My time at COP27

My time at COP27

In November, International Relations student Danika Hotham attended COP27, the United Nations International Climate Change Conference. In this myView blog, abridged from her piece in Global Policy Journal, she explains how the summit is run, which issues were addressed, what’s being done well, and what could be a lot better.

Danika Hotham (left) and Injy Johnstone are both postgraduate students at Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington. They attended COP27 from the 6–18 November in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. 

Kia ora,  

I’m Danika and I’m a postgraduate student studying for a Master’s in International Relations. In November I attended COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. COP is the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference and this year’s event was the 27th time it has been held.  

Navigating a truly global event and hearing discussions firsthand 

Arriving in Sharm el-Sheikh, I was struck by the sheer scale of the event. I knew it would be big, but this was something else. Electric buses transported thousands of attendees through the endless maze that was the conference venue. I spent my first day navigating never ending coffee and lunch queues, constituent briefing rooms, and busy pavilions. 

Jellyfish sculpture constructed using recycled plastics. One of the many artistic sustainability displays in the Green Zone of the conference.

While at the summit I observed the Koronivia negotiations and Article 6.8 (Paris Agreement) around non-market mechanisms, as well as attending side events, panel discussions, and press conferences. In the negotiation rooms I, perhaps naively, hoped to find high-level system change discussions, particularly in the Koroniva  joint work on agriculture negotiations. Sadly, I did not. These discussion largely consisted of: 

  • discussing why agriculture is an important topic to discuss at COP 
  • agreeing on an agreement to talk about agriculture at COP 
  • agreeing on how to talk about agriculture at COP,  
  • and discussing an information sharing platform on agricultural topics. 

While these things are important, I feel we have long lost the luxury of time to still be in this stage of discussion about agriculture—such a huge contributor to global emissions and ecosystem destruction, and such a central pillar of the climate response we need. 

Side event on food system transformation by Plant Based Treaty at Food4Climate Pavillion

How it all tied into my research. 

My research focuses on the role of anthropocentric understandings of the world in the context of the Paris agreement, New Zealand’s Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s), and grassroots environmentalism in Aotearoa. At COP27 I observed two prominent and contesting discourses which aligned with those I found in the literature and my formal discourse analysis. The first is highly anthropocentric, meaning coming from a place of centering the human. This understanding of the world dominated in official plenaries’ negotiation rooms. Also in various panel discussions which were full of anthropocentric taglines about humans “creating the world we want to live in”, sales pitches for decarbonisation technology, investment pitches for ‘emerging carbon markets’ and many iterations of the ‘carbon neutrality’ and ‘net zero carbon’ concepts. This, importantly, does not necessarily equate to emissions reductions or a zero-carbon strategy. In reality, it all too often equates to little to no change in emissions, coupled with the purchasing of ‘carbon offsets’ or ‘carbon credits’ which are often deeply harmful to indigenous peoples and represent little to no actual real emissions reductions. 

Panel discussion on transport solutions featuring Volvo’s ‘ambitious’ net zero and climate neutral commitments.

The second discourse came loud and clear on the ground at COP27 from civil society. Various demonstrations spread the message of listening to the land, listening to the water, listening to the forests and listening to the indigenous peoples of these places who are so deeply entwined with ecosystems and with nature. Here were messages of the need to protect mother earth, of the pain communities suffer when their forests burn because their forests are their bodies and their souls, of the need to challenge the patriarchal, colonial, capitalist systems that got us into this mess. It is from this place that agenda points such as Loss and Damage, one historic win at COP27 for civil society, came from. 

Civil Society demonstration in the blue zone sending the message that ‘Sky, Water, Soil and Forests are Not for Sale’.

Key things to ponder from my experience at COP27 

 A big realisation I made about COP 27 is that ongoing criticism about the conference’s participants, their hypocrisy, and lack of real action on climate change is indeed valid.  The role of civil society and of observers at conferences such as this is a crucial counter-balance to the dominant western anthropocentric discourse and the 600 fossil fuel lobby delegates who sat in the meeting rooms at COP27.  Finally, the value of connecting and sharing stories, knowledge, problems and solutions on the ground here is significant, but the majority of those occupying the seats of power are extraordinarily disconnected from nature and from the realities of climate change and ecological destruction. As a consequence, the COP process ultimately amounts to a drastically underwhelming global response to an existential global crisis. 

Danika Hotham is studying for a Master of International Relations. You can read the extended version of this article in Global Policy Journal Opinion 

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