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Aspen delegates advocate for climate action at COP27 in Egypt

Weston Boyles
Ríos to Rivers
Hoopa tribe member Danielle Frank, center, speaks as part of a climate panel that also includes Winnemem Wintu Chief Caleen Sisk, left, and Yurok tribe member Brook Thompson at COP27 in Egypt on Tuesday. Frank, a delegate with Aspen-based nonprofit Ríos to Rivers, has been working with her community to achieve the largest-ever dam-removal project. The series of dams are on the Klamath River near the California-Oregon border.

The world’s population reached 8 billion this week.

The news came as the annual United Nations climate summit, the 27th Conference of the Parties, was underway in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt.

Aspen locals Weston Boyles and Jacquelyn Francis, who have been attending COP27, took a moment between sessions this week to talk with Aspen Public Radio.  

“Taking advantage of the earth and our life systems is not only killing the earth, but it’s going to kill us as well,” said Francis, co-founder and executive director of the Global Warming Mitigation Project.

Francis’ nonprofit organization focuses on funding community-based climate action and solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Each year, the organization gives out what it calls the “Keeling Curve Prize,” an annual award for projects that help tackle climate change.

The “Keeling Curve” is a graph that shows the daily accumulation of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

“We look for projects that are scalable with efficacy like mangrove restoration, reversing deforestation and increasing all kinds of natural carbon sinks,” Francis said. “We also look at technology and transportation solutions to turn off the fossil fuel spigot that’s like a fire hydrant right now.”

The 2022 Keeling Curve Prize of $25,000 attracted nearly 400 applicants from across the globe. The next round of applications is now open.

“We have increased the prize amount up 60% from previous years,” Francis said. “One of the reasons I’m here at COP27 is to raise awareness about the prize and use it to encourage more funding to flow into the solutions space and advise that money is spent wisely.”

Sarah Pooler
Global Warming Mitigation Project
Delegates at COP27 gather to talk about climate solutions during a news conference organized by the Aspen-based Global Warming Mitigation Project (GWMP) on Nov. 8. Among the panelists were Nate Aden, from left, of the World Resources Institute; Jennifer Holmgren of Lanzatech; Jacquelyn Francis of GWMP; and Ed Agnew of KOKO Networks.

Boyles, who grew up in Aspen, is founder and executive director of Ríos to Rivers, an environmental justice nonprofit that works with Indigenous students to protect river basins around the world.

Boyles and a group of young Indigenous delegates from Bolivia, Chile, and the United States traveled to the global climate summit for the second year in a row to try to get the U.N. to stop recognizing large hydroelectric dams as a clean-energy solution.

“Dams have a tremendous impact on our climate, our ecosystems and the displacement of Indigenous people,” Weston said from Egypt. “So, keeping rivers free flowing, allowing the qualities that rivers have which are carbon sinks that support our climate having less carbon and less methane in it, is critically important.”

Weston Boyles
Ríos to Rivers
A group of climate justice and Indigenous rights advocates, including delegates with the Aspen-based nonprofit Ríos to Rivers, gather outside of COP27 on Tuesday. Ríos to Rivers is working to get the United Nations to recognize the impact of hydropower dams on biodiversity, Indigenous communities and climate change.

Danielle Frank, who was recently featured in Vogue, is a 19-year-old Hoopa tribe member from Northern California and a delegate with Ríos to Rivers.

Frank represented the organization on a climate panel at COP27 on Tuesday about protecting rivers and Indigenous rights.

Her community’s culture is tied to the Klamath River along the California-Oregon border and her tribe traditionally relied on the river for food, including salmon.

But Frank said a series of dams that were built on the river starting in the early 1900s changed life on the Hoopa Valley Reservation.

“These dams have had really negative impacts on my people,” she said. “The displacement of people in the Klamath tribes, the flooding of sacred lands, and it affects our food sovereignty.”

Frank and other tribal members in the area have been working for years to have the dams removed.

“We’re actually currently removing four of those six hydroelectric dams, and they’re due to be completely down by spring of 2024, making it the largest dam-removal project in history.” she said. “And so I came to COP27 this week to tell my story and to try and explain to the people that can make these decisions that hydroelectric dams are not worth the damages they do to anybody’s community.”

Aspen Public Radio caught up with Frank, Boyles and Francis on Zoom on Monday to talk about climate solutions and their experience at COP27, which wraps up Friday.

You can listen to the conversation in the audio story above.

Eleanor is an award-winning journalist and Morning Edition anchor. Eleanor has reported on a wide range of topics in her community, including the impacts of federal immigration policies on local DACA recipients, the Valley’s COVID-19 eviction and housing crisis, and hungry goats fighting climate change across the West through targeted grazing. Connecting with people from all walks of life and creating empathic spaces for them to tell their stories fuels her work.