Illustration by Gauraang Biyani

NYUAD Students Reflect on COP22

The students who attended COP 22 in Marrakesh offer their perspective on the conference.

Nov 26, 2016

The 22nd Conference of Parties in Marrakesh, Morocco concluded on Nov. 18 after opening earlier that month on Nov. 7. The Conference followed last year’s landmark declarations on climate change at the Paris Conference of Parties in 2015.
Eight members of NYU Abu Dhabi’s The Green House student organization travelled to the Marrakesh conference during its two weeks, representing NYUAD and the UAE. In a collaboration with The Gazelle, various members of The Green House discussed their takeaways from COP22. A few selected commentaries of members following the conference are below.
####Nina Bambysheva, sophomore I went for the second week as an observer. I was tracking loss and damage as part of the negotiations but also attended a lot of the side events. Regarding loss and damage, my experience was somewhat confusing. First of all, I did not have much access to all the informal consultations, and that is where all the action took place. Generally, it seemed like negotiators were procrastinating most of the time, so the closing plenaries had to be suspended a couple of times until delegations agreed on the final document on Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, where they approved the five-year rolling work plan for the Executive Committee. Generally, everybody was pleased — the mere fact that the WIM will continue its work means that developed countries recognize the need to help the developing countries that are most vulnerable to climate change after the Paris Agreement. Since COP22 was proclaimed to be the COP of action, organizers made an effort to attract academia, the private sector and youth, with the aim of finding tangible solutions to climate change.
Regarding the side events, the number and the scope was quite amazing — the topics discussed ranged from carbon pricing to Russia’s efforts to encourage everybody to invest more in nuclear energy — I guess that is why they won the Fossil of the Year award. These events are where you get to meet a lot of people that you probably would not have met otherwise. You get a closer look into what it means to dedicate your life to working in the field, what kind of issues people have to face when working against climate change. For instance, I met a climate change activist from Russia, who spoke about how some of her colleagues had to flee the country due to government persecution, after expressing their concern about the government’s support of nuclear investment. ####Jacob Hartwig, senior Paris set down the principles. Marrakesh was meant to turn these principles into action. As such, COP22 was expected to be a more technical, smaller U.N. climate conference. Here are the three main takeaways from my experience:
  1. There is a tremendous momentum toward tackling the issue of anthropogenic climate change. The Paris Agreement was the first international treaty of its kind to be signed, ratified and entered into force. In spite of the uncertainty of the incoming U.S. presidency, there seems to be a credible commitment to move ahead, irrespective of the U.S. The question is whether it is enough to create the large-scale economic transformation that is needed within the next 20 to 30 years.
  2. The show is happening somewhere else. I was focusing mostly on Article 6 — market mechanism — of the Paris Agreement, which is meant to link international mitigation efforts and enable more cost-effective greenhouse gas emission reductions. Although it is clear that the U.N. will eventually create such a mechanism under the Paris Agreement, the reality is that carbon markets from California, Europe and China are being created and linked with a pace and on a scale that is likely to dwarf any mechanism under the Paris Agreement.
  3. There is a specific kind of wisdom in the system that is hard to appreciate. Despite knowing how quickly the time to act is running out and experiencing how incredibly slow the U.N. climate change negotiations tend to move, after thinking how the decisions are shaping the policies of essentially every country in the world and are likely to impact all seven billion people on this planet, one has to admit that there is a grandness to the process that might justify its inertia. ####Miraflor Santos, sophomore At the end of COP22, no headway was made in addressing the millions displaced by climate change. I grew disillusioned to the negotiating process, which seemed like a world unto itself. However, once I got a grasp of the historical context behind the discussions, I started to see the undercurrent of power politics, backroom diplomacy and tensions over inequality driving the negotiations. COP22 was supposed to be the COP of action, increasing ambition and implementation. But all I witnessed was the opposite.
Despite the frustration and glacial pace of the talks, however, I did see promise in the increasing role of non-state actors, business, NGOs and local communities. They took leadership on actions the countries couldn’t deliver at the international level through the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change process, like providing insurance for loss and damage to the most vulnerable communities. I was empowered by the presence of other climate activists — scientists lobbying for more informed policy, youth protesting against the Dakota pipeline at Standing Rock, solar bike manufacturers proudly sharing their innovations and artists engaging with the climate change in creative ways. The solidarity and camaraderie formed in the midst of the despair we all felt was comforting.
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