November 17th, 2022, was my fourth and final day as a Salve delegate at the United Nations’ 27th Conference of Parties. The theme of the day was solutions! I shared my experiences and takeaways from Solutions Day on the official Salve Regina Mission Integration Instagram account: @salvereginamissionintegration. Feel free to take a look at the “COP27” story on their highlights to see my COP27 pictures, video, and event summaries!
Side Event 1: “Strengthening Legal Tools & Capacity for Climate Justice & Resilience”
I considered continuing my education post-graduation to become an environmental lawyer. This event highlighted the dire need for environmental lawyers which made me strongly consider this path. Here are the key takeaways I gathered from my first side event of the day:
- Law is an effective method to protect vulnerable communities left unprotected by their government
- We need robust standards, operationalized safeguards, and defined nature-based solutions to make progress in adaptation & mitigation
- Climate education is not accessible in many countries despite the increasing need for environmental lawyers
- Indigenous people have been stewards of the earth but they need legal land protection to continue their efforts
- Increasing transparency of justice requires domestic laws and solutions
- Loss and Damage needs compensation claims mechanisms to ensure countries are given adequate financial support and commitments are upheld
- The fastest way to accelerate environmental protection is through the imaginative use of existing laws
Side Event 2: “Universities as Key Solutions Providers: Leveraging Our Local & Global Networks for Innovation”
As Salve Regina University’s Sustainability Coordinator, I attended this side event to learn from other universities’ green initiatives and sustainability efforts. I was also interested in learning about networks we could join to increase our capacity building. Universities such as Salve play a large role in advancing the agenda of COP but were underrepresented at COP27. It is advantageous for universities to join networks such as U7 and the Worldwide Universities Network to maximize their outreach and resource distribution. These are key areas to make progress on environmental concerns such as lowering universities’ carbon footprints.
Universities provide environmental and human health solutions through:
- Student research informing policy
- Citizen science/community outreach
- Decarbonized campuses help reach Net Zero goals
- Knowledge building/sharing through intergenerational dialogue between students and faculty
Furthermore, universities can have a collective impact on human and environmental health by collaborating internationally with universities around the world. One specific form of collaboration, “precompetitive collaboration”, makes more sense than competing with other universities. By working together we can achieve shared goals as opposed to individually increasing our university status and/or rank.
This side event ended with a call to action for more precompetitive collaboration between universities around the world. It also ended on a positive note: universities are divesting away from partnerships/investments with fossil fuel corporations. They are reconnecting with and strengthening their local community organization partnerships. A common theme from the side events I attended has been the invaluable importance of community efforts to solve the climate crisis.
Community within Salve Regina and collaboration with local community partners on Aquidneck Island has been at the heart of my experience as a student. Salve offers students the opportunity to volunteer for a myriad of organizations in the greater Newport area. Many of our partners are environmental nonprofits. For example, students have volunteered for Aquidneck Community Table, Aquidneck Land Trust, Clean Ocean Access, Norman Bird Sanctuary, Save the Bay, and community gardens (to name a few). If you would like to learn more about Salve’s community service opportunities please visit the link here: https://salve.edu/community-service/service-opportunities
Side Event 3: Loss and Damage
I arrived 15 minutes late to this event as I had hopefully waited to be let into the Methane Ministerial event with the United States Special Presidential Envoy for Climate, John Kerry. Once the doors officially closed I found an event about loss and damage (the Methane Ministerial was listed as open but then only allowed one party representative per country and I had observer access). Mercy Global Action Center (one of our university partners) focused on the theme of Loss and Damage this year at COP27. I already attended events on Loss & Damage but I was eager to learn more.
About ten minutes after the last panelist shared their impassioned speech about the need for loss and damage funding in their home country they opened up the rest of the event for a full-room discussion. I did not see this as the most productive use of my time. I was really hoping to see figures: what developing countries need for loss and damage, what developed countries have pledged to them, and the disparity between the pledge and what they still owe developing countries. Unfortunately, this was not the topic of the full-room discussion so I set off for the pavilions to try and catch the start of another side event to ensure I was spending my time learning as much as possible.
Side Event 4: UN World Food Programme
I came just in time for this event in the UN Climate Change pavilion. It was extremely informative and filled me with hope that we can overcome global food insecurity through innovative forms of agriculture and waste management. Here is a summary of what I learned at this side event:
- The WFP (World Food Programme) is the world’s largest humanitarian organization
- 345 million people are food insecure
WFP calls this the “worst humanitarian crisis since World War II”
- WFP’s Innovation Accelerator disrupts hunger by sourcing and scaling innovators such as the side event panelists: Sustainable Post-Harvest Loss Management (PHL) Venture, Takachar, R4 Rural Resilience Initiative, and H2Grow Hydroponics
- WFP’s climate risk management system 1. Anticipates climate risk, 2. Restores ecosystems, 3. Protects the vulnerable, and 4. Energizes communities sustainably
- In 2021, the WFP raised $180 million which lifted 9 million people out of hunger
To learn more about the World Food Programme: https://www.wfp.org/
To learn more about PHL Venture: https://innovation.wfp.org/project/wfp-phl-venture
To learn more about Takachar: https://innovation.wfp.org/project/takachar
To learn more about R4: https://innovation.wfp.org/project/r4-rural-resilience-initiative
To learn more about H2Grow: https://innovation.wfp.org/project/h2grow-hydroponics
Side Event 5: Loss and Damage 2
This is the last side event I planned to attend for the day. It entirely echoed the sentiments of the previous loss and damage side events I attended. In summary, it defined loss and damage, explained the dire need for loss and damage payments, and a few panelists described the losses and damages their home countries have faced. Again, there were no figures associated with the finance of loss and damage. This was more philosophical and moral discussion (which I agree with but previously understood). I left early to get back to the hotel before 8 pm so I could finish the Salve Regina Mission Integration Instagram takeover.
COP27 Progress & Hope for the Future
After the Salve delegation left the conference, negotiations continued over the topic of loss and damage. Eventually, on November 20th, an agreement was reached and a historic loss and damage fund was created. This fund will provide much needed assistance to developing countries which are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. To learn more about the COP27 loss and damage fund, please follow this link to the UN Environment Programme: https://www.unep.org/news-and-stories/story/what-you-need-know-about-cop27-loss-and-damage-fund
Only time will tell how effective the loss and damage fund will be. I sincerely hope developed countries will contribute their fair share of financial assistance in proportion to their emissions.
However, as the United Nations and many COP27 panelists and participants noted time and time again: community action is vital to addressing environmental health. At the end of the day it is our responsibility as stewards of the Earth to get involved with our local community. Salve Regina and COP constantly reminded me that we need to treat everyone and the environment with mercy.
Now that I am back in Newport, I am once again turning my focus to addressing local environmental concerns which are exacerbated by climate change: sea level rise, water quality, and biodiversity loss. Aquidneck Island community members can help by participating in beach clean ups with Clean Ocean Access. Salve students can also join organizations such as Protect Our Wildlife for student-led invasive plant removals on areas conserved by our community partner, Aquidneck Land Trust. Norman Bird Sanctuary needs volunteers this Spring to install nest boxes for migratory birds. Many other local environmental organizations need help from community members. The more we collaborate with our community the more we can achieve.
Anyone can be a steward of the Earth if they make the effort.
In the words of the late British biologist Sir Patrick Geddes: “Think global. Act local.”
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