My Experience at COP 25 in Madrid

Greenland's ice sheet is melting seven times faster than in the 1990s. Oceans are losing oxygen at an unprecedented rate. A quarter of the world's population are at risk of water supply problems as mountain ecosystems are run down by global heating and rising demand. These were some of the headlines that permeated the sense of emergency at the 25th United Nations Climate Change conference, held in Madrid, Spain, from 2 to 13 December 2019.

With every year of record-breaking droughts, barrage-breaking floods, and anomalous weather, the Conference of Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) takes place amid calls for increased ambition to tackle climate change.

From 7 to 14 December 2019, I joined four Tsinghua University students as part of the Youth Delegation representing the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC) at this year’s COP 25 conference.

GAUC was initiated in January 2019, when eight universities made a joint statement at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. In May 2019, four universities joined to constitute an alliance of twelve universities in nine countries across six continents: Australian National University, the University of California Berkeley, the University of Cambridge, Imperial College London, the London School of Economics and Political Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the University of Tokyo, Tsinghua University, the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, the Indian Institute of Science, Sciences Po, and Stellenbosch University. Tsinghua University is serving as the inaugural Chair of GAUC and the London School of Economics and Political Science is serving as the inaugural Co-chair.

Over the course of COP 25, GAUC Youth Delegates held a number of events, discussions, press conferences and a sustainable fashion show to develop a more global understanding of the climate change issues that universities are facing and to share environmental, economic and political perspectives from different regions around the planet.

December 8th – The GAUC Delegation held its working conference with representatives of all twelve universities. LI Zheng of Tsinghua University, the Secretary General of GAUC, is pictured center-left. Lord Nicholas Stern of the London School of Economics and Political Science, the Deputy Secretary General, is pictured in the center.

December 8th – Joel, second from the right, with fellow GAUC Youth Delegates from Tsinghua University at the GAUC working conference.

December 9th - The GAUC-COP25 Youth Delegation hosted the first COP25 side event on the theme "University mission and action on climate change" at the China Pavilion. SUN Zhen, Deputy General Director of Ministry of Ecology and Environment of China delivered opening remarks, followed by Professor HE Jiankun of Tsinghua University, Lord Nicholas Stern of the LSE, Professor Frank Jotzo from ANU, Professor Guy Midgley from Stellenbosch University, Professor Suzana Khan Ribeiro from UFRJ, and Professor John Fernandez from MIT. Youth delegates Jessie Yuill, Habiba Daggash and Joel Christoph read out the Youth Declaration on Climate Change in closing the event.

December 10th – Meeting Enele Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu from 2013 to 2019. Joel was recognized as an outstanding delegate for his representation of Tuvalu at the fourth Model Climate Change Conference of the Parties held at Tsinghua University in October 2019.

December 11th – Zhao Yingmin, Vice Minister of China's Ministry of Ecology and Environment and head of China's delegation to the COP 25 forwards the GAUC Youth Statement to the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

December 11th – The GAUC-COP25 Youth Delegation hosted two panel discussions, including a high-level dialogue with the Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea (pictured speaking), the chief economist of the Asian Development Bank, and the negotiators of China, Italy, and Switzerland.

December 12th – The GAUC-COP25 Youth Delegation's Environmental Fashion Show, an event showcasing costumes reformed out of old clothes by university designers, covered by Xinhua.

December 12th – The GAUC Youth Delegation hosted a discussion with Wang Shi, Founder and Chairman of China Vanke, the largest real estate enterprise in China and the largest residential real estate developer in the world, on the role of business and private enterprise in tackling climate change.

December 13th – The GAUC-COP25 Youth Delegation hosted the side event titled "Youth Ambition and Action" to reflect on the roles and opportunities for youth and interdisciplinary university students to tackle climate change.

December 13th – The GAUC-COP25 Youth Delegates after hosting the side event on "Youth Ambition and Action"

After the conference, student representatives from GAUC wrote a letter to Chinese President Xi describing their learning and practical gains from participating in various GAUC activities. In his reply, President Xi wrote "Over four decades ago, I lived and worked for many years in a small village on the Loess Plateau in west China," and Xi said the experience taught him that man and nature are a community of life and that the damage done to nature will ultimately hurt mankind.

Back in Beijing, Tsinghua University’s GAUC Youth Delegation also organized panel discussions and interviews with the press to share experiences from COP 25 with Chinese and international audiences. The interviews with CGTN français can be seen here, CCTV+ here, and articles with CGTN English here and China Daily here.

In 2019, the slogan of COP 25 was “Time for Action.” In the lead-up to COP 26 in Glasgow, we should reflect on the global and existential issues that are at stake for all of humankind and develop practical solutions that can help communities, large and small.

I thank the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate (GAUC), the China Youth Climate Action Network (CYCAN), Tsinghua University’s Institute of Climate Change and Sustainable Development (ICCSD), its Center for Global Competence Development, and its Department of International Relations for making my preparation and participation both possible and rewarding.

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Joel N. E. Christoph 柯卓尔 is a Master’s student in the Tsinghua University-Johns Hopkins University SAIS Global Politics and Economics Dual Degree Program. He is a Young Ambassador at the Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, a COP25 Youth Delegate of the Global Alliance of Universities on Climate and a Digital Civilization Fellow at the Oxford-Hainan Blockchain Research Institute.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of any individuals, organizations, or universities identified in the article.