Colby’s COP28 Delegation Returns Home Feeling Hopeful

Younger generations will lead the way, they say

The president of COP28, Sultan Ahmed Al-Jaber of the United Arab Emirates, and other dignitaries applaud at a gathering at the end of the climate summit. (Photo by Hannes P, Albert/picture alliance via Getty Images)
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Getty Images and Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri
December 20, 2023

The Colby students who attended COP28 said participating in the landmark and historic United Nations climate summit in Dubai was exciting, busy, educational, chaotic, and almost certainly unforgettable. 

After all, being in the thick of critical work that could change the world for the better can do that. 

This summit, the second at which Colby had an official role, ultimately produced a historic agreement among the member nations to move away from fossil fuels. The College’s contingent had observer status, meaning that its delegates were officially invited to the events and able to meet with others there. 

“It’s been such a big learning moment,” Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri 25 said from the summit, held at the end of the hottest year in recorded history. “Listening to people talk about the different ways they’re combating climate change has been really inspiring. There are people talking about sustainable architecture. There are people talking about energy transition and climate justice, and it’s really interesting to see how all these pieces come together.” 

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Dean of Global Engagement Stacy-ann Robinson talks to Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25 about climate justice. (Photo courtesy Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25)

Chhetri, a computer science and science, technology, and society double major, and Kai Goode ’24, an environmental policy major, spoke about youth and climate solutions at side panels held during the climate summit. 

“It was quite inspiring to hear about what other young people are doing to be change makers,” Goode said. “I am hopeful that younger generations will propel us forward in combating the global climate crisis.” 

Sharing their voices

They were joined virtually by Erica Lee ’24, a sociology and economics double major; Nick Levinson ’25, an environmental science major; Sophia Riazi-Sekowski ’25, a chemistry and anthropology double major; Daksh Prashar ’26, an environmental policy and government double major; and Christian Okyere ’26, a mathematics and computer science double major. 

A scene from the climate summit in Dubai. (Photo by Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25)

The delegation was led by Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Dean of Global Engagement Stacy-ann Robinson, an expert on climate change adaptation in Small Island Developing States, and Chandra Bhimull, the Audrey Wade Hittinger Katz and Sheldon Toby Katz Associate Professor for Distinguished Teaching in Anthropology and African-American Studies. 

For Bhimull, COP28 was an incredible experience. 

“As an anthropologist and historian of aviation, I was keen to learn about the air transportation sector’s contributions to and solutions for the climate crisis,” she said. “Lately, I’ve wondered about the planetary costs of aerial fieldwork—of conducting anthropological research on board airliners. COP28 stirred in me new questions about how the future of commercial air travel will, and right now does, affect vulnerable people and places on the ground.” 

Robinson said she was pleased with efforts made by the student delegates to immerse themselves in the climate summit and get the most out of the experience. She was able to secure opportunities for the two in-person student delegates to participate in panel discussions and share their voices with the larger group. 

Both presented at the Thailand Pavilion, and Chhetri also participated in a higher education panel that explored how a liberal arts education prepares him to think about the climate.

“One of the things I was clear about was that it’s possible to go to COP and get nothing out of it,” Robinson said. “And it’s possible for you to go and get so much out of it that’s beyond your imagination, but that only comes if you’re proactive.” 

The student delegates absolutely did that, she said. 

“This is an opportunity that will definitely allow students to grow in ways that will help them to serve the world well,” she said. “I am so grateful to President David A. Greene, and to Provost Margaret McFadden, who really bought into this vision and saw the value of this experience for our students and our Colby community.” 

Hearing stories and asking questions

Goode was in Dubai for the first week of the summit and did a fantastic job during her presentation, Robinson said. She also attended a variety of talks and negotiations on topics, including loss and damage, climate-smart agriculture, and food systems. Goode found that one of the most interesting panels focused on the stories of young people from the island nation of Kiribati and the challenges communities face as they build resilience and adapt to a changing climate.

Kai Goode ’24 (third from left) was part of a panel during the COP28 climate summit. (Photo courtesy Stacy-Ann Robinson)

“Small Island Developing States are some of the most vulnerable communities,” she said. “It is more important than ever that we hear their stories and include them in climate conversations.” 

For Chhetri, being proactive at the summit meant learning as much as possible from the talks and the people he met—something he was good at, according to the professor, who was there with him during the second week. 

Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Dean of Global Engagement Stacy-ann Robinson speaks at a panel on the role of higher education in tackling climate change. (Photo by Bibatshu Thapa Chhetri ’25)

“By Day 2, we were walking around the venue and people were calling out to him,” Robinson said. “As an onlooker, I don’t think there’s anything else he could have gotten out of it. He got it all.” 

Chhetri acknowledged some of the ethical questions about greenwashing that seemed inescapable at this year’s summit, which was hosted by the United Arab Emirates. The country is a leading oil producer and often called a petrostate, a juxtaposition with the summit that led to criticism from environmental activists

“I’m asking everyone I see, ‘How do you feel about COP being here right now?’ and lots of people have similar opinions, that it’s a big greenwashing move from the UAE,” he said. “Half of it feels performative in certain ways. It’s a little ironic that there are people pulling up in private jets to a climate conference.” 

Despite everything, he has also found cause for hope. 

“There are people who take this so sincerely. They feel really passionate about justice and climate action,” Chhetri said. “I think that’s very hopeful for the future. I think we have to figure out a way to achieve these goals and make sure that they’re implemented in policy, not just in words. And I think our generation has the capability of doing that.” 

Robinson said she, too, was heartened to hear throughout the COP venue the chants of demonstrators calling for climate justice. Their voices, as well as those of civil society organizations and observer groups, are critical to the outcome of the climate summit, she said. 

“Without these organizations keeping the pressure on, I shudder to think what the state of the negotiations would be today.”