These Ontario climate researchers and advocates expect more than talk at COP27 — they want action

Clifford Mushquash,  a master's of public health student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay who's with the religious-based organization Kairos, and Alexandra Ho, who's in the master's of climate change program at the University of Waterloo, are among delegates from Ontario who are attending COP27 in Egypt. The climate conference starts Sunday.  (Lakehead University and Alexandra Ho/Facebook - image credit)

Alexandra Ho of Hamilton will be paying close attention to the messaging during COP27, not just while she's in Egypt attending the climate summit, but also after it's over.

The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27), begins Sunday and is set to run until Nov. 18 in Sharm el-Sheikh. The annual conference is meant to spur discussions around the world about addressing climate change.

Ho will be among four delegates from Ontario's University of Waterloo. She's a student in the master's of climate change program and has a background in English literature and psychology.

"I'm really looking forward to attending, particularly to focus this year on the way that communications from the conference are going to be disseminated and coming out, and to really see how the messaging of the conference is being shared," Ho told Craig Norris, host of CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition this week.

"We're at such a pivotal moment in our collective goal to limit global warming and climate change," she added.

"I think a big piece of why I found this interest in climate change is just thinking about the future and the uncertainty of what we're heading into as young people, what we're going to grow up with, and so taking action, it's a really exciting opportunity to see what's coming next and to have a role in shaping the world that we're going to be living in."

LISTEN | Alexandra Ho on what she hopes to take away from COP27:

Solutions can come in 'different ways'

Clifford Mushquash is Anishinaabe from Pawgwasheeng (Pays Plat First Nation) on the northshore of Lake Superior and is a master's of public health student at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay.

Mushquash will be attending the conference as well as be facilitating a blanket exercise, which will teach the history of Indigenous people. He's part of a delegation with Kairos, which is made up of 10 churches and religious organizations from across Canada.

"The land is represented by the blanket and the participants in the exercise represent the Indigenous people, and we walk them through the story of Turtle Island," he told Mary-Jean Cormier, CBC Thunder Bay's Superior Morning host.

"Then we have a conversation at the end in the sharing circle about ways that we can help contribute towards reconciliation and in our own capacities."

Sayed Sheasha/Reuters
Sayed Sheasha/Reuters

Mushquash, who also identifies as a member of the LGBTQ community, hopes to remind people they don't need to come up with new solutions to climate change — they can learn from the past.

"Maybe we can use some knowledge and ways of doing things that have always been here. Indigenous people across the globe, and particularly on Turtle Island or what we now know as Canada, have been environmental stewards since time immemorial," he said.

"We have lived off the land and occupied it in ways that were sustainable for many generations to come after us. We see the results industrialization and commodification of industry has had on the environment," he added.

"I think you know there are different ways that we can be doing things, but it might not necessarily be new ways of doing things."

LISTEN | Clifford Mushquash on why he's excited to take part in COP27:

Lots of pledges, 'not a lot of follow-through'

Warren Mabee, director of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy at Queen's University in Kingston said there are concerns people aren't paying close attention to this year's COP27 conference.

"A lot of people have sort of tuned these meetings out because they do sort of seem to follow the same basic pattern: lots of pledges, lots of discussion and then not a lot of follow-through," he told CBC Kitchener-Waterloo's The Morning Edition.

Mabee added the world is distracted by other issues around the world, including the war in Ukraine and the implication it has for Europe.

Marc Godbout/Radio-Canada
Marc Godbout/Radio-Canada

"This meeting, while it's important, just hasn't garnered the same kind of attention that COP26 did last year in Glasgow," he said. "I'm not sure that it's going to affect the outcome of this particular meeting other than it may slow down commitments because countries may be really preoccupied with dealing with that immediate emergency and not focused on the longer-term climate change piece."

Urgency remains, researcher says

Still, the tone of COP27 is "one of urgency," Robert McLeman, a professor of environmental studies at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, told CBC Sudbury Morning North host Markus Schwabe.

"There's been a lot of reports in the last few weeks emphasizing how urgent the need is for action," he said. "The criticism that countries, including Canada, promised the moon but deliver very little in terms of action, that does need to be resolved."

Robert McLeman/Twitter/@rmcleman
Robert McLeman/Twitter/@rmcleman

He said he expects some will point to the United States, where President Joe Biden recently introduced a "sweeping set of initiatives to accelerate the green energy transition," and countries like China and India will likely be asked to step up their efforts.

"We're going to see the Europeans kind of apologizing a little bit for the fact that they've started to lag behind. Part of it's because of the war in Ukraine and the cutting off of natural gas supplies to Europe from Russia that's forced the Europeans to sort of delay a lot of their plan changes to improve energy efficiency."

Carry conversations back home

Both Ho and Mushquash say they know much more work will come after they leave Egypt.

"I'm looking to be invigorated by the passion of the global community in approaching the ways in which we address the climate emergency," Mushquash said.

"There's opportunity for us to be able to connect in environments like [COP27] to kind of invigorate ourselves," he said. "I think it's a really great opportunity. It's one that I'm certainly looking forward to and certainly going to be excited to talk about when I come back."

Ho said she's excited to bring what she learns at COP27 back to Ontario.

After "following the conversations that are being had, understanding the focus areas, the priority areas, seeing whose voices are being represented and unfortunately possibly not represented," she hopes it'll help spur conversation on the University of Waterloo campus, as well as more broadly within the community "and beyond to look at what's being said, and what's being accomplished and where can we continue to build upon that."