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Cakarmis ’17 goes to COP22

Tea Cakarmis ’17 represented Palau at COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo contributed.

Earlier this month, the international community gathered in Marrakesh, Morocco, for COP22 — a climate change conference following up on the agreement reached one year ago at COP21 in Paris. Grinnell’s own Tea Cakarmis ’17, who previously worked with the UN agency on Education, Science and Culture (UNESCO) was invited by UNESCO and the nation of Palau to participate in the conference. This week, The S&B’s Michael Cummings sat down with Cakarmis to discuss her experience in Marrakesh and the future of climate change policy.

The S&B: What is COP22 and how does it relate to COP21?

Tea Cakarmis: COP22 was intended to be an explanation of how the implementation of COP21 will take place. COP21 in a lot of ways is an ideological promise, we’ve agreed that climate change is human-caused, that it is something where the science is very conclusive and also something that we need to act on. However, the way you go about it has consistently throughout the COPs been where a deal breaks or makes. In Marrakesh they were discussing how to actually put COP21 into action.

The S&B: How did you end up going to Marrakesh this year?

TC: I was [working] with UNESCO and I was working with the delegation of Palau. Since day one of my internship, the Paris Agreements were just signed. I started working in February, so it was really, really fresh. The agreement is indisputably one of the biggest accomplishments that have been done since the forming of the UN framework on climate change, [but] the small island states still did not feel as if it was reflective of how alarming the situation is. We talk about 2 degrees Celsius and small island states formed their own sort of aspirational alliance for 1.5 degrees because that’s really the only thing that they find could even maybe possibly be satisfying. So we started working on how we could represent them, creatively, outside just the actual official delegations in Marrakesh. Then we came up with a project and when my internship ended they were like, “Oh, how about you join us in Marrakesh?” I didn’t really think that that was even possible, and it was in the middle of my school year and everything, but then it just sort of worked out. It was amazing.

Tea Cakarmis '17 represented Palau at COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo contributed.
Tea Cakarmis ’17 represented Palau at COP22 in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photo contributed.

The S&B: What were your responsibilities while in Marrakesh?

TC: I personally was in charge of decorating the booth that the delegation of Palau had. … We were trying to bridge the gap of distance, and so before the conference started I concluded a partnership with Disney France. We actually got them to create a clip for the small island nations specifically for COP, where they featured their new cartoons, animated movies, where it’s either an endangered species or just generally island people who are featured in it. It’s four spin-offs of “Finding Nemo.” The other part of it is, we wanted to keep it as digital as possible, but we couldn’t do that all the way. We had a partnership with Fondation Cousteau — that’s Cousteau the oceanographer — their foundation sort of represents data visually really successfully. What we wanted to show is the human consequence on the ocean. We wanted it to be both engaging in terms of the beauty of the ocean, but also the extent of the human impact on the ocean. We had 10 photos that were the size of one and a half by two meters, so the size of me and bigger, that were placed around — we had our own improvised exhibit space. What I did was basically arrange that space, arrange for the materials to be shipped, the logistical part of that.

The S&B: How will a Trump presidency affect international climate change policy?

TC: The U.S. delegation [at COP22] was very firm in saying it is business as usual, meaning business as Obama left it. They were very deliberate in saying that Paris is formed in a way that even if you want to pull out of it, you already made your promises that you’re going to have to uphold for at least three years, which is luckily how much [Trump’s] mandate takes. So even if Trump wants to pull out of Paris, he won’t be seeing the benefits of it, or what he believes the benefits can be, until the end of his mandate. So unless he is reelected, pulling out of Paris will not do anything for him as a president.

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