COP27 Opened Eyes and Minds of BC Delegation

by Stephanie M. McPherson

The 27th UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP27, introduced a number of new initiatives, including SHIP—the Sharm el Sheikh Implementation Plan intended to guide climate action going forward—and the major creation of a loss and damage fund to support developing nations who are disproportionately affected by disasters brought on by climate change. 

And a delegation of 20 students and faculty from Boston College was there to witness it all. 

“At the high level, COP is about climate negotiation and the welfare of future generations,” says Yi Ming, Schiller Institute Professor of Climate Society and Science. “For the young people to be around, to watch how the process unfolds, that’s tremendously important for the negotiators. And for the students, they feel they’re part of it. They are educated as the history unfolds. I cannot think of a more effective means to do pedagogy.”

Hear from some of those delegates, who were supported and prepared by the Schiller Institute, about what they saw and learned, and how the experience impacted their plans for the future. 

Oluchi Ota, Nursing Student, ‘24

Ota’s growing interest in the effects of climate change in all areas of life led her to apply to be a COP delegate. While in Egypt, she focused on events highlighting public health but also found herself drawn to the youth involvement pavilion, which hosted several interactive events run by her peers. 

“I always saw myself as part of the gender and the race conversation, but I didn’t consider my age as something that could be such a pivotal part of my identity,” she says. She also spent time in the US Pavilion and had the opportunity to engage with major climate representatives from Massachusetts. 

One interaction in particular left a big impact on Ota. She and some of her fellow delegates caught up with a group representing a Jesuit university from Chile, and listened to the stories of their climate fight—from chaining themselves to trees to prevent deforestation to contending with threats from local police to stop their activism. Hearing their stories brought home to Ota the privilege she had in fighting this climate fight in the relatively tolerant United States. 

“These kids are full-fledged environmental activists,” she says. “When you hear these kinds of stories on the news or you see it on your phone, you can always swipe up or turn off the TV when you’re done and that’s it. But as these people are face-to-face with me and telling their stories I just had to blink back and listen, nothing else felt adequate.” 

As part of the committee focused on sharing lessons from COP with the BC community, Ota wants to make sure future delegates are better equipped to deal with such interactions in a productive way. 

“Going into the conversation with something more than just sentiment and pitiful looks would be best for both sides,” she says. 

Ota is looking forward to seeing how each delegate disseminates the stories of their experience and recognizes that peer communication is one important way to make clear the importance of the climate issue. 

“A student who didn’t go to COP hearing the reason as to why someone from the business school went or someone from the nursing school or from Lynch went, then there is a greater chance of them being able to relate to what happened at COP and seeing the closeness of the subject in their life,” she says.

Ogonna Hilary Nwainya, PhD Candidate, Theology Department

Nwainya became interested in environmental ethics as a pastor in his home of rural Nigeria. Attending COP was the perfect opportunity to connect with the international community on this issue. He was particularly impressed by the intense collaborative work it took to bring the question of environmental justice to the table at COP27, and was thrilled that tangible action was taken on the issue with the Loss and Damage fund. 

“For some countries, this is not just a matter of justice. It’s a matter of national survival, national security,” he says. “Because without them having the fund to mitigate this, then they would have to lose their country in the next couple of years. For example, I come from Nigeria and I see how global climate change has affected the crisis that we have in the country between farmers and herders, and their conflict over dwindling resources.” 

Nwainya went into COP with a degree of skepticism, wondering how much could be accomplished when some government officials come to the negotiation table not necessarily in good faith. And though some of those concerns were alleviated while in Egypt, he was truly heartened by the non-government representatives interacting in what he referred to as the “informal COP.”

“I now see that there are two kinds of COPs going on there,” he says. “You have the official, formal COP of negotiations between governments, the one we get to hear in the news. But the informal or unofficial one is the real COP. The COP of the people who do not have any other interest but to push the climate agenda forward. They’re not talking about their national interest, they’re not talking about their individual interest, they’re not talking about money. They are talking about keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees and anything that countries can do to that end. I have hope, not because of what I think the government and the people representing the government can do, but what I believe that these people are already doing, even as we speak.” 

Dunwei Wang, Professor of Chemistry

Professor Wang studies and teaches about renewable energy and sustainability. At COP, he enjoyed catching up with the latest technologies in his area while also connecting with delegates from other nations to hear their stories. 

“There were a lot of island country and small country attendees there,” he says. “Being here in Boston, hearing those stories always appears very distant. But when you meet people and hear directly from them, the impact of climate change suddenly becomes very tangible. The sense of urgency grows.”

He is looking forward to participating in the spring semester outreach events and figuring out how this new perspective can impact the work that he does in the laboratory. 

Yi Ming, Schiller Institute Professor of Climate Science and Society

While Professor Ming was unable to attend COP27, that didn’t keep him from feeling involved. He attended the dispatches presented by the BC delegation, which gave him a more personal stake in what was happening half a world away than if he had only kept up with COP via the news. 

“This loss and damage fund, that’s probably the single most important outcome from COP27,” he says. “I think I’m going to use the climate justice issue as the major motivator for my future research, how to even the playing ground to give abundant attention to the emerging nations as a way to mitigate and adapt to climate change.”

He looks forward to seeing what the Boston College community will do with the lessons and experiences gained at COP27. 

“This is going to be an ongoing conversation,” he says. “The take home message is that the COP process has been a great starting point, so we can understand how we can do better next time. We should continue to gather ourselves and incorporate the lessons we learned into daily pedagogy and also research. So that’s my hope.” 

To hear more about delegates’ experiences, be sure to attend the suite of events hosted by the Schiller Institute that will take place throughout the Spring semester. Event information will be listed on the BC@UNCOP page