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COP28: Professor Laura Marsiliani

Professor Laura Marsiliani – Durham University Business School

Blog post updated: 19 December 2023

We spoke to Professor Laura Marsiliani (Durham University Business School) about her experience at COP28 and her hopes for continuing important discussions regarding climate change.

Find out how we’re leading the way on sustainability on our dedicated COP28 webpages.

How did it feel to be part of such significant events as the UN COPs?

It has been an uppermost privilege to be part of the Durham observer delegation and the UN COP community for the last three years. On all occasions I was impressed with the energy and determination the delegates bring in regardless of their role or rank. The sense of common purpose is also tangible and very infectious. The diversity of delegates and exhibitions is unique with tens of thousands of participants from 197 UN parties, each of them bringing their expertise, enthusiasm and, perhaps more importantly, cultural perspective.

COP26 in Glasgow was when the UK stressed its commitment to climate finance to assist climate vulnerable economies and net zero emission policies; it was marred by the last-minute emotional twist about phasing down rather than phasing out fossil fuels. COP27 impressed me as the conference of Africa and youth activism. While the prominence of emerging economies and Africa for the climate discourse has been widely acknowledged, the youth activism aspect was more debatable as the Egyptian government banned the canonical street demonstration and faced strong criticism by civil society groups and individuals, such as Greta Thunberg. Yet inside the UN compound the first ever Youth and Children Pavilion was constantly beaming with passionate talks and debates and the unstoppable energy of our future climate leaders (they did organise a march inside COP27 after all); it was definitely the busiest pavilion at COP27.

At COP28 protests were subdued again, but a new Youth Climate Champion role was created to participate in all negotiations and each delegation had to include a young member. It was the conference when the first Global Stocktake process concluded, and emphasis was given to data and measurement of progress on National Determined Contributions (NDCs). Significant was the dialogue about the first Global Gender Stocktake to ensure inclusivity of climate policies, women climate leadership and a just transition to a net zero economy. Other achievements were the launch of the AI-Innovation Grand Challenge to unlock the power of generative AI for climate solutions in developing countries and the endorsement of the Climate and Health Declaration which officially recognises, for the first time at COPs, the negative effects of climate change on health. The fossil fuel controversy continued at extra time, with no commitment again on phasing out fossil fuels, implying a step up in the use of carbon capture and storage and renewables instead.

Can you give us an idea of the kinds of things you were involved in at the conference?

Durham University holds observer status at the UN COP Conferences. This means that delegates can access the UN compound and follow an array of activities (some negotiations, talks, panels etc.). In addition, through our research and pedagogical networks, we actively participate in some of the events in association with national and international groups and associations. I have established a close connection with the Bangladesh energy regulator, as I co-designed the first energy augmented DSGE model of the Bangladesh economy that provides predictions in terms of carbon emissions and economic indicators. Therefore, I engage with the Bangladesh and the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) Pavilions.

As a former consultant for the Asian Development Bank, I am also involved in the activities on climate finance. Another dimension of our participation at COPs is to disseminate Durham University’s innovative approaches to research and education on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), consolidate existing networks and create new ones. For this purpose, our involvement with the COP27 Education Hub was extremely successful and we renewed Durham University engagement at COP28.

Communications goes both ways, we bring Durham University to COP, but also bring COP to Durham and beyond. In the last two years I was delighted to be part of a pedagogical initiative with St Oswald’s Primary School in Durham City, through which we exposed pupils to the significance of the COP conferences and live streamed from inside the UN compound in Egypt and UAE. I was elated when the children asked me if I was an environmental activist myself! For me, it was a truly memorable experience.

What makes you so passionate about climate change?

I can pinpoint three main reasons.

Firstly, Climate Change is a challenge that unifies us all and fixing our climate is clearly a shared responsibility. I am very excited at the idea that this endeavour is fostering a sense of global community where we are all linked to each other and each one has a role to play regardless of the magnitude of individual contributions. 

Secondly, future generations will be the ones mostly affected by climate change. It is only natural that being an educator and a parent I am deeply concerned and wish to be part of the solution.

Finally, solving the climate crisis requires a truly interdisciplinary approach. This is intellectually very challenging and constantly inspires me to expand my comprehension beyond the boundaries of my discipline (economics).

What is one of the most important things you learnt at the conference?

Keep the pressure on. In economics we use game theory to analyse negotiations among parties in connection to international environmental agreements. Theoretically it is very difficult to design a game conducive to international cooperation and in practice it is even harder (remember the ‘phase down coal’ drama at the COP26 extra time). Research shows that repeated games over time can more likely lead to cooperation among countries. Therefore, if each COP conference is interpreted as one game, expectedly results will come but not quickly.

The fundamental question is, by the time we fully embrace cooperation over our climate, would that be too late?  A recent report issued in April 2022 by the IPCC (the scientific body that informs COP negotiations) shows that the window for action against global warming is closing fast, unfortunately.

What do you think is the most important thing our staff and students can do to make positive steps towards tackling climate change?

Inform and educate yourself and those close to you. For examples, there are so called ‘double dividend’ policies that have been proven to benefit the environment and at the same time boost the economy, such as creating new job opportunities. Even if environmental protection is not featuring high on someone’s preference ranking, those initiatives can enhance consensus for climate action.

Unfortunately, not everyone appreciates that the environment and the economy are not necessarily in contrast with each other. That is where education has a big role to play.  At Durham University we provide many opportunities for enhancing knowledge and skills on the SDGs both in and outside the curriculum and in the community.

I am also very proud to be part of several research centres such as the Centre for Environmental and Energy Economics (CE3) at DUBS of which I am a co-director, the CSDLP (Centre for Sustainable Development, Law and Policy) led by Professor Petra Minnerop (Law) and the Durham Energy Institute (DEI) led by Professor Simone Abram (Anthropology), which vigorously keep the sustainability agenda alive.

Published 14 November 2023 (Pre-COP28)

I am delighted to be part of the Durham University observer delegation at COP28. As an environmental and energy economist, I cherish the opportunity to share my passion for research, education, and dialogue on sustainability.

I will primarily engage with:

The Government of India: My research project ‘Personalised sensor feedback on air pollution exposure: Nudging behaviour towards adoption of bike-share schemes in Chennai’ with Lucy Naga (DUBS) and Uwe Schlink (Leipzig) was a finalist in the Government of India’s call for ideas initiative ‘LiFE-Lifestyle for the Environment’. The selected ideas will be presented at COP28.

The Climate Vulnerable Forum: I have an ongoing collaboration with Bangladesh researchers and policymakers on ‘Energy Price Reforms and Decarbonisation Policies in Bangladesh’ that has resulted in several publications and engagement activities since 2015.

The Asian Development Bank: I have recently collaborated with the Asian Development Bank Institute and contributed to one of their reports, ‘Prospects for Transitioning from a Linear to Circular Economy in Developing Asia’.

I will also join in the discussion on:

Gender and just transition to net zero: one of my research interests is just transition to renewable energy in developing countries and the related theme of women empowerment in rural villages. Participating in the Gender and Climate dialogue at COP28 will also inform my work as Faculty of Business EDI Co-lead.

Sustainability in the curriculum: In the last few years, I have been a member of the Sustainability in the Curriculum working group at Durham University. My plan for COP28 is to share best practices for curriculum development on sustainability.

Children and youth activism and engagement: I will broadcast live from COP28 connecting with a primary school in Durham City and colleagues from Durham University Business School.

Find out more

Our Business School is an international triple accredited business school. Founded in 1965, we are one of the UK’s longest established business schools. Our programmes combine academic excellence and outstanding research with global business connections. Add to that, exceptional skills and career development opportunities, you will find a learning experience that equips you for success in your chosen career.

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