Annika Barron at United Nations Climate Conference

Two weeks before Thanksgiving, I headed to Sharm el-Sheikh Egypt for COP27, the yearly United Nations Climate Conference which brings together governments and civil society members from around the world to discuss the best ways to address the climate crisis. As an official UN Climate Observer, I had full access to the UN negotiation space, more commonly known as the Blue Zone. The Blue Zone was filled with discussion and inspiration as it embraces dichotomy between the more formal, but intense negotiations and high energy panels, conversations, displays, and even protests. While there, I was able to attend panels on topics ranging from global health to interfaith collaboration to nuclear energy. I went to State Department briefings and listened to countries like Pakistan tell powerful stories about loss and damage during negotiations. But one of the most inspiring experiences was being able to meet activists, scientists, educators, and world leaders such as John Kerry, Vanessa Nakate, Mary Robinson, and others.

My experience at COP was extremely rewarding for several reasons. First, I was able to gain a very unique and personal insight into processes of global collaboration and negotiation between official parties. While slow, tense, and sometimes frustrating, these forums for global discussions can be very important spaces for collaboration, accountability, and change. At this COP in particular, one of the very important outcomes was the creation of a Loss and Damage fund which was an agenda item really emphasized by low lying and vulnerable nations such as Pakistan, which led the Group of 77 (G77) in the negotiations this year. However, a lack of concrete action on other parts of the Paris Agreement, such as mitigation and adaptation signaled that there is still much work to be done to promote climate justice worldwide.

Going to COP also allowed me to see a wide sample of organizations and individuals who are working creatively to promote climate justice in their own communities. Whether it is designing renewable energy solutions, promoting solidarity through community gardens, or researching the detrimental impacts of climate on health, people all over the globe are finding creative ways to combat the climate crisis. These organizations and individuals on the ground are just as important as the governments making decisions in the official negotiations because they can inspire collective action and respond in locally rooted ways to the climate crisis.

Finally, on a personal level, going to COP27 showed me a deeper level of the complexity and interconnectedness of the climate crisis. My research interests thus far have focused on maternal healthcare, medical anthropology, child development, and education. After leaving Notre Dame, I am hoping to attend medical school to become a doctor. However, as the climate crisis is becoming a bigger threat to our global community, I have realized the importance of finding ways to combat this crisis with our local and global actions because ultimately this crisis will impact health and the wellbeing of all. When considering my studies in neuroscience and what I have learned about the way our brains develop, it is clear that the climate crisis also poses a threat to the safe and secure environments required for healthy development. My experience at COP27 has inspired me to work to find creative ways that I can pursue climate justice through my own educational trajectory and career as someone who cares deeply about human health and peace.