Thalia Chaves ‘24

Thalia Chaves with BC delegation

IS major Thalia Chaves '24, far right, with some of the BC delegation and U.S. Senator Ed Markey (3rd from right)

Reflections on Attending COP27 as a BC Delegate

Attending the global UN climate conference (known as COP27) last week as part of the official BC observer delegation was an intense, life-changing, invaluable experience. I had never traveled to a country with a culture and people so seemingly different from my own. Soon enough I realized I needed to push away the discomfort, shed my expectations, and let my walls down so that I could take in as much as possible.

I attended negotiations among world leaders. I read about what was said at plenary meetings. But I also strolled aimlessly for hours through the numerous buildings that housed pavilions from nations and NGOs. I found myself being drawn to the emotion-charged speeches of less-developed country pavilions, the confidence in the U.S. pavilion about its formidable climate agenda and private sector partnerships, and the lush green Brazilian pavilion using VR to explore the Amazon rainforest. Each pavilion had a daily event schedule packed with panel discussions about their areas of interest and expertise. 

The  conversations I attended in the pavilions hosted by the European Union, IRENA (International Renewable Energy Agency), and the U.S. honed my focus on the business case for climate change adaptation. Until COP27, I had been led to believe that corporate ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) programs and initiatives were undertaken simply to assuage public pressure, not because companies needed them. But at COP27 I realized how climate change will genuinely impact every person and all businesses everywhere,  across all sectors. The world economy is set to experience a 11-15% GDP decrease by 2050 due to climate change. With every degree the earth warms, there is a 4% productivity decrease worldwide. However, the adaptation market could be worth up to $2 trillion by 2026 -- so it's a no-brainer for the private sector to invest in the adaptation market and incorporate ESG models. 

Coming into Egypt I felt so pessimistic about achieving the level of multilateral and international cooperation needed to affect a genuine impact in climate change. But learning about the business case -- both how profitable it will actually be for companies who take on sustainability, and how achievable climate goals can be with multi-sector partnerships -- changed my resolve in ways I am still trying to parse through. 

Leaning on blended finance, governments can use public money to de-risk investments and incentivize the development of more funds and technical assistance to deploy technology in vulnerable areas at scale. With more companies than ever looking to advance their ESG models and adopt specific metrics, institutional investors are beginning to see how to gain traction on net zero commitments when the fruits of their investments may not be measurable for years or even decades. It was invaluable to learn about green hydrogen, public-private sector partnerships, and initiates such as the Energy Transition Accelerator Financing (ETAF) Platform. 

However, these exciting proposals were undercut by some encounters that made me question how inclusive the global efforts really are. There was a woman who championed youth activism for climate change, but rebuffed questions from a few of us BC students because we approached her after her session had ended. Or a presenter who said that every human must  adopt veganism to halt climate change, but cast aside my question as silly when I asked how this would impact the livelihoods, cultures, and economies that depend on animal agriculture. 

On the plane home I was overcome with a multitude of emotions: gratitude for being chosen by BC to take this incredible journey; exhaustion after six straight days of a very active conference; and more. It was overwhelming to be surrounded by over 30,000 diplomats, world leaders, decision-makers, activists, businesspeople,  journalists and more. I was disappointed by the attitudes of many I met, but most importantly, I left with a robust sense of purpose and duty to use my experience to make a difference. 

Thalia Chaves '24
November 2022