The Post-Trump Global Climate Conference, As Told By Isaac Wilkins
Besides being one of my dear friends and colleagues at Columbia, Isaac is a passionate advocate for environmental justice. Isaac recently graduated from Howard University, leaving a strong legacy of leadership. He is well-versed in international climate conferences, having served as a student delegate at COP 21 in Paris, and most recently at COP 22 in Morocco. Once again fueled by his passion to serve the under-served, Isaac curated data analysis for Howard to better understand the key factors behind racial disparities as it pertains to African Americans in STEM programs.
I caught up with Isaac after COP 22 in Economics class. His suitcase was dragging behind him; he had darted to Columbia straight from the airport. That's how dedicated this guy is, and his passion is contagious. Check out our interview below!
So you arrived in Morocco right after the recent election of a candidate who has been vocal in his disapproval of US involvement to the Paris Agreement. What did that feel like?
Initially I was bombarded with questions from delegates - from Africa to Asia to South America. They asked how I felt. They wondered about America's status with a president who has explained that he is not an advocate for actions to mitigate climate change nor a supporter of the Paris Agreement. I expressed my initial concern with recent President-elect Trump, but I explained to the delegates that I am confident in the hearts of conscious American legislators, climate activists and invested companies who have demonstrated steadfast allegiance to the fight to mitigate climate change. After this recent election, I feel that Americans can now relate to many countries who have not been fond of their head of state but still managed to make major environmental strides. I also remember that America is the true “beauty and the beast:” a country that has an ugly past of pillage and slavery but one who has been able to be resilient, innovative and sovereign because of its people. All and all, yes we are in an interesting phase with a perplexing wild card for a president-elect, but it is up to the people to remain informed, determined and active to protect our America.
In wake of this election, what strategies were discussed at COP 22 specifically for US involvement?
At COP 22, the US made it CLEAR that despite the recent election, we are moving forward with climate change policy as planned. I heard countless stories from US negotiators who offered similar messages: the work of many will not go to waste because of one. There have been brainstorming sessions constructing methods to grab the attention of President Trump, so that there won’t be division amongst him and private and public supporters of the agreement and its goals. Also, they discussed collaborative work with international supporters to ensure that president elect Trump doesn’t back out on this international agreement, which America plays a pertinent role in.
How can Americans remain involved in global climate policy even if our country officially pulls out?
Americans can lobby congress and local representatives to push for more policy such as the Clean Power Plan and others that will help contribute to decreasing the U. S greenhouses and INDCs (intended nationally determined contributions). Also business owners, universities, and residents can adopt more sustainable tactics to help save the environment.
What were your favorite moments in COP 22?
My favorite moment at the conference was when Secretary John Kerry spoke. During his speech, he reminded both US representatives and those of other countries on the importance of our global progress, and the importance that each country, party, and individual plays in saving our planet. In a nutshell, we are all a piece to a massive puzzle. We as individuals and we as a country need to accept our role in this fight, and understand the larger purpose our actions play towards saving the planet.
What was most discussed? What were the hot topics?
It’s hard to generalize what was discussed because everyday has a different theme and focus. But generally, discussion involved updates on what countries’ progress towards implementing the Paris Agreement. A common issue was that there was not enough money nor programs invested in helping underdeveloped countries, communities and indigenous people to adapt to climate change. However, there was a major turn-out of NGOs and women’s organizations who developed innovative programs to fill in the gaps their governments created.
Other hot topics included: climate finance, under-represented groups, and specific climate policies, such as the US Clean Power Plan.
I can attest to all of your hard work towards scoring this opportunity. Can you tell readers a little about your efforts, and why you wanted to attend so badly? What did you take away from this experience? And what advice would you offer others to getting more involved?
One of my personal mottos is this: never accept no as an answer. I was in communication with representatives for funding for academic research, and, through this the process, I missed the deadline. Nevertheless, through my journey, I managed to find another source of school funding to further my academic research. My academic analysis focused on this overarching question: Is the Black Lives Matter Movement necessary from an environmental lens? This question also included recognition of indigenous people, people of color , women and other factions misrepresented in the environmental movement. Through countless interviews from NGOs, party representatives, scientist and other COP 22 attendees, the general answer was yes, there was a need.
There were stories of how people had been killed due to their protest for the government to do more to help their faction. There was a common issues of: lack of education about climate change and the environment, lack of resources (clean water, power, sustainable tactics and policies, etc) and lack of a voice (no one besides members of their tribe, group or faction was advocating for them). They believe that a movement as big as B.L.M had the capacity and power to combine all these under marginalized groups internationally and help push towards change in their perspective regions.
And what are you most passionate about? Where do you see yourself after commencement this May?
I am passionate about advocating for those who cannot advocate for themselves. Of course as an African American, I accept my responsibility to advocate for my people. But I also accept the job I have as a human to run towards the call of injustice and work towards a solution that produces justice. I am passionate about my mission to bridge the gap between natural and social sciences because I understand my existence stems past myself and incorporates the masses of diverse, complex and unique people on this Earth.
Upon graduation I see myself working with a major company that has the attention of the people but uses its platform to eradicate natural and social science injustices such as Climate change and others, through policy and a variety of other scientific and social campaigns.