Yale FES Students Verner WIlson, Beatriz Zavariz and Reginald Barrer with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre Team at the Development Climate Days during COP-19 in Warsaw

Learning by Doing: Lessons From the UN Climate Negotiations and the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre

Back at Yale after attending my first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Warsaw, I had a week to reflect on the final deliberations.  I ended up at the Convention while taking a project-based course called “International Organizations and Conferences” that paired me up with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre to help with their annual “Development and Climate Days” side event.  The D&C Days as they are called, were held during the weekend of November 16 and 17 between the two weeks of the 19th UN Conference of Parties (COP).

Attending D&C Days was an eye-opening experience for me, as it brought together people from around the world from a number of different sectors.  There were a number of goals for D&C Days.  First was to help attendees learn about the real-world consequences of decisions made on climate change.  Second was for the attendees to learn of the unpredictability that a changing climate will bring.  And third was to actively absorb these ideas and information through interactive games and sessions.

The final week at COP-19 showed me the importance of helping with the sessions at D&C Days.  The Red Cross Red Crescent is known for its humanitarian efforts and work to reduce negative impacts to the world’s most vulnerable people for over 130 years.  The Climate Centre understands that climate change is already causing major disruptions to people around the world, and that it is likely to get worse.  Attending the second week of the UN negotiations, I heard that time and again from delegates who saw their lives at stake.

One powerful story was the delegate from the Philippines Naderev “Yeb” Saño, who made an emotional appeal earlier in the COP after an abnormally strong typhoon damaged his nation.  He fasted throughout the negotiations in an effort to get stronger actions on the issue of “loss and damage.”  Scientists acknowledge that more intense storms will cause more destruction to vulnerable areas, and people will not be able to just simply adapt to the impacts of climate change.  That’s why they are fighting for a loss and damage mechanism, to get more funding for climate-related disasters.  My classmate and friend Reginald “Rex” Barrer, also from the Philippines, wrote a strong blog on this issue as well.  The Red Cross Red Crescent is advocating for people like them.

In another event later in the week, I heard young people who are also in distress.  I went to a gallery opening of photographs and essays written by teens from the Arctic and Small Island Developing States.  The project, called “Portraits of Resilience” was aimed at giving a voice to the youth who are from the Arctic and small island states, and are vulnerable to warmer temperatures, melting ice and sea level rise.   I met Kendri Griffin, a teenager from the small island of Barbados.  He is afraid that more intense storms and rising seas will cause future loss and damage on their island and their people as seen in the Philippines.  I also met with Charlie Nakashuk, who I related a lot to as a Yup’ik Eskimo since he is an Inuit from Nunavut, Canada.  He said that his people had actually fallen through the ice doing their traditional activities such as hunting and fishing, because the ice has been much thinner then normal.  Funds for preparation and adaptation to a changing climate for these people would be very helpful, as Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre and partners asserted at D&C Days.

As youth, climate change will affect the generation of Charlie and Kendri the most, which is why they went to Warsaw to spread the message of urgency.  They helped to be the voice for thousands of people back home that could not travel across the world to urge our world’s leaders to do something.  I could relate to them, because I wanted to do the same thing.  Back home where my mother is from, my relatives have not been able to do their subsistence hunting activities on the ocean to feed their families yet, because it is very warm this year with little sea-ice.  As a result, there is a campaign to help provide my relatives with food.  Also back home, nearly two hundred Alaska Native villages are at risk from coastal erosion, sea-level rise and reduced sea-ice.  They will also experience loss and damage if nothing is done to help them.  Unfortunately, they do not have the estimated hundreds of millions of dollars to move a single village.  This is a worldwide problem.

Loss and Damage was thus a huge issue in Warsaw.  Many vulnerable states had hoped that the COP in Warsaw would produce a significant treaty to address the issue of loss and damage as well as a way to finance it.  The COP did produce a loss and damage mechanism: developed countries stated they would provide aid to those affected by increased storms and slow events such as sea level rise.  But there were no firm commitments on how to finance the mechanism.  And developing nations who would stand to benefit from more resources viewed the mechanism as much weaker then needed.  Properly financing the loss and damage mechanism would be extremely helpful for people, and working with the Red Cross Red Crescent Climate Centre has taught me that.

The D&C games showed me that more resources to address the issues of loss and damage, as well as adaptation strategies, are very important.  Funding of early warning systems for more people around the world is critical for the wellbeing of vulnerable people.  There are a variety of games that aim to show participants the consequences of their decisions.  A recurring theme in many of the games showed that those who had more resources, such as in developed countries, are able to prepare and adapt more to a changing climate.  They were able to recover faster after a disaster.  They are able to reduce loss of life, infrastructure damage, and reduce overall risks on their people.  Not just giving after a disaster, but also giving beforehand to help nations prepare, can save lives.

Learning by doing, such as playing games and attending the D&C Days and COP-19, was very valuable to understand the hardships of more vulnerable countries to a changing climate in the future.  Seeing the complexities at the UN conference also allowed me to hear firsthand the true hardship of developing countries in gaining these resources.  It will be interesting to see how the issue of funding for loss and damage will play out in the future.