By IOF student, Kate Wallace

Greetings from Dubai!

After almost 24 hours of travel, we made it to the United Arab Emirates and woke up bright and early this morning to embark on our first day of COP 28.

On our drive to the venue we rode through open desert – a scene quickly replaced by a mini metropolis on arrival. After securing our badges and passing through security we were greeted by masses of attendees and incredible architecture.  And the bright sun!

The setting for this year’s conference in Dubai’s Expo City is extraordinary!

At around 9 AM we were waiting for the doors to a plenary to open when we met Dr. Robert Bullard, who many refer to as the “Father of Climate Justice.” We were fortunate to speak to him for over 10 minutes. He told us about his work and said he was excited to see youth at COP.  Bullard views the climate battle as a race, not a sprint. He told us “you run your 26.2 miles and then you pass the baton to the next generation to run that next leg… you want to see victory at the end of the line.” It was incredible to meet such a prominent leader within our first hour at the conference and I loved how open he and others were to sharing their experience with us.

Next we attended a presentation by Former Vice President Al Gore and Gavin Mccormick about their organization, Climate Trace, which uses satellite imaging, AI technology, and data from hundreds of smaller organizations to track and record all CO2 emissions from across the world. Both speakers (cofounders) gave detailed and captivating presentations and I am fascinated by this organization.

It is a huge step for large carbon emitting companies and countries to be held accountable for their emissions, and up until now the technology has lagged behind. With this Climate Trace’s technology, it may finally be possible. I was amazed by the scope of the project, which includes emissions data from over 350 million sources across the globe.

Former Vice President Gore also spoke about the importance of the reach of Climate Trace’s data, which covers every country across the globe. For many countries that currently lack adequate climate data, this organization will be significant in helping them to reduce emissions.

After the presentation, we made it backstage to meet both Al Gore and Gavin Mccormick!

One prominent piece of Gore’s presentation was the language “phase out fossil fuels.” It is inspiring to hear a leader of his status using these words. Most leaders at COP are dodging this phrase and instead urging countries to phase down or use “unabated fossil fuels.”         

It was encouraging to hear this clear statement from Vice-President Gore and to see the enthusiastic reaction of the audience (which included notable figures such as Robert Bullard and the head of NASA).

We spent the next few hours exploring and talking to other attendees. We interviewed people such as Sanjiv Gokhale, a Civil Engineering Professor from Vanderbilt University, and Prasiddhi Singh, an eleven year old activist from India. We ate lunch with several women from the UK, one of whom was a UK climate envoy. It was fascinating to be able to walk up to others, ask where they are from, and hear their story.  After focusing locally, it is such a unique opportunity to hear about climate stories from around the world. As we walked back from lunch (which was all plant based!!!) we passed right by John Kerry!

In the late afternoon we had the chance to speak on a panel at the Just North pavilion. We spoke about Climate Literacy and Climate Justice. Our audience was interested to hear about our experience as youth and our views on the importance of climate education, especially since we are high schoolers. A number of people we spoke to throughout the day expressed their excitement to see young people at COP and to hear our ideas. It was great to be listened to and to have our voices elevated at this level.

Overall, I was blown away by my first day at COP. The sheer scope of the venue and the architecture was unbelievable. It was incredible to hear countless languages as you walked and to see the variety of people of all ages, races, and nationalities.

Although we didn’t attend any of the delegations today, I definitely felt the “United Nations” experience meeting people from across the globe, and I have already learned so much about the unique climate impacts and solutions in other areas.

It was inspiring to be with 70,000 people of completely different backgrounds who all care deeply about the planet and are here at COP working to fight the climate crisis. I am so grateful for this opportunity and cannot wait for tomorrow!