Unwreck the Beach: Confronting the climate crisis with compassion at COP 27

I attended COP 27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt from November 6–18. According to the UN Secretary-General, it's one of the most important gatherings this year since “climate action truly is the top global priority."

Due of the location, there was a special focus on the African continent’s specific needs when adapting to the climate crisis. As world leaders, policy-makers and activists gather, I felt beyond honoured to have the opportunity to take up space in this conversation as an Official Observer. This means that as a student, I could, you guessed it, observe the negotiations and discussions that take place at a high level, and give my opinion when given the opportunity.

On a personal scale, it’s difficult to begin to process and digest the incomprehensible statistics I’m confronted with every time I look at the news. I often feel like a single drop of water trying to terminate a forest fire. For me, choosing proactivity over reactivity like Stephen Covey taught me has allowed me to want to change how things are done. I want to make traditional processes more environmentally responsible and better for the earth. I’m a materials engineering student because I want to change the way we extract, process, and manufacture materials.

On a global scale, expectations were high for COP 27. Targets and agenda topics included accelerating conversations about a country's climate action plan, delivering on an adaptation agenda, clarifying action to support loss and damage, making financial flows a reality and ensuring a managed and just transition. After two days of overtime negotiations, for the first time ever, a “loss and damage” fund was established, providing funding to countries that are vulnerable to the climate crisis.

Canada's seat in one of the plenary meeting rooms.
Canada's seat in one of the plenary meeting rooms. Courtesy Rynn Zhang

At the opening of the World Leaders Summit of last year’s COP 26, Mia Mottley, the prime minister of Barbados, delivered a powerful and moving speech that called on anyone who has “eyes to see, ears to listen and a heart to feel” to take climate action. Compassion is a mighty motivator because it moves us to become advocates for the injustice we see.

In order to be compassionate towards those affected by the brutal impacts of the climate crisis, we must start with ourselves. As a perfectionist, the narrative I lived by was that no matter what changes I’m making in my life, it won’t ever be good enough and that whatever I’m doing, I’m not doing it right. It took deep inner work to uncover where this narrative was stemming from. This is also where self-compassion comes in. Acknowledging that the climate crisis is too massive for any one person to solve, I must lower my expectations of myself so then from that place of showing kindness to myself, I can then learn how to show it to others.

The climate crisis is the biggest issue facing our generation and its adverse effects are felt by everyone. That can also add a new stressor and a new form of anxiety that previous generations haven’t felt before called climate anxiety. It’s all the more reason to be less self-critical. None of us are ought to carry the weight of this alone nor are we the only ones responsible. The last thing this planet needs is a bunch of perfectionists who are all waiting for the 'perfect' solution before taking any action.

Some of the COP 27 UBC delegates (from left to right): Abul Bashar Rahman, Rudri Bhatt, Rynn Zhang.
Some of the COP 27 UBC delegates (from left to right): Abul Bashar Rahman, Rudri Bhatt, Rynn Zhang. Courtesy Rynn Zhang

Through my engineering studies, I’ve learned that climate action must be interdisciplinary. It takes synergizing and collaboration. It requires creativity in the ways that we see solutions. “To make a better future, we need our imaginations,” said UBC Professor Simon Donner, a lead author on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent Sixth Assessment Report. I must give myself permission to explore and collaborate, eliminating the pursuit of perfection, as imagination does not grow there. In preparation for COP 27, that was the narrative I told myself.

Therefore, a compassionate heart must be at the centre of all climate action and it must start with compassion for ourselves. From a place of knowing comes wholehearted care, and then, and only then, comes sustained climate action.

Rynn Zhang is a materials engineering student and attended COP 27 as an official observer.

Unwreck the Beach is The Ubyssey's sustainability column. Send pitches or topics you'd like covered to sustainability@ubyssey.ca.