Grad student Tebbe finds inspiration at U.N. climate conference

La Follette School graduate student Nova Tebbe calls herself a climate newcomer. Yet, in early November, she joined 300 people who walked out of the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (or COP26) to protest the lack of significant commitment to combat climate change.

That last Friday in Scotland, Tebbe was inspired by a People’s Plenary session. “Solidarity, camaraderie, community: I was able to be in the room, and I felt so driven and passionate by everyone else’s energy,” she says. She joined those who walked out of the COP venue to meet with the outside protestors led by Fridays for Future, the youth climate movement spearheaded by Greta Thunberg.

COP26 brought together 200 nations together to forge an agreement that would accelerate action toward mitigating climate change, adapting to it, investing in infrastructure and technology, and working together to find solutions to benefit health for all.

After the conference, COP President Alok Sharma called the Glasgow Climate Pact a fragile win. U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged nations to go into emergency mode to reduce the use of fossil fuel, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and help low-income countries offset the cost of a changing climate.

Tebbe was an observer at the conference through the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research. She is pursuing a dual master’s degree in public affairs (MPA) and public health (MPH) and researches climate change policies rooted in climate and equity with Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute (GHI) and La Follette School affiliate.

Tebbe also is completing an Energy Analysis and Policy (EAP) Certificate through the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies.

In terms of health, Tebbe sees including the “right to health” in the preamble as a win. She also applauded the COP26 health program to decarbonize the health sector and, for the first time a health pavilion at a COP. She appreciated the opportunity to talk to country delegates about how climate change impacts health.

“We still have a long way to go to talk about why climate affects health,” she says. “This space gave us a space to pitch it, and that’s huge. There’s not another opportunity for me to talk to people from different countries about health.”

Yet, Tebbe believes the Glasgow Pact did not go far enough and could lead to 2 or 3 degrees warming.

“It’s tough to expect these international agreements, which require consensus, to be these bold, ambitious things,” Tebbe says. “The global north can afford to take their time to 2050 (to reduce emissions). The global south and island nations cannot afford that.

“The climate crisis is already here. People are dying because of it. There are no options.”

–Adapted with permission from this Global Health Institute story