By Kate Cullen
There’s no denying it; COP25, the United Nation’s most recent round of climate negotiations, was messy and disappointing.
2019 was marked by salient public mobilisations for urgent global action on climate change led by youth, indigenous leaders and others. The IPCC released crystal-clear scientific reports on the grave danger of climate change for our land and food systems as well as our oceans and ice reserves. Financial leaders increasingly engaged with the climate agenda, citing the economic necessity for swift and systematic de-carbonisation and adaptation.
At the same time, conservative, nationalist parties won election-after-election and global carbon dioxide emissions hit a record high. These two disparate realities of global climate action and apathy came to a head at the COP25 meeting in December.
Running 40 hours over schedule, COP25 was reported on as a lost opportunity, total disconnect, failure and, at best, a minimum compromise. Country negotiators set out to finalise unresolved pieces of the Paris Agreement rules; notably the establishment of a global carbon market under article 6 (to find out the significance and outcome of this discussion see our post on article 6 here). Another key objective was to ensure transparency and synchronisation in the reporting of climate pledges. Progress was tenuous and ultimately halted by a handful of laggard countries—the US, Brazil and Australia.
As a climate-water scientist and, simply as a young person wanting to live on a just and healthy planet, this disappointment hit especially hard. I attended COP23 as an assistant to a negotiator from the Pacific island nation of Palau. While the summit had its own issues, governments and citizens still had faith the Paris Agreement would ultimately spur meaningful global action. This time at COP25, attending as a researcher and observer from Oxford, the chatter in the hallways and global outlook was not as optimistic.
Yet in a recent piece for the Guardian, Aruna Chandrasekhar, a journalist and colleague in the School of Geography and the Environment, posits:
"But dysfunctional as they are, COPs are perhaps the only international legal forum that are partly open to observers to witness geopolitics and global call-out culture first-hand. And it’s those witnesses – all of us – who must apply the pressure."
In this spirit, I’d like to highlight the stories of a few of my colleagues who also bore witness to the COP25 process and worked to “apply the pressure” as researchers, students and activists.
Alex Clark, a DPhil student in Geography and the Environment, sat down with me in a quiet corner of the United Kingdom pavilion at COP25 to describe his work with Professor Thomas Hale on the Galvanizing the Groundswell of Climate Actions project.
For the last three and a half years, Clark has contributed to Groundswell, as well as the Marrakech Partnership for Global Climate Action, which works to build a more formal role for “non-Party stakeholders,” i.e. civil society, scientists, indigenous leaders, youth leaders, etc. in the COP process. At COP26 Alex supported Groundswell project partners and helped drum up support at high level events for the continuation of the Marrakesh Partnership into future COPs. This work was successful and, at least in text, negotiators acknowledged “the important role” non-Party stakeholders play and agreed to extend the Partnership for the foreseeable future.
Natalie Chung, MSc student in Environmental Change and Management, shares:
"I attended COP for the first time with Carbon Care Innolab, an NGO promoting youth participation in international climate policy making. I then got involved in the UN youth constituency YOUNGO and sat in bilaterals with high level leaders and negotiators.
The most rewarding experience was delivering an opening remark on behalf of YOUNGO at the COP25 Presidency's Open Dialogue. The remark calls for mainstreaming citizen science, indigenous and traditional knowledge, as well as incorporation of them into policy making.
Despite the discouraging outcome of COP among parties, this experience enabled me to realize young people have the power make a substantial difference and deliver a message of hope. In the future, I hope to coordinate regional networks of youths in Asia."
Hannah Nicholas, MSc student in Biodiversity, Conservation and Management, adds:
"I found the experience both incredibly valuable and incredibly frustrating. There was a huge disconnect between the COP negotiations and the reality of the climate emergency…the greatest take-home message that I may share is that, despite the disappointing outcomes, we must all continue to engage with the climate movement.
The solutions to the climate emergency are there, the political will is not. We must stand behind the science to demand urgent political change. Use your voice, use your vote, call out politicians who are not doing enough. Continue to educate and raise awareness, maintaining hope that together we can create change."
Lisa Thalheimer, DPhil student in Geography and the Environment, reports:
"Together with [various partners], the Environmental Change Institute’s Lisa Schipper and I chaired a side event on displacement, human migration and climate change.
The session was very well attended. We discussed the consequences of environmental migration for Europe and deconstructed the widespread "threat" narrative, a meaningful step towards changing the securitisation narrative on climate mobilities.
COP25 gave me the opportunity to experience the laborious process of policy-making first-hand…[it] showcased that we as researchers need interdisciplinary collaboration and must communicate our research findings equally diversely to bring climate mobilities to the top of policy agendas globally."
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