Down but not out – Climate talks at COP25 inspire young scientists to do even more to protect the environment

Four Master of Environment and Sustainability (MES) students experienced the dream of a lifetime when they were invited to take part in the UN Climate Change COP25 talks in Madrid late last year.

In December they joined world leaders in high-level talks about what the world was going to do about climate change.

But with the exhilaration came some disappointment.

They witnessed up close just how slow and laboured it can be to make meaningful change.

And as Australians – they were also in a curious position: passionate environmentalists, watching as the world had its eyes on Australia in disbelief for its position in demanding that it be allowed to use “carry-over credits” to meet its emission reduction targets, which as some commentators have put it, would get Australia off the hook for having to reduce actual emissions.

The UN Secretary General António Guterres tweeted that he was disappointed with the results of the COP25.

The international community, he said, lost an important opportunity to show increased ambition on mitigation, adaptation and finance to tackle the climate crisis.

“But we must not give up, and I will not give up.”

Among the MES students who successfully applied to attend the COP25 were Morgan Rossiter, Remy Shergill, Dickson Ho, and Georgia Cox – and they have no intention of giving up. They, and their generation, are the faces of hope for Australia.

Morgan Rossiter

Morgan Rossiter is a Strategy Advisor for BP and in the first year of the MES program.

“As a wealthy and developed nation, we cannot rely on our past actions for solving current problems,” Morgan said.

“We need to take ownership and this starts by ensuring we are getting accurately educated and informed on the issues.”

Despite the lack of clear outcomes from COP25 Morgan said she found the experience energising.

“COP25 gave me the opportunity to test my own thoughts and knowledge with colleagues from Monash and other universities from around the world – helping to validate my own position and confidence in engaging on the climate crisis,” Morgan said.

“The stilted nature of the negotiations was the result of certain nations putting their own interests above those of the global community.

“As a MES Student, the comprehensive nature of the degree is equipping us with the ability to lead conversations for change on the international stage and that will hopefully contribute to greater accountability with equal involvement by all.”

Dickson Ho

Dickson Ho is a MES student six months into an internship with the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

He agrees that the outcomes for COP25 were not ideal towards ambitious climate action with Article 6 and NDCs (Nationally Determined Contributions).

“But progress has still been made in other areas,” Dickson said.

“This is how the UN system works, it is a slow process that requires consensus.

On the plus side, Dickson believes COP25 has highlighted issues such as loss and damage, climate refugees, a move towards disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, impacts of climate and gender, financing mechanisms, loss and damage discussions, a deep dive into Article 6 and all it entails, the sharing of a vast amount of knowledge and data, and wide media coverage of climate issues.

“Although the official proceedings like the COP are important, it’s usually the meetings, discussions, negotiations and conversations around these official meetings that move things along,” Dickson said.

“Whoever you are, wherever you are, with whatever skills you have, do what you can do.

“The illusion of feeling powerless is just that, an illusion.

“Don't lose hope.  Discussions about NDCs, counting emissions and 1.5-degree reports can sound daunting. But, if we, the people who are trying to do something about the environment and climate lose hope, what hope does the rest of society have?”

Remy Shergill

Remy Shergill is a MES graduate currently working at the Monash Climate Change Communication Research Hub, managing a project called Changing Climates which facilitates the publication of climate science in local newspapers

She attended COP25 as a delegate representing the Hub.

“A major climate denial narrative we hear again and again is that Australia only emits 1.2% of emissions, and therefore nothing we do can make a difference,” Remy said.

“But when Australia attempts to create loopholes in the system, they are undermining the Paris Agreement and actively blocking progress on climate action at an international scale,” she said.

At COP25, she was struck by the huge disconnect between bureaucrats only talking about 2050, while there were so many climate change-related events happening RIGHT NOW.

“This disconnect has only become starker after our horrific summer,” she said.

“It would be wonderful to have MES graduates eventually become part of the negotiation team representing Australia and other countries around the world.

“Outside of this, I think the work of graduates is more valuable before and after the COP – to drive ambition prior to the event, and to help implement any decisions which come out of it.”

Georgia Cox

Georgia Cox is in the second year of the MES program and attended COP25 with the Monash delegation.

“I think it’s important to remember the phrase reiterated throughout the COP – ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’,” said Georgia.

“This rings true for so many negotiating parties, as well as for so many people impacted by climate change.

“I felt empathy for the negotiators when the question kept being asked of them about what were they going to do about the ‘carry over’ credits, and I felt very frustrated at our democratic political system -- the fact that such major decisions rest in the hands of very few influential people.

“It would require quite a radical shift in our system, but I think a direct democratic system whereby we vote on individual policies would be one way to overcome this.”

For Georgia, the best part of COP25 was the sense of hope and confidence it gave her in humanity’s ability and potential to collaborate for meaningful change.

It’s a view shared by her COP25 colleagues and despite the challenges and setbacks they witnessed, they remain optimistic.

“While despair, anxiety, concern, fear, are all normal and healthy feelings,” said Georgia, “it is of utmost importance to find hope and confidence in our future.”

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