By Michael Paparian and Caitlyn Hughes
We were privileged to spend two weeks at the U.N. Climate Change Conference, COP26, in Glasgow, Scotland, in November. For the past two years, the biggest gatherings we’ve been around could probably be counted on two hands … and maybe a foot. So it was quite a sensory shock to join more than 40,000 people gathered to address the climate crisis.
COVID was on the minds of organizers and participants. The “swag” given to all participants consisted of a mask, hand sanitizer and wipes. We tested for COVID daily and showed verification of the results before entering the conference facility. All tests for us and several colleagues were negative.
This was the sixth time Michael attended a COP (Conference of the Parties), and the fourth one with fellow Curtis Park resident Caitlyn.
(A former Curtis Park resident, Maggie Thomas, attended COP26 as chief of staff of the Biden administration’s Office of Climate Policy. She is the daughter of Hal Thomas and Kathy Les of Portola Way.)
Attendance in the “blue zone,” where government representatives meet and others discuss the latest climate science and policy, was limited to those groups authorized by the United Nations. Caitlyn represented the U.N.- accredited organization Solar Cookers International. Michael represented the accredited InterEnvironment Institute and assisted Solar Cookers International and the Climate Bonds Initiative (CBI).
A COP is much more than governments negotiating, speechifying, arguing and agreeing. We represent non-governmental organizations connecting with governments and nongovernmental entities to collaborate and advocate for our climate solutions.
For us, it was a two-week marathon of meetings, speaking, press conferences and more. For example, Caitlyn met with representatives of Sudan, Kenya, India, Nepal, Brazil, the Marshall Islands and other countries to assist them in understanding the potential for switching from open-fire cooking to solar cooking. She managed six press conferences, conducted presentations with groups such as the World Health Organization, and accepted a California legislative resolution congratulating Solar Cookers International for winning the prestigious global Keeling Curve Prize.
For Caitlyn, it was an honor to be invited to give a workshop on solar cooking to the winners of the Gender Just Climate Solutions Awards. During the workshop, these determined women community leaders described challenges they are working to solve – dirty water, disappearing trees, unsustainable business practices, not enough time for women with the demands of supporting families and communities, and being stuck at home during the COVID pandemic.
“Women are becoming increasingly effective at influencing the many facets of climate solutions,” Caitlyn observed. “Educating these powerful women about solar cooking felt like the rainbows we saw after the downpours in Scotland because solar cooking addresses every single one of those challenges.”
Michael engaged in policy discussions with key leaders on behalf of the InterEnvironment Institute and assisted CBI, in addition to helping Solar Cookers International by moderating two of its press conferences and promoting solar cookers with a variety of officials and organizations.
Shortly before leaving for Scotland, Michael learned that the state of California was going to issue a climate-certified bond for more than $460 million to pay for the new very-green Natural Resources Agency headquarters. This is a big deal in the environmental finance world and confirms that a bond is financing a project aligned with global climate goals of keeping global warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. This is the first climate-certified bond issued by the state. It signals that the state is adding infrastructure finance to its climate leadership portfolio.
Michael was able to arrange a briefing at COP26 with Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot, his staff and Climate Bonds chief executive Sean Kidney, to discuss California’s climate goals as an example for other government and financial leaders.
Michael met with several members of the Armenian delegation (including the deputy environmental minister) following a happenstance conversation in the security line. Further consultations on overlapping interests on environment and finance are likely and a trip to the Armenian capital, Yerevan, is possible.
“Watching the younger generation take bold actions such as the 100,000-person march in Glasgow and asking the hard questions inside the venue helped invigorate me,” Michael said. “I realized it is time for my generation to step back as the younger generations step up to energetically solve this crisis.”