What is appropriate clothing at the COP?

As you walk into the COP for the first time, it is hard not to be in awe of the thousands of people all representing their different countries, cultures, and backgrounds. One of the aspects that sticks out immediately is the wide array of clothing. Heading into COP 28, my classmates and I were informed that business casual clothing was recommended. I pictured everyone walking around in suits and dresses, what is seen as formal clothing in the Western world as well as many other places. Upon arriving, I was met with people wearing suits and dresses, as well as traditional cultural attire, as well as informal tee shirts and shorts. This raised the question: what is appropriate attire at the COP or is there even a dressing standard?

In my opinion from a Western point of view, I wore suits to the COP for two reasons. I worry that I would be looked down upon or respected less than other observers wearing more formal clothing as well as to respect the significance of the event I am at. What I failed to realize is that a major aspect of the COP for many, is to represent and speak for the interests of their countries and communities. Coming from America, I have never felt we have not been represented or heard. America is a very large, powerful country with no problem stating its opinion or objectives and equally, no problem having what we say heard. This is a privilege I had not realized before arriving at the COP. Many smaller and developing countries have trouble just having their interests heard. These countries are affected the most by climate change, where these negative effects have become a part of daily life.

Traditional cultural clothing is worn as it comes with a deep sense of pride for one’s culture and exposes more and more people to their culture. This helps spread awareness and humanizes these different cultures. It is easy to talk about these different countries and cultures at risk of being lost because of climate change. However, seeing and speaking to the victims and observing their culture with your own eyes brings a human element to the climate change talk that is severely lacking. The same idea can be related to people who wore casual clothes at the COP such as tee shirts. I attended a panel of American high schoolers wearing tee shirts from their high school. The panel was very interesting and informative; their choice of clothing did not undermine their knowledge or perspectives on the topic. They used their clothing to represent their high school which there is absolutely nothing wrong with.

I was very privileged to attend COP 28 and to speak and hear from people of all different cultures, some of whom I have not heard about. It was an unforgettable experience. To answer the question, is their appropriate attire at the COP? I say no; use clothing as a tool to represent where you come from and to help spread awareness for all cultures and backgrounds.