Woman wearing sunglasses standing outside leaning on a wall.
Renata Koch Alvarenga (MPP Class of 2023) at COP27 in Sharam El-Sheikh, Egypt.

COP27 may have concluded, but climate crisis discussions are far from over

By Renata Koch Alvarenga

The 27th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) ended almost exactly two months ago, after a two-day extension of the official closing date due to the heat of the negotiations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. As a Master of Public Policy student at Harvard Kennedy School, attending the COP was an unparalleled opportunity to reflect on my studies on negotiation, leadership, and climate, and to apply this knowledge to the global climate policy arena.

COP27 represented my fifth time attending international climate negotiations. Despite the overwhelming nature of being at such a large global conference, I was grateful to witness the so-called "Africa COP," following many years of discussions based in Europe. 

In fact, this was a key message of COP27: to address climate injustice, those who are disproportionately affected by climate change must be at the forefront of decision-making spaces. This includes the African continent – the most vulnerable region in the world to climate impacts, despite contributing less than 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions. 

As I wrapped up my fall semester finals at HKS, I reflected on the outcomes of this year's COP, and what is left to be done. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said it best in his closing speech at the conference: "COP27 concludes with much homework and little time.”

Renata Koch Alvarenga in front of the Climate Clock at the COP27 Children and Youth Pavilion
Renata Koch Alvarenga holds the Climate Clock at the COP27 Children and Youth Pavilion, displaying the world's remaining carbon budget.

Time is constantly on my mind as a young climate justice advocate. At the first-ever Children and Youth Pavilion at COP, one of the big stars was the Climate Clock, a clock that counts down how much time we have before the world's carbon budget is depleted – at which point the level of destruction that we've done on Earth becomes catastrophic and irreversible. 

My generation is the last one that can do something about climate change before it's too late. The clock is ticking. Ambition and justice, the themes of COP27, are great, but if they are not coupled with the urgency that the climate crisis requires, then they won't be effective. 

So what can be taken away from the Egypt COP, from the perspective of an HKS student?  

Inspiring speeches must have a call to action

Last semester, I took Speechwriting with Professor Stephen Krupin. I learned about Monroe's Motivated Sequence, a five-step process for a persuasive speech, which concludes with a call to action - the part in which the audience is moved to do something about the problem at hand by the speaker’s urgency. At COP, dozens of speeches were given daily, but many lacked a powerful call to action – especially those by government leaders. 

For a good example of an inspiring speech capable of motivating large, developed countries to act in support of small island states, watch Mia Mottley, Prime Minister of Barbados. Her call to action invoked fairness in funding for the reconstruction of countries suffering from climate-related disasters.

Leadership must be adaptive

In my Exercising Leadership class, taught by Professor Farayi Chipungu, I learned Professor Ronald Heifetz's adaptive leadership model, which embraces change, experimentation, and innovation – all necessary components for ambitious climate solutions. COP27 walked the talk: this year's conference produced an agreement to establish a new loss and damage fund, after over three decades of demands by developing countries for financial assistance to rescue and rebuild the infrastructure devastated by climate change. 

Though some progress was made, many key policy issues were not given proper attention at COP27, such as the goal of keeping the global temperature rise to 1.5°C. One of the most important outcomes of the Paris Agreement back in 2015 to limit the temperature increase was left behind when it came to renewing commitments. The interests of fossil fuel-based countries spoke louder. 

After two weeks of difficult negotiations and two months of reflection (post-COP exhaustion is real!), I can't say I left feeling confident that world leaders are doing enough to tackle the climate emergency. 

However, as I learned from Professor Julie Battilana's class Power and Influence for Positive Impact, power is not only in those with formal positions of authority. In fact, to solve seemingly impossible issues such as saving our planet, challenging the status quo is necessary. As I joined thousands of young people in the first-ever dedicated space for youth at COP, I can say, with confidence, that's exactly what we are doing.

Young Brazilian activists on stage at COP27
Young Brazilian activists on stage at the New York Times Climate Forward in Egypt, with Sônia Guajajara, Indigenous Leader and Congresswoman.

Renata Koch Alvarenga is a second-year Master in Public Policy candidate at Harvard Kennedy School, where she serves as a  Belfer Young Leader Fellow and Diplomacy Co-Chair of W3D. She is the Founder and Director of the youth-led, Brazil-based organization EmpoderaClima for gender and climate justice, and attended her first climate conference, COP21, when she was 18. 

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