Late Sunday, the ninth of December, I arrived by train in the Polish city of Katowice. It had taken me two whole days from Gothenburg to the south-east of Poland, but considering my reason for traveling; time was but a small price to pay. I had traveled to observe the second week of the 24th Conference of the Parties - COP24.
For me, it seems that the COP has aged quite slowly compared to myself. Whereas I have gone from being a toddler during the Rio Conference, a primary school student during the Kyoto Protocol negotiations, a rebellious high school student during the failure of COP15 in Copenhagen, and a hopeful Bachelors student celebrating the Paris Agreement; the COP still hasn’t learned to walk the talk.
Getting my observers batch from the front-desk at the conference venue, a gigantic UFO-shaped thing in the middle of Polish coal-land, I was cynical about my week at the COP. It wasn’t exactly encouraging to hear the rumors of the opening ceremony — held the week before — with an ‘all you can eat’ meat-buffet. Imagine my mood when I soon realized that most food and beverage at the venue was served in single-use items. The whole thing might as well have been called a conference of the plastic.
Bitterness aside, my thermos and I walked up and down in the endless corridors, trying to find the beacon of hope. Thankfully, I did not have to search for long. Between all the country pavilions set up as marketing stations, there were people from all walks of life. Young people, in particular. Enraged, engaged and encouraging, these were young people with a cause. At a side-event held by the Plant For The Planet Foundation, I saw a young woman from Mexico speaking passionately about the reforestation project in the Yucantán Peninsula where they have planted more than one million trees since 2015. During the Citizens Climate Dialogue hosted by Bonn-Fiji, a young woman from Seychelles spoke about how she got tourist establishments to start reducing their food waste. A young European man had landed a job at the Bellona Foundation, and a young Egyptian woman worked as a solar energy engineer.
When I looked past the tired diplomats, I saw only energetic and enthusiastic representatives from youth-delegations, start-ups, academia, big business, and NGOs. Yes, of course, there were exceptions. There were representatives from oil and gas companies, and yes, there were country representatives who had no other goal than to weaken the outcome of the COP. Nonetheless, the people I saw and spoke to had already made up their mind: they were ready for the change. In fact, they had already changed. Obviously, this spirit of optimism is not enough unless it becomes the spirit of actually-doing-something-ism. However, it made me believe that the tides have turned in our favor.
If this experience has taught me anything, it is that I would much rather follow the COP of the people. As I left Katowice, late Friday the 14th, the negotiations were still continuing due to disputes between countries. By now, most of you will have read about the outcome: not a failure, but nothing revolutionary. Things are happening much faster on the grass-roots-level than in any negotiation room. And I’m sure that during COP25 in Chile, we the peoples will simply be too many to ignore any longer.
Sandra Alm is a SDG Coordinator for SDSN Youth at University of Gothenburg in Sweden. She is currently pursuing a masters degree in International Administration and Global Governance at Univeristy of Gothenburg and is also one of the co-founders of Social Science Environmental Association at the Faculity of Social Science at University of Gothenburg. She is currently the project manager or Euroenviro 2019, a student symposium taking place in Gothenburg in the spring of 2019 where students from all over Europe is invited to participate.