Rafaela Baldeón ’27: Leave Things Better Than You Found Them, Including Our Planet

Dyson’s Rafaela Baldeón ’27 shares her experience at COP28, the UN climate summit, as a member of Ecuador’s delegation of scholar ambassadors.

By: Staff
Rafaela Baldeón standing next to a large framed posted with the words

Rafaela Baldeón ’27 at COP28 in Dubai

By Rafaela Baldeon ’27

As a young leader, attending COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Dubai, was an exhilarating and impactful experience. It was empowering to witness a nation like the United Arab Emirates, traditionally associated with the oil industry, take a bold step towards a sustainable future by hosting this momentous event.

The conference served as a crucial platform to learn about the detrimental effects of the rising temperatures in different parts of the world and the different impacts it has on a diverse set of communities. Identifying this as a shared global challenge was particularly interesting since it highlighted how we can navigate through our differences in order to work together for a common goal — in this case, limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Two women, dressed in business attire and smiling, standing next to each other in a large hall with people seated in the background.
Rafaela Baldeón (right) with Iceland’s Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir at COP28

Moreover, during the closing plenary session female world leaders like the prime minister of Iceland, Katrín Jakobsdóttir, and prime minister of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, called for greater female representation in the climate economy and remarked on the importance of gender equality, diversity, and inclusion in shaping a sustainable future.

After Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir delivered her plenary session speech, I reached out to her to express my admiration for her leadership and Iceland’s extraordinary achievements on diversifying and decarbonizing the energy grid, referring to the fact that  “renewable energy provided almost 100% of electricity production” in Iceland. At the end of our conversation, she smiled and said to me, “We need more women as leaders. Keep up the work and good luck!” It was an encouraging and positive message for me and for every young female leader looking to have a positive impact on the world.

Creating a pathway towards decarbonization

Rafaela Baldeón standing outside next to a large orange banner with the words: COP28 UAE.
Rafaela Baldeón at COP28

Speakers at COP28 emphasized the importance of creating a pathway towards decarbonization, leveraging cutting-edge decarbonization technologies, and establishing global protocols to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. In particular, they championed circular economies, where resources are reused and recycled to minimize waste, which aligns with the need to transform our production and consumption patterns for more efficient and sustainable resource management. They underscored the importance of finding synergies between profitability and sustainability in our supply chains and production processes as a way to create both social and financial value.

The pursuit of “holy grail” energy sources — reliable, price-competitive, environmentally friendly, and waste-free — became a recurring theme, emphasizing the need for technological and Artificial Intelligence (AI) breakthroughs to power a sustainable future without compromising socio economic progress.

Working toward a sustainable global economy

I gained invaluable insights into the vision of a sustainable global economy that balances environmental protection with economic productivity from a host of prominent figures I had the opportunity to engage with.

an older man and a young woman standing next to each other outside with many other people in the background.
Rafaela Baldeón with Michael Bloomberg at COP28

These included political leaders U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, U.S. special presidential envoy for climate John Kerry, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, and India’s Prime Minster Narendra Modi; business leaders Bill Gates, cofounder of Microsoft, Michael Bloomberg, cofounder and former CEO of Bloomberg L.P., and Larry Fink, CEO of BlackRock; and financial leaders Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, and Ajay Banga, president of the World Bank. Al Gore’s stark reminder about the urgency of collective action across all sectors to curb our current track record of increased emissions permeated their messaging.

While conversing with Michael Bloomberg I mentioned I was studying at Cornell, and he shared some anecdotes about a mentor’s son who studied here. He concluded his story by smiling and saying, “Don’t forget I told you: Prepare for the cold temperatures!” This experience made me reflect on the extensive reach of the Cornell network and realize its presence around the globe.

A key takeaway: Leave things better than you found them, including our planet

In digesting this experience with immense gratitude, I have come to a crucial takeaway: Leave things better than you found them, including our planet. As we navigate the path towards a sustainable future, let us think about the legacy we want to leave behind and remember the shared vision articulated at COP28: A future where we can protect our planet, ensure economic prosperity, and create a brighter future for generations to come.

About Rafaela Baldeon ’27

headshot of Rafaela Baldeón.

Rafaela Baldeón is a freshman enrolled in the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management at the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business. Born in Florida and raised most of her life in Ecuador, Baldeón was invited by the Ecuadorian government to attend the United Nations Climate Summit COP28, held November 30 – December 12 in Dubai, as a member of their official delegation of scholar ambassadors. At COP28, Baldeón listened to and engaged with global leaders and influencers who are shaping the future of sustainable business practices. She also applied to and attended Bloomberg Green at COP28.  She was featured on January 16, 2024, in a Forbes Ecuador podcast interview, “Economía y transición energética, en la mirada de una ecuatoriana que estudia en Cornell University” (which translates to English as “Economy and energy transition, from the perspective of an Ecuadorian who studies at Cornell University”). Going forward, Baldeón plans to continue to actively engage in global forums, contribute her insights to decision-makers, and address opportunities for improvement.

All photos are courtesy of Rafaela Baldeón.