By IOF student, Natasha Bhatia

Hello all from Dubai!

Today was the last day for all of us at the COP28 conference, and so it was the final day in the Blue Zone for Maia, Kate, Danica, and myself. We had a chaotic but amazing last day, and I’ll share highlights from our day below!

For context, today, December 8th, was Youth Day at COP28, and the action for the day was to wear black, which symbolized solidarity with many climate related issues, but especially those of the inclusion of youth voices and the end to the era of fossil fuels. To show our support, all IOF students in the Green and Blue zone wore black today.

The day started with the Dear World Leaders: A Message From Youth panel at the US Center. I spoke on this panel as the sole high school senior, representing youth voices from across the US directly to officials that have the power to make a difference. Seated in the audience were Brenda Mallory, Chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, Dr. Rick Spinrad, Administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Shannon Estenoz, Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, Department of the Interior, and more! This panel was 5 young women on stage, speaking about the need for greater urgency and direct, bold action for the environment, and it was a step in the right direction in the representation of youth voices in environmental issues. I loved meeting my fellow panelists as well, and it was inspiring to see youth involved in various fields, all working to protect our environment.

The panel was followed by a roundtable with the officials, where IOF youth Danica, Maia, Kate, and other youth activists joined the panelists for the discussion. We conversed on a variety of topics like climate education, youth involvement, and a fossil fuel phase out, and both youth and adults asked questions to learn more from each other. Overall, I found both events to be productive conversations, and am grateful to have had this opportunity.

Also present at the panel and roundtable was the US Special Youth Envoy, Abby Finkenauer. Kate, Dania, Maia, and I spoke with her for almost an hour outside after the events. I loved connecting with her on our shared upbring in Iowa, and it was great to hear her ideas on how we can increase youth engagement in the environmental movement. Her passion and enthusiasm for youth voices and representation gave me hope for a future where youth have a seat at the table when decisions are made regarding protecting the planet for our future. She also asked to feature us on the State Department instagram since she was doing a takeover for the day, check out the videos on @statedept and @usglobalyouthenvoy.

Afterwards, we grabbed a quick lunch on the way to the Women, Gender, and Youth building where we were presenting the Apathy, Anxiety, and Activation: Youth Mental Health in the face of the Climate Disaster panel at the Climate Live Pavilion. We had a great discussion, and loved meeting a fellow high school senior afterwards as well!

After the second panel of the day, we went to the Green zone to meet with Mayor Katrina Thompson of Broadview and Mayor Cathy Adduci of River Forest. We met inside the dome, which has a beautiful garden-like space inside with music and a cafe. We enjoyed meeting with the mayors and talking about our experiences at COP28, and the peaceful location was a welcome break from the busy atmosphere of the Blue zone!

As we made our way towards the main negotiations building, we stopped to see an action taking place outside, and Danica and I loved that they were doing some of the same chants as our Chicago Global Climate Strike chants! Even across the world, demands for climate justice remain the same.

We ended our day with 2 negotiations, including a Global Stocktake negotiation session. It was interesting to see each country’s different perspectives on the language of the agreement, as well as the general negotiation process to ensure that all country’s voices are heard. Each country gave their opinion on various parts of the document at a time, and though much of it was technical, we did get to see the negotiation on the inclusion of fossil fuel phase out language in the text. Though it was frustrating to see some countries say that they would not accept a phase out (or even phase down), there were a few that argued for unabated phase out language, though activists, especially youth, have made it clear that we need a commitment to phase out all fossil fuels, and a timeline and plan to make this happen in order to to try to stay under 1.5 and 2 degrees of warming. As Al Gore stated, the real judgment on “success” for COP28 is whether or not there is a commitment to a phase out globally, and I hope that such progress can be made in the last week of the COP for the sake of the future of our planet.

Overall, it was the perfect last day to end our time at the COP28 conference, this was truly a phenomenal experience and is one that I will remember for the rest of my life.