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By B. Eni Owoeye MPP'25

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'COP'28 UA E 52" written out on a sandy beach in Dubai
Mangrove trees waiting to be planted as part of UAE’s coastal restoration project

This year, Dubai was the host city for the 28th Conference of the Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), more commonly referred to as “COP28”. As a student of international affairs, I've always wanted to attend a COP. The intrigue was simple. This global effort combines elements of science, legality, politics, finance, negotiations, and more into multilateral cooperation and environmental governance for our planet. Weaving together different interests and priorities is complicated, with success often framed through “agreements,” “protocols,” and “funds.” Throughout the semester, my UNFCCC Practicum class provided me with a great opportunity to nurture my interdisciplinary interests in environmental governance and multilateral cooperation. At COP, I wanted to witness whether successful negotiations would capture an intersectional and equitable path toward a sustainable future. 

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Eni Owoeye standing with her mentor, NOAA Senior Advisor for Climate, Ko Barrett
Eni Owoeye with her mentor, NOAA Senior Advisor for Climate, Ko Barrett 

This COP was an important stepping stone for advancing gender-climate-related issues with the inclusion of a first-ever thematic day dedicated to gender. Many giants in the field, including my former boss, Ambassador Geeta Rao Gupta, at the U.S. Department of State’s Office of Global Women’s Issues, hosted fantastic talks and workshops throughout the week. The Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) quickly became home base for me while at COP. Started in 2009, the goal of WGC is to formalize the voice of women and gender-focused civil society organizations active in the UNFCCC process. The Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO) is one of the head coalition builders within WGC. Many of the leadership, including Mwanahamisi Singano and Bridget Burns, helped me navigate the UNFCCC process and made sure to elevate the various voices in all spaces they were a part of. Furthermore, activism stemmed from action. We showed up for one another at talks, hosted workshops, provided safe spaces for one another and made our thoughts known through unconventional ways, such as a beautiful mural dedicated to MENA women leadership. 

The highlight of my COP experience was collaborating with Indigenous peoples and local community organizers. I connected with a land rights activist during my first morning huddle with WGC, and we attended nearly every session together throughout the rest of my COP experience. Earlier this semester, I took a trip to West Virginia with a cohort of Duke Divinity students to various coalfields throughout the state. I found myself constantly referring back to this trip and my own experience with activism in New York City to understand how fossil fuel dependence, land ownership and political power inform this broader pursuit of ‘a just transition’. As an Indigenous elder, Dorothée spoke passionately about her work as the leader of a women’s collective in the Democratic Republic of Congo. She also connected me with networks of people she works with in Nigeria. 

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Members of the Women and Gender Constituency coalition at COP28 posing in front of a mural.
Members of the Women and Gender Constituency coalition at COP28 

To me, these kinds of experiences are why COP is such a critical space. This COP received a lot of pushback because of the outsized role fossil fuel special interest groups have had at the conference. Next year’s COP in Baku, Azerbaijan, will also take place in a country heavily dependent on oil revenue. Even so, I cannot stress enough how integral COPs are to global coalition building for local communities. While their presence shapes the UNFCCC process, the organizing among nonparty actors was so impressive for me to witness. They are able to sustain the information sharing and solidarity year to year based on my conversations with my colleagues from the DRC.

The reference to the transition away from all fossil fuels in the final COP decision, alongside the inclusion of the Global Biodiversity Framework, is a step in the right direction. But it is still far short of what local communities and youth activists are calling for. I know that the mighty group of women leaders I worked with throughout the week will keep this momentum going to the next COP, but more importantly, it will continue to be vital for their communities back home.
 
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Eni Owoeye posing in front of an art installation that with the message "when women thrive, humanity thrives"

B. Eni Owoeye is a first-generation first-year year MPP student interested in foreign diplomacy and environmental governance. Eni enjoys working on ocean-climate and gender related issues. Her research focuses on the maritime shipping industry, port communities and legislative reform. With roots along the East Coast, Eni calls Brooklyn, N.Y. and Baltimore, Md. home. At Sanford, she is a part of the Sanford African Policy Group, Policy in Living Color and the Berean Cohort within the Duke Divinity School.