I am grateful to be given the opportunity to join the COP 28 to Dubai this year. I wasn’t planning for it initially and the opportunity came as I was offered a spot due to a vacancy after returning from the World Food Forum in Rome. It has been quite a different experience as this event is at a larger scale with more intense, high level negotiations taking place. Furthermore, it was a blessing to be able to interact with both experienced Tzu Chi volunteers who are seasoned participants of previous COP meetings and the International Youth Leadership Program (IYLP) delegates who are young and full of passion to take part in climate actions. Both have been a great source of learning and has been helpful in finding my own role within the team and explore future personal development.
The highlights for me were how COP 28 has formerly recognised the role of faith in climate action and the importance of incorporating health within discussion and policy making for the food system and climate action. These 2 topics resonated strongly with me as it reflects my identity both personally and professionally. It is inspiring to see how the faith communities have been working hard to bridge the gaps between activism and policy making. Attending a few interfaith sessions and being a panellist discussing the role of values in a just food transformation had given me a better insight into current initiatives carried out by different faith communities. Success stories such as how a Muslim community was able to eliminate single-use utensils during Ramadhan have been a source of reference and encouragement that there is a collective effort to tackle this global emergency. It is truly humbling to learn from their experiences. Having only known Tzu Chi’s activities in climate action, I had a rather narrow lens on this global issue as well as the actions of other communities. Through these discussions, it had widened my horizon and helped to better appreciate how different faith communities despite their differences, can still work collaboratively towards a common goal and learn from one another.
As a doctor, it struck me hard that healthcare professionals need to take a more active role in climate action and promoting a healthier food system. It is indeed now or never given how climate change is directly affecting our health as well as the food system. Given how health is closely intertwined with climate change and food system, it is evident that plant-based diet has a significant role in reducing carbon emissions as well as promoting a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, awareness and education regarding this aspect is lacking within the current medical curriculum. Listening to speakers discussing how they are trying to integrate these issues into their medical practice and raise awareness among healthcare professionals as well as patients is very encouraging. Their sharing has enthused me to think beyond just being involved in project to reduce waste but also to consider exploring diet change in hospital food as well as raising awareness among healthcare professionals and patients. A very motivating story was shared by one of the IYLP delegates regarding how she and her team at the New York Mayor office was able to push forward a policy to make plant-based diet the default option in hospital meals at New York City Hospitals which has been received positively. This is truly an amazing feat.
Personally, I have never been too interested in policy making as I find it often revolves around wordplay and there are frequently big gaps between what is written compared to what is successfully implemented. It sometimes feels unnecessarily complicated even though objectives and course of actions are clear, but these are impeded by other conflicting interests or agendas, especially political interference. However, having participated in COP 28, it has given me a new perspective on this, especially after learning from the successful examples of how policies has contributed to systemic change. It is a convoluted process but being able to understand its process and intricacies allows more constructive discussions and negotiations to drive meaningful change and interventions. The stage of implementation is often where policy fails to deliver and one of the key factors is communication. It is vital to ensure information backed by good evidence is shared effectively among relevant stakeholders – meaning it is easily accessible and understood despite coming from a diverse background. This helps to align interest and objectives, which in turn foster productive communication and partnership to execute the policy. Perhaps it is not my forte at the aspect of policy making, however having a better understanding and being able to participate in these discussions are useful when collaborating with other organisations.
“Natural disasters which have been increasing in frequency in recent years are in fact man-made disasters due to both human actions and inactions”. This was a thought-provoking statement by one of the speakers at COP 28. Moreover, the recent conflicts and humanitarian crises had further accelerated the effects of climate change and global warming. These events sadly lead to poverty, resource scarcity, forced displacement etc. which feedback into a vicious cycle, worsening the ongoing climate crisis. It is a mammoth task to attempt to break this cycle and mitigate the effect of climate change. However, there isn’t a silver bullet that can solve these issues imminently. The most crucial part in this is us, humans. Dharma Master Cheng Yen had urged that “may all minds be purified; may society be peaceful and may there be no disasters in this world”. As human plays a central role in mitigating these crises, it is of utmost importance that our mind is purified and be rid of greed, hatred, and jealousy. To cultivate this, we need to sow the seeds of love and gratefulness within our heart. When we can empathise with others and our living surroundings, then we will be more mindful in our actions and help to forge meaningful collaboration towards tackling climate change. Regardless of technological advancements, these tools can only achieve its true potential when the users are utilising it with the right intent.
Tzu Chi had started the initiatives on environmental sustainability at a grassroot level way before climate change is widely discussed as a global emergency. Tzu Chi’s success in promoting sustainability stems from the collective effort of all the volunteers across the globe regardless of how minute they are. This is very much driven by Dharma Master Cheng Yen’s teaching to love and care for our Earth and all sentient beings. Going forward it is crucial that Tzu Chi continues to take part and collaborate with local and international organisations to remain informed regarding current developments in climate change. In the age of big data, it is increasingly important to ensure information is current and accurate to facilitate effective partnership. The ongoing partnership will also allow opportunities to integrate Tzu Chi values in high level decision making as well as promoting Tzu Chi’s humanitarian spirit at all levels. It has been a great learning opportunity taking part in COP28 and I look forward to incorporating these learning to my workplace and day to day life. I will also continue to take part in future IYLP events and support the program in cultivating youth leaders to take action against climate change.
About the author:
Dr Jia Luen Goh was trained in medicine in the UK and is currently practicing in NHS. He was selected in IYLP 2022 program and joined the delegation to the World Food Forum 2023 and COP28.