Photo: PrivatePart of the Uppsala student delegation at COP24 in Poland Decemeber 2018. From left to right: Norea Normelli, Greg Davies Jones, Jaya Neupane, Oliver Matikainen, Annkatrin Tritschoks, Moustafa Bayoumi, and Hanna Mroczka.

COP24: A Student Perspective

A delegation of Uppsala students travelled to Katowice, Poland, to participate in the climate conference COP24. They ask themselves if their participation really made a difference.

What is COP24?

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland, is the most important annual event that takes place on a global stage to tackle climate change, one the world’s most challenging issues.
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in a special report published in October 2018, outlined the severe consequences even of a 1.5degree increases of global average temperatures as compared to pre-industrial levels (IPCC SR1.5). Parties failed to make a decision to ‘welcome’ the report at COP24.

Does sending a student delegation to the climate change negotiations play any positive role in combating climate change? Or do we, ironically, merely contribute to more carbon emissions?

The negotiations’ stated main objective is to stabilize concentrations of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions “at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. However, we need to ask ourselves if the conference itself is in line with this objective.
Over 22 000 participants registered at COP24, including heads of states, politicians, scientists, and civil society representatives. Considering the urgency to cut emissions, it seems paradoxical that such a large number of people travelled to a remote city in Poland to convene for two weeks in non-permanent structures, such as tents, that are reliant on electricity and heating 24/7. We were surprised to find that not even basic issues, such as food options (which were largely based on meat), were considerate of emissions.  “Trivial”, some might say, but when considering the sheer size of the event, the cumulative consumption of energy is most certainly not. So, what role did our student delegation play in all this?

It is probably safe to say that we did not advance any novel ideas nor influence any particular formulation of language that ultimately became part of the “Katowice Climate Package”. The contentious issues were well known and had been fiercely debated during previous years. Once COP24 kicked-off, there was limited room for civil society representatives to engage with the negotiators directly. Thus, civil society, including our student delegation, did not have any direct decision-making power at the negotiation table.
We believe, nevertheless, that observer participation makes an important difference. Our persistent presence indicates awareness, interest, and active engagement, which in turn can influence how decision-makers act. Specifically, participation in different actions is a great platform for civic engagement. It is worth mentioning that space for protests was limited in Katowice as compared to previous COPs. Nonetheless, students from Uppsala managed to organize practical, pro-climate actions during the conference, with many taking part in the March for Climate on December 8th, halfway through the conference. By engaging in this way, observers can raise awareness of political failings and hold governments to account for missed opportunities. For example, strong criticism from civil society during this COP regarded the failure to adopt the special report by the IPCC outlining the dangers of a 1,5-degree increase in global warming as well as the dropping of both the gender and human rights plans due to time constraints.
Additionally, participation in COP enables better understanding of the challenges that we are facing, which in turn can enhance decision-making about climate action. Unfortunately, there is currently a yawning gap between knowledge and action in society. We know what we need to do we, just do not do it. Literature suggests that connecting a human element to climate change will cause feelings of guilt and resistance within the individual. It becomes clear then that education and communication are imperative to achieve the societal and behavioural change that is needed.
How then can we, as students at Uppsala University, contribute to education and communication? We suggest three aspects. First, it is important to become more aware of our own lifestyle choices; what can we do to reduce our own ecological footprint? Secondly, we should strenuously advocate that our university more strongly engage with environmental policies such as those around air travel, waste reduction, and energy consumption. Thirdly, the pressing need to promote interdisciplinary studies and networks within the University, by virtue of which students and researchers will be much better prepared to meet the complex challenges associated with climate change.
Moustafa Bayoumi
Greg Davies Jones
Norea Normelli
Charlotte Ponzelar
Annkatrin Tritschoks