COP23 is an easy place to metaphorically and literally get lost at. Especially when you’re a first timer. First there is the issue of two zones which has you clearing security and hopping on the shuttle/ bike/ electric car/ brisk walking multiple times a day to and fro. Add to that the multiple sections per zone and the umpteen rooms and you have a lot of harried looking people running around trying to get to where they are supposed to be.
I did not think I would get metaphorically lost as much as I did however. Prior to our departure to COP, we prepared through a mixture of self-study, group study sessions and training series. Feeling so ready, I descend on COP23 on my first day, eager and ready to throw myself in and found myself overwhelmed with the sheer volume of activities and negotiations. And amidst the 25 000 or so people who’ve descended on Bonn from all over the world, you feel like a tiny helpless fish. It took some time and effort, falling sick and getting injured to even begin to have a handle on things and to feel like I had a purpose and could contribute in some way.
By the end of Thursday of the first week, I was starting to feel unwell and the next morning I woke up feverish and nausea. I had successfully managed to work myself up and stress myself out over worrying about not accomplishing anything and not understanding enough. Friday became a break day for me, and I focused on writing one of my articles and going over the goals I had set myself to achieve at the COP. I started to realise the advice given by our seniors in MYD to not be too ambitious and which had fallen on deaf ears at that point actually made alot of sense. So I started to revise those goals. Come Saturday, the much awaited Climate Action Network (CAN) Party happened. It was a full night of partying, fun and letting one’s hair down. About 4 am, someone dropped a beer bottle on my foot which shattered. Let’s say I ended that night somewhat lamely (pun intended). Later that day, after getting a few hours of sleep, I awoke in excrutiating pain and could barely walk. The bottle had dropped right ontop of my middle toe. I was so thankful I had been wearing boots or I would have had to deal with a bloody foot too. I started inquiring into whether my travel insurance covered fractured toes. Thankfully by Monday the pain had subsided somewhat thanks to this awesome cream my host had given me and I knew it wasn’t a fracture.
So by Monday I had already found my footing, as best as one can anyway, with a near fractured toe. I found a negotiational track that had meaning for me: Loss and Damage and the Warsaw International Mechanism. Then I limped to my new home at the Research and Independent Non- Governmental Organisations (RINGO) constituency. I found that I enjoyed interviewing people for our FB page. This slower pace my body was forced to take enabled my mind to slow down too and absorb more.
The whispers around the corridor and at the coffee bars said that the Loss and Damage track was not going to be successful and the necessary technical details for the Warsaw International Mechanism would not be discussed sufficiently. However I found this stoked my interest and the divide it was creating between the developing and developed countries was intriguing to observe in the process of negotiations. Negotiators from developing countries were pushing for ironing out how the finances for this element were going to be like while negotiators from developed countries like USA and Australia would deliberately block this.
Drafting interventions was an intensive and tricky exercise in delivering crucial messages concisely and diplomatically. Interventions are an important formalised medium for non-party stakeholders to have a say in the process of negotiations. I worked on four interventions in total, three for the RINGOs and one for the youth constituency called YOUNGO. The interventions were delivered at the opening and closing plenaries of the various tracks. Unfortunately I did not get to deliver any myself in the hall as the other members of the drafting teams that I worked on got the opportunity but I found it to be a very useful learning process and a fun way to meet like-minded people.
Meeting people at COP is a good way to stay grounded by sharing your experiences with each other and learning. I found I was not the only one getting lost, which was immensely reassuring and the people with different backgrounds were able to help me understand, at least a little bit, the UNFCCC and its process from the view of the different stakeholders and parties. I took my task of conducting interviews as a way to bring different voices to the table to spread awareness via social media in Malaysia about climate change and the gravity and urgency of the issue. The process of conducting the interviews and meeting people gave me a sense of purpose as well, in transmitting what I knew back home. I managed to conduct 6 interviews in total, of which 2 have been published so far and the other 4 are work in progress.
Overall, the COP23 experience was a great learning tool both personally and professionally and it felt amazing to be able to contribute in some small way to this huge gargantuan process that is attempting to address climate change.
Written by Lhavanya