CTSBC member and UConn MBA Candidate Ben North recently traveled to the United Nations Climate Change Conference COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt as part of the UConn@COP Fellowship Program. 

We were fortunate to chat with Ben about his experience.

What impressed you most about the experience? 

Upon arriving at COP27, I was immediately struck by the unparalleled scope and scale of the conference. This year, more than 46,000 attendees participated in the COP, making it the largest diplomatic gathering on earth. The sheer magnitude of this event further exemplifies the overwhelming consensus by over 190 countries for the pressing need to address climate change.

In addition to the annual formal negotiation process between countries to shape international climate policy, at any given moment during the conference, there were hundreds of panel discussions happening in pavilions for almost every country on earth and a multitude of non-governmental organizations. These discussions spanned the full spectrum of topics related to climate change, from indigenous leaders in the Amazon discussing the challenges of participating in forest carbon markets to European ministers of the environment discussing strategies and policies to phase out oil and gas production. Also, the vibrant melting pot of cultures at COP27 both captivated and inspired me by seeing people from opposite ends of the world speaking different languages and wearing distinct clothing yet coming together to address the common threat of climate change.

What did you learn?

I came to realize quite clearly the United Nations COP is not just about the collective fight to address climate change. It is a critical mechanism for fostering collaboration and dialogue between countries, including those engaged in rising tension and conflict. As an example, the U.S. and China agreed to resume climate negotiations through COP27, which remained stalled for three months prior due to Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. Arguably, COP27 acted as a catalyst to help restart dialogue between the two countries, not just on climate but on a range of other issues. With the U.S. and Chinese economies being the world’s largest emitters, accounting for almost half of global emissions, coordination between these two countries is paramount for making meaningful steps to reduce global emissions.

Also, while the formal multilateral negotiations are often a central focus of these COP meetings, the COP continues to play an increasingly impactful role in addressing climate change by acting as a conduit for creating bilateral agreements, facilitating the flow of capital, and disseminating innovations between countries, businesses, and non-governmental organizations. As a result, the COP helps to precipitate a much greater climate impact beyond merely the outcomes of the formal negotiation process.

What was surprising?

I was astonished by the level of interaction and access we had with many of the leaders present at the conference. For example, less than an hour after first arriving at COP27 we had the incredible opportunity to meet John Kerry, the U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate. He told us he wanted to read the blog articles from the UConn@COP Fellows, where we shared our perspectives and experiences from the conference. Our articles then got sent not only to John Kerry but also to the entire U.S. climate team!

Also, I was surprised by the chance discussions I had with delegates that I bumped into from different countries. For example, on the bus ride back from the conference one night, I sat next to a woman from the pacific island nation of Vanuatu. She described the impact of climate change in her country, including creating salt-water intrusion impacting the country’s water supplies, reducing agricultural productivity, and degrading coral reefs and fisheries. She told me that many other small pacific island nations face similar challenges that are expected to worsen. 

As a result of this discussion and similar interactions, on the last day I was there, I made a point to meet as many people as possible from around the world. If I were to go back, I would do that nonstop. It was a great way to learn the desired outcomes for different countries in the negotiation process and to develop a clearer picture of everything happening.

It’s very difficult to get an invitation to attend COP27. What made it possible for you? 

Attending the COP27 would not have been possible without the critical coordination and fundraising support provided by the UConn Office of Sustainability through the UConn@COP Fellowship program. This year, 14 students and seven faculty and staff members attended the conference from UConn. Funding for the program comes from a variety of sources, including business sponsors, alumni donors, and university departments and professors. The UConn@COP Fellowship program depends on the continued support from these donors every year to give students access to this transformative experience as part of their time at UConn. 

How did COP27 transform you? 

Participating in COP27 provided me with unique exposure to the international policy negotiation process, cutting-edge approaches for addressing climate change, and to government and business leaders from diverse cultures around the world. As commitments to address climate change continue to rise globally, in our state, and at UConn, this experience provides graduate and undergraduate students an invaluable springboard for professional development to become leaders at the forefront of this transition to deliver on these ambitious targets. 

If you are interested in supporting UConn students to attend future COP meetings, please consider donating to the UConn@COP Fund. Additionally, if you want to become a business or organizational sponsor of the UConn@COP Fellowship Program, please contact the UConn Office of Sustainability (sustainability@uconn.edu).