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There is a Good Way to Work Together to Fight Climate Change — COP Isn’t It.

Written by Mathy Vathanaraj Stanislaus, JD, Drexel vice provost and inaugural executive director of The Environmental Collaboratory. Stanislaus served for eight years as administrator for the EPA’s Office of Land & Emergency Management during the Obama administration; represented the United States in G7 deliberations on decarbonization strategy; and is a founding co-director of the New Partners for Community Revitalization in New York.

The ink is still drying on final negotiations from the latest U.N. climate conference — COP27— yet the gathering, which was dubbed “the implementation COP,” has already fallen short of its ostensibly and arguably most important goal: bringing divergent people together on solutions.

Representatives from nearly 200 nations gathered to celebrate progress, establish new benchmarks to work toward, and sadly spend quite a bit of time arguing about whether and how much rich, polluting countries owe to the global South in climate reparations.

These discussions are undeniably important, and raise big questions that demand action beyond their answers. But in the midst of working to being heard, an opportunity to listen, I think, was lost.

The major flaw in the conduct of the COP 27 was the absence of multistakeholder deliberations. While it was energizing to reconnect with long-time colleagues, many who’ve been working to advance climate and environmental justice – and there were lots of cool pavilions and presentations – the discussions and participation remained in bubbles of similar stakeholders. It failed to meet the opportunity of the biggest gathering of diverse and divergent voices on climate to deliberate and challenge each other on implementation and solutions.

Implementing change on the scale necessary to stem the most acute effects of climate change requires the hard work of authentic engagement across disparate groups.

This is particularly pronounced in the area of adaptation and climate emergency preparedness to build local solutions that fit the circumstances of each community. To understand this, look no farther than the flooding in Philadelphia and this summer’s heat emergency that most acutely impacted communities that are vulnerable from a history of disinvestment and discrimination. 

Non-government organizations and Drexel University, along with a network of universities locally and globally, are coming together to translate their expertise into a new relationship with the community to work toward a solution that not only helps residents but also builds trust in an equal partnership.

Now more than ever, we must focus on having conversations and building partnerships for climate solutions starting at a local level. Local NGOs know the issues and challenges of their community and are the trusted partner to shape and advance projects with governments and the private sector.

The tremendous expertise and funding that is available to address climate change should reorient towards building a capacity of local NGOs and local solution building — rather than international conferences

In a world of distrust because of “greenwashing,” universities, working with expert NGOs, can be trusted partners who enable local solutions. By bringing students into the solution and building processes with local stakeholders, we can be responsive to the energy and innovation of Gen Z climate leaders who are demanding to be part of the solution since they will have to live with the consequences. And importantly, they can be the trusted bridge for the private sector and governments to implement programs and independently scrutinize decarbonization claims.

The Environmental Collaboratory at Drexel University was formed for exactly this outcome – to work in partnership with local community leaders to build solutions that work for their communities and with the expertise and passion of university students and faculty. 

Drexel recently hosted the first-ever United States-sanctioned youth climate conference, which included students from 26 states. It resulted in the creation of a comprehensive list of recommendations for addressing climate change that was presented to officials at the White House and led to a meeting at COP27 regarding an ongoing role for youth in climate solutions. We plan to further this through a multi-stakeholder, bi-partisan effort in Pennsylvania to facilitate climate best practices and analysis to local government officials and communities for their adoption.    

Addressing a problem of this scale will require acknowledgment that we’re all in this fight for the future of our planet together. But to make any progress, we need to align funding and policy to learn and implement local solutions determined by local communities in partnership with stakeholders from our governments and the private sector.

Media interested in speaking with Stanislaus should contact Emily Storz, Associate Director of News and Media Relations at or 215-895-2705.

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