Installment 10: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
Installment 10 was written by Kristy Dellwo, a first-year MS-STEP graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs.
Day 1 of Week 2: Setting the Tone for a Week of Conflicting Viewpoints
Day one of week two at COP24 was overwhelming to say the least. The sheer amount of people from countries all over the world running around a massive venue was enough for an introvert like myself to want to disappear into a corner, but the idea that everyone attending was there to address climate change motivated me to resist that urge. I was impressed by the variety of panel topics covering every issue relating to climate change and found it hard to choose which events to attend, but knew that I probably could not go wrong with any of them.
One of the first events I attended was on fossil fuel phase-outs that consisted of an all women panel of environmental experts from New Zealand, Costa Rica, Spain, and Sweden. I was so inspired by this panel, not just because they were strong and forward thinking women, but also because the climate goals of their individual countries were so ambitious, yet highly feasible. New Zealand has stopped issuing offshore drilling permits, Costa Rica spent 300 days in 2017 without fossil fuel use, and Spain and Sweden have big proposals for fossil fuel reductions in the near future. Hearing the four of them speak reminded me exactly why I wanted to attend COP in the first place and gave me hope for the future of our planet.
Immediately following this panel, our Humphrey group attended an event hosted by the U.S. focused on “innovative technologies” aka “clean fossil fuels”. It was a highly controversial event and at first we were not able to get into the venue because the seats were full. However, we had heard that there would be a protest during the event, so we stuck around to see if any space would open up after the protesters left. Sure enough, we heard the protesters take over the panel discussion through the doors as they chanted “keep it in the ground” and gave strong remarks about the dangers of continued fossil fuel usage. They were soon escorted out of the venue and we were able to sit in on the rest of the talk.
It was incredibly disheartening to hear the panel with U.S. representatives promote the use of fossil fuels for energy within the country. At one point the moderator, Wells Griffith of the DOE, even mocked the protesters by stating that “we will not keep it in the ground, we have these resources and we intend to use all of them,” leaving my stomach unsettled. The main point of the panel was to outline cheap and reliable energy usage in the U.S., but it completely missed the mark on climate change, which is the entire point of COP and made the U.S. look foolish. I knew going into the conference there would be controversy over the U.S. presence, but I did not expect to actually witness an event where our representatives promoted environment-damaging technologies as a solution to climate change.
While this might not have been the most ideal way to start my experience at COP, I gained some valuable insights into the conflicts surrounding this year’s conference and used them to better understand the negotiating process that went on throughout the rest of the week. Climate change is a big issue that encompasses a vast amount of stakeholders and potential solutions, so it is no surprise that there is controversy when including voices from around the world. All in all, I think COP24 was able to accomplish some pretty great things. While there were some disappointing moments, there were also big agreements made that sparked international optimism for the future of our planet.