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Part 1: Climate Reality vs Climate Talks

Kimberly Byrd

Reflections on the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP25) in Madrid, Spain from Kimberly Byrd, Institute on the Environment Educator at the University of Minnesota. Read this post in its original form on Kimberly’s blog page here

In early December, almost 27,000 delegates arrived at COP25 in Madrid to clarify the rule book of the 2015 Paris Agreement, and set rules for carbon markets under article six. 2019 saw an unprecedented number of new scientific reports that illuminated the environmental crisis now unraveling on the planet, and COP25 presented an opportunity to rally behind the urgency of these findings.

Before the conference began, it was clear that scientists, activists, citizens, teachers, schoolchildren, farmers, and almost every government had woken up to the climate emergency and were resolved to unite with ambitious, coordinated, cooperative, and compassionate action. The reality of climate chaos was unfolding in people’s backyards like never before, and something seemed genuinely different in the public’s consciousness.

On a personal level, it was fascinating and heartbreaking and inspiring, and it's all still playing out.

I am a conservation biologist by training, and have been teaching about environmental ethics and sustainability for more than a decade. I attended COP25 as an observation delegate for the University of Minnesota, and in my five or six days at the event, I took 102 pages of notes. I’ve highlighted some of my favorite quotations from event speakers and offered a few insights in the documents below. In total, I’ve outlined 5 specific gaps or gulfs that have cracked open. We must address these chasms to move forward.


For me, this was the COP of the youth, women, and indigenous peoples. I found their voices clear and poignant, articulating both hope and urgency. The youth brought forth the language of “climate emergency,” which was everywhere.

Indigenous peoples comprise 5% of the human population, but manage 40% of our protected lands. Ensuring their empowerment and control over their own knowledge is a fundamental tenet of Climate Justice.

At press conferences highlighting accomplishments of indigenous people, I heard feminists decry “false solutions that fail to address root causes” of colonialism, militarism, overconsumption, and racism. I found new climate heroes, like Mandela Barnes, the Wisconsin Lieutenant Governor, and a poet from the island nations that spoke of “Smiles of Resilience.”

Sarah, a youth organizer from Costa Rica, embodied the power of the youth by inviting a young girl age 10 or so to the stage, giving her an opportunity to distill urgent call from millions of young people who are afraid for their future.

However, I knew something was seriously wrong when Jennifer Morgan, the Executive Director of Greenpeace International, announced on Tuesday December 10th that the government of Brazil was moving to strike all language about human rights from the final documents.

Written and photos by Kimberly Byrd, PhD

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