Tufts students describe inspiring moments and slow progress at the U.N. conference in Egypt
Tufts student delegates at the U.N. climate conference in Egypt expressed excitement at experiencing high-level negotiations firsthand, even though the content of the talks on fighting climate change is often technical and complex.
“Not everything is headline-friendly or easy to see where it will land, but it has been a fascinating experience to get to stand in the kitchen while it’s being cooked.” said Lily Hartzell, F23, who attended the first week of the November 6 -18 conference. Diplomats attending the summit are trying to forge agreements on issues such as cutting carbon emissions and providing funding to developing countries suffering severe losses from climate change.
Comparing this year’s conference to last year’s in Glasgow, which she also attended, Hartzell said, “Glasgow was much more focused on high-level agreements, which in some ways made it easier to focus on one issue. This year is all about implementation [of the 2015 Paris Agreement], and because the Paris Agreement is so comprehensive, it means there are a million issues to track.”
Students and faculty from across Tufts are gathered in Sharm-el Sheikh, Egypt, for the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations. The conference is known as the Conference of Parties or COP27.
In addition to the country delegates who participate in the negotiation process, the conference brings together thousands of advocates, academics, students, and professionals from across the full spectrum of the climate field. The Tufts students in attendance represent this wide range of interests and have been eager to take advantage of all that the conference has to offer, while remaining critical of slow efforts by countries to adequately address the scale of the climate crisis.
Here Hartzell and nine other members of the delegation share their observations of the historic negotiations and their hopes for the future. The first five students participated last week.
Emily Dahl, F22, is earning a master’s degree in global affairs at The Fletcher School, with a focus on international climate policy and nature-based solutions.
“I’m here to see what progress is being made toward advancing nature-based solutions, which are projects and initiatives that restore or protect natural areas and ensure that new development incorporates climate-aware measures that also benefit nature, climate mitigation, and public health and wellbeing.
I’ve been inspired by the indigenous leaders who have shared their experiences of working with domestic and international partners to develop and finance nature-based initiatives. I’ve appreciated hearing from developing countries that are not only including environmental protection as part of their climate plans but are making progress toward climate goals with meaningful metrics.
And I’ve been learning so much from the NGOs, international agencies, developed countries and private sector financial partners that are developing new programs and mechanisms for valuing nature to yield environmental, economic, and social gains.
While scaling up finance is still a major challenge, I’ve come away feeling hopeful that the dedicated people and organizations working on these issues will be able to move the needle on joint conservation, climate, and societal aims.”
Lily Hartzell, F23, is earning a master’s degree in law and diplomacy at The Fletcher School, with a focus on international climate negotiation. “COP is a deeply overwhelming experience, and it can be difficult to process in the moment. This year, I’ve primarily focused on climate finance through staffing Dean Kyte on her engagements related to voluntary carbon markets and by tracking negotiations about the New Collective Quantified Goal on Climate Finance negotiations.
Even though there’s lots to pay attention to, there’s a sense of momentum here. Standards are being set for what a company’s net zero pledge should really mean and how to ensure that carbon credits are being well verified. There is discussion around how to reform the financial system to foreground climate change and how to create new partnerships among philanthropy, public, and private actors.
Even though these issues can feel overly technical or bureaucratic, they each contribute an important piece to the puzzle of transforming our financial systems to prioritize climate change.”
Eda Kosma, F23, is earning a master’s degree in law and diplomacy at The Fletcher School, with a focus on climate policy and the role of data and greenhouse gas inventories.
“As a master’s student researching the Global Stocktake, a key accountability mechanism of the Paris Agreement, it’s been invigorating to see the number of countries and non-governmental organizations who are eager to engage in the process. The Global Stocktake will ultimately inform how we assess our collective progress towards the Paris Agreement, and the dialogue happening at COP27 is a critical reminder that the global community is not yet doing enough, despite lots of enthusiasm.
The Global Stocktake is the focus of my capstone research and it has been so meaningful to experience it firsthand. I’ve also had the opportunity to participate directly in the negotiations as a notetaker, which has been rewarding and will greatly benefit my research. I’ve been able to have a front row seat to the granular discussions that will ultimately define the way the Stocktake works and how effective it will be, and it is so exciting to see this new and innovative process up close. Hopefully, this momentum continues after COP27 and countries remain committed to the agreements they make here.”
Hengrui Liu, a Ph.D. student in the Neubauer Family Economics and Public Policy program (The Fletcher School and the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences), is focusing on energy and climate policy and China.
“I was most looking forward to learning more about negotiation progress on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement and the outcomes around carbon pricing and the voluntary carbon market. Unfortunately, progress has been very slow and it is still unclear how agreements around Article 6 will impact the compliance market and the voluntary carbon market.
This is my second time attending COP and every year it gets bigger. COP27 is probably the biggest negotiation ever, which means climate change issues are getting more attention from the world. In addition, this year’s negotiation is being held in Egypt, which is the first time COP has been held in Africa, a highly climate-vulnerable continent. For the first time, issues of adaptation and responding to climate change impacts are being given belated attention and being brought to the forefront of negotiations.”
Abay Yimere, a postdoctoral fellow at The Fletcher School, is focusing on renewable energy deployment and climate policy in Africa.
“Compared to last year’s COP, the progress this year has been very slow. There are many details to negotiate and so it can be frustrating to see at times. But I have been supporting party delegations with their negotiations, which is very rewarding.
I have also been presenting my own research through the Fletcher Climate Policy Lab at the COP Africa Pavilion and sharing my findings about renewable energy and energy diversification in Africa, which has been engaging and productive.”
Students who are attending the second week of the conference now have a front row seat to some of the final negotiations and are able to take advantage of the networking and learning opportunities provided by the many side events.
Sophia Friedman, N23, is earning a master’s degree in agriculture, food, and the environment at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, with a focus on sustainable business.
“Although I’ve been here for only been one day so far, there has already been so much to see and do. We hopped from fascinating event to fascinating event. After hearing a great panel discussion about innovative companies in aquaculture, we had the opportunity to speak directly with one of the panelists about her work in the cellular seafood industry, which isn’t something you hear about often.
As a student studying sustainable agriculture and the food industry, it has already been a great way to make connections in the field and put my studies into context at the international level.”
Olivia Grieco, N23, is earning a master’s degree in agriculture, food, and the environment at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy, with a focus on sustainable agricultural practices, alternative proteins, and food law and policy.
“We are not even a full day into week two of COP27 and there is already so much to digest. The maze of pavilions and lack of windows creates a time warp. After attending back-to-back meetings, discussion panels, and a film screening, I am definitely going to need time to collect my many thoughts.
As a graduate student with a focus on agriculture and food, I was excited reading the list of events focused on food systems, considering this is the first COP with an official Food and Agriculture pavilion.
I’ve really enjoyed my time connecting with others in the field, including many focused on my specific interest area of alternative proteins and cellular agriculture.”
Emma Hibbard, AG23, is earning a joint master’s degree in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Urban and Environmental Planning and Policy with a focus on an equitable energy transition through policy, renewable energy deployment, and adaptation mechanisms.
“After a brief time here, I’ve been inspired by participants that are working on a wide range of issues from the role of gender and equity in climate to carbon markets and energy innovation. One key topic that I’m following is funding from developed countries to developing countries to meet finance goals, a focus of the conference. In each panel or discussion I’ve been to, there is a request for increasing transparency, credibility, and reliability throughout the process, whether that be a call for submitting detailed plans for using funds or setting more concrete definitions for what qualifies as funding.
With an energy focus, I’m particularly interested in the implications of these decisions on funding the energy transformation (which has co-benefits in mitigation and adaptation) in countries that don’t have a solid and reliable regulatory structure, as this ensures credibility and confidence for both public and private investments. As the conference continues, I’m excited to track how public, private, and government organizations work together on this and related topics to achieve energy equity, security, and innovation.”
Emily Holt is a Ph.D. student in computer science, with a focus on using data science to measure impacts of sustainability policies.
“I wanted to attend the COP to learn more about exciting initiatives and actions in climate policy. Though it’s a core focus of my dissertation work, I have never attended a conference with such an emphasis on climate policy before. Hearing about progress and work already underway in other areas and industries has been invigorating.
I have already been able to attend presentations on transitioning the steel industry to net zero, labor rights in the just energy transition, and the mobilization of K-Pop fandoms for reforestation efforts. This truly remarkable spread of presentations would not be possible anywhere else and it feels particularly important to showcase the diversity of stakeholders coming together for a singular purpose of slowing climate change.
Miriam Silverman Israel, F24, is earning a joint master’s degree at The Fletcher School and Harvard Divinity School, with a focus on adaptation, climate resilience, and the role of religious communities in climate policy and advocacy.
“No matter how much information you have beforehand, I’m not sure it’s possible to entirely prepare for the experience of COP. I am primarily interested in tracking the negotiations on adaptation and loss and damages for developing countries experiencing costly climate impacts and attending events about climate resilience. These issues will make a huge difference for how well developing countries are able to prepare for projected climate impacts and respond to the impacts they are already experiencing. Being able to sit in on those conversations and see how each party is communicating their position has been a master class in diplomacy and negotiation.
I’ve also really enjoyed meeting representatives of NGOs, government agencies, advocacy groups and other civil society. The first day of week 2 was Gender Day and it was so inspiring to start the week by seeing women from all over the world advocating for climate justice and gender inclusion as a priority at COP.
As a dual-degree student studying the role of religion in climate action, it has also been great to meet faith leaders and activists who are using their religious traditions to advocate for a just transition and a rapid move away from fossil fuels to preserve a liveable planet for future generations.”