How does being at COP connect to your own research and knowledge exchange activities?
Briony: For me, it was great to be present for the inaugural Water Day, a new addition to the themed programme for COP27 and a fantastic opportunity to review progress on the UN’s Water Action Decade ahead of Water 2023, the UN mid-sessional event taking place in New York in March next year. Like so many of the themed discussion days, these sessions mapped across multiple Sustainable Development Goals, but SDG 6, 11, 13 and 14 were particularly pertinent here.
In a year of both catastrophic floods (for example, in Pakistan) and crippling droughts (in the Horn of Africa as well as Europe), talks recognised that huge numbers of people globally are experiencing climate change primarily through water stresses and shocks. Hence “climate action is water action”, as Liesje Schreinemacher, Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation for the Kingdom of the Netherlands, powerfully argued in one of the Presidency sessions – and more climate and water action is urgently needed. The importance of comprehensive disaster and risk management including early warning systems for both flood and extreme drought, of engaging civil society in water action and resilience building, and of bridging the science/policy interface were all foci for discussion.
It was also really encouraging to hear so much about Nature Based Solutions (NBS) at COP this year, both at sessions throughout the conference and on the final themed day on Solutions. Nature Based Solutions are diverse but include floodplain restoration schemes, managing and restoring peatlands and wetlands, and improving soils for water retention and carbon capture, all of which are foci for research and knowledge exchange here at the University of Hull. NBS also include urban green-blue infrastructure, like rain gardens, flood water storage basins, and the Sustainable Drainage (aka SUDs) and related real-time monitoring network we have recently invested in on campus.
Agota: COP, with its focus on mitigating climate change, has always been tightly aligned with my work on offshore wind as well as renewable energy and decarbonisation in general. Therefore of all the Thematic Days at COP27, I was most enthused about the Energy Day, representing SDG 7.
I was fascinated how quickly a two-fold challenge was identified and stayed strong throughout the day. On the one hand, there was a clear consensus on the need to transition away from dirty fossil fuels and to move to clean energy sources (often aligned with reduction in energy consumption). On the other, the need to grow the energy supply to ensure access to clean cooking and clean electricity for all, especially in the Global South, was persistently articulated.
It was stressed throughout the day what a solid financial investment case renewable energy is (and that catalysing private and public funding is key), how no two pathways are the same but the key to a successful transition is detailed planning, that we need to pick up both pace and scale with renewables to not be too late, and how transitioning while leaving part of the world behind is not a way forward so ensuring that the transition is just for all is a necessity. The work we do at the University on renewable energy technologies and the speeding up of their scaling up is therefore a critical contribution to delivering on the UNFCCC goals, as is working with local businesses on their decarbonisation journeys and that of the region as a whole.
What were your personal highlights?
Agota: We both thought Gender Day kicked off with an incredibly powerful panel on accelerating gender-just climate leadership and SDG 5. Inspirational speakers including Esther Mwaura Muiru, Ayshka Najib, Joanita Babirye, and Nupur Prakash stressed the importance of securing land for women, educating and empowering at grassroots, and bringing more women into decision making, especially through mentoring, accessible and gender-responsive climate finance which would include resilience and loss funding as well as strong accountability mechanisms.
It was also wonderful to catch Alok Sharma – who introduced the panel – for a quick chat on his recent visit to Hull for the launch of the Oh Yes! Net Zero campaign (of which the University is a founding partner).
Briony: It was also great to see a sustained focus on the importance of active engagement from civil society in climate mitigation and adaptation, particularly in relation to MAPA (Most Affected People and Areas) but also a range of other groups not always well represented in climate leadership. This includes women and girls, children and youth, and Indigeous people.
This recognition was particularly evident in the thematic ACE (Action for Climate Empowerment) and Civil Society Day in the second week, but talk of climate justice, hope, and solidarity ran through many of our informal conversations with other delegates in queues, at coffee stops and on buses throughout the week.
Yet much much more needs to be done here, especially by the most powerful parties and nations. There were repeated reminders from delegates – including at the so-called People’s Plenary – about the importance of ensuring meaningful participation in the process for all. “Nothing about us, without us” was a repeated refrain at COP this year, and a particularly pertinent reminder to (some) Global North parties at the negotiating table.
How did it make you feel to see engagement from University of Hull students about your involvement?
Agota: The engagement from the University of Hull students and colleagues was empowering. The encouraging messages and responses from students and colleagues alike, to Twitter update posts, and to the pre-departure blog post on LinkedIn, were fueling us to report back even more and give our all to making the most of being at COP27 (even with such flaws in life as spotty WiFi, itchy mosquito bites or food poisoning).
The students were so excited that even before I departed I was asked to do a quick review presentation upon return, and once I was back I heard that our students have suggested the University hosts a mock COP for our undergraduates and postgraduates to immerse themselves, a bit like the model United Nations many schools run.
I also loved that in the week we were away, a group of our students voluntarily chose as the question for their assignment, “What is the evidence that COP27 and its predecessors can change the world?”. How cool is that?! I will for sure look to integrate more of COP into my teaching.