“Self-care is how you take your power back.”
We are members of the New Generation of young negotiators from vulnerable developing countries. We began working together at COP 25 in Madrid in late 2019 when one of our mentors, Erin Roberts, brought us together. Our aim is to empower ourselves as young negotiators to advocate for the most vulnerable on the frontlines of climate change in the global South within the UNFCCC negotiations.
Every Thursday morning we come together for a call which we call the New Generation Office Hour. Sometimes we have a coaching call where we support each other with challenges we are facing. Other times we invite a guest speaker to share their knowledge and expertise. This hour together is a chance for us to learn from others and to support each other as we grow as humans and evolve as climate leaders. The other week we discussed how we can keep healthy and well in the lead up to and at COP 27. We thought we would share some of the insights from that discussion in case they can be helpful to others who are preparing for COP 27.
Self-care: Putting yourself first
Self-care is defined as, “the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s well-being and happiness.” The key words are “active” and “protect”. We must take an active role in protecting our well-being and happiness. Our inboxes are full of other people’s priorities and urgent requests. Starting each day with an intention and what you want to achieve each day and being realistic in the expectations for ourselves helps us prioritise our tasks and triaging our inboxes. This sounds much easier than it is.
Self-care requires saying no often even when we want to say yes because we genuinely want to do something. This makes many of us very uncomfortable. But saying yes to others sometimes/often means saying no to ourselves which compounds over time. There are only so many hours in the day and there is only so much we can do each day. We are all human after all. We are doing our best to say yes to ourselves each day and to prioritise what’s important for our own work so that we have the energy we need to advocate for those on the frontlines of climate change.
Sleep like your life depends on it (because it does)
We will all work long days at the COP and there is a lot of work to be done over the next few weeks as we prepare. We are doing our best to ensure that we arrive in Sharm well rested by getting enough good quality sleep each night to function at a high level. Combined with focusing on our priorities, this helps us be more productive and effective each day so we can get more done in less time. If you’re looking for insights on how to get better sleep we recommend these tips from sleep expert Matthew Walker. If you’re up for a deeper dive on sleep and why it’s so important, we recommend this podcast from Andrew Huberman.
Nourishing our bodies and souls
In our daily lives we are doing our best to nourish our bodies with healthy food and nourish our souls with time spent with loved ones. We try to have fun when we can, to dance when we feel like it, to listen to good music, eat good food and have conversations that feed our souls. It’s not always easy but it’s definitely possible to have in our work on climate policy. We must also remember to nourish our bodies as they allow us to do the work that we do. That will mean different things to different people but we all need sunshine, exercise and a diet that incorporates lots of different kinds of plants.
At the COP, nourishing our bodies and souls might look like taking a few minutes in a quiet place to have lunch amidst the chaos - not always easy! Or it might mean making time for lunch at all or even just drinking enough water throughout the day. The long days at COP 27 will also present opportunities to have interesting conversations with people from all over the world and we hope to have some fun while there too. Sure, the days will be long and of course the work is critical, but it’s also important to enjoy the time we have and to learn from one another. We hope you will do the same.
Visualising the outcome we want
We use visualisation as a tool to help us see the future we want in our daily lives. Visualisation doesn’t have to be complicated. Throughout our days we try to focus on what we want to see in our world a few times and feel what that’s like. In our work on climate policy it’s easy to focus on everything that is going wrong. However, we find that the more we focus on what’s going right, the more of that we get.
Visualising does not have to be complicated. It can be just writing down the outcome you would want to see at COP 27 in a perfect world. We call that blue sky thinking. It could also take the form of imagining the outcome happening in your mind’s eye and painting a picture of what that would look like and feeling what it would be like for it to happen.
The more we appreciate the good the more good we expect to receive
We have learned that the more we are grateful for what we have now, the better life is. Many of us have a daily gratitude practice during which we write down five, ten and sometimes even 25 things that we are grateful for each day, with an aim to be grateful for new things each day. This helps us see the good in our lives and the world around us and also enables us to be on the lookout for more and more good each day. The more good we note, the more good we experience. In the lead up to the COP we are scaling up our gratitude practice to get in a more positive mindset as the negotiations can be challenging on that front sometimes.
Taking moments to just breathe
Our work is intense. We are collectively focused on solving one of the biggest challenges the world has ever faced. We need to remember to breathe sometimes and take advantage of opportunities to rest, even for a few minutes. In our work together we have learned a few breathing techniques which we find useful. We try to take a few moments each day to practise. There are a lot of breathing practices which you could try when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Some of us like box breathing with is a technique employed by Navy Seals in intense situations. In our day to day lives we could all improve our breathing just in general and we recommend this tutorial from James Nestor if you have a few minutes to spare.
Seeing COP as a sprint with a warm up and a cool down
Most if not all of us have overwhelming workloads and many of us work long hours in a fruitless effort to clear our plates and our inboxes. We have learned that we are better at our jobs when we focus on what is important for our own work (while supporting others where possible), getting good sleep, nourishing our bodies and souls and visualising and expecting the very best outcome. It’s also important that we see COP as a sprint, one that is preceded by a warm up and followed by a cool down. Arriving at the COP depleted benefits no one. So we urge you to train for the COP by resting as much as you can and making plans to rest after you return home.
The dangers of being passionate
One of the common threads that joins us all together is our passion for the work we do and the change we want to see in the world. To be doing work that you are passionate about is celebrated in our society. But we have to be careful that our passion does not cause harm. People who are passionate carry their passion with them and find it hard to disconnect even when they’re not actively working on it. All too often we are online when we have leave booked, it is a public holiday or it is outside normal work hours. This is made even more challenging with time zone differences that help us justify being online at all hours of the day and through the night and we lose balance. But being so passionate can come at a cost, as we wrap our identities around our goals and when things don’t turn out the way we expect we experience anxiety, depression and burnout.
With such big asks on Loss and Damage at this COP and high expectations, it will be important that we reflect on our passions and how we define success. This article by Brad Stulberg suggests that, “[t]he lion’s share of your passion should not come from the outside; it should come from within.” What this means is that it is critical to our wellbeing that the experience of doing our work and the internal satisfaction from giving this work our all is the core measure of success for COP, rather than the external achievements and satisfaction.
Bring it all together to ensure we take care of one another
As the definition of self-care suggests, to take care of ourselves we must be proactive to protect our health and well-being. To ensure the most ambitious outcome at COP 27 we believe it is imperative that we all be proactive in encouraging and supporting each other to prioritise their health and well-being as well. We have a tendency to work extremely hard in our line of work and to be even harder on ourselves. We must remember that the work we collectively do is only possible as long as we are healthy as a collective. If we are not taking care of ourselves this can have a negative impact on the people around us if we aren’t able to communicate effectively or they need to support us on work we have been unable to complete. That means that we each have an obligation to take care of ourselves. We know this is not easy but it’s so important, something we have already learned in our short time working in the UNFCCC process. We hope you are all taking care of yourselves as we get closer to COP 27 and we look forward to meeting you in Sharm!
Justina Aurea da Costa Belo is the coordinator of the New Generation. She is based in Timor-Leste where she works with the National Directorate on Climate Change with a focus on the Montreal Protocol.
Cyuzuzo Adeline is a member of the New Generation and leads the storytelling work of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition. She is based in Rwanda where she serves as the executive assistant of a youth led NGO, The Green Protector.
Ineza Umuhoza Grace serves as the global coordinator of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition, and as the chief executive officer of The Green Protector. She is an eco-feminist environmental engineer based in Rwanda.
Brenda Mwale is a member of the New Generation. She is based in Malawi where she works with the Green Girls Platform, a female led organisation empowering women and girls who work on climate change. Brenda is also a farmer and an advocate for other women farmers.
Hyacinthe Niyitegeka is a member of the New Generation and the coordinator of the Loss and Damage Collaboration. She also co-leads the advocacy work under the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition. Hyacinthe is a water scientist based in Rwanda.
Erin Roberts is the founder of the Loss and Damage Collaboration and leads the support team to the New Generation and is based in the UK. Her work focuses on empowering young climate leaders from the global South.
Isingizwe Sandra is part of a youth led NGO based in Rwanda, The Green Protector as the community mobiliser. She is a member of the Loss and Damage Youth Coalition and the New Generation team paving her way to become a climate change negotiator.
Heidi White leads the Santiago Network Project and co-leads the Support Centre under the Loss and Damage Collaboration. Her work focuses on providing robust and on demand technical support to negotiators. Heidi is an international lawyer based in Tasmania.