Luea Ritter reflects on COP28. A microcosm of the world’s forces and illusions.

Luea Ritter shares her experience of COP 28, informed by synchronicities, the power of care and seeing through illusions, with other AR+ members. See also the video below…

Context for being at the COP28

Synchronicity and inspiring conversations over the years initiated a programme two years ago to equip young people for decision-making processes that I got involved with. It was founded by four young women who have been primarily active in different roles in the UN space for a while already. Some were previously climate youth negotiators on behalf of their countries or, in other ways, active in empowering youth into decision-making and leadership spaces. 

The young women witnessed firsthand how the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) negotiations, with its multilateral decision-making process, is highly complex and overwhelming if you come in the first time. Youth is still too often tokenized, just being brought on delegations to showcase “we have youth!” but too often not with the intention to bring their voices and perspectives into the actual negotiation steps and processes.

Thus the  Youth Negotiators Academy was founded and designed to get national delegations, to select youth representatives into their delegations, and in return, the delegations get well-trained and highly motivated youth, enriching their delegation and, where needed, even receiving funds for travel and accommodation of these youth representatives. The programme then would train the youth representatives over several months (online and with one module in-person right before COP) for the actual process and the relevant hard and soft skills required, embedded in a spirit of community and intergenerational justice. All this was designed and modularly brought together intending to give youth valid roles and forms of involvement – including having their voices as representatives of youth heard both during the work before the COP, for example, in the preparation of a country formulating its position on specific issues, as well as during the COP by following, for example, a specific thematic negotiation track and be closely involved with the head of delegation or coordinator.

Orientating and navigating the COP space is a challenge of its own nature.

There is not really training for anyone at COP; instead, COP got built and grew along the way,  informed by how the UN has been set up and run over the past decades. Some people may have been trained as diplomates or policy advisors or had political mandates. Basically, the COP culture is technocratic daily business. So, out of that observation and the frustration of insufficient intergenerational justice in that space, they formulated what they now call the climate youth negotiator program.

The Youth Negotiator Academy aims to empower young people from different regions of the world to learn how to navigate the COP space together with others and to understand how to show up, what their rights are, and how far they can lean forward. The program consists of a five-month online training with a module or call almost every week, self-paced learning content, a three-day in-person training ramping up towards COP, and a whole support system during the two weeks of COP. It happened the first time last year towards and during COP27 in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt. By now, 175 people have been trained from more the 55 countries.

In the online training prior to COP, we had different modules on content related to the UN ecosystem, the UNFCCC’s history, and the different agreements and declarations until we arrived in 2023 with COP 28. They learn all the ins and outs of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). At the same time, there are also COPs, for example, on biodiversity (United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity (UNCBD) or the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD). Yet we know that the COP on climate change is the most known one, attracting also a wide range of NGO, business, and innovation actors.

In this training, there is a lot on what negotiation is. We explore best practices and tactics, and what strategies are essential to be aware of. Also, we explore the soft(er) skills of dealing with leadership issues, rank, and power. Or how to deeply listen and communicate together – creating a culture based on dialogue rather than debates and arguments. Topics such as practicing self-care, mental health, and building a supportive community structure are introduced and explored through exercises together. It is all rooted in the sense that if we truly want to create meaningful decisions, how we show up to ourselves, each other, and the context we are in together – creating relationships across perceived divides – is as essential as what we actually negotiate. In light of that, taking care of oneself during these highly intense two weeks is not a self-centered act but a service to the sanity of the whole.

Currently, the COP norm is defined by little sleep.

There’s fast-consumed food, and mounting stress and tension. That is the current norm. And I’m holding my head, wondering how you can even make meaningful decisions if your preconditions are the opposite of taking care of each other and the whole.

Last year and this year, I was teaching modules on leadership, communication styles, confidence and public speaking, self-care, and well-being when dealing with conflict situations, trauma-informed dynamics, and inner tensions and personal patterns. I also co-designed the community-building aspect as an essential pillar of the program and the shift in “how we do what we do.” When more than 125 people from more than 55 countries come together and see each other as allies, friends, and individuals with their unique gifts and stories, a magnitude of deep relationships – literally a relational tapestry unfolds its power. Imagine, once you hit the roads during COP you’re held, empowered, and supported by seeing everywhere your fellow climate youth negotiators who have gone through the same training and gotten to know each other and their concerns, pains, fears, and hopes. You see them not only as representatives of XYZ country that you may not have heard of before but as human beings with a big heart and deep concern for the well-being of our planet and all its diverse forms of life. You suddenly find yourself among people who deeply care and bridge between civil society organizations, policy advisors, and governmental employees. All these people are deeply familiar with the realities on their ground and speak on behalf of their communities, their generation, and their social and professional networks.

Being an anchor during COP itself

During the two weeks of COP, a support system was built with more than 15 people. This network entailed support on technical issues, such as the content on the various negotiated tracks, and a whole section on logistic support for travel, accommodation, DSA, or medical emergencies. There was support for advocacy by ensuring the climate youth negotiators were included in diverse panels, media channels, and side events; tending to the relationship with countries and their heads of delegations so that when issues came up for the climate youth negotiators, the team of the CYNP could mediate and support; daily debriefs and conversations with senior people for receiving further guidance, etc. The part that I was leading was more the emotional, energetic, and mental health and well-being part, as well as nurturing the sense of community at the center as a steady base to lean on.

My role was mainly being there every day, holding space for the 125 people and the team for what might emerge, being present for different needs, and especially when someone needed to cry or to vent to make sense of a conflict they had with their delegation or when they felt overwhelmed or felt like “OMG, so this is how the system works?!”. We had a whole structure of community care people, with a daily hotspot – including snacks and basic needs. Throughout the two weeks, we were an anchor amid the fast-paced and moving waters.

Every morning, I sent a few prompts, a field reading I had written the night before. More a form of channeled sign-posting for this huge hike. I shared it with all as a form of encouragement, acknowledgment of what might be troublesome, and as a little nudge of “Here we’re going again, into this space, with intention and clarity of what matters.” Even though everyone had filled schedules from early morning till late night, having a sense of being in this together gave grounding and orientation.

We also had training during the in-person module for simulating an actual negotiation with anonymized countries but with the accurate content of the countries in the space. That was a bit of background, and there’s much more to say. 

I want to highlight the sense of community that has now grown over these two years

This community rippled into the negotiation spaces. Because COP is like a jungle – and this time was even bigger than last year – you can easily get lost and feel like “I’m just a little peanut in that whole thing.” Your confidence level and sense of direction of where to bring your voice in and how can quickly be diminished or cracked.

But people waved to each other, saw each other’s uniqueness, and helped each other out. Collaboration unfolded by “oh that’s one of us” or “oh, you’re here as well, negotiating on the same track as I – let’s help each other”. Amid all the issues – also sometimes trying to convince the delegation that it’s crucial that someone could follow a specific track or maybe even make an intervention – people were celebrating and empowering each other. Among each other they ensured everyone got safely home each night after sitting till the end and showing presence and commitment to the shared cause, even though maybe because of their countries’ positions, they couldn’t actually say what they thought because their country held perhaps a contrary position. But the sense of deep friendship across cultures and regions was immense and still powerful after weeks.

I’m sweating here, and my heart races because so much profoundly moved me, and sharing it here just a few days home still shakes me. 

I would say probably even more this year than last year, COP is like a super concentrate, a highly condensed version of all forces in the world at once in front of you, within you, and through you – all at once. The whole spectrum is unwrapped like the endless night sky. At least, that was my experience. 

There is the beauty, the abundance, the joy, the sense of interconnectedness, the synchronicity that is happening. There is the unfolding synergies and creativity between people, organizations, etc., like mushrooms popping, deepening connections, and a sense that we are not alone and forming bonds for the work ahead.

And at the same time, the sophistication and the mastery of the “other” forces. We could call them capitalism or colonialism, politics of fear, corruption, or whatever the term – it’s some form of oppressive, dividing, othering forces.

That what baffled me – and did it really? I can best describe with that moment when we were so-called celebrating at the end of COP28 at the beach, and I felt like I could see into the eyes of that force. It was not specified as a known face, name, or culture. But I could feel it behind all the scenery I looked at, with all the material design, glamour, and entertainment like a sleeping pill enveloping people. While tears ran silently down my cheek, I literally bowed to it, as in, “Wow you [this everywhere invisible power force of division and othering] are so sophisticated and so precise and have so mastered that skill of keeping this system alive. And keeping that very matter well off real discussion in the first place.” That was a profound moment that still keeps me awake more than ever.

On the other hand, there is then the question of “OK how do I, how do we, not start playing and learning these skills of power-over mastery,” because that would then probably, and sooner than later, have us turn into that divisive format and away from becoming masters of our own life-affirming tools.

Ours are tools that help us stay connected and deepen the connection and deepen relationships and deepen compassion and understanding. Ours are tools where care for all is at the center. Real care where everything would slow down and go a lot more gently.

Perhaps instead of two weeks packed with a huge agenda, where we already from the beginning know we will never end and, if so, with a very tiny common ground and false promises woven in and full of leaking holes and where we know already how it might be abused and even turned against life once more with the glamourous sentence “but you see we have agreed together”!!
Perhaps instead, we would listen to the stories and motivations, slow down and get to know each other’s realities and talk about the worldviews and the deeper intrinsic motivation. Would we find a bigger common ground than now? Maybe not, but at least we would start to build bridges across the perceived divides and abysses.

So I’m here now. I’m back. My delusion of hope – not hope itself – but the illusion of hope – has shattered.

My delusion of hope – not hope itself – but the illusion of hope – has shattered

I probably need a few more weeks in conversations and dialogue with others – as this is too big to metabolize in one human system – to try to make sense of what I experienced both from the beauty, richness, and power that unfolds, as well as seeing the immense work ahead of us to come back to our senses, and find some form or way – embodied – that serves our common goods truly. As now it’s super siloed, it’s super capitalistic; it’s super colonial. And even if painful to the core of our existence, it’s really good to see it unveiled (once more).

I am now sitting with the inquiry, “What are the leverages for our shared future where all life forms can thrive?

What is it we really need? Seeing how we don’t talk about worldviews and paradigms keeps me perplexed and concerned. We don’t highlight the mindsets, connective tissue, or mycelium structures that connect us all – and the impacts we constantly have on each other – so-called positive and destructive. And we don’t find ways to make that visible and tangible. Without that, I don’t see any shift emerging. 

OK, we have the carbon trackers, the multiple technologies and,….and now what we could call potential “phasing out.” But without healing and re-aligning in the depths, reweaving our fractured mindsets and beliefs to a common ground, we will perpetuate problems until we reconsider the worldviews behind it all.

While this is unveiled for me, ever more cellularly than before, I also carry another cellular memory home. It’s the deep knowing that with the climate youth negotiators and all the incredible team members, allies, and supportive networks, our bonds deepened, and our connections are strengthened, every one an astonishing soul and together like rocking stars creating a firmament. We have and are fostering a little microcosmos, rippling onwards. A “little” antidote.

I sincerely appreciated the experience with all its controversy. I will go back if they ask me to support them again, as it a place to act from the depths while everyone is focusing on the surface and as it is such a good check-in moment of where we are as humanity, especially if I then bring it outwards again, like seeds to my wider network, reflect, compost, and use it wisely.

The personal strength that helped me hold up, stay grounded, and regenerate for these 3 1/2 weeks on the ground was having called upon a circle of friends and practitioners to co-hold an energetic field with me. If I had not had that, I would have probably cracked somewhere midfield because – even with daily meditation and self-care –  it’s too much to metabolize as a tiny human being ;). There is power in this decentralized network that holds a sense of enlivening frequency and is imbued by different practices. It doesn’t matter where it comes from; there is a shared intention, a shared place of care, and a sense of openness to the outcomes. The key is the laser-sharp intention for what we stand up for every day and breathe every moment.