Kat Cameron Explores Climate Adaptation and Cities as Student Delegate to COP27

Kat Cameron, M.U.R.P./M.S. ’23, served as a student delegate to the 27th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC (COP27) in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, in November 2022. The annual conference, one of the most extensive international meetings in the world, rotates annually among the five United Nations regional groups and hosts a multilateral discussion of climate change matters. 

Each year, Climate Blue, a University of Michigan student organization dedicated to helping U-M students and Ann Arbor residents become more involved in climate change, organizes a delegation of students to attend the conference. Cameron was one of fourteen U-M students selected to participate; the delegation included graduate students from seven schools across the University.

“My background is in sustainability and the built environment. Fifty-plus percent of the world is already living in a city. I was interested in how are we preparing them for climate change and whether the voices of people in cities are being heard,” said Cameron, who, in addition to her urban and regional planning degree, is pursuing a master’s in environment and sustainability with a focus in Environmental Policy at SEAS.

Michigan student delegates are primarily observers to learn and bring information back to their home institutions. Cameron describes the conference as an “overwhelming” but rewarding experience with many events to choose from every hour of the day.

“Since I’m an urban planner, I focused on climate adaptation and cities at COP. I tried to seek out the pavilions such as The Buildings Pavilion that convened architecture and construction firms and policymakers for conversations on the built environment or the Resilience Hub. I also attended a few environmental justice events and saw Vice President Al Gore and EPA administrator Michael Regan speak. But, honestly, I met the most people that I found interesting in lines waiting for food or coffee.” 

Cameron found it exciting to be an observer as progress and decisions were being made. Among other things, COP27 established a dedicated fund for loss and damage and mobilized more financial support towards low emissions and climate-resilient development for developing countries. The city of Sharm El-Sheikh and the infrastructure that supported the conference also interested her.

Sharm El-Sheikh was a fishing village until the 1970s, when it began to be converted into a resort town. “It feels almost like Las Vegas; it’s just like strip malls and long, wide roads that lead to longer driveways that lead to resorts that lead to long pathways to the beach. It feels a little strange. They’ll put down fake grass or new rolls of sod, and then behind it is sand leading to the mountains. So that’s the setting.” Planning a conference of this scale requires massive investment in the host city. “Egypt essentially built a city for 40,000 people for two weeks. They took a giant conference center, put up all these hard-sided tents, and brought in infrastructure – sewer, water, food, electricity, and massive Wi-Fi towers disguised as palm trees.” 

As a bike commuter, Cameron paid close attention to the transportation infrastructure. She mentioned that the conference organizers installed bike lanes along the massive main road, which many conference-goers criticized, saying few people would utilize the bike lanes due to safety concerns. After Kat witnessed cyclists in pedestrian malls and the downtown area, she believes people will eventually use them now that the infrastructure exists and people can feel safe. In contrast, the bus system established for the conference was used not only by conference attendees but also by locals and tourists due to the convenience and frequency of the schedule, confirming that convenience and accessibility contribute to people’s transit choices.

“I can’t imagine planning a two-week-long event for 40,000 people,” she said. “The coordination is out of even my scope of imagination. What was most interesting were the lessons in infrastructure and the choices we’re making and how sometimes it’s in line with our actual goals and, often, it might not be.” 

Climate Blue is accepting applications for next year’s COP28 through May 31, 2023. Apply Here.