Skye Jannery-Barney, a senior international affairs major in the Elliott School of International Affairs, was a member of a George Washington University team that presented at the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference or COP27. The group included Mukes Kapilashrami of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, Michèle Friend of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, and Salah Hassan of the School of Business. The group along with Alastair Marke of Blockchain and Climate Institute and Huyam Ahmed Abdalla of Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources spoke on Nov. 17 to a live and virtual audience, and you can find the recording here.
GW Today asked Jannery-Barney to share her thoughts on the experience with the university community:
“Are you ready?” Mukes Kapilashrami asked me as our delegation from George Washington University began settling down for our talk at COP27, the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change.
“Sure,” I answered. “I’m as ready as I could be, I guess.”
I’m someone who doesn’t like to get too excited for things in fear of them not working out. Over the past couple of months, I refused to think too much or talk too much about my opportunity to not just attend but also to speak at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November.
So, was I ready? Not really. I had my remarks mostly written but wouldn’t say I’d totally rehearsed until the night before. And then I couldn’t find anywhere to print my remarks until 20 minutes before I had to be at our event pavilion. My hotel was trying to charge me $17, and I was already having to pay for bottled water, so paper wasn’t really in my budget. (I ended up finding a place to print at the conference with the help of some really kind staff.)
To be fair, I don’t think any 22-year-old could be ready for their first UN Conference of the Parties. It took me the entire time I was at the conference (four days) to semi-understand the layout, the schedule, the open versus closed meetings, and I still don’t understand how the negotiations work.
There were hundreds of pavilions throughout the conference representing countries, NGOs and groups like “Youth and Children.” There were meeting rooms and conference halls and side-event rooms. There were areas to have demonstrations and protests and to create art. There were places to work and places to rest and places to pray and mediate. There was everyone from grassroots activists to policymakers to academics.
Regardless of my overwhelmed state, I was able to make my rounds attending panel discussions on everything from Indigenous peoples’ rights to youth activism to water conservation, to seeing an environmental rap artist and cultural dances, to attending a press conference on women’s roles in leadership, to sitting in the back of plenary meetings with UN Secretary General António Guterres.
If I had to describe COP27 in one experience, it would be eating a vegan wrap and wiping dust off my work pants when a couple of speedy walkers asked if I were OK. One of them turned out to be Egypt’s former ambassador to the UN. You never knew who you’re going to run into, and I probably didn’t realize a lot of the time who was around me. The ambassador shook my hand and said, “We have to take care of our guests.”
I felt so welcomed by everyone, by the locals and by other observers and parties, despite being younger in comparison. I never felt out of place and in fact, I felt exceptionally welcomed. As one of this year’s priorities had been to really include youth in the climate change discussions, I never felt anyone question whether I deserve to be here.
I kept this mentality when it was time for our GW event. We presented on “Eco-Smart Inclusive Governance” and my section was on “Mobilizing for a Greener Future.” I had compiled interviews and research about several GW student environmental organizations to speak about younger generational leadership in the fight against climate change and the need to listen to underrepresented voices.
I’m still processing all that I experienced during COP27, but what I can say for sure is I’m so grateful for the opportunity from Sustainable GW and the support from the National Churchill Leadership Center that provided me with my fellowship. Attending COP27 opened my eyes to all of the opportunities that lie ahead for me following my graduation from GW, and I look forward to continuing to participate in international affairs.