P.E.I. Green MLA Hannah Bell has just returned from COP 27, the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Egypt, and said she has brought back both specific and general lessons for P.E.I.
With 45,000 people attending — the equivalent of a quarter of the Island's population — and delegations from almost 200 countries, Bell said there is no other event like it.
"On the one hand you realize how small you are in the grand scheme of things, but the more you talk to people the more you realize they're seeing the same things we are," she said.
"You can find common ground really quickly even if you don't speak the same language."
Bell said she talked to people from Indonesia where the fishing industry is dealing with waste plastic, an issue that has also been a problem on P.E.I., and how biodegradable plastic might be a solution.
"We don't need to think of this all on our own from the beginning. Here's somebody else that's got it already," she said.
"We need to be more open to what other people are doing, so we can go A-B-C-M. We can jump those extra steps."
There was a common theme that emerged among many of the delegates she talked to about how to approach problems, she said.
"Spending money and throwing money at things isn't always the solution," said Bell.
"Everybody needs money to make things move, but big changes come because the community tells people who are in charge what they need."
The key is having the right people at the table, she said, and a big part of that is recognizing who those people need to be.
Rather than thinking outside the box, she said, what is needed is to think as a group. In that way, broad-based solutions that meet the needs of more people can be found. Bell said she was particularly inspired by an example from Rwanda for fighting deforestation.
In that country people are cutting down trees because they need the wood for cooking, frustrating efforts to replant as people continued to cut through old forests. Rather than fight the practice with penalties, a new program approached the problem by removing the need to cut down large trees.
"The solution there was to address deforestation by providing people a different way to cook, with a simple little stove that uses twigs and small branches and small amounts of wood. It costs $35 per stove. They delivered two and a half million of them through aid," said Bell.
"At the same time they're also running a reforestation program, and it's working because they're not cutting down the trees. You're not in a negative situation all the time."
Bell is preparing briefs on her experience at COP for P.E.I.'s Green caucus as well as for Environment Minister Steven Myers. Myers was also at the conference, but Bell said the event is so large it is impossible for one person to experience it all, making each individual experience valuable.