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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Michigan Tech students speak on climate action at COP27 international conference in Egypt

By Kendra Lachcik*

The location of the COP27 climate change conference, Sharm El-Sheikh, is circled in red on this map. The city is located approximately 300 miles south of Cairo. (Map from Google Maps courtesy Kendra Lachcik)

Every year since the first COP (Conference of Parties) was held in Berlin, Germany in 1995, policymakers, activists, scientists, business leaders, academic professionals, and students from around the world have gathered to discuss and take action on the latest research, technologies, impacts, and solutions related to the climate crisis. "COP" is the most important decision-making body at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), comprised of representatives from nearly every country. Many global treaties related to climate change, including the Kyoto Protocol and Paris Agreement, have been established at previous COPs. COP27, which took place November 6-18, 2022, was held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, a city located at the southern tip of the Sinai Peninsula and on the northern coast of the Red Sea.

Michigan Tech has sent students to this conference since COP25 in 2019. This year, 12 MTU delegates, including 2 undergraduate students, 7 graduate students, 1 MTU alum, and 2 faculty members, attended the conference as observers under the Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations (RINGO) constituency. This is the first year that undergraduates from Michigan Tech were brought to COP27. 

Michigan Tech students, from left, Anna Kavanaugh, Kendra Lachcik, and Rose Daily at a sign outside the conference center [11/10/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Alexis Pascaris)

MTU delegates were also representing the Youth Environmental Alliance in Higher Education Network (YEAH Network), a transdisciplinary, multi-institutional global network that is a charter of the National Science Foundation. The YEAH Network seeks to educate students on climate change, give them voice on these issues, and provide them with real-world experience of collaborative, evidence-based approaches to global environmental sustainability. One way is by bringing students to COP. Michigan Tech delegates were joined by students from several other schools, including Colorado State, Colorado College, and Boston University, all attending the conference on behalf of the YEAH Network.

The primary purpose of COP is for countries from all corners of the globe to come together and negotiate new climate policy. Yet, an ever-increasing number of other activities are appearing at the conference including press conferences and pavilions that are run by specific countries or organizations. There were also several protests that took place in and outside the conference center like the one pictured below. The pavilions at COP27 were vast, with each having a full schedule of events, most of which were panel discussions. There was a seemingly endless amount of information to absorb at the conference including the importance of blue carbon, the future of environmental justice, small modular reactors (a type of nuclear fission reactor), and decarbonizing food production. Although the information was at times overwhelming, I did my best to make the most of my time at the conference, attending as many panels as I feasibly could. The pavilions and press conference rooms were where MTU delegates participated most heavily and had the opportunity to share their ideas with the world. While at the conference, MTU delegates spoke at press conferences, participated in panels at the U.S. Center pavilion, and presented an art exhibit put on by YEAH also at the U.S. Center pavilion.

Kendra at the stage of the U.S. Center Pavilion [11/10/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Anna Kavanaugh)

Another view of the U.S. Center during a talk by a NASA scientist [11/10/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Kendra Lachcik)

Outside the conference center protesters' signs advocate for a vegan lifestyle and for vegan governmental policy. [11/12/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Eugene Brown Agyei)

As members of the Michigan Tech delegation, Eugene Agyei, Rose Daily, Anna Kavanaugh, Alexis Pascaris, Mark Rouleau, and I attended the first week of the conference. Aritra Chakrabarty, Ayush Chutani, Kathy Huerta, Zach Hough Solomon, and Shardul Tiwari attended the second week of the conference. MTU faculty member Sarah Green, from the Chemistry department, attended both weeks. Green is heavily involved in the YEAH Network and is the primary faculty member at MTU who brings students to COP.

Anna Kavanaugh spoke at a press conference entitled "Vanderbilt University: New NSF-supported Climate Leader’s Academy" with other YEAH students from Duke University, Colorado College, Vanderbilt University. The press conference introduced the Climate Leader’s Academy, a new 2-semester program at Vanderbilt University that will bring students from many institutions together to collaborate on climate-related projects to be presented at the upcoming COP. After this, YEAH students discussed their connection to the YEAH Network and to COP as well as what motivated them to get involved. They also discussed their individual educational experiences as well as project work related to climate change. Many commented that YEAH provides a valuable communication pathway between institutions that allows for collaboration and the sharing of knowledge.

When reflecting on her experience at COP27 as a whole, Anna remarked, "I was able to collaborate with and meet some of the most inspirational people fighting for the future of our climate around the globe. Just to be clear, there is much more work to be done in every aspect of this conference; youth want (and need) more of a voice at the table, not just a seat. My time at COP27 will be something I absolutely cherish forever."

Michigan Tech student Anna Kavanaugh speaks at the press conference [11/08/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Eugene Brown Agyei)

I spoke at a press conference entitled "Monash University: YEAH Youth Dialogues on Environmental and Climate Justice" with a group of YEAH students from Monash University, Colorado State University, and Colorado College. Each student discussed their experiences with climate justice and climate action in their own lives, but specifically on their college campuses. Many reflected on what brought them to this moment, speaking at an international climate conference.

I began my speech at the press conference by stating, "I believe that climate change and anthropogenic environmental degradation are the most pressing issues facing humankind at the moment. Climate change threatens everything that we rely on to survive -- food, water, habitable land, and air. Thus, climate change affects each and every one of us in some shape or form no matter our gender, age, ethnicity, race, or socioeconomic status."

Kendra Lachcik, center, speaks at the press conference [11/09/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Rose Daily)

Rose Daily spoke on a panel at the U.S. Center entitled "Educating the Next Generation of Climate Leaders," organized by YEAH. In addition to Rose, panelists included Dan Briggs from Colorado State University, faculty member Leah Dundon from Vanderbilt University, Brandon Jones from the National Science Foundation (NSF), and Ellen Stofan from the Smithsonian. Panelists reflected on their journey in climate action and how they are empowering the next generation through their work and through various educational programs. Many expressed the need for students of all ages to be exposed to the outdoors, to nature, and to their environment in order to build a connection with it and so feel the need and responsibility to fight for it. 

When reflecting on her experience at COP27 as a whole, Rose said, "Spending a week in the Sinai desert with like-minded people from all over the world reinforced that we are out of time. We are all responsible for climate change: governments, leaders, corporations, and individuals. Now is the time to transform our talk into meaningful action."

MTU student Rose Daily, seated at far left with microphone, speaks at the panel discussion [11/10/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Kendra Lachcik)

Alexis Pascaris participated in a pitch competition with three other climate entrepreneurs in the hopes of receiving prize money for her start-up company, AgriSolar Consulting. Her company helps solar developers, farmers, scientists, and community organizers operationalize agrivoltaics, where solar panels and crops are incorporated together on the same plot of land. All four participants were given three minutes to "pitch" their company to the panel of judges that included representatives from several corporations who were sponsoring the pitch competition.

A period of questioning from the judges followed before moving onto the next participant. After all the pitches and questioning, the judges deliberated in a separate room to decide the winner and runner-up. Despite a very strong performance, Alexis was not chosen as the winner or runner-up but did receive some money for her participation

Reflecting on her experience at COP27 as a whole, Alexis remarked, "Attending COP27 was like swimming in a sea of collective hope. While both depressing and inspiring, one thing is for sure: 1.5 C is still alive and it’s in our hands to realize it."**

Alexis Pascaris gives her "pitch" to the judges [11/10/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Kendra Lachcik)

Finally, students from YEAH collaborated on the art exhibit "Voices and Visions: The Art and Science of Climate Action," which was on display at the U.S. Center pavilion. The exhibit highlighted the importance of both art and science in the fight against climate change and how both can be leveraged to make a difference. The exhibit included a compilation of photos and artwork, as well as videos that could be accessed via QR codes. Many were related to research and other academic work students were working on related to climate change and environmental issues as a whole.

The art exhibit on display at the U.S. Center pavilion [11/10/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Kendra Lachcik)

I had the opportunity to meet students from other institutions all across the U.S and the globe. Specifically, I collaborated with students and faculty from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, for the press conference mentioned above. It was incredible to see people from all walks of life and from virtually every country on the planet gathered in one place for the sake of fighting the climate crisis. There is a lot of work that still needs to be done, but there are also so many people committed to this fight, which is very reassuring. COP27 reinforced for me that it will take every country, every sector of the economy, and every individual to combat the climate crisis. We must be all in.

The sunrise off the coast of Sharm El-Sheikh facing east toward Saudi Arabia [11/12/22]. (Photo © and courtesy Kendra Lachcik)


*Guest author Kendra Lachcik is a 2023 graduate of Michigan Tech University with a bachelor's degree in Environmental Engineering. She is also the undergraduate winner of the  Inaugural Michigan Tech Sustainability Award for 2022 and Michigan Tech's 2023 Nicole Bloom Award for Environmental Sustainability.

For more details on COP and another perspective on COP27, see Michigan Tech delegate Aritra Chakrabarty’s guest article, "Breaking Down the Utopia of COP27," on Keweenaw Now.

**Alexis Pascaris also attended COP 26 in 2021. See her Jan. 1, 2022, guest article, "COP 26 Reflection" on Keweenaw Now.

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