrog”! Because there were not crosswalks, stop signs, or traffic lights by our hotel we had to run across the street as cars hurtled towards us at speeds suited for highways. In Egypt, our delegation made sure to look out for one another by using the buddy system. We always traveled with at least one partner and made sure to double check for cars before running across the street.
I was also surprised how I learned the bus route based on landmarks instead of street names. Some landmarks I used were: Hollywood (a bunch of Christmas lights and nutcrackers outside a hotel), a pair of giant plastic dinosaurs that towered over the palm trees, and a pyramid shaped casino with an animated light up sign. When I saw the casino lights I knew to get off the bus to walk back to the palm-tree lined hill leading up to Movenpick. What struck me the most was how friendly the people were that we met while traveling. Every time I got on the bus somebody offered me their seat.
Side Event 1: NASA
When Liadan and I arrived back at the Blue Zone we went separate ways to maximize the amount of knowledge we could amass. By attending different events, Liadan was able to learn about the areas of sociology that interested her at COP and I was able to learn about everything from climate science to finance.
My first stop in the Blue Zone was the American pavilion for a side event hosted by NASA. The “NASA Hyperwall Presentation: Connection Between Fire, Weather, and Climate” was presented by Dr. Michael Falkowski. I learned so much from Dr. Falkowski’s talk. He informed us that NASA satellites collect data on blue marble, the biosphere, soil moisture, precipitation, clouds, precipitable water, wind, and sea surface currents. The NASA satellite data is compiled and analyzed to provide early detection for fires and to prescribe burns. It has many uses but in light of recent California wildfires this was the focus of the presentation.
Furthermore, fire seasons affect the intensity and frequency of fires in different parts of the world. The US fire season is in the summer whereas mid-latitude Africa burns mostly in January. NASA found there is a negative feedback loop between fire and atmospheric CO2. In other words, increases in atmospheric CO2 are causing more frequent and intense fires than ever before – this is even affecting the Arctic tundra! To learn more about NASA’s findings and to see their data visualizations that were displayed on the Hyperwall at COP27, visit https://svs.gsfc.nasa.gov/4945
Side Event 2: Youth Climate Action Panel
The Youth Climate Action Panel slightly overlapped the NASA Hyperwall Presentation but I was able to catch the tail end of it while waiting for my third side event (Cambridge University’s Radical Collaboration for Nature Positive and Net 0 Goals). The youth on the climate action panel reminded me of three things I learned in my environmental studies classes at Salve:
- The richest 1% of the world emits more than 2 times what the poorest 50% of the world emits.
- Earth Overshoot Day marks when the world population uses the number of resources Earth can sustain that year. Every year, it gets earlier. In 2022, Earth Overshoot Day was on July 28th. In 2020, it was August 22nd. To learn more about Earth Overshoot Day, visit: https://www.overshootday.org/
- My conservation biology class with Dr. Jameson Chace discussed the value of nature. One of the values we talked about was the economic value nature provides to humans through ecosystem services. However, he taught us that biophilia means to love the environment for how it is instead of what it can offer. Nature is intrinsically valuable, and as one of the youth climate action panelists pointed out, it is invaluable: “If biodiversity dies, we die. We need to stop seeing nature as something with economic value because it is invaluable to us”.
Side Event 3: Radical Collaboration for Nature Positive and Net 0 Goals
Cambridge University and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development hosted a panel discussion on how to radically collaborate in order to address pressing environmental concerns. Hyacinthe Niyitegeka highlighted the importance of Loss and Damage awareness. Loss and Damage is the notion that the impacts of climate change are disproportionately impacting developing nations because of natural resource exploitation, overconsumption, and emissions from developed nations that should pay for the loss and damage incurred.
Niyitegeka notes that Loss and Damage go beyond economic losses. People’s homes are being flooded and wrecked by record-breaking hurricanes, farmers are losing their livelihoods because of climate-change-induced drought, and people are being displaced as climate refugees without developed nations taking responsibility.
The panel’s advice (to my own understanding) for corporations to become part of environmental solutions instead of contributing to environmental problems is to:
- Address climate and nature together
- Consider synergies and cost efficiency of nature-based solutions
For example, mangroves are 5 times more cost-effective and stable than investing in coastal infrastructure to address flooding.
- Recognize that climate and nature loss are the biggest risk to human health according to the World Health Organization. This provides an incentive to shift business models to become more eco-friendly and carbon neutral.
In other words, restoring ecological health is the greatest opportunity to improve human health.
- Bring people from all perspectives (civil society and corporations) together to reach compromises and solutions.
- Recognize failure to implement nature-based solutions stems from a “lack of imagination rather than a lack of finance”.
- Look to the Scottish Government’s “Just Transition Commission” as a model (strategic planning resulted in a 50-70% biodiversity increase)
Side Event 4: Frontline Solutions to the Climate Crisis: Community
The final event I attended was “Frontline Solutions to the Climate Crisis: How Communities Adapt, Respond, and Fight Climate Change”. It was held by local community leaders facing the greatest impacts from the climate crisis. They represented organizations such as: Agroecologists (Puerto Rico), the Black Hive, Micronesia Climate Change Alliance (Guam), Asia Pacific Network of Environment Defenders (Philippines), Zimbabwe Small Holder Organic Farmers’ Forum (ZIMSOFF), The Smile Trust, the Center for Environmental Concerns, and the Climate Justice Alliance. Grassroots organizations such as these have fought against food insecurity, natural disasters, land grabbing, and unjust environmental policies.
Although the problems these organizations face stem from climate change, they are different in nature: wildfires vs. hurricanes, droughts vs. sea level rise/flooding, etc. These community leaders reminded everyone there is not a universal solution to climate adaptation and mitigation because of how biodiverse the earth is. Every ecosystem and community needs a specialized solution that is best understood by the people who live in the affected area. This is why community action is of utmost importance.
In the words of the Climate Justice Alliance: “Those who contributed to the problem should not be who we rely on to fix the problem. Those who are directly impacted by it should be the ones whose voices are uplifted”.
I would like to sincerely thank Salve Regina University, especially Dr. Theresa Ladrigan Whelpley, Mary Beth Pelletier, and Erin Fitzgerald for organizing the delegation and preparing us for the journey to COP27. Without your help this learning experience would not have been possible! It was truly the trip of a lifetime.
B.A. Environmental Studies, 2024