For the second year in a row, Boston College is sending a delegation to the Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, or UNFCCC (COP27), this year taking place in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6th to November 18th. Emphasizing this delegation, Boston College held a talk with the New York Times’s United Nations correspondent, Somini Sengupta, and facilitated a discussion with students who are traveling to COP27.
During her talk, Somini Sengupta introduced the importance of COP27 and then broke down the five main questions that will guide the conference. She started the talk by advocating for "climate forward policy," noting that the "average global temperature is 1.1 °C higher than at the start of the industrial revolution." She coupled this data point by adding that "global greenhouse gas emissions need to be cut by 45% by 2030" in order to meet climate forward policies that will positively impact climate change. These "climate forward" policies will emphasize changing the Earth we live on now, not looking for other planets or habits to shift our focus towards. Climate forward policies aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, hold countries and corporations accountable for anthropogenic climate change, and allocate finances to climate positive funds that make egalitarian positive changes to climate change.
How do we get to these climate forward policies? Sengupta answered that question with five questions essential to COP27, first asking, "How does the world adapt to this already changed planet?" In other words, how does the world bond to fix an Earth that is already experiencing climate change? This question is at the center of climate forward policy-making and encompasses a mindset that focuses on our world and "no new worlds.”
Sengupta followed up this question with two financially related questions: "Who pays?" and "Who gets to use gas?" These questions are most important in holding the world’s largest emitters accountable for their impact on climate change. When it comes to "Who pays?" the question of climate reparations comes into play. Climate reparations are when countries that are the biggest emitters give monetary compensation to the countries that are facing the most severe consequences of climate change. The topic of climate change is going to be very important at COP27, where delegations from each country diplomatically discuss their relationship to climate change.
On a similar note, the topic of "Who gets to use gas?" emphasizes the world’s biggest emitters. Sengupta highlighted that low-emission countries feel they should be allowed to use gas to develop climate forward infrastructure, whereas high-emission countries should have restricted gas usage. The topic of gas will be another crucial topic at COP27, where varying opinions from limited gas usage to complete renewable energy infrastructure changes across the board will be debated and discussed.
Highlighting the blame put on the world’s biggest emitters, Sengupta then asked, "Are the big culprits changing their economies away from fossil fuels enough to meet the 2030 standard?" Coupled with this question, Sengupta showed graphs depicting different paths global warming could take based on various policy promises. Current policy promises, if met, depict global warming being above the 2030 1.5 °C increase mark, meaning current leading emitters need to make more effective climate change policies. These new, and hopefully more effective, policies will be a focal point of COP27.
Sengupta finished her list of questions by asking, "How does Russia’s war in Ukraine affect climate change?" Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, there has been a global energy and food crisis due to Russia’s war in Ukraine. COP27 will focus on deciding if this will slow down climate change or accelerate the desire for climate action.
After providing the backbone of questions guiding COP27, Sengupta emphatically concluded her talk by saying that "youth need to get active about climate change!" When it comes to Boston College, this youth activism comes in the form of our COP27 student delegation, which has the opportunity to travel to Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, and attend this year’s conference. One of the students attending COP27 is Sebastian Haedelt, MCAS ‘23. Haedelt is a biology and economics double major who has focused his education and research on the "economic cost of the Endangered Species Act in the United States," highlighting the intersection of finance and climate justice. With that background in economics and ecological justice, when asked why he was going to COP27, Haedelt said he was "using the experience to go in with an open mind and ask questions" about how climate justice policies can be supported by ethical financial decisions that respect indigenous peoples and people who have historically been most affected by climate change.
Haedelt, along with the other members of Boston College’s COP27 delegation, is a great example of how climate justice is an immensely interdisciplinary issue. This is an issue that needs to be discussed among policymakers, financial consultants, the people most affected by climate change, indigenous peoples, world leaders, and frankly, everyone on Earth, because, as Somini Sengupta said, "This moment matters so much" in determining the world’s relationship with climate change.