Erin Posas reports on her personal experience through COP27 at the Talkback even at the Michigan League Thursday evening. José Brenes/Daily. Buy this photo.

Student Life Sustainability held a panel to discuss the recent United Nations climate talks held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt for their most recent Conference of Parties (COP27). The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change includes representatives from various countries, corporations and non-governmental organizations that arrive at prior agreements like the Paris Climate Accords during COP21. 

Rackham student Alexa White, who presented at a COP27 pavilion on climate justice, was the event’s first speaker. White said the pavilions are spaces where state leaders can discuss different issues. 

“This being the first climate justice pavilion … it was the first time there was a really large community where we could have a dialogue about climate justice and what it really meant,” White said. “So this is also the first time that nations were really pushing for climate justice to be discussed in negotiations.”

White said the biggest amendment that came out of COP27 was the loss and damage fund, which was designed to provide money to help developing countries cope with climate change-induced disasters. 

“(The loss and damage fund) will provide money that’s needed to rescue and rebuild the physical and social infrastructures that were devastated as a result of extreme weather events from climate change,” White said. “That is a major milestone in and of itself.”

White said the significance of the loss and damage fund is comparable to that of the Paris Climate Accords and that many concrete details regarding the fund have yet to be established. 

“The difficult part is that now that it’s set up, there is an issue of figuring out who’s going to put what dollar amount in, when they will do so, (and) who is going to get that money,” White said. “What are (developing countries) going to get and when will they get it? All of those questions were not answered.”

Environment and Sustainability graduate student Neeka Salmasi, who also attended COP27 and organized the Talk Back event, discussed attempts to draw attention to the lack of water access in Palestine.

“Israel has increased the quality and quantity of water available to Tel Aviv and West Jerusalem, which is awesome,” Salmasi said. “All of this has occurred, though, while the Israeli government not only ignores but propagates water shortages in Gaza and the West Bank.”

Salmasi was one of several climate activists at COP27 who aimed to make the extent of the Palestinian water crisis more widely known. Salmasi told attendees her group encountered many barriers. 

“We wanted to interrupt that narrative that was happening in Israel’s pavilion,” Salmasi said. “So the plan here was to basically go to their site event … we painted all these symbolic signs, (and) none of them had the flag (of Palestine) on them, because you’re not allowed to do (either) of those things. So these are all symbolic works of art that we were going to carry into the pavilion … and at the end, when they had a Q&A, (we raised) our hands with very informed questions.” 

Salmasi said UN conference rules ban action or harassment in pavilions, and the group was concerned about how protests could be framed as harassment. She also said any breach of the guidelines could lead to the revoking of the privilege of individuals or organizations to attend events.

“Because of this, instead of addressing (the issue) at its real nucleus, organizers would be required to voice their opinions outside in a neutral, pre-approved space,” Salmasi said. “This forced removal from the pavilion marks a critical imbalance. The security code of COP is woven with the inability to disrupt unjust or untrue narratives.”

Engineering senior Brendan Ireland, president of the U-M chapter of the Sierra Club, said he decided to attend the event because the Sierra Club held a similar event last year, but he thought this one would be more in-depth. 

“I have hope for the activist movements that are starting to rise up and get more interconnected,” Ireland said. 

Environment and Sustainability graduate student Erin Posas gave a presentation about her experience attending COP27 as a student observer.

“Over 44,000 people are registered between business, civil society and governments,” Posas said. “But one of the biggest (groups) was fossil fuel lobbyists. There were 636 of them, which is over a 25% increase from last year … the corporate presence was a little alarming.”

Posas said she was inspired to see the presence of many activists in spite of the fact that, for some of them, speaking out may be risky.

“The conference location was unnerving, to say the least,” Posas said. “I got guidelines from different justice organizations (regarding what to do when) you’re … in a lot of photos from the media and different demonstrations on how to get home safely. We’re talking about a context where there’s over 60,000 prisoners of conscience in Egypt.” 

Posas said she’s heard some skepticism about the impact of climate activists, but pushed back against the idea that activism is self-indulgent.

“Respect the courage, even if you don’t understand the strategies,” Posas said. “Just because policy is not what is said in the chant doesn’t mean that all these visionaries and activists don’t have very concrete policy ideas that they are quietly showing to negotiators behind the scenes. … Activism cannot be reduced to just what you see in front of a camera.”

Daily News Staff Reporter Nadia Taeckens can be reached at taeckens@umich.edu.

Correction 12/2: A previous version of this article misidentified Alexa White’s affiliation. She is a student in the Rackham Graduate School studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. A previous version of this article misquoted Neeka Salmasi; this article has been updated.

Update 12/2: This article has been updated to clarify Salmasi’s role organizing this event.