By Helen Mizrach
Hi, my name is Helen Mizrach and I am an undergraduate student studying Biopsychology with a minor in Food Systems and Nutrition at the School of Arts and Sciences. Most of my course work at Tufts has not been climate focused, so I am coming into the COP24 with a foundation of mainly self-taught knowledge about climate change and the environment. I am eager to learn and absorb everything I can for the week I will be attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference.
On the first day of the conference, after a morning meeting with the RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations) constituency I headed immediately to the overflow room to watch the opening ceremony of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP24. This was a massive room filled with people watching a live broadcast of the actual opening ceremony that was occurring in the room next door. They provided all attendees of the opening ceremony with headsets which provided live English interpretation of speeches to allow for all speakers to communicate in their native languages. A number of influential people spoke at the event, including the current and former presidents of the COP, the president of Poland, the secretary general of the United Nations, and David Attenborough among others. David Attenborough’s role at the opening ceremony was to introduce the concept of The People’s Seat Initiative. The People’s Seat gives an opportunity for everyone to have a voice at the climate negotiations this week, albeit virtually. Through this initiative the UN will aggregate collective thoughts and concerns online and present them to the negotiating parties. This is an incredibly important initiative, as it will allow those who often feel powerless to have influence in the negotiations.
In the afternoon I attended a series of interesting climate action side events. The first of which was the inauguration of the Climate Action Hub featuring the actor and former governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, the indigenous leader and climate activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, and the president of COP24 Michal Kurtyka. All parties involved emphasized that climate change is not just a political issue: it’s a social issue, a health issue, and a people’s issue. Arnold Schwarzenegger was a very engaging presenter, sharing personal anecdotes and referencing some of his movies during the presentation. When asked hypothetically if he could have one wish granted to improve the future of the climate in 30 years, he said he wishes he could be The Terminator in real life to stop the discovery of fossil fuels which have lead to human caused climate change.
I then attended a talk lead by Gyalwang Drupka, the head of the Drupka Lineage school, one of the independent Sarma schools of the sect of Tibetan Buddhism. He spoke about the intersection of religion and climate change. He feels as though religion should not be the main focus of our survival right now; Religion is a major cause of conflict in society, but the conflict only serves to make people uncomfortable and wastes precious time. He feels as though this is a crucial time to unite to save mother earth, not to create further divisions through debates, fights, and oppression of people who are different. His opinion was that spiritual prayers and meditation can help to a certain extent, but climate action must be taken now if we want to have a chance of survival. I was surprised to hear this opinion from a religious leader, but I feel it emphasizes the grave nature of the current state of the planet.
I briefly sat in on the end of the day-long workshop of the constituted bodies under the Convention on agriculture and related topics. This was an open discussion to set the tone of the workshop which will continue throughout the conference. I appreciated that they allowed a number of observers to speak to the constituted bodies and share their ideas. To quote one of the observers, “Agriculture needs to move towards being a solution: not just part of the problem.” As a food systems minor, I have learned about the importance of agriculture in shaping the global climate and ensuring future food security. I am hoping that it will be at the forefront of the climate discussions in Katowice.