A bracing desert sun welcomed us on the Sharm el-Sheikh tarmac as we offboarded the plane against the backdrop of the sandy Sinai mountains. Inside the airport, walls were adorned with the logo of the 27th United Nations Climate Convention (COP27): a blue and yellow depiction of sun rays extending over the horizon, meant to symbolize the renewal of hope for a better world. Delegates were greeted with signs in Arabic, Russian, and English. A huddle of taxi drivers eagerly called out to us.

Outside the event space at COP27.

The site on the African continent was chosen as part of a concerted effort to bring more African representatives to the conference ― Africa is only responsible for about 3% of historic emissions to the atmosphere. Yet rising temperatures and extreme weather impact Africa significantly.

COP27 also aimed to bring more young voices to the table. It worked. COP27 drew delegates of more diverse backgrounds, languages spoken, and countries. There was also noticeably more Indigenous representation.

It was encouraging to see so many young activists, whose futures are on the line, engaged in the debate. “As young people, we are disproportionately affected and see and feel such detrimental impacts on our health and our future,” said Omnia El Omrani, Youth Envoy in Egypt. That sentiment was echoed by Renata Koch Alvarenga, Founder and Director of EmpoderaClima. “As young people, this is our chance to reclaim our future and make sure that we have access to our right to a healthy environment,” she said. That’s why we need more young people in leadership and decision-making spaces for climate.”

Key Learnings

A world that warms by 1.5 degrees Celsius is starkly different from a world that warms by 3 degrees. And the COP21 goal of avoiding 1.5 degrees of global warming is moving quickly out of reach. We are currently at 1.1 degrees, and on track to reach 2.9 degrees this century.

These numbers look small, but “each fraction of a degree of additional warming could mean tens of millions more people worldwide exposed to life-threatening heat waves, water shortages, and coastal flooding,” according to the New York Times in an article that quotes The Rockefeller Foundation’s president, Raj Shah. Coral reefs like the one here in Sharm, and Arctic Sea ice are at risk in a 2-degree world.

Our Food2050 sneak preview screening.

Our in-house “coal nerd” Joseph Curtin believes that “coal is the urgent priority” and reducing emissions by 50% will help us prevent hitting 3 degrees. In a BBC interview last week, he said, “If we don’t make a massive dent in the emissions from coal this decade, we have no pathway to the 1.5 or 2 degree target.”

The consequences of 3 degrees of warming are “massively different in terms of food security and the ability to grow crops in certain parts of the world, and in terms of the number of people that are exposed to extreme floodplain risk and extreme heat risk,” according to Dr. Shah. Three degrees of warming would leave more than 285 million people facing vitamin deficiencies and undernutrition.

At the same time, food systems are responsible for one third of global greenhouse gas emissions. The world has “created a value-destroying food system,” The Rockefeller Foundation’s Roy Steiner said at a panel with our partner Food Tank. The U.S. creates roughly $1 trillion worth of value from food and agriculture systems, but it also creates ~$2 trillion in costs.

It seems obvious that protecting our planet is a priority. So, why is it challenging to agree on solutions? A COP27 attendee explained that every policy decision inevitably prioritizes one agenda over another. Picture a stack of documents on a policymaker’s desk, she said. If we put climate at the top of the pile, then something else like “jobs” (that is still crucial and timely), comes in second. Prioritizing the future of our planet can feel less urgent than other immediate needs, she explained.

Another challenge is ensuring that decisions made for climate action are sustainable and have measurable outcomes.

Some have called the negotiation process too slow, and some have called the commitments nothing but empty promises. Inside the negotiating space, it was clear that productive discussions are indeed taking place, and that a decision where most world governments agree to cooperate is critical. But they require time, compromise, and innovation to ensure that all parties—coming to the table with varied resources, challenges, and capacities—agree.

Overall, COP27 was infused with a sense of urgency and hope – work on climate is already in action and needs to be scaled. There is an understanding that diverse voices matter. As we reflect on this year’s outcome document, one colleague suggested that the way forward is to continue to break down barriers between initiatives. Those working in clean energy can meet those working in regenerative agriculture, who can meet the community working on biodiversity preservation, and so on.

When asked the most important thing a young person can do for climate, Benji Backer, President and Founder of the American Conservative Coalition answered, “Use your voice to talk to elected officials, and not just Democrats, but Republicans as well. Both sides need to get to the table on climate change and young people are the way get there.”

We must continue to ensure these voices are taken seriously, not just in conversations, but in decision-making processes.

Follow Through

COP27 closes with weary eyes and record-breaking step-counts. We depart from Egypt with a sense of cautious optimism. Our work here is not done. It’s time now to prove we are committed every day of the year to slowing global warming, protecting our planet, and making opportunity universal and sustainable for its people.

Only through collaboration will we be able to meet our goals of achieving more resilient, sustainable food systems, averting greenhouse gas emissions, bringing the right financing to climate action, scaling solar technology, ending energy poverty, and creating jobs for people around the planet.

Landscape at the Green Zone.

So go ahead: book that next meeting. Send off an email to the new connection who passed over their card at your pavilion. DM that activist whose Instagram Story deeply inspired you. We are primed. We are open. We are energized. While there is still an incredible cause for concern about the state of global warming, activists are showing us that change is possible. It’s time to start listening and following their lead.

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