Reflection and Perspectives from Inside COP25

Two people look at posters on a wall.
Two people look at posters on a wall.
Students observe an art installation in one of the halls at COP25. Image Credit: Jessica Daignault

The third in a series of student blogs by Michigan Tech’s representatives at COP25 in Madrid.

The United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) met to negotiate global climate policy for its 25th year in Madrid, Spain from Dec. 2-13, 2019. I arrived in Madrid without expectation and full of gratitude for the opportunity to participate in the event. I left Madrid with an understanding that so much more than policy negotiations happen at such conventions. They’re a space in which people from around the world can come together to share their initiatives, learn about different cultures and unite around a common goal: acting to ensure a healthy social, environmental and economic future.

United States Representation

One of the big questions I had was how the U.S. would be represented with the earlier announcement of the withdrawal from the Paris Agreement. The U.S. delegation was led by Marcia Bernicat, the Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary with the U.S. Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs. In addition, the We Are Still In (#wearestillin) organization sent a subnational delegation comprised of state and local government leaders, businesses, universities and others to run the U.S. Climate Action Center pavilion. The pavilion was a great place to learn about action being taken in our home country. At one panel discussion, a member of our research team on the INFEWS Food-Energy-Water Conscious project, Tim Smith from University of Minnesota, was one of the speakers. It was such a unique experience to network with other Americans at COP25. Other U.S. initiatives were discussed with members of industry such as Mars, Inc. and Impossible Foods, Inc., as well as public figures including Michael Bloomberg and actor Harrison Ford.

The Power of Young People

It was nearly impossible to get a glimpse of Greta Thunberg through the crowds, especially as she had just been declared TIME Magazine Person of the Year. She admits that while she is not a scientist, she listens to the scientists, and that it is time for all of us to do the same. Her efforts have ignited passion among the world’s youth and she uses her spotlight to offer a voice to those from marginalized populations.

A woman stands in front of a wall of pictures depicting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
The author at COP25. Daignault is a civil engineering PhD student. Image Credit: Jessica Daignault 

Young people represent the next generation of scientists, negotiators and policy makers. Members of our group had the opportunity to meet with Ronald Jumeau, ambassador to the U.S. from the Republic of Seychelles. Ambassador Jumeau puts tremendous faith and trust in young people. He invites youth to be a part of the national delegation and allows them to speak on behalf of the Republic of Seychelles. He encouraged us to get involved at whatever level we can and inspired ideas for new initiatives in our own small communities.

In addition to our meeting with Ambassador Jumeau, fellow Michigan Tech student William Lytle and myself were fortunate enough to meet with Foreign Service members at the United States Embassy in Madrid. We were briefed on climate and sustainability-related initiatives in Spain; the embassy was extremely welcoming and open to our questions.

It Is Time for Action

Negotiations occur throughout the convention, sometimes open to observation and others behind closed doors depending on the topic. Perhaps most impressive are the halls in which the plenaries take place. These spaces hold a different atmosphere, as countries make their statements and express both progress and concerns. For many nations, climate change impacts are visible today and there is no time to wait for action. The urgency can be heard in their statements, as their actions alone cannot bring change and support from the global community is required.

It is impossible to summarize all that I saw and heard during the second invigorating week of COP25, but I can say this: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is about more than greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere and rising global temperature. Climate change cannot be addressed without considering social justice, gender equality, capitalism, freshwater and ocean resources and impacts to biodiversity. There must be transparency and accountability in the negotiation process, and the voices of minority populations must be heard. While progress has been made toward achieving a reduction in carbon emissions, there is still much to be done.

At the closing plenary, Italian artist Leonardo da Vinci was quoted: “I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” The entire room of national representatives, press and nongovernmental organizations applauded the sentiment. The time for talk is over. It is time for climate action.

Michigan Technological University is a public research university founded in 1885 in Houghton, Michigan, and is home to more than 7,000 students from 55 countries around the world. Consistently ranked among the best universities in the country for return on investment, Michigan’s flagship technological university offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, computing, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, social sciences, and the arts. The rural campus is situated just miles from Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, offering year-round opportunities for outdoor adventure.