Tuesday, December 3, 2019
As I write this, it’s 1 AM and we’ve been in Spain for about 42 hours. Every minute here reveals greater depth and texture as I come to know more about this remarkable group of students, faculty and staff, all learning together about the complex issues around climate change, and all committed to expanding our role as citizens working for solutions.
That we are here at all speaks to that commitment. UNFCC COP25 was originally to be hosted by Brazil, but with the election of a populist president a year ago, they withdrew. Chile stepped into the gap so the conference could still be held in South America, but the civil unrest in October of this year caused Chile to pull out too. With a month to go before the conference, Spain worked with Chile to provide a venue, and people worldwide scrambled to change travel plans to make it work. It’s a testament to how important these issues are that we are all here, eager to talk, listen, learn and take action, but many could not travel to Spain, and it is important to recognize that their voices won’t be heard this year.
The staff at UConn’s Office of Sustainability made a heroic effort to get us here, changing flights, finding new accommodations, making sure we would still have access. We arrived excited and grateful for the opportunity. After taking in the artistic treasures of Spain at the Prado and wandering the rainy streets of Madrid sampling tapas and churros yesterday, today was all business. We arrived at IFEMA Feria de Madrid early Monday having picked up our passes yesterday evening. The COP25 organizers have pulled off a real coup managing to move the venue from Chile to Madrid with a little over four weeks to completely revamp and reorganize. We jumped right in to attend side events, visit pavilions, and most importantly, meet people and learn about their ideas.
I’m a law student at UConn Law working at the Center for Energy & Environmental Law so I was eager to learn about legal frameworks for implementing climate action. The EU pavilion hosted a side event, Fighting Climate Change: The Legislative Response addressing a proposed EU Climate Change Law. Yvon Slingenberg, Director of International, Mainstreaming and Policy Coordination at the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) in the European Commission, talked about a proposal to implement a system of tariffs on goods coming from countries that have failed to make their emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. That would be real change in policy to put a financial penalty on countries doing business in Europe to force climate accountability. I’m eager to learn more about the EU Climate Change Law and watch how it is debated and what provisions are enacted in the weeks to come.
In addition to the law surrounding climate change, I am also interested in how climate issues are communicated, especially to people without a science or technical background. One way to do this is through art. I’m a knitter and I’ve been involved with a global project originating in the US called the Tempestry Project. Conceived by Emily McNeil, Justin and Marissa Connelly of Anacortes, Washington, a Tempestry is created using climate data to make a visual representation of temperature change as fiber art. For the last month, I’ve been working on a “Global New Normal” Tempestry using annual deviation from average temperature from 1880 to the present and inspired by Dr. Ed Hawkin’s warming stripes climate visualization work. Working on the project is a way to engage with the process of temperature rise which isn’t really perceptible on a day to day basis. Watching the years of progress as I knit, the darker blues dropping out to be replaced by lighter colors, then darker and darker reds, it is impossible to ignore how our planet has changed. I had a chance to talk to Rahul Bansal of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat at the UNFCCC Pavilion about the project and showed him my work. Seeing and touching the Tempestry is a very powerful way to connect with what can be an abstract process. Rahul was so taken with the project that he thought the UN might be interested in displaying Tempestry next year at COP26 in Glasgow. Being able to connect to people is one of the huge benefits of being here at COP25. Many of the speakers I heard today made the point over and over that climate change is about people. Solutions need to be people focused and need to reach everyone. Everyone has a role to play, whether as a scientist, policy maker, educator or citizen in accepting responsibility and working for change.
It’s now Tuesday and after a few brief hours of rest, we are back at COP25. Today there are more pavilions to visit, events to attend, and people to talk to. So many people to talk to with ideas and hopes and fears, willing to listen to each other and work together. That really is the most hopeful part of being here, surrounded by people, all in it together. It is time for action!
Louanne Cooley is a third-year student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She is a research assistant at the Center for Energy and Environmental Law at UConn Law and is pursuing a Certificate in Energy and Environmental Law. Follow Louanne on Twitter @louanne_cooley and on Instagram @louanne.at.cop25
UConn COP25 Fellows with Rahul Bansal, UNFCCC (Photo: Louanne Cooley)