Inside COP27

A student’s experience shadowing the Dean
Lily Hartzell stands outside a convention building at COP27.

While everyone in the Fletcher School’s delegation to the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP) attended with a mission, Lily Hartzell (MALD 23) had a special job: staffing Dean Kyte through the flurry of activity.

Hosted this year in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, COP brings together leaders from every country in the world to negotiate global climate policy.

“COP is a three-ring circus,” said Hartzell. “Everyone is there because the negotiators are there talking through the texts. Negotiations happen on a million different issues.” Comprising the outer rings are people from civil society, dubbed observers by the UN. Hartzell describes it as a blend of academic conference, trade show, protest, and party.

Hartzell had a lot to keep track of during COP; not only was Dean Kyte attending in her capacity as dean of the Fletcher School but also as co-chair of the Voluntary Carbon Markets Integrity Initiative (VCMI), a multistakeholder initiative created to establish a code of conduct and rules for voluntary carbon markets; a potentially significant tool for emissions reduction, the voluntary carbon markets are emerging as governments have lagged in regulating carbon markets. Companies and countries are operating without transparent and high integrity standards—hence VCMI. Companies can buy credits and countries can sell credits that don’t reduce or remove emissions, hence the charge of greenwashing. To create clarity on what voluntary carbon credits really mean, VCMI is driving global consultation processes delineating codes of conduct.

“There’s a lot of effort, and she’s leading the charge to make that meaningful,” said Hartzell.

A typical day at COP began aboard the shuttle, which Hartzell describes as the most diverse bus she’d ever been on.

“Every single person would be from a different country. Every country in the world is represented at this conference. A lot of people are in traditional dress, everyone’s badges have their country on it, so you’re hearing all these languages and seeing all these countries—it’s a world community.”

Then, Hartzell prepped Dean Kyte for various events, sat in on bilateral meetings with individuals across the spectrum of multilateral development banks, economists, and civil society leaders, and darted through the commotion of the convention hall. Inside, the convention center can feel like a trade show: free coffee at the German pavilion, an event taking place at the Indian pavilion, tech problems at an NGO’s pavilion, microphones screeching.

“There’s a lot of running around,” said Hartzell.  “One of my jobs with Dean Kyte was to get her from point A point B. I will say, she figured out the venue a lot faster than I did, and I was holding onto her coattails for a lot of it.”

Navigating the energy of the conference alongside the dean provided Hartzell with a unique look inside the goings-on of COP.

“Dean Kyte is this really respected figure everyone knows and admires. We’d be walking from event to event and people would be running up to her, so excited to see her and wanting to hear what she had to say, which I got to listen in on.”

More personally, Hartzell was attuned to negotiations with the New Collective Quantifiable Goal for Climate Finance (NCQG). In her “Processes of International Negotiation” course with Professor Eileen Babbitt this semester, students are tasked with analyzing an ongoing international negotiation. Hartzell selected the NCQG, which she was first exposed to this summer when she worked in the US Treasury’s Office of International Affairs’ climate team. 

“These negotiations are highly contentious and really interesting. There’s a lot of room for creativity and different conceptions of climate finance, who should be giving to whom, how the private sector should be involved, how we are counting this.” Negotiations happen inside a large room, with participating countries seated around a ring of tables. UN-appointed facilitators lead discussion, and spectators—like Hartzell—observe.  

Hartzell joined last year’s delegation to COP26 in Glasgow. They attended during the second week, when deals were unveiled, and small island states offered testimonies that were heard the world around. At least once a day in Glasgow she had an experience that put her on her back foot in its emotional intensity. While supporting Kyte transformed Hartzell’s personal experience of the conference, the scope of COP27 had transformed from the year before.

“The tagline of this COP is ‘Together for Implementation,’ and I think we’re seeing that happen. Glasgow was full of headlines with huge pledges that countries and companies were making—the deforestation agreement or the GFANZ 130 trillion dollars for net zero. That ambition raising is so important, and I think in Egypt it was a lot more of the nitty-gritty: how do we make sure that these pledges really mean something and that they’re going to get us where we need to go?”

One of the highlights for Hartzell was the launch of the High-Level Expert Group’s report. Concerned that last year’s pledges would not lead to action, the UN secretary-general assembled the group to create recommendations on what constitutes a net zero pledge.

“That’s really important work,” said Hartzell. “Otherwise, we’re just talking, and the world is only getting warmer.”

“I think there is movement on fundamentally reimagining what the global financial system should look like and how it should be considering climate change,” she added. “That’s happening. That’s a conversation that’s live, which is really cool, and very needed.”

Read more about Fletcher’s delegation to COP27.