Interview by Augusto Gonzalez

Marta Kąkol is a COP28 YEL delegate with a rich background in policy analysis, environmental advocacy, and international relations. Holding an MSc in Politics Research from the University of Oxford, Marta specializes in European politics and society, showcasing her profound understanding of global and environmental challenges. Her professional journey includes roles such as an Energy and Climate Policy consultant at Guidehouse as well as an EU Commission Trainee at DG REGIO, where she contributed to pivotal reports and monitored EU funds’ implementation. Her prior work with TAE Technologies, a prominent nuclear fusion company, as a Policy and Global Affairs Officer underlines her commitment to advancing sustainable policies across the United Kingdom and the European Union. Beyond her professional endeavors, Marta actively contributes to the academic and public discourse on environmental and political matters through her publications. Her involvement in voluntary projects, such as a leadership role at a climate-focused NGO Generation Climate Europe, highlights her commitment to fostering sustainable solutions for future generations.

What was it that first got you interested in fighting against climate change? 

I think of myself as a creative problem solver that is driven by the need to find solutions to the most pressing challenges in the world. Climate change stands out as a major crisis with far-reaching consequences, not only due to its systemic impact on our environmental well-being but also because of its ripple effects, from escalating biodiversity loss and intensifying natural disasters to forced migrations and disproportionate economic burdens on the most vulnerable communities. As a person deeply committed to public service, I can satisfy my need to advocate for the betterment of society through climate action. I believe in proactive climate action as a means to contribute positively to societal progress and well-being across the world. 

Of all the things that came out of COP28, do you think that any of them will have any lasting and meaningful impact on the world? 

One of the main reasons for COP summits being so important is that they build global momentum for historic change. This year, we can talk about many important developments, such as the inclusion of a transition away from fossil fuels and towards more renewable energy sources in the final COP agreement, the announcement of the Loss and Damage Fund, which is meant to support low-income developing countries, the first ever health-oriented day at COP and an international agreement on increasing nuclear capacity. These and many more key developments provide a signal to the world on the direction of climate and energy policy. Nevertheless, what was the most impactful for me personally was the presence of young people, women, and indigenous communities from all over the world. When we speak of long-lasting impact, I think of the ties they forged to combat the effects of climate change and the lessons they exchanged with each other thanks to the common goal that connected them.

What did you learn from your experience working in the European Commission that helped you at COP?

Working at the European Commission has taught me many important lessons but let me list just three. First of all, I learned how to be ambitious in my expectations, which is reflective of EU climate action. The European Union has the most ambitious climate policy globally, spanning across the energy sector, industry transformation or climate finance. This inspired me to demand bold steps at COP, such as advocating for fossil fuel phase out worldwide. Secondly, I learned to rely on collaboration and networks. This skill proved indispensable at COP, where forging alliances and discovering mutual interests are fundamental to achieving breakthroughs. Finally, I’ve learned the true meaning of “commitment to public service” by observing my colleagues who were deeply passionate about societal welfare. This ethos of servitude influenced my contributions to the COP discussions, during which I aimed to ensure that climate solutions increased our collective welfare in a just and equal manner. 

What can the European Union do to help improve the current climate situation, not just in Europe, but beyond its borders?

I am sure a book could be written on this topic but let me highlight just a few things. The EU needs to ensure a balance between implementation of climate-friendly solutions while at the same time making them economically attractive for businesses, households, entrepreneurs and governments. We have an opportunity to position ourselves as one of the frontrunners in climate solutions globally, but for that we need to foster investments in the implementation and development of climate solutions across a large span of industries, especially in the most emitting sectors. At the same time, we need to ensure a just transition that will consider the needs of EU citizens, for instance the mine workers that will lose their jobs or farmers which are currently protesting across Europe. Energy and oil prices also affect the lives of ordinary people. Here, Europe can lead by example with its ambitious climate policy that can also offer solutions for a just transition. To foster climate action across the world, the EU can engage in strategic partnerships and diplomacy to support ambitious action especially in developing nations that need to catch up with the transition. In particular, the EU aims to deliver on the openness of trade for green solutions. 

What do you think can be done at the national level of the EU member states to mitigate climate change, and what countries do you think have so far done the best when it comes to addressing these issues?

Mitigation involves curbing emissions across the most emitting sectors, from key heavily emitting industries and the energy sector to agriculture and transportation. Member states should adopt holistic policies that tackle the emissions across those sectors based on their national circumstances and capabilities. We can praise Germany for an effective phase out of coal and providing financial incentives to hard-to-abate industries for using hydrogen infrastructure and carbon capture solutions. Germany is not only advanced on climate finance, for instance through participating in the European Hydrogen Bank auction or incentives for renewable solutions, but also building key partnerships in Africa. At the same time, we could praise Nordic countries for having a relatively high share of electric vehicles or Denmark for being a pioneer of sustainable agriculture. It would be fantastic if businesses and governments across Europe could exchange best practices with each other and applied them in their respective countries. At the same time, having worked on regional policy, I have noticed that often action at local levels seems unnoticed but can have a massive impact, so we should also look at regional solutions and empower local actors.

What advice would you give to COP29 delegates in the coming year as to how to address some of the challenges that you faced in 2023? 

I would advise the COP29 delegates to be bold in their demands, especially on the phase out of fossil fuels. To reach net zero emissions worldwide we cannot rely on a growth model based on fossil fuels. We need to have ambitious climate goals and deliver on those promises. Additionally, I would advise the delegates to rely on their networks and build new ones. I was recently inspired by a movement of women who used their network when the COP29 committee was announced as all-male. Within a few days, they were able to mobilize the media and put pressure on the organizers so that women were added to the committee. There are already so many youth organizations that you can support to put pressure on policymakers and establish a strong pro-climate voice. I would recommend seeking out such organizations and engaging with them regularly. Finally, I would advise the delegate to take the lessons from COP29 and apply them at home. As the European elections are expected to lead to a more conservative coalition, which will likely be less ambitious on climate policy, we need strong and experienced youth voices to put pressure on politicians to actively engage on climate issues. Personally, my experience at the COP28 summit inspired me to engage in climate advocacy and leadership in a climate NGO. I hope that future delegates will also get a chance to use their experience at COP29 as a source of inspiration and motivation.