COP28 as a Leeds Laidlaw Scholar

Reflecting on my time as the first ever Youth Delegate from the University of Leeds to the UNFCCC's COPs at COP28 in Dubai, UAE.
COP28 as a Leeds Laidlaw Scholar

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In September 2023, I was asked by my University's UNFCCC Task Force to represent Leeds as Youth Delegate to the 28th edition of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations' Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC's COP28) hosted by the United Arab Emirates in EXPO City, Dubai in December 2023. Considering this was the first time a young person has been part of the Leeds delegation, I see it a real privilege to have been given this opportunity. My primary engagements at COP28 were with YOUNGO, the official children and youth constituency of the UNFCCC, and with Conscious Planet, the largest global people's movement with a clear plan to Save Soil.

The Flags.
COP28 Blue Zone @ Expo City, Dubai

The ways of the UNFCCC, with its endless acronyms and subsections within subsections looks daunting to an onlooker, and seems all the more complicated to one who finds himself just launched into the thick of it! This was the my case ahead of the COP - rummaging through tutorials and webinars to grasp as much of it as I could before plunging in. Having gone through COP28, I realize that the only way to know it is to be in it, and I now have much a better idea of how things operate within the framework of the UNFCCC, but am in no capacity to claim that “I have figured it out.” :)

Being a Laidlaw Scholar has played a significant role in enabling me to pursue opportunities of this magnitude, in that it has broadened my perspectives to see that being an undergraduate certainly does not limit the extent of impact I can have on this world. Sometimes, all it takes to get started is one good email to the right person. :) Further, being a student of Sustainability and Environmental Management at the School of Earth and Environment at Leeds, I am fortunate to be taught by world class academics working on topics across various fields with a real passion for interdisciplinarity. This has allowed for exposure and the possibility to take a deep interest in a diversity of niches within climate. The beautiful connections I have been able to cultivate within my faculty has often prompted them to introduce me to plenty of opportunities for meaningful engagement with climate action beyond the seminar room and lecture theatre. 

Some of the key outcomes I had coming out of COP28, were that I :

  • Had the fortune of a lifetime in speaking with and spending time in the physical presence of a living master, Sadhguru, and also in sharing the space with Presidents, Prime Ministers and other Heads of State and diplomats in the Blue Zone. 
  • Helped organise panel events with some of the biggest names globally working on Land Degradation at the Save Soil Pavilion and the UNCCD United4Land Pavilion. I had such a wonderful time working to arrange the side events where Land degradation, Food systems transformation, and Sustainable Agriculture were primary areas of focus. This was complemented by a first 'Emirates declaration on Sustainable Food Systems' (to which Soil is central), and it is a matter of great joy for all those working in the space that, coming out of COP28, it was signed onto by more than 150 countries ! 'Food systems' is climbing the priority ranks at the climate negotiations and that's critical to solving this planetary crisis.
  • Established key connections with international stakeholders and youth leaders, with a number of contacts extending invitation for potential collaboration on events and advocacy in the coming months leading up to COP29 in Baku.
  • Was inducted into and received exclusive access to a community of fellow International Youth Climate Leaders. I was fortunate to, by grace, build the most beautiful friendships with a whole host of climate leaders who are all, like me, in their 20s. This pool of highly competent, super charged individuals who are essentially the leaders of tomorrow, showed me how they operated relentlessly at the greatest climate event of the year. It has been my privilege to be recipient to their love and respect, and to reciprocate it as we went through some intense days of closely following negotiations in Dubai. I am certain that those connections will facilitate collaborations on future efforts that have a tangible positive impact on the world. 
  • Learned a great deal from the daily YOUNGO briefings at the start of each day and debriefs at the end of the day to discuss daily developments.
  • Supported the delivery of a youth intervention on behalf of YOUNGO Food & Ag Working Group at the Sharm-El Sheikh Joint Work Negotiation on Agriculture, which was highly impactful and moved the room full of negotiators to applause and tears.
Delivering our Intervention.
Food & Ag WG @ COP28

A key aspect of my participation at COP28 was to understand how best University of Leeds students can take to the UN Processes; not just the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), but the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) as well. Exposure to such fora will enable young people at Leeds to become more articulate in expressing their thoughts and demands on climate action, and combined with the current work on embedding sustainability in the Leeds curriculum, this is a leap in the right direction. Post-COP28, there has been a flurry of student engagement with the Priestley Center, and I am positive that it will continue to grow. My work at COP28 inspired me to take up a 12-month placement year with Conscious Planet starting September 2024 in India, working on sustainable land management policy and advocacy. The coming year for me would involve working with various global agencies and large private entities in partnership with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification on a number of large undertakings. I'm grateful that following my engagement at COP28, the UNFCCC Task Force at Leeds awarded me an Observer badge to attend the 60th session of the Subsidiary Body for Implementation of the Paris Agreement (SB60) in Bonn, Germany as Youth Delegate to the 'June Climate Meetings', the most crucial technical and climate policy dialogue of the year.

"Speed of understanding. Not like lectures. 4 minutes to present life's research and make an impact." is what I found written on my Notes app after attending a packed side event on Day 4 of the COP. :)

Some of my biggest takeaways from the COP

  • The role of the youth is rising in global negotiations in a big way. When being listened to, it is our responsibility to succinctly articulate our concerns and present them with sufficient technical strength. Today, the delivery of such interventions is limited to a select number of experienced individual youth speakers and hence, there is an urgent need to ramp up training efforts on diplomacy and negotiation among young climate leaders to ensure the youth are not just represented, but represented well in all forums.
  • It takes a lot to be “on it” for a fortnight at the COPs. It can be incredibly exhausting, and there is a need for months of preparation if involved actively in negotiations. Even as an Observer, I felt the fatigue and over the period of the event, I could envision what it would take for me to sit and speak on 
    those tables.
  • Lebanese food with Leeds Delegates.
     Mall of the Emirates, Dubai.
    There is a plenty of hope for the world – The young people showing up on the international stage are VERY able. I was simply blown away by the sheer calibre of those that accompanied me to our YOUNGO spokes and debriefs - their contributions, and their passion - it was so invigorating to see that I was in the company of such articulate and eloquent individuals who had clarity in every word they uttered. An even more phenomenal experience as we were all there as volunteers, and there was a common sense of selflessness.

COP28 was such an empowering experience as it opened up for me the possibility to step into the global mechanism on climate action which is an already large, well-oiled engine, and to make the most of it. My deepest gratitude as ever to my Laidlaw program coordinators at the @University of Leeds, @Rebecca Shaw and @Matt Penhaligon, for encouraging me with the necessary support to go for it.

#SaveSoil . A Conscious Planet. Let's make it happen ! 


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Go to the profile of Lily Grace Else
13 days ago

Continue making a difference V 🍃!! :)

Go to the profile of Vaibhav Pramode Nair
13 days ago

Thank you, Lily. :) 

Go to the profile of Sebastian Glasper
10 days ago

Amazing work V! Your dedication to the environment is really inspiring 🌿⭐

Your support is invaluable, Seb ! :)