World leaders, scientists, activists, researchers, and others are in Egypt for a major international climate conference hosted by the United Nations, and a Colby contingent is in the mix.
The College’s delegation to COP27 in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, includes President David A. Greene; Stacy-ann Robinson, assistant professor of environmental studies; Kerill O’Neill, the Julian D. Taylor Professor of Classics and special assistant to the provost for humanities initiatives; Nadia El-Shaarawi, assistant professor of global studies; and Chloe Shader ’24.
It was important to participate, said Greene, who is spending the first week of the two-week conference in Egypt. Colby is known for its leadership in sustainability and was among the first colleges to offer an environmental science program and to become carbon neutral.
“This is right in the sweet spot of the work that we do,” he said. “Thinking about environmental policy, climate change, addressing big problems: this is the work of Colby. It’s fundamental to who we are.”
It’s the College’s first opportunity to have an official role at the annual event, now in its 27th year and known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP. It’s hosted by the branch of the United Nations that manages global climate negotiations. Critical work has been accomplished at the conference in past years, including the signing of the Paris Agreement in 2015.
But with Earth seeing rising temperatures and heat waves, floods, fires, and drought, there is much more work to be done. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres said at the outset of the conference that the planet is losing “the fight of our lives.”
This year, the Colby contingent has observer status, Greene said, meaning that the delegates are officially invited to the events and are able to meet with others. He will be meeting with non-governmental organizations and attending sessions with world leaders, climate activists, and others.
He hopes that it will be possible in the future for the Colby group to move to a greater level of engagement at the conference, potentially hosting events and having a broader influence.
Greene noted that current geopolitical and economic realities mean that it will likely be more complicated for nations to work together to find solutions and common ground. For example, this year, some of the most vulnerable nations are seeking compensation from wealthier nations for costs incurred from extreme storms and flooding. The topic of climate justice and adaptation finance, expected to be contentious at COP27, is one of Robinson’s main areas of focus. The professor is an expert on climate change adaptation in Small Island Developing States.
“It’s a funky time in some ways. We’re at this time of isolationism, this major war, energy shortages in many countries, and lots of countries, including ours, staring at a recession,” Greene said. “These are things that make it harder to talk about shifting energy systems.”
That makes it all the more critical to hold the conference, with all the conversations and negotiations that will take place there, Shader said.
“A big thing that gives me hope is that all these people are coming together,” the environmental policy major said. “Nothing is going to happen if we don’t have this meeting, and if we have it, there’s a possibility for so many things to happen. We have to try.”
Shader, who will be attending the second week of the conference, is looking forward to seeing firsthand what she studied last spring in Robinson’s Global Climate Policy course and is hoping to meet other students interested in climate justice, advocacy, and activism.
“I can’t wait to see everything unfold,” she said. “My goal is just to see as much of everything as I can.”
According to Greene, that kind of enthusiasm is a hallmark of Colby students and something that may help change the world for the better in the long run.
“We’re training the next generation of leaders. No matter what field they’re going into, they are people who are deeply thoughtful about these issues,” he said. “These are smart, complex people, and they can solve complex problems. And this is a complex problem.”
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