COP27 + COP2 – Manhattan Times News

COP27 + COP2

By Kathleen M. Pike, Ph.D

While I was in Egypt last month, I saw signs everywhere for the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (aka COP27) to be held in Sharm El-Sheikh. Over the past two weeks, heads of state, government officials and members of civil society have met there to take action towards achieving the world’s collective climate goals, as agreed by the Paris Agreement and the Convention.

Climate change is having a major impact on the health of communities around the world.

Climate change is having a major impact on the health, including mental health, of communities around the world. And mental health, especially our emotional resilience, has a profound effect on how well we can respond to environmental changes individually and collectively.

COP27. The 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference (aka COP27 or the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC) has just ended. The conference aimed to build on the results and momentum of last year’s COP26 in Glasgow. National leaders, business executives and members of civil society addressed the multifaceted impacts of climate change—from rising seas to displaced communities to deteriorating health. The program was filled with aspirations, commitments and promises. The Marrakesh Partnership for Global Climate Action report, coverage from the Columbia University Climate School and many other sources from around the world provide a mix of sobering news and guarded optimism.

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Climate impacts on mental health. Everyone knows about the negative impacts of climate change on the planet. The climate crisis is affecting mental health in many ways as well – some directly, some indirectly. The American Psychiatric Association reports that stress and mental health problems such as depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress are correlated with rising temperatures. Traumas from weather and climate extreme events have increased. High-risk behaviors such as increased alcohol use are associated with climate-related weather events. Increased water insecurity, floods, drought and the frequency and intensity of storms due to climate change have social and economic impacts by affecting supply chains, markets and the flow of natural resources. This leads to disruption in communities resulting in the loss of social support, resources and livelihoods, all of which contribute to a domino effect on mental health.

POLICE OFFICER2 (“Officer-Square”). The ambition of the COP2, which stands for Care of People and Planet, is to integrate into climate initiatives and commitments the awareness of individual and collective mental health as a serious vulnerability and a critical capability in the fight against climate change. Chairman and Director of COP2. Columbia professor and colleague Dr. Gary Belkin said at the launch: “We are seeing increased attention, innovation and urgency to put social and emotional resilience and agency in the mainstream of climate policy and action. POLICE OFFICER2 came together to bring this together into a global agenda. Today, at COP27, that agenda was super-big. Like everything else about climate change, we are playing catch-up. “It’s really a race and we have to win.”

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Simon Steele, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), delivers welcoming remarks at the official opening of COP27.
Photo: Momoko Sato/ UNIC Tokyo

A double-edged sword of urgency. Setting goals, countdowns and deadlines. Shining light on disasters. Detailing the risks of inaction. All of these tactics were part of a strategy to raise awareness of what was happening to the health of our planet. We know we need to get knowledge out there and reach people emotionally to catalyze action. We also know that too much information can lead to cognitive overload, especially when the messages are complex and/or inconsistent (which is the case with climate). The same can happen with our emotions. Fear-based motivational efforts can lead to emotional overload and paralyzing anxiety. Under such conditions, the amygdala signals the hypothalamus to secrete stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline, which can trigger the freeze response—exactly the opposite of the intended outcome. Advancing a climate agenda that achieves health for people and planet requires finding that space where urgency mobilizes, not paralyzes.

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A woman fishing in Dili, East Timor. Research shows that women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change.
Photo: UN Photo/Martine Perret

Where are the women? Women made up less than 34 percent of the negotiating teams at COP27. At the leadership level, they are even rarer. Last week in Sharm El Sheikh it was taken by 110 world leaders. If you look closely, you will find seven women on stage. Only seven, even though women and girls experience the greatest impacts of climate change. According to UN Women, the climate crisis is a “threat multiplier”, increasing social, political and economic tensions in fragile and conflict-affected settings. Existing gender inequalities are widening in ways that make life even more difficult and insecure for women and girls. Strengthening the voice of women in the movement for solutions and ensuring that women more fully join leadership for the health of people and our planet is essential.

COP27 + COP2 are global movements dedicated to the health of people and the planet. The impact of climate change on mental health is real. The impact of mental health and emotional resilience of individuals and communities on climate change is also real. The health of people and the planet are inextricably linked. I am reminded that another name for our planet is Mother Earth. People and planet as one.

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