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Hypocrisy at COP28: Are youth voices being ignored on climate change?

We talk COP28, climate hypocrisy, and business concerns around Scope 3 and reporting with Makersite’s Alexa Born.

 

“Climate change and sustainability are global issues. It’s something everyone needs to be on board with. Not just on a personal level, but on a business level and a political level.”

At Makersite, our employees are here because of their expertise, their backgrounds and their belief in the ability of AI to solve today’s sustainability data challenges. Our staff across three continents have been hand-picked because of what they bring to the table. It’s no different with Alexa Born, one of our Enterprise Sales Managers.

Recently, as a key member of the UK Youth Climate Coalition (UKYCC), Alexa attended the COP28 summit in Dubai. With an M.Sc in Environmental, Economic and Social Sustainability and a background in sustainability-focused roles, she understands what’s at stake.

In the interview below, we sat down with Alexa to talk about her background in sustainability, her role in the UKYCC and COP28, and the hopes she holds for the future. We cover:

  • How Alexa’s role at Makersite – helping companies to decarbonize their supply chains – sits alongside her work with the UKYCC and COP
  • Concerns around Scope 3, sustainability reporting and a lack of action from big business
  • The inherent hypocrisy of hosting a climate conference in heavily oil-producing countries and using it as a platform to generate more oil deals
  • The difficulties of getting the concerns of today’s youth in front of our politicians and policymakers
  • The importance of building knowledge around climate and making sure that youth voices are heard

Makersite: Let’s start with the big question. What does sustainability mean to you?

Alexa Born: To me, sustainability is about being conscious of the impact of your actions and about thinking beyond just the here and now. I think people sometimes lose perspective that the greed of today is going to disrupt the needs of people in years to come.

M: Tell me about your background when it comes to sustainability. What got you interested? What motivates you?

AB: I have an older sister who entered the climate space when she was a teenager. As a little girl, that made me very aware of the topic from a young age. Because of her interest, I became interested. I then pursued Human Geography for my undergraduate degree and then went on to do a master’s in Sustainability. It’s something that has become embedded within me, both educationally and professionally.

M: So it was always your intention to pursue that kind of pathway?

AB: Yeah. I feel quite lucky. From a young age I always had it in my mind, quite clearly, that that was the kind of work I wanted to do.

M: Looking to the future, what do you hope to achieve from a sustainability perspective? Where do you see yourself – and the world – in the next 10 years?

AB: Sustainability is obviously a hot topic in terms of career paths. It’s something that a lot of people are very interested in at the moment. But it’s very hard to know what that landscape will look like in 10 years’ time. I certainly never saw myself in supply chain sustainability, but it’s something I became very interested in at university and now during my time at Makersite.

Looking ahead, I’ve always had a really strong interest in the intersectionality between health and sustainability and climate change. That’s something I’d like to move towards. But equally, where I am now with Makersite, and balancing that alongside climate activism, feels very fulfilling.

M: That segues nicely into my next question. Tell me a bit about what you do at Makersite, and how that dovetails with your work at the UKYCC and the recent COP28 summit in Dubai?

AB: Sure. At Makersite, I work on the business development side of the business. I speak to manufacturers in the UK and Nordic markets who are looking to decarbonize their supply chains, whether that’s due to regulatory pressure or ambitious targets (like achieving Net Zero by 2030) or whatever it may be. I reach out to them and see how we [Makersite] can partner with them to decarbonize their supply chains through sustainable procurement, better product design or another avenue.

In terms of how that relates to my work at COP, I was there predominantly as a youth activist and as a delegate of the UKYCC. The UKYCC runs a different campaign every year, and this year we campaigned on a Conflict of Interest (COI) policy – particularly relevant given where the event was held this year, and because of the obvious conflict of interest between the role of the presidency and the overarching goal of what the COP seeks to achieve.

I took the opportunity of being in that space to attend some really interesting side events around sustainability and to connect with some people from the industrial arena. I wanted to understand what people’s challenges are and what discussions are going on in relation to the problems that Makersite is seeking to solve.

From that perspective, Scope 3 emissions seemed to be a key pain point in pretty much every single one of the side events I attended. That definitely seems to be the biggest point of concern at the moment.

M: For those who don’t know, how would you describe COP? What are the goals of the event? Who attends?

AB: COP stands for Conference of the Parties. It basically provides an opportunity every year to bring together parties from all over the world and provide a platform for them to voice their concerns about what’s happening with climate change, as well as a chance to push their agendas on where they feel we should be globally on climate change. It is a global issue, after all.

I think the real beauty of COP is that it provides a platform to nations and parties that don’t tend to have as loud a voice in the global space. The small island states, for example.

M: And it’s those small island states that are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change.

AB: Exactly. It gives those who are really suffering most a place to voice that and also an opportunity to contribute to the solutions that are being put in place to deal with, mitigate and adapt to the climate crisis.

M: You attended as a delegate of the UKYCC. You mentioned the campaign being undertaken this year, but what’s the goal of the Coalition more generally?

AB: Within the UKYCC we have different working groups. Each of those groups have a variety of goals. I’m in the COP working group. We send a delegation to attend the COP each year, where we seek to represent youth voices. When we’re recruiting for the UKYCC we make sure that we are as representative as possible geographically, demographically and so on so that when we go to COP and we’re lobbying UK negotiators and EU negotiators, we’re doing it on behalf of a true reflection of UK youth.

M: How do the negotiators treat you? Do they take what you have to say seriously? Do they understand the points you’re trying to get across?

AB: It’s a mixed bag. Every year we get told how important youth voices are to them and how much they want to know how we feel they’re doing, both positively and negatively. But getting time on calendars for the last few years has been increasingly difficult, which is frustrating.

For that reason, we’ve sought meetings with other important voices at COP. Members of the opposition, for example. We met with Ed Miliband. We met with some advisors of Humza Yousaf. When we’re unable to connect directly with negotiators, we do try and get a bit more creative. That being said, the second of the two delegations we sent this year did actually end up having some facetime with the UK negotiators and that allowed us to push our agenda a little bit.

M: Tell me more about your Conflict of Interest agenda. What does it mean? What’s the objective?

AB: We have a few asks. Our demands are that the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) formally recognizes the need to have a conflict of interest policy to prevent bodies or voices that don’t have our best interests at heart being in those spaces and lobbying for their own objectives.

This year, for example, KBPO (Kick Big Polluters Out) released some astounding evidence. COP28 had the largest amount of fossil fuel lobbyists in attendance ever. They were actually the largest ‘delegation’ apart from Brazil and the UAE at the whole summit. That doesn’t make much sense at a climate change conference. And that’s what we do – we go to COP and we protest against these actions. You wouldn’t allow tobacco companies to organize a health conference. So why are we allowing fossil fuel companies to organize and contribute to a climate change conference? Ultimately, how do you square the goals of COP with hosting in a nation like the UAE?

M: There’s definitely some hypocrisy there.

AB: Yeah, absolutely. We discussed a lot whether we even wanted to attend this year or not. That’s what’s a shame about this particular COP. The conflict of interest angle sparked the interest of a lot of people, and a lot of people who wouldn’t have interest in COP28 normally. Like the fact that the COP president used the event as a platform to generate more oil deals. I had friends, who otherwise would have no interest, speaking to me about that.

But the whole hosting it in Dubai angle does reduce the legitimacy of what is a really important conference. Last year it was in Egypt, Next year it’s in Azerbaijan. That’s three years in a row where oil-producing nations are hosting the COP. We’re seeing language around phasing out fossil fuels being watered down too. That’s clearly for the benefit of the host nations.

The beauty of the COP is that it represents everyone’s voice. Climate change is a global issue. We need to make sure that everyone is included in developing and implementing these solutions. If nothing else, COP28 has shown that that’s not easy.

Alexa COP28 UKYCC

M: You mentioned Scope 3 previously. What are your key takeaways from this year’s event?

AB: There are literally thousands of side events at COP and I only have so much time, so I could only attend a small percentage of them. And the ones I did attend were focused on issues that matter to Makersite. But the onus seemed to be predominantly on the value chain / supply chain / decarbonization piece. The challenges around Scope 3 reporting came up consistently.

One frustration I heard multiple times was that we’re at COP28 – the 28th one of these conferences – and we’re still talking about reporting. That’s the number one step. The first step. There’s a long way to go. There was a lot of frustration around reporting frameworks and their lack of synergy. Everything is very siloed, there’s a very limited sharing of information, there’s no standardized approach.

All of that makes it very difficult for organizations. They’re spending way too much time on reporting rather than actually working and dedicating their capacity towards the things that matter. Reduction strategies, for example. There were some interesting announcements about different coalitions that are starting to emerge. We’re seeing different industrial organizations starting to work together to establish some kind of standardization, particularly when it comes to working with suppliers and dealing with all of the paperwork that goes with that.

M: You’re well versed in this space. How can anyone interested in learning more educate themselves? What advice would you give to companies and people looking to take the next step?

AB: It’s about standardization and regulation to guide different industries and different organizations. As I’ve said several times, climate change and sustainability are global issues. It’s something everyone needs to be on board with. Not just on a personal level, but on a business level and a political level.

Frameworks like ESPR can be valuable for companies seeking guidance, but they’re not perfect and more work needs to be done so that they can be adopted more smoothly.

Personally, I’m still very much in the process of building my knowledge. There are some amazing resources out there, but it’s impossible to be an expert in everything. Speak to family and friends. Find out where your interest lies. Look for key voices that resonate with you. Social media is great – LinkedIn and Instagram particularly. People share incredible resources and, for me at least, it snowballs from there.

M: Ok, last question. What role do you see your generation playing when it comes to the climate crisis? What do you hope to achieve?

AB: My generation is the first climate-literate generation. It’s been there since day dot. It’s always been present in our lives. We’ve had the unfortunate reality of climate anxiety since day one. But with that comes power.

People in my generation, people that I know, are very concerned about this, and they’re very interested and very aware. Knowledge is power. In terms of our role, leveraging youth voices is huge. Unlike most other movements, youth voices have real leverage here. We’re the ones who have to deal with the consequences.

M: You’re facing the repercussions.

AB: Exactly. I think it’s really important for us to make the most of this unique position and educate those around us, particularly older generations who perhaps didn’t have the opportunity to learn from such a young age like we have. And I think as the job landscape continues to shift, it’s something we’re all going to be involved in one way or another. We need to take those opportunities when they arise.

But the education piece is the biggest one. We all know someone from the older generations who either doesn’t know or doesn’t want to know. And as the first climate-literate generation, it’s our responsibility to change that.

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