Being a few weeks removed from my time at COP25, I’ve had some time to reflect on my experience. The first thing that stands out is how much I learned about COP in the short time I was there. Before heading to Madrid, I had no idea what happened at COP and knew very little about UN Processes or International Climate Policy. After just one week, albeit a pretty busy week, I have a much better understanding of not only how COP works, but also have been able to form lots of thoughts on what is working well and what isn’t.
At COP, there are two main types of events. The first type, and the reason for COP’s existence, are the negotiations. Here countries work out policy documents, create new agreements and try to find solutions to the global climate crisis. The second section is the ‘side events and pavilions’, some of which required a badge, and some of which were open to the general public. The ‘side events and pavilions’ host panels and presentations with guests from all walks of life.
To my surprise, the two types of events often seemed to be two totally different conferences. In the side events, there was a constant plea for urgent action. Every panellist, every speaker and every presenter seemed to be in agreement that action needed to be taken but I didn’t really see that urgency translated into the climate negotiations. The negotiators worked incredibly hard during COP, but the results of negotiations were never as ambitious as the panellists and speakers thought was necessary. Furthermore, the parties failed to reach agreements on some of the most important topics of discussion at this COP. Despite the challenges and the lack of pace, I left the experience feeling optimistic. To have over 25 000 people from so many different countries at least in the room trying to find a solution was inspiring to see.
— — — —
Another neat aspect of this experience was to see how quickly the community of COP has been established. It was fascinating to see how different groups found their niche within the COP ecosystem. There were people who would be there every morning handing out chocolate, newspapers detailing the events of the previous day, and daily coordination meetings for all the different groups.
It all seemed so well put together and reminded me of how good people are at building communities. As we all arrived at the venue on the first day there were constantly people reuniting catching up having met at previous COPs. Witnessing it felt like watching students coming back to school and seeing friends after a summer apart.
I think the little community which has popped up around COP exemplifies the community-based approach that is so key in tackling the big issues surrounding climate change. I think people naturally care more about the things they can see and the people they know. One of the big problems with climate change is that it affects things we can’t see and people we don’t know. But, by building strong communities like the one at COP, I think we will see the climate crisis much clearer.
I traveled to COP25 as part of the Climate Action Cohort, a partnership between Students on Ice and Youth Climate Lab and supported by the Lawson Foundation.