Walking the walk: Talking sustainability and climate action with COP27 observer Paris Liu

Smiling Paris Liu head and shoulders standing in front of a wood backdrop. Her hair is long and dark and she is wearing a while blouse.

Paris Liu, a fourth-year engineering student and the co-president of Zero Waste McMaster, is in Egypt this week for the United Nations’ annual global climate summit.

Paris Liu, a fourth-year civil engineering student at McMaster, is the co-president of Zero Waste McMaster, a club dedicated to promoting an accessible, low-waste lifestyle to students on and off campus. She is a member of LIFT Church and uses her faith to inform the work she is doing to address climate change.

And this week, she is in Egypt for COP27, this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference.

Liu, who is part of the Christian Climate Observers Program, will join delegates from all over the world as they review the progress made since last year’s summit in Glasgow, move talks beyond negotiations, and start implementing solutions that will reverse the effects of climate change.

We sat down with Liu to learn more about COP27, why responding to climate change is so important and how people can take action to make their everyday lives more sustainable.

What would you say is the importance of climate summits like COP27?

Every country is affected by climate change, whether you’re one of the main contributors to it or you’re one of the countries experiencing its effects.

Because of that, we need every single country to come together to be part of a dialogue on how we can adapt, mitigate and make nations more resilient to its effects. These types of dialogues can be most effectively done at climate summits like the COPs.

In addition, these conferences provide a huge opportunity for more media coverage on climate change, which thankfully has been rising over the years, but hasn’t always been high enough. The more the general public can hear about climate summits and climate change in general, the more awareness there will be about the problem, and that awareness will hopefully spur more people into action.

What is your role as an Observer at COP27?

There are the obvious things, like attending meetings, briefings, workshops or exhibits throughout the summit.

In addition to these events, I get the opportunity to develop position papers and make formal submissions, hold bilaterals with government delegates, showcase and advocate for climate action through press conferences and side events, make joint constituency statements in the plenaries and prepare for dialogues and briefings.

But personally, I would argue that the most important role I have as an Observer actually comes after the conference, because by then I will be more equipped to mobilize the communities that I am part of into action.

What do you hope to learn from COP27?

I hope to gain firsthand insight into global climate change efforts and learn about the policy side of climate change, as that isn’t something I get to learn on a daily basis.

I’d also like to learn from world leaders and other activists and use the things I’ve learned to mobilize the communities I am a part of into action.

Finally, I am excited to learn from the Christian Climate Observers Program. Since becoming a Christian three years ago, I’ve unfortunately kept my faith and passion for environmental stewardship in silos. The reality is that there is a lot of opportunity for faith and climate action to work together for a brighter future.

Can you tell me a little bit about how Zero Waste McMaster is promoting and encouraging sustainability initiatives on campus?

I’ve had the privilege of being a part of Zero Waste McMaster since we were founded as a club four years ago. Since then, our club has grown into a community of students who are incredibly passionate about sustainability. We do a variety of both educational and tangible, action-based initiatives because we believe that, while awareness is important, actually walking the walk and taking action is important, too.

Over the years, we’ve hosted a variety of workshops, including ones on zero waste living, food waste reduction and greenwashing.

But going beyond just the educational piece, we’ve also done some more tangible things on campus, such as partnering with local sustainable shops to provide McMaster students with discounts in an effort to make sustainability more accessible and hosting four community clean-ups. We’ve also indirectly planted over 1,000 trees through a school-wide partnership with Ecosia, a free search engine that plants trees for every 45 searches.

Additionally, we’ve put a lot of effort into promoting composting at McMaster.

Over 60 per cent of organics end up in landfills. Once these organics are in landfills, they generate methane, which is a greenhouse gas that is 28 times more potent than carbon dioxide when measured in a 100-year period.

So we’ve created a map of all the compost bins on campus, and, last semester, we partnered with Union Market and The Grind to divert over 600 pounds of coffee grounds from landfills by composting them instead.

What motivates you to take action on climate change, and what advice would you give to someone looking to make their everyday lives more sustainable?

Many people think sustainable living is more complicated than it actually is. The reality, however, is that the solutions are simple, and most are out there already: Contacting your local MP about climate issues, using public transport, retrofitting your home or just voting with your dollars. It’s really just a matter of walking the walk and actually executing.

For instance, composting is a free program offered by the City of Hamilton – you can contact the city and get a green bin for free. Composting does take a little bit more work, but if you can identify the specific reasons why it’s important to you, it makes it so worth it.

As a Canadian living in a developed nation with one of the highest per capita emissions in the world, one of the reasons I act is because other nations are suffering from the damage my country has contributed to.

As someone who wants to have children and has had the opportunity of experiencing the beauty of life and creation around me, I act so that my children and generations down the road can have a future.

Finally, as a Christian, I am called to steward after God’s creation and to love my neighbour as myself, which includes helping those around the world most impacted by climate change. Ultimately, for me, the Christian message of reconciliation, love, and hope through the death and resurrection of Jesus is what motivates me to care for the earth and is what gives me hope that it’s not too late to take action on climate change.

Those are some of my reasons, and maybe they can inspire some of yours. Just figure out why you care, and the rest will follow naturally.

For updates on Paris’ experience at COP27,  follow @zerowastemcmaster on Instagram or visit her YouTube channel