Beth Schenk

Have you wondered how nations around the globe make agreements and commitments to address climate change? One key process happens at the annual meeting called COP: Council of Parties, sponsored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Nearly 200 nations and parties come together to set goals, report progress, and make commitments for reducing greenhouse gases and adapting to changes already visible due to our warming planet.

The 27th meeting, COP27, was held in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt earlier this month. Representing Providence, I had the opportunity to attend in person. It was an incredible experience to hear and meet people who are concerned about climate change from around the world. It was fascinating being in Sharm El Sheikh—a resort town on the Red Sea, on the Sinai Peninsula.

Over 44,000 people attended, with negotiators from all nations and parties. The weather was perfect, the taxis plentiful, the ideas, hopes, and facts compelling, and the people friendly and energized. Most nations offered talks, displays, and education. Businesses shared ideas for solutions and innovative processes. Protesters argued for faster action, and more equity.

The negotiators met for long days as they hammered out agreements, which is challenging because 100% consensus is required to move forward. In other words, any nation or party can raise an objection to a proposal or decision.

This year at COP27, negotiations were extended until the early hours because of the challenging questions at hand. Importantly, the parties agreed to create a fund addressing “Loss and Damages.”

Many nations which are seeing the worst impacts today, particularly in the global south, are least responsible for emitting greenhouse gases, which warm the planet and cause harm. The agreed-upon fund will provide needed resources and mechanisms for equitable payment to address losses and damages.

While there are many details to work through, this is a major step forward toward more equitable adaptation, and it received much attention over the past year since negotiators were unsuccessful in addressing it in 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland.

Going forward from COP27 this year, several contentious issues remain on the table. The target to keep global warming under 1.5 degrees (C) established in Paris was not recommitted nor was it challenged or changed—leaving the-temperature commitment as is.

Another very contentious issue that went unaddressed was the phasing out of fossil fuels. From COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland in 2021 the final agreement was that the burning of coal would be phased down (not phased out), with no mention of other fossil fuels. While there has been vocal outcry about this in the year since, it was not discussed in formal negotiations in 2022, at COP27.

These two issues are expected to be energized topics at COP28 in 2023 in Dubai.

I returned home with a few insights:

  • First, it was wonderful being with such a diverse group, committed and energetic, all of whom were working toward a shared goal—a fair, equitable, healthy, and livable future.
  • Second, I was reassured by the process. I was prepared for a slow pace and stalled negotiations. But truly, I felt heartened by what I saw—the sincerity of the negotiations, the courage of witnesses sharing the realities of harm in their home nations, and the hard-won accomplishment of creating the loss and damage fund. This is a very big deal. The challenge of consensus among 198 nations is mind-boggling. Yet, it works. And the results are taken seriously. Negotiators will be called to task next year to take the next steps. For people who work on climate issues, it may feel inexorably slow. But given the immense complexity of this challenge, and the very human processes of dialogue—the give-and-take and compromise—the results represent progress.
  • Third, the vividness of global challenges was compelling. COP27 was the first COP held on the continent of Africa, where arguably some of the most severe impacts from a warming planet are happening. It was so impactful to meet people from African nations like Nigeria, Ghana, and from other continents as well, including Pakistan, the Philippines, Micronesia, and many other places that are losing homes, communities, jobs, and lives today. It reaffirmed to me why we do this work. We are working to protect ourselves not only here in Montana and the U.S., but also to respond to a call for justice for people around the world who are suffering.

So, what is next? While the impacts from climate change are frighteningly real and happening now, and the challenges to addressing them are enormous; I come away optimistically heartened and invigorated for action. As a citizen of the globe, the United States, and Montana I can continue to advocate for a healthy, livable, equitable planet and future. I can take actions personally, professionally, and in the public sphere.

I can keep an open heart and open mind for all those who are suffering, today and for future generations. Happily, I can celebrate the good work being done from Missoula to all quarters of the world. And I can enjoy and draw inspiration from this beautiful planet Earth—our common home. Please join me in responding to our planet’s call for help.

Beth Schenk, PhD, RN, FAAN is the Executive Director or Environmental Stewardship for Providence, and she is the Board Chair of Climate Smart Missoula.

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Tuesday, Nov 29 — Going Circular” screening at the Wilma - A free documentary screening and panel discussion starting at 5:30PM. Save your seat here.

Thursday, Dec 1    Farming in a Time of Peril: A Panel Discussion, 6pm in the University Center Theater (3rd floor). Hosted by Faith and Climate Action Montana. Learn from local farmers who are innovators and adapters to our changing climate and the landscape around us. The panel includes farmers from Lifeline Produce, Oxbow Cattle Co., Dr. George Price, and Garden City Harvest.  RSVP’s not necessary and all ages welcome. The event will also be live on zoom.

Tuesday Dec 13  — Common Good Missoula's Civic Academy. 6 - 8 pm. Missoula Fairgrounds Commercial Building. Common Good Missoula and City of Missoula and will co-present on what the Our Missoula project means to our community and how, together, we can create more diverse, inclusive, and robust engagement that guides how Missoula will grow in the future. Our Missoula is a multi-year project that seeks to refresh Missoula's vision for future growth, and to modernize and make critical changes to the zoning and development code, one of the City's greatest tools for achieving that vision. All welcome for this game changing event. Climate issues should be included!  RSVP here. Facebook event HERE.

Saturday, December 17    Missoula Climate Comedy Night Benefit. 7:30 show. Join Families for a Livable Climate at the ZACC with Revival Comedy and other comedians for a night of laughter and connection to benefit our organization and climate outreach work in Montana. Purchase tickets today. Funds raised will go towards sharing climate stories and conversations across Montana. $10 tickets. Doors open at 7:00 p.m. Show is rated for ages 18+