Installment 13: Dispatches from COP24, A UMN student delegation in Katowice, Poland
Installment 13 was written by Kimberly Colgan, a Ph.D. graduate student in the University of Minnesota’s Department of Bioproducts and Biosystems Engineering.
A Moment of Stillness and A Call to Action:
COP24 is chaotic. People are running from negotiations to side events and from press conferences to meetings. Past the main hubs of activity, the pace slows down. Hallways are less crowded. Rooms are much quieter.
I arrived a few minutes early to a panel on land tenure and indigenous rights. So I took some time to think about what I have seen, and what I was feeling, enjoying a moment of stillness.
I am fortunate to call myself an American. As an American, I have benefitted from my public education, my wealth, and access to healthy food, fresh air, and clean water. To travel to COP, I did not have to apply for a visa; my status as an American citizen allows me to travel freely across the majority of the globe.
However, my arrival at COP has given me mixed feelings about my country. Listening to people discuss their struggles with climate change while knowing my United States has not used its power to address climate change has also made me feel ashamed to be an American.
Given the United States’ incredible capacity for scientific advancement and technological innovation, and our historic greenhouse gas emissions, our government should be leading the global fight against climate change. We understand the science — many authors on IPCC reports are American scientists. We know of the catastrophic impacts that it can have on communities — we are already seeing effects at home.
The rest of the world knows. Climate change is real and it is affecting people around the world right now. Delegates from all over the globe are at COP telling their stories of drought, flash floods, low yields, and forced relocations.
It was incredibly humbling to watch the Minister of Defense of Fiji beg for climate action to save the lives of his people. He repeatedly used this word. It is not often used by politicians and people with power in the United States. To see one of the most powerful people in Fiji, and one of the most powerful people in climate change, use words like “plea” and “beg” was jarring.
As a country with so much wealth and power, how can the United States watch as so many people in our country and around the world have the lives they built be ripped apart by a problem that we created. How can we watch as people in the United States of America, and people all over the planet die, knowing that we had the ability to prevent these deaths? At what point is our failure to act immoral?
To limit warming to temperatures that will prevent the worst impacts of climate change will require “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society”. We need systematic changes.
A Call to Action:
At the last Talanoa Dialogue event, Climate Justice Now stated, “Climate change is a battle for survival, and we are losing it.” To ensure that we avoid a “climate catastrophe” we need systematic changes to every aspect of our society. Throughout the week, I attended negotiations and side-events on various topics. Below are a few ideas on what needs to be included in those changes from the events that I attended at COP24.
Human Rights & Land Tenure:
Human rights need to be included in countries’ NDCs before the effects of climate change accelerate. Gender-equal and indigenous collective land tenure rights must be addressed in NDCs, NAPs, and federal policies. Governments must recognize indigenous groups and their land rights, and keep illegal mining and logging operations off their lands. There is a need for collective land rights, as women are most likely to lose access to lands if collective rights to lands are lost, and the focus is only on individual land rights. If these rights are not included now, as the impacts of climate change intensify, they will be forgotten.
Agriculture & Food Systems:
Agriculture needs to be included in countries’ NDCs and NAPs. We need decentralized, agroecological production systems. The innovation that we have seen in agriculture so far has not benefited the environment, nor society. Our conventional monocultures are risky — they are not resilient. Indigenous foods and knowledge systems need to be acknowledged. We need to focus on women, as they are more likely to adopt climate-smart agricultural practices, and improve the diets of their families as they learn about nutrition. We need better accounting methods for methane, that better capture their impacts on warming. We need to use our lands to feed people — not livestock. Just like peak oil, we need to achieve peak livestock and replace these animal products with less emissive foods. We need to address power and inequality in land ownership. We need to transform markets to protect farmers and consumers, not corporations. Consumers need to be educated on the climate and health impacts of their dietary choices. And there needs to be transparency across supply chains so consumers can make the right choice.
It is not enough to measure the money going into low-carbon infrastructure; we need to start measuring the financial flows into dirty energies and measure the retirement of old capital stocks, as well. According to a study by the Global Subsidies Initiative, over $425 billion in subsidies were given to fossil fuels in 2015. Work to flip these subsidies to support climate-friendly energy and transport systems needs to be undertaken. Limitations in high-income countries budget structures to pledge future funds to climate mitigation and adaptation need to be addressed. There must be a price on carbon. Both public and private funding for climate-aligned investments need to significantly increase. We need to think trillions, not billions.
Individual & Political Will:
We need to make the choice that is better for environmental and human health, the easy one. We need to call on our policy makers to increase their ambitions and actions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Governments must stand up to corporate interests, and act in the public interest. We need to mobilize the private sector to act quickly in reducing their emissions. Every choice that we make has an impact. Every bit of warming matters. Every choice matters.
Everyday, walking into COP overwhelmed me. Gratitude, excitement, and hope bubbled out of me as I walked into the climate summit. It felt so surreal. I got a selfie with the chair of the IPCC, Hoesung Lee, and the Minister of Defense and National Security for Fiji and high level climate champion, Inia Seruiratu, shook my hand. COP24 left me invigorated. Motivated. I want to act in every way possible to support the implementation of these systematic changes. While working to make these changes, I will do my part to change my personal impacts. I will change my own personal emissions, and work to consume less energy, drive less, and eat a less-emissive diet. I hope to be an agent of change, and inspire others to act as well.