'One piece of the puzzle': UBC Sustainability Hub and SFU Sustainability host post-COP27 discussion

Fresh from Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, UBC and SFU delegates for the UN Conference of the Parties 27 (COP27) discussed the heart of what progress has been made, what was lacking and where the future should be focused at an event at SFU’s downtown Vancouver campus Thursday night.

Led by SFU and UBC, a panel of COP27 delegates spoke in front of a diverse audience of students, faculty and climate enthusiasts about the implications of COP27. The panellists covered topics including agency, inequality and geographical bias.

COP is the United Nations' annual summit for the international community to gather and assess the state of the earth’s climate. This year’s COP closed with a loss and damage fund to compensate vulnerable countries for climate-induced disasters, but no effort to phase out fossil fuels.

Keynote speaker, Dr. Pasang Yangjee Sherpa from UBC’s department of Asian studies, set the stage for the evening’s COP27 discussion by proposing this question to the audience: “How do we live in the midst of dying?”

“This was my first COP experience, but this was not new to me,” she said. For more than 15 years, she has been studying the human dimensions of climate change from the lens of an anthropologist.

She said one piece of information that stayed with her after attending was the stark reality of “slow extinction.” As the climate continues to destabilize and a loss of biodiversity increases, the world faces “mass extinction in slow motion.”

“Until we wake up to the magnitude of this threat, the world will continue to desire the same economic model that steals the future of generations to come.”

After Sherpa’s keynote, the youth delegates were brought on stage to discuss their key takeaways from COP. UBC’s students Abul Bashar Rahman and Rynn Zhang were among the five delegates present.

“I came out of Egypt very happy and very motivated,” said Rahman, an economics student.

Despite the vast majority of media narrating COP27 as a “failure,” Rahman felt a sense of “cautionary optimism” from delegates at the conference that were passionate about “actively trying to make an impact.”

“It’s not that people don’t want to work, but the system is so interconnected,” Rahman said.

He spoke about the magnified issue of inequality at COP, with countries that suffer the most from climate change having the least number of delegates. For countries like Bangladesh, this is the “only opportunity” for the country to be actively involved in climate change mitigation on a global scale.

Rahman brought attention to the rising GDP trends in countries such as Bangladesh, Rwanda and South Africa. He found it “fascinating” the way that their economies are growing and pointed to the wide number of “extremely inspiring people,” living with resilience amidst the climate crisis.

“That is where change will take place, the Global South,” said Rahman.

Zhang, a UBC materials engineering student, echoed Rahman’s sentiments by bringing attention to Canada’s status as a global emitter.

“Canadians emit the most amount of carbon per capita,” said Zhang. As a Canadian citizen, the conference helped her recognize the “quality of life” that she is privileged to have in comparison to the millions of people suffering from the effects of the climate crisis. She left the conference with meaningful international connections that she would not have had otherwise.

“Climate action and our future isn’t completely in the hands of politicians and diplomats,” Zhang said. She recognized a sense of urgency for action at the conference.

Addressing her fellow panellists, from different areas of study, she emphasized, “We have the power to change things.”

“COP is just one piece of the puzzle.”