FES alums making their mark at COP15

As part of our COP15 class this semester at FES, our Pod has been working with Ecuador. During the past months, we mostly focused on sectoral approaches to mitigation, and how certain schemes could translate for the country. At the COP, we have transitioned into being extra eyes and ears for the understaffed, overworked Ecuadorian delegation. An FES alumna – now the head of climate change for Ecuador – has been our main contact. Their delegation consists of about ten people – roughly one-seventh the number that Yale has sent as observers.

With the trend in open-turned-closed sessions and limited NGO access, I feel like I learn more about the negotiations from the Earth Negotiations Bulletin and through random contacts than from physically being here. Seeing how these international negotiations are organized has really shined a light on how inequitable these discussions are by design. The developed countries have many people in attendance working and tracking everything, while smaller developing countries can’t even make it to some of the key discussions. I had heard about negotiators being exhausted and in the end just being willing to agree to whatever so it will be over – seeing how it works here, that really makes sense now, and would seem to serve as a call for a reformed negotiating system.

Since small delegations have a hard time making it even to the most important sessions, Ecuador has asked us to report back from relevant side events dealing with issues relevant for the country. We have also been summarizing the main topics covered in the news so they can get a sense of key issues being discussed outside of the Bella Center bubble, which (like many COP attendees) they enter and exit in the dark.

There has been notable attention given to youth at the conference, from dedicated side events to atomic orange t-shirts asking the (mostly middle-aged) reader where they will be in 2050. One side event I attended showcased four youth leaders (from China, Australia, the Netherlands, and India) who were asked to pitch a concrete “solution” to climate change. Each youth leader stood up and gave their three-minute speech. An expert panel then responded – which included Dan Kammen, the draw for my attendance. I can certainly appreciate the idea of supporting and empowering the youth – these “kids” were probably not much younger than me actually – but this event seemed too contrived, and was full of trite slogans and over-the-top praise like, “I salute you.” It’s obviously important to support innovative ideas coming from a younger generation, but it’s equally important to have a fresh presence of young and well-educated delegates in the negotiations. Ecuador’s head of climate change notes that when she speaks for Ecuador, she always highlights that she will be here in 2050 and will be held accountable.

Finally – on an unrelated (but FES-relevant) note – as I sit writing this at the self-proclaimed “Pod spot” by the coffee shop in the main atrium, there is a group of people behind me (one of whom approached me earlier asking me to save the lumpy clothes “baby” she had stuffed under her shirt) singing an adapted version “Silent Night,” which now sounds “Silent Spring.”