An unforgettable first COP: impressions from a newcomer
Back home from COP 27 for a few hours, I feel the urge to write down what is going through my head about this experience.
By Jessica Cuel
Despite the hours of training, the in-depth readings and the psychological preparation, nothing can prepare you for the whirlwind of experiences and emotions that a first COP can give you, especially if your last few months have been characterized by routine.
I signed up for this project without defined expectations, but knowing that I could not miss such an important opportunity as literally being in the place and time where decisions that will determine the future of humanity are being taken.
I prepared myself for an intense week, both physically and emotionally. During the preparation for the project, and in the first week of COP that we followed remotely, we worked out a division of tasks, a schedule of events that we wanted to follow, but almost nothing went as planned, and I must say, it was better this way.
A day can seem like a week, between long shuttle trips, interviews, video connections with Italy. You may have managed to find a quiet spot (which is rare!) and finally started writing the article on climate finance that you’ve been meaning to write since the start of the COP, but then a message arrives on the group chat saying “I think something big is about to happen at the Ramses plenary!” (yes, almost all rooms have famous pharaohs’ names), so you drop everything and run to see what happens, only to come out even more confused than before.
There is a somewhat EXPO-style part of the COP, dedicated to the pavilions of the various countries of the UNFCCC or intergovernmental organizations, such as the WHO, the World Bank, the Adaptation Fund. By an unfortunate (or perhaps not) coincidence, the Italian pavilion was very close to this year’s novelty in the pavilion area: the “Childern and Youth pavillion”. Besides the great virtue of distributing coffee at all hours, in the late afternoon the Youth Pavillion went wild with songs and dances, disturbing the speakers at the events organized by the surrounding pavilions, and probably attracting observers that were unsure about whether to attending an event, or to call it a day and join the dances.
I learned that at the COP, at least as an observer, the best thing is to follow the flow. From my point of view, the most powerful experience of this COP 27 happened by chance. On Thursday 17 November, we were at the entrance to the COP, each one of us had her own agenda for the day to follow. We came across a protest organized by feminist organizations, which loudly claimed the need to include women’s rights in our conception of environmental justice. Our Roberto Barbiero spotted Marie-Christina Kolo, a Malagasy activist who has been his myth for years. We did not miss the opportunity for a small interview, and we learned from her that a Peoples’ plenary would be held half an hour later. The Peoples’ plenary is an inclusive assembly, that gathers organizations for intersectional environmental justice, which takes into account issues related to gender, age, disability, labor rights and ecosystems. We followed her, and we did well. During that morning, at the plenary and at the protest that followed, we really felt like we were part of something big.
I realized that in addition to negotiations, ministers, objectives to be defined, side events and diplomacy, the COP is first and foremost made of people. People from every corner of the world with different stories, experiences and backgrounds. People who run everywhere, who get to know each other, who form bonds, who sleep, who cry. I have seen more than one person crying during the COP; in particular the director of the Climate & Energy Program of the Center for International Environmental Law (CIEL), who found herself on the last day of the COP to reiterate that the negotiations on a single paragraph can lead to the death sentence for entire communities, or on the contrary, hope for a better future. People in suits and ties, exhausted, sleeping on the sofas in the computer rooms, people who have seen each other at every COP for years, who promise each other to organize something together, like every year.
The people present at the People’s plenary came from each corner of the world, wore a rainbow of different colors, had different backgrounds, but wanted the same thing: environmental justice, which means nothing more than being able to hope for a future for their communities, possibly a better future. One of the words repeated more often was “solidarity”: solidarity between countries, between cultures and between movements.
All this seems so obvious and easy when you are surrounded by a plenary chanting “el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” and “power to the people” all together. Unfortunately it is not easy, the interests at stake are too powerful, and often people with great ideals have their wings clipped. However, I will keep in mind that moment whenever I will have the impulse to give up.
Although it was forbidden to name (accuse) “countries, companies or individuals”, the speakers of the People’s plenary have certainly not forgotten where we were. An Egyptian activist, who had the enormous courage to expose himself to the world, presided over the entire assembly, and read a letter from the sister of Alaa Abd-el Fattah, the now famous activist imprisoned by the Egyptian regime for having had the courage to fight for justice in a police state. She expressed her gratitude to activists present at the COP, and asked everyone not to forget him once back home.
I’ll stop here, but there are so many other things to tell, and we will do it. Back from such a intense experience for just a few hours, still tired but full of adrenaline, I want to thank my companions, the whole Viracao and Jangada association, the extraordinary people I met this week and those I just admired from afar.