Q&A with COP27 delegate and UBC Arts student Abul Bashar Rahman

Abul Bashar Rahman is a Bachelor of International Economics student from Bangladesh. He was the only undergraduate student chosen to be in UBC's COP27 delegation.

Earlier this month, UBC Arts student Abul Bashar Rahman traveled to Egypt with eight other UBC delegates to attend COP 27: the world’s most important conference on climate change. He joined representatives from nearly 200 countries to explore strategies for tackling the climate emergency.

As an economics student from Bangladesh, Bashar wanted to deepen his understanding of how global climate negotiations work and share his perspective as a Bangladeshi who has witnessed the devastating effects of climate change on his home country.

We spoke to Bashar about what he learned at the conference, what advice he has for fellow students about advancing climate justice, and why we need more voices to represent those most affected by climate change.

Why were you interested in attending COP27? 

Growing up in Bangladesh, I witnessed the direct effects of climate change on my nation and its people. Climate change is a global phenomenon, but it disproportionately affects marginalized people. The Global South experiences some of the worst effects of climate change, while the Global North has contributed the most to overall emissions.

I wanted to attend COP27 to understand what the Global North is doing to mitigate the effects of climate change. I was curious to learn about climate finance, how the world is planning to respond to the billion climate refugees that are anticipated in the coming years, and other social problems that have emerged because of climate change. I also wanted to connect with people from different countries and economies and learn how different groups perceive this challenge and what steps they are taking to address a problem that affects everyone on this planet.

How have you seen climate change impact your home country of Bangladesh?

Climate change is having a drastic effect on the people of Bangladesh. The freshwater reserve is decreasing, people are losing their homes to floods, droughts are making people change their agricultural patterns. Even in megacities like Dhaka, you see individuals struggling with poorer air quality, more expensive produce, and a lack of fresh food. Seeing people lose their land (which is often their only source of income) to floods or rising sea levels, or seeing people lose their families to flood and drought is heartbreaking.

How was your overall experience attending the conference? How did you participate and was it what you expected? 

The experience was overwhelming and not what I expected. I had a constant fear of missing out as I navigated each day! My typical day included attending events and negotiations I was interested in, speaking with a range of people (CXOs, members of parliaments, youth activists), and learning as much as I could. The best part for me was exposure to how the world works. The worst was realizing how limited things can be, but that should not dictate whether we are capable of changing systems. Young people have the potential to decide the future of the world, and I believe this conference was a segue for me and others to realize what impact we can have on the lives of others and on this planet. 

You are interested in the issue of climate refugees. How was this issue addressed at COP27? 

We are soon going to have a billion climate refugees in the world. However, the UN Refugee Agency still has not recognized climate refugees as refugees. From my informal conversations with different climate activists and MPs, I believe there is a shared frustration over how little we are doing to address this issue. There are passionate people working to change things, but we need immediate actions that I felt were missing at this year’s conference. 

Now that COP27 is over, how do you hope to continue advancing climate action? 

My focus is now on learning and understanding the different interconnected systems. I am going to concentrate on listening to stories, mapping assets, creating new networks, and rethinking systems. Above all, I am going to be patient and pragmatic in initiating interventions. I also hope to share my experiences and learnings with other students and peers in advancing climate action initiatives.

What advice would you give your fellow students about fighting climate change

Young people are at the forefront of climate action movements – we need to recognize our potential and act accordingly – whether in policy-making, entrepreneurship, intrapreneurship, activism, advocacy, and interventions. I would urge everyone to get involved in shifting paradigms from within. There is a lot of work to be done, and it will only be possible when we are all doing this together – with a collective vision. 

A few groups that are doing incredible work on campus include Climate Action Mobilizers (UBC Centre for Community Engaged Learning), the Sustainability Ambassadors Program, and the Sustainability Hub. We should do all that we can to bring the change that we need and hope to see.