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Exclusive – COP27’s Energy Day with Ghislaine Fandel

We spoke to Ghislaine Fandel – who is a resource developer and content creator for Subject to Climate, as well as an SDG13 Ambassador for Social Impact Movement – about all things energy.

Ghislaine Fandel is a resource developer and content creator for Subject to Climate, as well as an SDG13 Ambassador for Social Impact Movement.

The science expert is currently studying for her MSc in Sustainable Development and writes for numerous publications about environmental justice.

Given climate science and communication have played such a significant role in her experience to date, we thought it fitting to speak with her on day nine of COP27, the theme of which is energy.

Delegates will be looking at how new and developing technologies, such as green hydrogen, could help in the envisaged global just transition to net zero.

There will also be further discussion of how this transition, which is cheaper than continuing with fossil fuels, will be funded.


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Thred: What are your general views of the climate conference?

Ghislaine: I agree with the general idea, with the concept of having a place of gathering for politicians, scientists, activists, protestors, civilians, innovators etc. but at the same time I don’t know if that’s essentially what we’re seeing at COP right now. It isn’t really what COP is at the moment, nor what it has been in the past few years. To name a few obvious examples, seven of the 110 delegates at COP are women, over 600 people are representing the interests of the fossil fuel industry, and most youth and protestors have been physically separated from the rest of the event.

Tied together, these things lead to more harm than good. COP has also been a bit performative for some, if not many, countries when it comes to actually committing to climate action and following through with these commitments. On the other hand, for others it provides a platform on the world stage. It hasn’t, however, been doing this with sufficient representation for the Global South.

We’re all wondering what we can expect from the outcomes of the talks and commitments today. Do you see COP as a genuine path towards a clean energy transition or is it a lost cause?

Ghislaine: COP is important in that it highlights both achievements and failures when it comes to countries and their clean energy transition. This is important because it highlights them for activists, and people living in these countries who are exposed to climate change. In exposing that gap between where we are now and where we need to be we can engage more people and call for more action.

At the same time, it’s hard to say that it’s a lost cause because I so badly want to put hope into this. I think COP is important for charting a path for a clean energy transition, but that’s more around math and that math is only going to take us so far unless we actually act on it.

Thred: Though people, politicians, and companies are now well-aware of the implications of inaction around fossil fuels, sustainable energy still constitutes a considerably small portion of what we use on a daily basis. Why do you think there still has not been a more decisive move towards sustainable options, despite us being so clearly aware of the need to change? 

Ghislaine: We all know that we need this transition towards clean energy and away from fossil fuels. I’d like to point to what I previously mentioned regarding the number of fossil fuel representatives that are acting on behalf of coal, oil, and gas, and who are present at the world’s biggest climate conference right now. The fossil fuel industry has positioned itself on purpose to be considered necessary for development, economic prosperity, and even for wellbeing in a lot of places. This has been enabled by many of the political and economic systems that we have in place, and it now holds a lot of power over those same systems.

When you pair the short-sightedness of a lot of politicians with an industry that is so willing to do whatever it takes to maximise its profits and remain relevant in an economic sense – even in a political sense – with the imperialistic and the neo-colonial mindset that is dictating the relationship between countries right now, it leads to where we are today: facing a lack of decisive action that allows for a clean, just, and equitable energy transition.

There are a lot of factors at play. When we talk about how relevant fossil fuels remain versus how relevant clean energy is right now, we also have to talk about the consumption side of things. Because even though we’re producing more renewable energy, more clean energy – which is fantastic – demand is also rising. Essentially the share of fossil fuels in the energy mix remains largely unchanged. For a clean energy transition we need to address both that supply and that demand. More people – specifically those in high-income countries – need to realise that energy use is highest in these countries.

It’s important to accept that there’s going to be a need to reduce consumption in order to allow for this transition. As low and middle-income countries continue to develop and use more energy, as is their right, the Global North needs to make space in terms of energy usage because right now to live like an American or Western European is simply so unsustainable.

Thred: You’ve stressed the importance of viewing this from both sides. On this note, what role do you think activists and the scientific community should play in making sure policies are enacted? 

Ghislaine: I think we all carry certain levels of responsibility when it comes to the climate crisis. Some significantly more than others. But activists and the scientific community (and I can’t stress this enough) are critical to climate action for a number of reasons. For one, accountability. I’m referring to ensuring that politicians are actually committed to and acting on their promises.

For this, I think we need greater inclusion of activists and scientists on advising on policy which is not where we are today. We can see it at COP27. There’s the Youth Pavillion but in some ways that separates the youth from the discussion. We need to ensure that these activists and scientists are heard because otherwise they’ll continue resorting to civil disobedience in the name of climate action. This, however, is necessary right now because governments aren’t paying enough attention to this issue and aren’t committing to it largely enough. That work is critical and it’s often undervalued and misrepresented.

I think on top of this, there comes the education aspect of it which is more where my work has aligned. People really need to know the truth behind the urgency – not just that climate change is happening – and the severity of the situation that we’re facing and that so many people right now are being exposed to and affected by. In all parts of society. That’s not just educating on the science behind climate change, but on the role of factors like racism, misogyny, and colonialism (to name a few).

The climate movement needs help and the more people that are educated on the issue – that are burdened but also empowered by this knowledge – the more problem solvers, leaders, and advocates we have standing up for the natural world and for the environment.

Thred: What do you think is the best approach to teaching people about climate science? Especially now when young audiences in particular are so overwhelmed with such a high degree of terrible news on and offline. What’s the best means of bringing awareness to the issue?

Ghislaine: Lots of different people make up an audience so it can be really challenging and difficult even to communicate climate change in an effective way because it’s also so multifaceted. But I think that there are a few critical elements. One, for example, is accessibility. This can mean that climate education is free. Another can be simplifying language. Because it’s often seen as such a complex issue and when we talk about the science behind the solutions it can be complicated. Ensuring that the information is accessible to people is important for them to not only feel empowered by the knowledge that they’re gaining on it but on their ability to communicate it further to the people around them.

It’s also important to relate to people. Empathy and compassion is so necessary. Engaging people with stories of the reality of the situation. Everyone’s going to be exposed to climate change at some point, but a lot of people are just hearing about it right now. Talking not only about the stories of those who are falling victim to the costs of climate change, but also the solutions that have come out of these communities, their resilience, and their strength in adapting. This ties into the hope aspect of it because, as you said, so many people are exposed to really awful news on a daily basis so when we talk about solutions – not just these big ones like energy – we need to pair it with calls to action. Climate anxiety comes out of this and people need hope, they need something tangible to work towards that will keep them motivated.

Thred: Exactly. We want big oil to step aside and the people coming up with these incredible initiatives are the ones having the most impact. At what level do you think good initiatives are getting blocked – is it a government, longing level or do you think the media might be to blame?

Ghislaine: I unfortunately think that it’s at every level: local, international, regional, and media. The fossil fuel industry (specifically companies like Shell, Chevron, Exon, BP, Total etc.) has demonstrated that there’s no backing down from any of the actions that it’s taken part in when it comes to displacing communities for example, or degrading ecosystems and habitats. For genuinely affecting everyday people and countries on a global scale. There’s no backing down from that when there’s profit to be made. They uproot communities and ecosystems, they intimidate activists, they’re the number one contributor to emissions and have invested so largely in these efforts and in future efforts to extract coal, oil, and gas.

At the same time, it hasn’t been met with enough political resistance and block that it’s demonstrated how prolifically there is no backing down. These companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars lobbying politicians every year, there’s an exchange there. The fossil fuel company gives something and receives something in return. And vice versa. These politicians are lobbied and then exert influence over legislation, over courts, over societies, and over so much of the media.

It’s important to grasp how far the reach is. Of an industry with this much power, money, and motive to act against climate action.

It’s at every level and it’s important to learn about it because then you can be aware of it and communicate it to other people. It’s also important to unlearn some of the things that the fossil fuel industry has pushed onto us. Things including the misconception that carbon capture is going to save us all, that we can avoid a clean energy transition altogether, and that they should be part of this – which I don’t agree with.

Thred: You talk a lot about the relationship between climate change and other social issues. Could you explain how they are tied, and why you think social issues such as this one cannot be separated from the conversation when it comes to climate action?

Ghislaine: I recently wrote an article about the overturning of Roe V Wade to highlight how women and pregnant people are affected by the climate crisis and to shed light on how intersectional of an issue this is. There’s no solving climate crisis without climate justice – there’s no getting around it.

When it comes to the discussion in health, I think that this is so unmentioned in the context of air pollution or proximity to factories and coal fired power plants. Generally, no, we don’t talk about it enough. We don’t talk about the increased transmission of diseases like malaria that is likely to become more common in South America and Africa. Nor how dire the consequences are for the people in those regions nor how the development of those countries is affected by these diseases.

All of these issues are connected. You can connect health to gender to race to the development of a country. Any advancements that we make when it comes to health are being negatively impacted by climate change and I don’t think progress being hampered by the crisis is talked about enough.

Thred: Do you feel youth voices are appropriately represented when it comes to climate action?

Ghislaine: I think they’re more represented now than they ever have been. I think as a species we’re finally starting to consider future generations which I think is something that humans – except those in Indigenous communities – have struggled to do in the past. Whether we act on this is ambiguous. A lot of the time it’s performative. Sometimes it’s welcome, other times it’s really not.

A lot of us are met with ‘you’re x years old, how much could you possibly know about the issue,’ or ‘you don’t understand how complicated it is to enact these solutions so you need to take a seat because it’s not your strong suit.’ The beauty of youth engagement, its strong suit, is that we are some of the most likely to care for those future generations. And because we’re not so bogged down by the realities of policy-making and negotiations, we demand for what’s needed for the planet. There’s this concept that somehow we can negotiate with climate change, that we can ask sea levels not to rise or demand that rising temperatures cease, but that’s not the reality of the situation. I think a lot of policymakers pretend like it is.

Youth don’t see that. We take on this stance of ‘this is the reality of the situation’ and we’ll strive to make change by any means necessary (in a just and equitable way of course) without worrying about our country’s competitiveness on a world stage.

We aren’t willing to sacrifice the climate, future generations, ecosystems, and billions of people for economic growth.

On a final note, I want to highlight how mind-boggling the conversation about whether the fossil fuel industry should be part of the solution is. This is not an option at this point. We have about three years to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This means hitting peak emissions and decreasing by then.

The fossil fuel industry and their intentions, plans, and efforts – which have not come through – are not in line with that. For the people who have fallen victim to the industries and for the political and economic systems that have enabled them to take such a grasp of them, this industry does not deserve the platform or opportunity to even be part of the solution.

They have caused enormous amounts of harm and have known about the consequences of their actions for decades and instead of addressing them chose to lie, manipulate, and deceive. This is a human rights issue. These are violations against the natural world. This is not the type of industry that’s going to go away lightly. These are issues that really need to be dealt with by everyone involved.