COP26 Notes: Day 8 – Obama Said “Good to See You” in My General Direction

Okay. I said in an earlier blog post that I didn’t get the appeal of chasing the famous people walking around COP. So, I’m going to sound like a total hypocrite in this blog post. But, here it goes, anyway. 

When I heard President Barack Obama was coming to COP, I felt differently. I don’t know how to explain why. I’m actually not the biggest Obama fan when it comes to his politics; I view him as a pretty flawed, nuanced political figure. But, he was elected when I was 10 years old, and I feel like I grew up watching him on the television set, making sense of the world around me. Sometimes, his speeches gave me chills (like when he was inaugurated, for example). Other times, I wished he would do and say more (see: gun control). Regardless, when I heard he was at COP26, I knew I wanted to catch a glimpse of him. I just didn’t know how – he was giving a highly exclusive keynote speech at 2pm, and featured in another speech at 11am, but I couldn’t secure access to either despite my best efforts. That’s one of the strange things about COP – while getting a badge and funding to get here is challenging, once you are here, there are so many closed-door negotiation rooms and ticketed events. It’s also hard to even know where particularly prominent people will be speaking – often times, this isn’t advertised, so it’s just about sheer luck. 

One of my friends from college is also at COP, and he’s been at three COPs prior, so he has a pretty good sense about how to get around these things. So, before Obama’s 11am address, he urged me to go to a quiet second-floor lounge area where he was confident Obama would walk by. Masses of crowds gathered at a different plenary, so I wasn’t sure about this decision, but I followed his lead nonetheless. Surely enough, after 35 minutes of waiting, Obama came out, walking alongside John Kerry. A video of our interaction with him is at the bottom!

My chase after prominent policymakers continued today – I had learned Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) was in town earlier this morning, and knew I had to hear her speak live. But, once again, finding a particular person in this venue can be nearly impossible.  

I started my morning back at the US Climate Action Center, attending an event called “The Power of This Moment: Recommendations From the BIPOC Climate Justice Dialogue on Collaboration Efficiency for Justice40.” This wonderful event featured a panel of scholars and experts from BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) communities who shared their insights on climate justice based solutions. Felicia Davis, the Director of the HBCU Green Fund and North American Focal Point, Gender-CC Women, Isatis Clintron Rodriguez, the LatAm Regional Coordinator at Citizens Climate International, and Ramon Cruz, the President, Sierra Club Board of Directors. It was moderated by Dr. Deb L. Morrison, Learning Scientist, University of Washington & CLEAR Environmental. Then, I attended an event on Indigenous Led Resistance to Minnesota’s Line 3 Pipeline, moderated by Ashley Fairbanks of White Earth Nation, Honor the Earth, and featuring both Indigenous leaders and partner organizations leading the resistance against Line 3.  

After these morning events, I had some 1:1 meetings with various partners, grabbed coffee in the Facebook pavilion and had a vegetable-hummus sandwich for lunch and an orange I had picked up at the grocery store earlier in the morning. Then, I tried to identify where AOC was, and after lapping around the venue for a couple of hours and chatting with various individuals I was just about ready to give up. Finally, I headed back to the US Climate Action Center, and to my surprise, it listed that AOC was slated to speak there next. While the room was at capacity, the coordinators running the Center allowed me to sneak in due to the fact I had such a good event attendance in that room. I was so thrilled to be able to watch AOC and other Representatives speak, including Representative Sean Casten and Veronica Escobar. AOC stressed the importance of passing the Build Back Better package, and how the passage of that legislation will allow the US to truly position itself as a leader on climate issues. 

Then, I got some work done in the workspaces, and sat in on a couple of hours of negotiations. My time is coming to an end in just a couple of days, and I wanted to make sure to really absorb the negotiations as well, the real reason why we are all here. At the negotiations, countries from the Global South continued to plead the wealthiest countries to step up. Representatives from the Caribbean and Guatemala, among dozens of others, expressed genuine frustration with the negotiations. That’s it for today!

Continue to follow Noa on Twitter (@noadalz) over her last few days at COP26!