This article was written by Richard Miller, Director of Environmental Policy. It also appeared in the Daily Campus on April 19, 2018.
As the events of UConn’s Environmental Metanoia continue to unfold this month, providing students with dozens of opportunities for learning, reflecting and talking about issues like solar power, water quality, environmental justice and more, it’s fair to ask the question: “What is UConn doing to become a more sustainable campus?” After all, in creating the context for teaching and inspiring our students, it’s important for the University to be the change we want to see, by demonstrating best practices and green technologies that make the campus a “Living Laboratory” for a more sustainable future.
With that in mind, in early 2017, UConn’s President Susan Herbst endorsed a 2020 Vision for Campus Sustainability and Climate Leadership. This is a strategic plan with 20 precise goals and metrics for success. To achieve these goals, UConn will need to reduce its carbon footprint by 20 percent, compared to 2007, despite our growth since then. That will mean big reductions in the energy, water, and fuel we use, and the waste we generate.
Students, faculty and staff were involved in setting these 2020 goals, and in giving feedback, including at a student summit meeting last year, about strategies for accomplishing them. As a result of an inclusive University planning process that focused on a series of ambitious targets, we’ve already made progress! Here are a few of the 2020 goals achieved ahead of schedule:
100% of purchased electricity used at our regional campuses consists of renewable energy
Daily potable water use at the main campus has decreased nearly 40% since 2005, despite a concurrent growth in enrollment of more than 20%
52% of our electronic purchases for items like computers, laptops and monitors are Gold-rated under the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) – up from 23% in 2016
All eight dining halls in Storrs are Green Restaurant certified – making UConn the first public university in the nation to achieve this standard.
UConn’s commitment to sustainability is especially centered on understanding and addressing the social, economic, environmental, and public health issues surrounding climate change. Over the past three years, no other public university in the nation has engaged more undergraduate students than UConn has in the U.N.’s annual International Climate Summit and Conference of the Parties (COP), held in Paris, Marrakech and Bonn. UConn@COP is a nationally-acclaimed program aimed at developing future leaders in climate science and policy.
Last year, through President Herbst, UConn joined more than 2,300 members of a multi-sector “We Are Still In” coalition of American businesses, state and local governments, and universities, committed to continued pursuit of climate action goals set in the 2015 Paris Agreement. Strategic coalitions like this will help keep UConn on the crest of what the Environmental Defense Fund recently called “The 4th Wave of Environmentalism,” driven by technology and multi-sector efforts.
Policy commitments, together with specific operational goals and strategies for a more resource-efficient and lower-carbon campus, are helping UConn lead the way to a prosperous, clean technology future.
After a frustrating series of snowed-out Wednesdays, the cohort of students who attended COP23 were finally able to host the annual Climate Change cafe, held recently at the Student Union. UConn@COP23 fellows shared their experiences at this year’s U.N. International Climate summit, held in Bonn, Germany.
Students from a wide variety of academic majors visited the event and learned about different aspects of the fight against climate change. Topics covered included the power of art as activism, businesses on the forefront of climate change, feminism within the movement, and the role of sub-national entities in lieu of the federal government.
“I find the “We Are Still In” movement to be an amazing representation of how our country plans to progress the mitigation of climate change.”
– Erika Shook, Animal Science Major
“Hearing that America as a country has not yet completely abandoned the fight against climate change was heartening, and progress can still be made even if its not on a national scale.”
– Matthew McKenna, Environmental Engineering Major
“I didn’t stay for very long, but I took out a flyer made by the office of environmental policy all about UConn’s efforts towards sustainability, and found it super interesting. I actually ended up sharing it with friends.”
– Nina Haigis, Accounting Major
“I was inspired by seeing this clear intersectionality of fields that are so heavily affected by the detriments of climate change reflected in the posters on exhibition at the Climate Change Café.”
– Luke Anderson, Anthropology/Nutritional Sciences Major
“I came to the Climate Change Cafe knowing that I was interested in going on the trip, but after talking to people and viewing the posters that were made I left super excited to apply and confident that the trip would be an experience that would be both fun and super educational.”
– Delaney Meyer, Civil Engineering Major
“Talking to the students at the Climate Change Cafe was an engaging and informative experience. You could tell that this trip fostered their passion for the environment, and that participants were inspired to make changes within our own community.”
Activists. Scientists. Scholars. Mothers. Writers. Women have been contributing to the environmental movement since its humble beginnings. Women have been disdained, excluded, jailed, and even murdered for working towards environmental progress, yet they still fight on. In honor of Women’s History Month, we have compiled profiles of revolutionary women from across the spectrum of the environmental movement. These women show us the value of empowerment, and inspire us with their passion for a better world.
Despite her wealthy, socialite upbringing in New York City, Rosalie Edge was anything but proper and demure. A dedicated suffragist, Edge shifted her attention towards the National Audubon Society after the passage of the 19th amendment. Having become aware of the gender-based injustices happening within the National Audubon Society, Edge sued the organization and made a point of exposing the persistent corruption. Through lawsuits and exposing pamphlets, Edge successfully had all the former directors removed from the organization.
Edge maintained this momentum for the rest of her life. The Emergency Conservation Committee that she created in response to the Audubon Society crisis became her instrument of political change. With its support she was able to preserve 8,000 acres of sugar pines on the southern edge of Yosemite and create both Kings Canyon and Olympic National Parks.
When the Audubon Association didn’t want to pay for a hawk sanctuary that she felt strongly about, Edge raised the money and bought the place herself, paving the way for a mindset of species preservation that had not existed in conservation circles before her. Hawk Mountain Sanctuary, as it was called, was happily owned and run by Edge for the rest of her life, and is still an important place of conservation today. During her reign, Rosalie Edge was considered the leader of the conservation movement – her period’s John Muir. A tenacious and effective activist, she changed the movement in ways we can still feel today, and paved the way for Rachel Carson and all other women who came after her.
Sylvia Earle has inspired a generation of people to value our oceans. Also known as “Her Deepness,” or “The Sturgeon General,” Earle started her journey by obtaining a PhD in phycology (the study of algae) in 1966. A deep diving pioneer, she has tied the overall record for a solo dive depth in 1986 (the first woman to do so), and founded Deep Ocean Engineering, a business that aims to improve the technology of robotic and piloted subsea systems. She was awarded Time Magazine’s first Hero for the Planet designation in 1998, and has held the title of National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence since then. As the first woman to serve as Chief Scientist for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA), she was also the chair of the Advisory Council for the Ocean for Google Earth. An expert on the impact of oil spills, she was a crucial resource in the Exxon Valdez, Mega Borg, and Deepwater Horizon disasters.
Throughout her extensive career she has held positions at various universities, has won a slew of awards, and has authored over 150 publications. One of her greatest contributions to ocean preservation, Mission Blue, included a global coalition of over 200 organizations aims to preserve the world’s marine protected areas, deemed ‘Hope Spots.’ Sylvia Earle recognizes the power of science, and has harnessed it to capture the imaginations of the public.
Nobel laureate and leading environmentalist political activist Wangari Maathai spent her life promoting intersectional environmentalism, advocating that environmental action is “more than planting trees, it’s planting ideas.” Born in the rural Kenyan village of Nyeri, Maathai was one of 300 Kenyan students to be a part of the Airlift Africa program in 1960, a program that allowed her to receive an education at a university in the United States. After earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology, she returned to Kenya, becoming the first woman in East and Central Africa to earn a doctorate degree.
Embracing the connections between gender inequality and environmental issues, Maathai founded the Greenbelt Movement, a movement that taught women sustainable land use practices. Since its inception, the movement has trained over 30,000 women and planted more than 51 million trees, an achievement that led to her Nobel Peace Prize Award. With a commitment to ecofeminism and equitable participation, Maathai has had a monumental impact on the global environmental movement.
Lois Gibbs is a story of the power that personal impact has to inspire national activism. She started out her journey as a mother in the small, suburban neighborhood of Love Canal. Her son attended the local elementary school in Niagara Falls, New York. It was discovered that her son’s elementary school and, with further investigation, the entire neighborhood, was built on top of a toxic waste site.
Fearing for the health of her son and all of the kids of Love Canal, Lois Gibbs was launched into activism. She began knocking on doors, creating petitions, and eventually came together with her neighbors to create the Love Canal Homeowners Association. After years of grassroots activism, confrontations with the New York State Department of Health, and national attention, Gibbs got what she wanted. Nearly one thousand families were evacuated from Love Canal, and a massive cleanup began.
Because of the hard work of Lois Gibbs and the residents of her neighborhood, the Environmental Protection Agency instituted a program to locate and clean up contaminated sites like Love Canal across the country. It’s called the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act, or the Superfund Program.
Since Love Canal, Gibbs has founded a grassroots environmental crisis center called the Center for Health, Environment and Justice (CHEJ), which focuses on creating strong local organizations to ensure the federal government is doing what it’s supposed to do. Gibbs has received many awards for her work, including the Goldman Environmental Prize, the Heinz Award, and a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize. However, the most important legacy she is leaving behind is the support system she has created for those neighborhoods that suffer as Love Canal has suffered, but do not have the voice to call for change.
A notable ecofeminist, scientist, writer, and activist, Vandana Shiva has worn many hats in her life, often at the same time. Brought up with a love for nature fostered by her two parents, she received a PhD in the philosophy of physics, and went on to interdisciplinary research in science, technology, and environmental policy at the Indian Institute of Science and the Indian Institute of Management in Bangalore. She eventually established Bija Vidyapeeth, an international college for sustainable living, in collaboration with the U.K.’s Schumacher College.
Shiva is a leader in championing agricultural biodiversity and local sovereignty. She is on the cutting edge of advances in food technology and the human rights implications of such advances. Much of her activism in this area has been achieved through a national movement she started in 1991 called Navdanya, whose mission is to “protect diversity and integrity of living resources, especially native seed, the promotion of organic farming and fair trade.” Navdanya has educated farmers across India of the value of diverse and individualized crops, and has mounted activist campaigns on issues involving intellectual property rights, biotechnology, bioethics, and genetic engineering.
A notable ecofeminist, Siva has written over 20 publications, many on topics that show how women’s rights and environmental issues are inextricably linked. In fact, the first book she published, Staying Alive, focused on redefining perceptions of third world women. In 1990, she wrote a report on women’s role in agriculture titled “Most Farmers in India are Women,” as requested by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. She founded the gender unit at Kathmandu’s International Centre for Mountain Development, and is a founding board member of the Women’s Environment and Development Organization.
Shiva has changed the narrative around local sovereignty, sustainable farming, women in the environmental movement, farmers, globalization, and everything in between. She advises governments, international organizations, and is a leader in worldwide discussions. How is she capable of such extraordinary feats, and how can we emulate her? When asked, Shiva responded “you are not Atlas carrying the world on your shoulder. It is good to remember that the planet is carrying you.” Protecting the Earth is simply a matter of recognizing our place within it.
With the Spring Semester quickly reaching its end, the class pick time season is once again upon us. Lucky for UConn students, there are hundreds of interesting courses to choose from, ranging from topics as far and wide as the mind can imagine. However, given this range of options, it can be difficult to navigate the extensive class lists. As students with passions for sustainability, the interns at the Office of Environmental Policy have compiled a concise list of some of their favorite sustainability courses, all of which are offered this upcoming fall. We hope that this list will aid your class selection process! Happy choosing!
SPSS/SAPL 2100: Environmental Sustainability of Food Production in Developed Countries
The current average population increase is estimated at a staggering 83 million people per year, a number that places us at 9.7 billion people by 2050. Given this steady increase, food production will need to accommodate the growing population size. However, the agricultural sector currently contributes to one third of the Earth’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The sector will need to alter its current practices to ensure both food security and environmental sustainability. Take this class to investigate alternative food systems, and the benefits and environmental risks associated with modern food production. (3 credits)
PHIL 3216: Environmental Ethics
Do trees have rights? Whose interests count? Whose interests must we consider? If you have ever pondered these questions, look no further. This class allows students to inquire about the extension of ethics to both human and non-human species, and challenges traditional boundaries of philosophical thought. (3 credits)
AH 3175: Environmental Health
The environment is not just made up of the woods in our backyards or the national parks we hike. It is also the quality of the air we breathe and the clean water we drink. This course investigates the true meaning of environmental health as a crucial component of any public health system, and exposes students to the health consequences of exposure to toxic chemicals, radiation, and food contaminants. Open to junior or higher, this course provides an advanced perspective of the basic principles of toxicology and complex occupational hazards. (3 credits)
Senior OEP intern Christen highly recommends this course, saying: “Environmental Health is a great interdisciplinary course that highlights the ways we impact our environment, as well as how our environment impacts us.”
BADM 3252: Corporate Social Impact and Responsibility
Can the private sector contribute to a future of shared environmental accountability, equity, and sustainability? Learn to navigate this debate in class through the deconstruction, and discussion, of social impacts and human rights implications as they relate to global operations of multinational corporations. (3 credits)
SPSS 1125: Insects, Food, Culture
Welcome to the interesting world of bugs and their multifaceted interactions with nature and people. A perfect course for fans of Pixar’s A Bug’s Life, this course introduces the varied roles of insects in traditional human culture, ranging from their contributions to fiber and food production, popular culture, and commerce. (3 credits)
EVST 1000: Introduction to Environmental Studies
Need one more class to fulfill content area two, social sciences? Want to think critically about the intersections of contemporary environmental themes across a wide array of sectors and disciplines? Introduction to Environmental Studies is the course for you. Explore environmental action from a variety of approaches and take a look at the different perspectives of the relationships between humans and nature. (3 Credits)
Here’s what our interns have to say:
Jon: “Great introduction to analyzing environmental issues from a holistic perspective”
Emma: “This class was basic enough for a non-major student to be interested and understanding of the content while laying a strong groundwork for any students with an Environmental major.”
If you take a glance at the extensive legacy of black American history, the intersections with conservation are undeniable. From urban and rural agriculturalists, environmental scientists, planetwalkers, and environmental justice activists, the legacy of black Environmentalists exists in our natural places, National Parks, and enacted policy. In celebration of Black History Month, and the often untold contributions made by black environmentalists, we will be highlighting four black Americans who have advanced and innovated the fields of conservation, environmentalism, and activism: Dr. John Francis, Majora Carter, Charles Young, and Margie Richard.
If you have ever had the opportunity to gaze upon the majestic Sequoia trees in California’s Sequoia National Park, you can thank Charles Young, the first Black colonel in the United States Army and fierce protector of the great Sequoias. It was under the careful instruction of Colonel Charles Young that the U.S. Army worked to preserve the Sequoias, and transformed the Sequoia forest from an impenetrable wilderness into the revered Sequoia National Park
Young’s journey towards this position was a difficult one, as he was born into slavery in Kentucky on March 12, 1864. It was through the legacy of his father, who had escaped slavery to join the Union Army during the Civil War, that Young attended West Point Military Academy.
Not only was Young the third black American to graduate from West Point, but he was the first black National Parks Superintendent, where environmental preservation was at the forefront of his life’s work. In this position, Young ensured the preservation of the great wilderness, and commanded a group of park rangers that became known as the “Buffalo Soldiers.” They kept the park free from poachers and ranchers whose grazing sheep destroyed the parks’ natural habitats. In 2013, Young was recognized as a true American hero, when President Barack Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Young’s house as the 401st unit of the National Park System, the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument.
The modern day interpretation of an activist goes something like this: a young, jarring individual with an unapologetically loud voice, raised fist, and picket sign. And while this image was birthed from the largest and most successful social movements of the past century, an alternative form of activism has also emerged, in which silence can become the loudest and most compelling voice in the room. A conservationist, educator, and best-selling author, Dr. John Francis, also known as the ‘Planetwalker’ is best known for his impressive 22-year motorized transportation boycott, and his 17-year vow of silence.
Inspired by the horrific 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill, Dr. Francis’s legacy led to years on foot, during which he traveled across the United States and Latin America, receiving a Ph.D. in Land Management from the University of Wisconsin-Madison along the way. In his decades-long journey, Dr. Francis observed the mutual disconnect between people and the environment, and urged people to reposition themselves as intricate pieces in the overall concept of the environment.
After breaking his silence during the first Earth Day in 1990, Dr. Francis has gone on to an extensive career in conservation, as both an educator and environmental policy maker. To date, he has garnered dozens of environmental accolades: being named the National Geographic Society’s first Education Fellow in 2010, an ambassador to the United Nations Environment Program’s Goodwill Ambassador to the World’s Grassroots Communities, and an acclaimed bestselling author.
If you’ve ever watched an online TED talk, there is a high probability that you have come across Majora Carter’s inspiring lecture entitled ‘Greening the Ghetto.’ With several million views and counting, Carter’s compelling TED talk outlines her journey fighting for environmental justice in the South Bronx, in which she draws key connections between economic, ecological, and social degradation.
As an activist in the 1990s, Carter brought the South Bronx its first open-waterfront park in 60 years, and founded ‘Sustainable South Bronx,’ an organization to mobilize grassroots environmental activism among New York City’s poorest and most environmentally oppressed citizens. In the present day, Carter works to help people in low-income communities realize that they don’t have to move out of their neighborhoods in order to live in a healthier environment.
While most acclaimed as an urban revitalization strategy consultant, Carter is also a real estate developer and a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, whose innovative views on urban renewal have altered the understanding of comprehensive urban policy to include goals for environmental protection and restoration. Carter was also awarded a “Genius Grant” by the John D. and Katherine T. McArthur Foundation. Her company, the Majora Carter Group, is putting green economic tools to use, unlocking the potential of every place, from inner cities to rural communities, university campuses, government projects and industrial parks.
In Southern Louisiana sits an area known as Old Diamond, a small neighborhood in Norco where residents are sandwiched between a Shell Chemical plant and an oil refinery owned by a Shell joint venture. For decades, the residents of this predominantly black neighborhood suffered under the constant fear of an industrial accident, and faced unusually high rates of cancer, birth defects, and respiratory diseases. These environmental threats were a result of decades-long and, in some cases, ongoing environmental contamination stemming from the industrial operations that surrounded the residential neighborhood.
After years of being subjected to these environmental risks, and following the death of her sister from a rare bacterial infection, in the early-1990s, resident Margie Richard founded the Concerned Citizens of Norco, an environmental justice citizens’ group that fought for fair resettlement of Old Diamond residents in order to escape the daily threat of health and environmental hazards. After an intense community-based air quality research study, and 13 years of Ms. Richard’s tireless leadership, the CCN finally reached an agreement with Shell that paid for the relocation of Old Diamond residents to new homes, in neighborhoods with clean air, water and soil.
Margie Richards is a true pioneer of the environmental justice movement. Her work led her to become the first black American to win the Goldman Environmental Award in 2004.
As we enter the fourth week of the spring semester, many of the alluring ‘back to school’ deals are coming to an end. Fortunately, the UConn community can now turn to the new and improved ECOCoin program, the Bookstore’s latest and greatest customer incentive. Engineered in collaboration with the Office of Environmental Policy and the UConn Bookstore, the ECOCoin program allows customers the ability to give back and be environmentally friendly: all with one, simple action.
Sounds like a pretty enticing sales pitch, right? But what’s the catch?
Unlike typical discounts and sales, the ECOCoin program is straight forward and not time exclusive. In fact, the way to participate is fairly simple. After purchasing an item at the UConn Bookstore, customers need only choose an ECOCoin over a standard plastic bag. That’s where the fun truly begins! Not only is an ECOCoin a savvy item that represents a commitment to sustainability, but the five cent-equivalent coin can also be dropped into one of three local charity boxes on one’s way out of the bookstore: CLiCK Willimantic, UConn’s Campus Sustainability Fund, or Habitat for Humanity.
With the program in the works since mid-January, the UConn community has already shown its commitment to sustainable practices on campus with the success of the ECOCoin program. To date, the program has already been readily available and used by students and visitors alike! With so many weeks still left in the semester, we can only imagine the cumulative positive impact this program will have!
So what are you waiting for? Head over to the UConn Bookstore to participate in the ECOCoin program, where you can be environmentally conscious and generous at the same time!
The following blogs, written by UConn faculty and students who attended COP 23 in Bonn, Germany, reflect on the outcomes and impacts of the Conference, both within and outside the official zones of negotiation:
Living City: Climate Messages Communicated Through Public Spaces Mary Donato
Networking at COP 23 Caroline Anastasia
Will the United States Actually Leave Paris? Colby Buehler
Key Outcomes of COP 23
Dr. Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography
With so many events taking place at the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) organized by a multitude of diverse actors spanning a range of venues and campuses, one could be forgiven for wondering what exactly the COP is. Is it a political summit? An academic conference? A clean energy tech convention? A global anti-coal demonstration? While it has grown to encompass all of these since its first meeting in 1995, at its heart, the COP serves as the annual meeting of more than 190 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). As such, the primary function of the COP is to provide a forum for formal negotiations among official state delegations on a global climate agreement. “But wait,” you might ask, “didn’t the parties already negotiate a global climate agreement at COP 21 in Paris – the Paris Agreement?” Indeed they did – but at that time, the parties essentially signed on to the agreement in principle, with the understanding that the details would be worked out in due time. These details were the focus of the negotiations last year in Marrakech (COP 22) and this year in Bonn. In particular, COP 23 centered on finalizing key details of the “rule book” for implementing the Paris Agreement: who should do what, by when, how, and with what technical and financial support.
With this in mind, what were some of the key outcomes of COP 23?
Progress on planning for the global stocktake – the “Talanoa Dialogue”
An essential component to the Paris Agreement is the “ratchet and review” process, whereby parties’ collective efforts to tackle climate change will be assessed against the long-term Paris goals, and “ratcheted up” if necessary. In Bonn, it was agreed that a facilitative dialogue among parties to take stock of these efforts would begin in 2018, under a process now known as the “Talanoa Dialogue.” With Fiji the host of COP 23, the word “Talanoa” was chosen to reflect “a process of inclusive, participatory, and transparent dialogue” that highlights the need to elevate the voices of the most impacted parties in the room. This traditional emphasis on fair and just outcomes echoes the UNFCCC core concept of “common but differentiated responsibilities,” which has been invoked to justify calls by developing countries for enhanced ambition and assistance from developed countries. The adoption of such language would seem to be cause for celebration among developing countries, were it not for…
Lack of progress on loss and damage
Hopes were high among developing countries that loss and damage – those climate impacts that cannot be avoided with mitigation or adaptation – would be enshrined in the UNFCCC process under the Fijian COP presidency. Unfortunately, strong opposition from developed countries such as the US, Canada, and Australia stalled the inclusion of loss and damage finance in the assistance that developed countries will give to developing countries to carry out their Paris commitments. For now, loss and damage seems to have been relegated to further discussion in an “expert dialogue” to be convened in May 2018.
COP 23 took steps toward supporting the implementation of gender-related decisions in the UNFCCC process, formally recognizing the importance of gender in climate capacity-building and knowledge-sharing activities. In addition, efforts to advance an indigenous knowledge platform within the UNFCCC gained traction at COP 23, opening the door to increased use of traditional knowledge alongside western scientific ways of knowing (e.g. IPCC reports). Both of these developments strengthen the role that traditionally marginalized groups will play in the negotiations going forward, even if the specific outcomes of each platform have yet to be realized.
In a bold statement of new ambition, Canada, the UK, and 17 other countries committed to rapidly phasing out coal power by 2030. The alliance aims to accelerate the decline of coal in the global energy market in favor of renewable or less carbon-intensive energy sources, and send a strong signal that developed countries aim to deliver on their Paris commitments in advance of the first meeting of the Talanoa Dialogue. It should be noted that the countries currently signed on to the alliance account for less than 3% of coal use worldwide, and do not include the largest coal-users such as China, India, Russia, and of course, the US. Nevertheless, the alliance is significant as an example of “energy diplomacy,” revealing a divide between the US and some of its closest allies in the energy marketplace. Gone are the days when developed countries could be expected to negotiate as a bloc, opposing climate ambition at every turn. Now, a more distributed leadership regime reigns at the UNFCCC, within which developed and developing countries may find their climate priorities aligned in ways that may have seemed impossible before Paris. If the US were to rejoin the Paris Agreement under a new president beyond 2020, it will likely find its leadership marginalized in favor of other states and non-state actors whose activities are now shaping the trajectory of the negotiations for the years to come.
Needed on Climate: Ambition, Courage, Realism – with no time to waste.
My takeaways from the Bonn Climate Summit.
Dr. Anji Seth, Professor, Geography
1. COP23 in Bonn was all about “ambition”. In the 2015 Paris Agreement the countries of the world committed to limiting global temperature increase to “well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels and pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels”.
We knew back then that national pledges made in advance of Paris accounted for only ~1/3 of the emissions reductions required. The Agreement was written with a 5-year review mechanism and transparency that was designed to incentivize increasing national ambition over time.
Meanwhile an Emissions Gap Report is published annually as a check up on how we are doing. The 2017 report (see vox article for excellent summary) came out just before the November Bonn UN climate summit. The good news is that greenhouse gas emissions are coming down in Europe and the US. And that China is on board to begin reductions soon. The bad news is that even if we were all wildly successful at meeting the pledges made for Paris, we’d be only 1/3 of the way to the goal for 2030, and worse, emissions are not ramping down as fast as were planned. More Ambition is needed.
2. Carbon pricing is the key to success – and it appears that method matters. Europe, parts of the US and other regions have set up Emissions Trading Schemes (ETS). An ETS places a cap on emissions and allows for trading of emission permits under the cap. In this method the price is determined by the market with the emissions cap specified and reduced over time. This should lead to increasing price of carbon. Contrary to this expectation, the experience in Europe (and also in the Northeast RGGI emissions market) has been that the cap can reduce emissions in the sectors to which it is applied, however, the price determined by the market has not increased as required. An economist at the German Pavilion at COP23 explained that traders can benefit more overall if the price of emissions is held low. Whereas the ETS carbon price was expected to be equivalent to that from a rising Carbon Fee, experience in the past decade has shown that trading schemes do not achieve an increasing price on carbon that is needed to transform the economy away from fossil fuel. At the time of this writing the price/ton of Carbon in RGGI is ~$5. The Gap Report estimates a price less than $100 would be sufficient to create an economy wide transition. Still many of the new pricing schemes planned around the world are continuing to use ETS. More ambition is needed. And more courage.
3. In the WASI pavilion we learned that the most progressive US states are finding it most difficult to reduce emissions from transportation. The more fuel efficient we make vehicles, the more we drive them! There is lots of discussion about the future of transportation being electrified and autonomous with shared vehicles. The effect of such a transition on emissions remains unclear, and will depend on the fuel source for electricity as well as VMT. If we need to close the emissions gap by 2030 then we have to find a way to reduce emissions from transport.
More ambition is needed. And more courage. And more realism. With no time to waste.
Living City: Climate Messages Communicated Through Public Spaces
Mary Donato, Natural Resources and the Environment
In a conference like the UNFCCC, there is a heavy influence focused on the official delegations of the parties. Of course much of the action at any COP is tied into the decision making and discussions within the negotiations. For those of us outside the official zones of negotiation, public spaces become centers of idea trading and demonstration.
Throughout our days in Bonn, I have seen many ways in which public spaces have been used to communicate messages regarding the proceedings of the conference as well as climate change as a whole. From small signs in the street to a globe shaped cake in the window of a bakery, signs of the climate discussions are all over Bonn. The public presentations I’ve seen are varied in form and impact, but are all important in sharing the voice of people worldwide.
I find it impactful to see public space used effectively in context of this situation. For instance, the path between the Bonn and Bula Zones contains a long path of open areas in which exhibits are set up and open to the public. These projects included monuments to climate refugees and a life-sized graph depicting carbon emissions as they spike rapidly in modern times. Represented by a pipeline piercing through a polar bear and titled “Unbearable,” the sculpture (which was extended to reflect current emission accuracies while I viewed it) is a striking example of symbolism causing a reaction within the community. In contrast, I find that the interactive and community-based projects are more effective in bringing the climate change issues close to home for a greater audience.
In continuing on the path from the Bula to the Bonn Zones, more projects to see and experience were set up. A display of protest signs carrying varying messages all relevant throughout the history of the world were present and created a sense of how the public finds a way for its voice to be heard in a determination transcending specific issues. The creation of a peace blanket and tree sculpture were more interactive projects both including inviting passerby to write a message to be added to the final product. It was obvious to see that such interactive projects are much more engaging to audiences of all ages, and having them available in public spaces allows for conversations surrounding various issues to be open and present for practically anyone regardless of barriers such as language.
Public spaces have a huge impact on life in any location, but particularly a city that is currently full of such a diverse and spirited population. Public transportation, used by many, is a relevant space for providing information and evoking a response. A train station nearby to the UN campus on which the conference is located had an exhibit with beautiful pictures of the non-beautiful realities of lignite mining, a major component of Germany’s energy economy. Large sculptures of “Trash People” brought attention to waste inherent to modern societies. Just outside this train station, public protests on inequality brought further attention to issues being discussed here at COP23.
To see all of these public exhibits and presentations made in collaboration across the people of so many nations and backgrounds is amazing. The reactions and discussions created by these items can be seen on the faces of those experiencing them. I know that seeing these public presentations makes me feel that myself and my fellow UConn representatives here at COP23 are in good company in our concern and push for action. We can find hope not only in any progress made in the conference, but also in passionate people all over the globe.
Networking at COP 23
Caroline Anastasia, Chemistry, Minor in Mathematiccs
One of the things that made my experience as a UConn@COP23 Fellow so memorable was meeting and conversing with like-minded people from around the world. Despite the diverse backgrounds of everyone gathered in Bonn, Germany for the UN’s 23rd annual Climate Summit and Conference of the Parties, it was reassuring and even inspiring to know that so many of us share deep concerns about global warming and even stronger commitments to climate action.
But even for an extrovert like me, it was difficult, in the hustle and bustle of navigating public transit between Cologne and Bonn, and attending presentations, workshops, panel discussions and side events, to connect with others outside of my UConn cohort. That’s why one of my favorite activities during the week was the Higher Education Networking Event, co-sponsored by UConn along with Tufts University, Second Nature, and the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Held on a Tuesday evening, following a busy day of programs and proceedings, the event attracted upwards of 200 students, faculty, staff and friends to the US Climate Action Center in Bonn, also known as the “We Are Still In” Pavilion, which was located alongside the main venue for COP23. With free food and drinks, and music playing in the background, I found great conversation about the environment and sustainability with student peers and others from universities across the country – there was no way this event could have turned out less than stellar.
Beginning with opening remarks by Tim Carter, the President of Second Nature, and Rich Miller, a lead organizer of what was now the third annual higher education reception to be held during the UN’s climate summit , the crowd in attendance quickly became aware of UConn’s presence at COP23. As the night progressed, we networked with conference attendees from California to Georgia and Indiana, and even students from France, Germany and Bosnia.
I met a graduate student from Yale who worked doing carbon accounting and compiling greenhouse gas inventories for various companies in New Haven. Though we were both about 3,700 miles away from our Connecticut campuses, we made plans to meet again, closer to home, to continue our conversation. I then met a group of students from Indiana University who told me about the higher-level negotiations they had observed that day at the Bonn Zone. Later, I enjoyed talking with several MBA students from Paris who were focusing on sustainability in business.
It was very interesting to learn where all the participants at the event came from, and how each of them had incorporated their unique interests in sustainability into their coursework and research. As a junior majoring in Chemistry, these interactions gave me some ideas about how I might do the same. The higher ed networking event was definitely a highlight for me, and I hope that UConn continues to host such a great event at future COPs.
Will the United States Actually Leave Paris?
Colby Buehler, Chemical Engineering
On the final day of programming at the US Climate Action Center two key personnel in securing the Paris Agreement for the United States gave their thoughts on where the US would end up on the accord. After President Trump announced that he intended to leave the Paris Agreement in early June questions about the extent of the withdrawal began to surface. Todd Stern brought up three main options for the US moving forward. The first involves a complete and total withdrawal from the agreement. This process requires some time before it can come to fruition. The agreement locks in countries for five years and even if the President wanted to he could not formally withdrawal for another few years.
The second path for the US ultimately leads back to joining the agreement. Because the formal withdrawal process requires some time, the next administration could come back in and reverse the decision to leave. One of the themes of the talks at the US Climate Action Center throughout the week was the volatility of the US and that our word only lasts for four years at a time. Stern warned that even if the next administration immediately reenters the agreement the damage would persist. The final option Stern explored involves the US staying in Paris but lowering our targets. In the Paris Agreement each country voluntarily sets their own targets for reducing emissions. If the Trump administration views the targets as too high they can come back to the table at future COPs to lower the target goals without facing penalties. While this would show a lack of leadership and might encourage other countries to relax their own goals, this would keep an American presence at the table. In terms of the amount of effort involved, Stern argued that the third option would be the easiest which might encourage the Trump administration down that path.
While I wish we did not need to concern ourselves with these matters, I hope that the US remains in the agreement in one way or another. The United States disproportionately contributed to climate change and we should play a lead role in trying to remedy the situation. I agree with Stern that if this administration wants to limit US involvement in the Paris Accord, we should lower our targets rather than leave entirely. Keeping a place at the table is far too valuable to give up for simply appealing to the administration’s base. Based on the logistics of withdrawing from the agreement I believe we will end up staying in the agreement for better or worse.
Carbon Sequestration, Forests, and Higher Education
Colby Buehler, Chemical Engineering
The idea of preserving forests has always made good sense to me, for a long list of reasons. But add to that list, the notion of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and I had to learn more. That’s why I attended a COP23 session at the US Climate Action Center about carbon sequestration, called The Big Sink: Large-scale Land Management to Meet Climate Goals. An expert panel of representatives from Washington, Oregon, California, the University of Maine, and the World Bank got together to specifically address the successes and challenges of using forests for carbon sequestration.
The representatives from the three west coast states focused on the challenges of protecting forests through careful planning and limiting of urban sprawl, and by using specific incentives, like the California Cap-and-Trade program and forestry offset initiatives. I was especially interested in Dr. Aaron Strong’s discussion about the University of Maine’s leadership in utilizing their forests for reducing carbon levels and boosting educational opportunities.
Dr. Strong started with a description of the University of Maine as a public land grant university and noted that they oversee the protection of 5,500 hectares of forests near campus. These forests play an important role in meeting carbon footprint reduction efforts under the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (since renamed the Carbon Commitment) because of their value as emissions offsets and carbon sinks. This Carbon Commitment challenges universities to reach net-zero carbon emissions at their campuses by 2050 – several hundred college and university presidents signed on as far back as 2007. Currently, UMaine forests sequester 10,000 tons of carbon per year and eight companies utilize their land through the Californian Cap-and-Trade program. While this represents only a relatively small portion of UMaine’s total carbon footprint, every bit matters to them in order to reach their carbon neutrality goal.
While the forests play a key role in helping reach carbon goals for UMaine, they also serve as living laboratories for environmental education and research in fields such as ecology, environmental engineering, and natural resources and the environment. Dr. Strong emphasized the importance of getting students involved in forest research projects. He argued that if students can get outside to experience nature firsthand during their coursework they would be more likely to continue with environmental careers, research and activism after graduation.
UMaine continues to actively seek out opportunities to enhance their forest management program and collaborate with other organizations. Recently Dr. Strong assembled a group of higher education institutions and businesses to discuss different ways to enhance climate action initiatives by utilizing forests.
We can learn from UMaine’s accomplishments. I would love to see a dialogue between UConn and UMaine to strengthen forest management programs at both institutions. Environmental leadership includes collaborating and exchanging information with your peers for mutual benefit. COP23 and the U.S. Climate Action Center featured many talks by business and governmental leaders that incorporated the role of universities. As a COP23 fellow, I look forward to bringing these discussions back to UConn.
A Presentation on Nuclear Energy
Benjamin Hawkins, History and Human Rights
We started our first full day in Bonn, Germany, visiting the U.S. We Are Still In (WASI) tent. Unfortunately, it turned out the center was closed to the public for a business conference. While our group lingered outside to consider alternative plans for the day, we were invited to view a talk on nuclear energy. Apparently, the presentation group was scheduled to present at the same event we originally planned on attending, but was uninvited at the last minute. Their explanation for the removal was that the U.N. determined nuclear energy should not take part in sustainable energy discussions.
The abridged 15-minute presentation was, in a word, interesting. It was one-sided since there was a clear objective to persuade the audience that nuclear energy is an excellent carbon-neutral choice over coal and other fossil fuels. Given that time was limited, details and facts were largely missing and we instead experienced flashy rhetoric. Beyond that, it was fascinating to see how they argued that nuclear is a “sustainable and pragmatic” choice.
I am largely uninformed about the pros and cons of nuclear energy but I thought their points had at least superficial merit. Nuclear power can reliably provide the amount of power the world currently uses, while quickly reducing the global harmful emissions that COP23 is intending to eliminate. They stressed that emission reduction goals were not feasible with only conventional alternative energy since it is more expensive and is reliant on unpredictable factors (e.g sun and wind). Furthermore, they criticized Germany for recently investing in brown coal, the most carbon-intensive fossil fuel. In particular, they objected to Germany’s approval of a new strip mining operation on the outskirts of Bonn that had resulted in the evacuation of a small farming village. Obviously, there are valid concerns about radioactive nuclear waste, which the group did not address. But I am still intrigued as to why nuclear power has such a small role in today’s energy discussions. It seems like it should at least be considered at the U.N.’s international climate summit.
A highlight of the 15-minute presentation was an opera singer’s rendition of an anti-coal message. For an environmental opera singer (looks like those exist), I enjoyed his voice! His performance might have not persuaded anyone through hard science and statistics, but it did get our group’s attention.
Norm Reform: The Power of #WeAreStillIn
Mary Donato, Natural Resources and the Environment
On the final day of presentations at the U.S. Climate Action Center, near the official COP23 “Bonn” and “Bula” Zones, our UConn@COP group of students and faculty attended a talk by Todd Stern, Special Envoy for Climate Change in the Obama Administration, and Susan Biniaz, a legal adviser for US climate negotiations. This talk, on the last day of the “We Are Still In” (WASI) events, was interesting to listen to, as it brought the perspective of those who really led the charge of climate negotiations in past years.
One particular quote by Todd Stern stood out to me. In explaining how the United States will move forward in light of the announcement that the federal government intends to pull out of the Paris Agreement, he stated that “politics is the killer.” As soon as he said it, I realized how many of the things I had seen throughout the week proved the statement true. So many people and groups showed up to represent their passion and share their stories and ambitions. Movements from humble beginnings, individuals affected by storms and sea level rise, representatives from companies huge and small, and groups of students, all attended the conference in numbers that reflect the interest and willingness of the people to move forward.
The many WASI speakers and panels at the U.S. pavilion were a huge reflection of the intention of subnational entities to move forward with climate action. It was rightfully brought up at the closing panel that this sort of subnational movement is complicated and can become cumbersome. However, it is refreshing to see coalitions like WASI, which includes cities and states, businesses, NGOs and higher education, continue their commitment to climate action, despite political leaders at the federal level. There was no inkling of politics “killing” climate change movements from the hundreds of people representing the coalition who showed up at COP23. Despite any roadblocks politics may present, there is already clear evidence, at the subnational level, of a determination to overcome.
Any Conference of the Parties is by nature a political gathering. Despite this fact, Todd Stern made a powerful statement that helped me realize why the WASI movement is so important. He talked about the idea that creating norms is more powerful than creating laws. For example, renewable energy technologies are cheaper and more efficient than ever, and will drive the more widespread use of cleaner energy instead of carbon-intensive fossil fuels.
As these and other costs of being environmentally friendly get lower, and as diverse groups become more engaged, so to will climate action become a norm throughout the United States and worldwide. My experience at COP23, as a representative of the WASI coalition, assured me that we have the power to create positive norms for future generations.
Harmonizing Climate Action Priorities
Rebecca Kaufman, Political Science and Human Rights, Public Policy Minor
It’s been a few weeks since I returned from COP23. Even after arriving home and discussing my experience with friends and family, I still have trouble distilling what I learned and the myriad emotions I felt into an ‘elevator speech’ (which, frankly, is all people really want to hear).
I feel frustrated that the numerous disciplines studying climate change—from sociology, to political science, to human rights, to chemistry, to engineering, to ecology are ‘silo-ed.’ In my conversations with my peers, I recognized a dissonance between what each of us thought should be prioritized in the fight to mitigate climate change. After attending a panel hosted by the University of Maryland’s School of Public Policy and Tuft’s Fletcher School, called “The Engine of Ambition: University Research and Engagement to Support Climate Action,” I realized this dissonance I felt was not unfounded. While the panel was focused specifically on the research in public policy programs, the message carries over to all researchers and academics: If we are not taking it upon ourselves to make sure that our research is understandable and accessible to the general public and policy makers, what’s the point? This means extra work.
Obviously, more complex reports are necessary to ensure that our research can be expanded upon by others in our fields. However, the increasing specialization of academics necessitates the production of summary documents, like white papers, that explain research in language understandable to those outside of our fields of expertise. Beyond that, both natural and social scientists are constituents. It seems obvious to me now that we can’t just make our work accessible. As members of a democracy, it is our civic duty to actively bring our research to our policy makers and help them understand its urgency.
A quick Google search of the question “what is the responsibility of a politician?” produces countless iterations of the same thing—the responsibility of a politician is to secure and protect our unalienable rights. When it comes down to it, the fight against climate change is the fight for the right to live—a clean and healthy place to live is the foundation upon which all other institutions are built. What is more unalienable than the right to life?
My experience at COP23 left me feeling a lot of things, but most tangibly, I feel motivated. As a political science and human rights student, it’s easy to feel hopeless and dissatisfied. Having the opportunity to collaborate and learn from a group of people whose academic and life experiences are so fundamentally different from mine, reminded me of my purpose, as a minuscule person in a gigantic universe.
The following blog posts, written by members of the UConn contingent to COP 23, discuss the engagement of the private sector in climate action through fiscally sustainable green business and corporate responsibility:
The WASI Pavilion: A Place for Encouragement and Inspiration at COP23 Rich Miller
Panels at the U.S. Climate Action Center Show How Businesses Can Lead on Carbon Reductions Lindsey Tenenbaum
Is Corporate Social Activism a Good Thing? How the role of US businesses in climate policy has overstepped its mission Jillianne Lyon
The Future of Green Finance: How can Wall Street create a more sustainable economy? Austin Langer
The WASI Pavilion: A Place for Encouragement and Inspiration at COP23
Rich Miller, Director, UConn Office of Environmental Policy & Sustainability
This was the third year for the UConn@COP program, and each year has been a distinctly different experience. We’ve traveled from the historic celebration of the Paris Agreement, which radiated great hope from the “City of Light” at COP21, to the post-U.S. election concerns, which cast a shadow over COP22 in Morocco. Now, it was onto Bonn in 2017, under a cloud of disappointment and uncertainty about how the Trump Administration’s announced plans to withdraw from the Paris Agreement would affect international progress on climate action. One way or another, COP23 would also be pivotal to the future of the UConn@COP program.
A huge difference about COP23, and one that frankly salvaged our group’s overall experience in Bonn, was the presence of hundreds, if not thousands, of representatives from the “We are Still In” (WASI) coalition of U.S. businesses, state and municipal governments, NGOs and higher education. With no public “Green Zone” as part of the UN’s formal COP23 proceedings, we instead relied on side events, some of which were highly impactful (see our previous blog set Climate Justice and Solidarity). We also leaned heavily on the three days of WASI-organized programming held in the U.S. Climate Action Center (USCAC).
A remarkable aspect of the WASI coalition’s determined presence at COP23, was its righteous representation of the sheer economic and political power that remains fully engaged in climate action here in the U.S. and around the world. After all, the combined purchasing power of the WASI coalition, at $6.2 trillion dollars annually, is nearly half the Gross Domestic Product of the U.S. If this “Made in America” public-private coalition were a nation unto itself, it would be the third largest economy in the world! Despite WASI’s unofficial UN status as a sub-national entity, it proved at COP23 that it can nonetheless be a powerful voice for global leadership on climate action.
Unlike our experiences at previous COPs, the executives speaking from the panels and lecterns at the USCAC weren’t representing just the obligatory green businesses and b-corporations, but included some of America’s largest companies, which own and operate manufacturing and distribution facilities all around the world. Make no mistake, these are companies that can drive the global transition to clean energy through best practices and more sustainable operations. They can also ensure the success of thousands of smaller green businesses, which provide essential goods and services to them, through their sustainable supply chain standards and procurement policies.
It was reassuring and inspiring to see these U.S. based mega-companies, along with a number of state governors, city mayors and college presidents, stepping up at COP23 to fill a leadership void created by the Trump Administration’s step backwards. I enjoyed hearing from chief sustainability officers (CSOs) at companies like Coca-Cola, Wal-Mart, Microsoft, Mars, Ingersoll Rand and Patagonia, talking about progress in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from their own operations and supply chains. It was obvious to me that their corporate CEOs and investors firmly believe that strong environmental performance is good for their brand and their business, and not just a matter of compliance with laws, regulations or international treaties.
I realized too, watching and learning from many of the WASI panelists at COP23, that the corporate CSO’s job is not that different from my own as UConn’s sustainability director (substituting sustainability-related academic metrics for the profit motive, of course). Even in academia, a good business case, such as cost savings, bolsters the likelihood of success for any sustainability initiative advanced by my office. Likewise, building UConn’s reputation for sustainability and environmental stewardship, helps attract and retain the best and brightest students, faculty and staff to the University, just as a company’s strong brand for climate leadership attracts consumers.
Representing UConn as part of the WASI coalition (President Herbst signed the WASI pledge last June), and participating in the events at the U.S. Climate Action Center, truly made COP23 a unique and memorable experience. And, for the third year in a row, UConn was proud to co-host a higher education networking event at the COP, this one attended by hundreds of faculty, staff and students who were in Bonn to observe the proceedings and loudly proclaim that “We Are Still In.”
Panels at the U.S. Climate Action Center Show How Businesses Can Lead on Carbon Reductions
Lindsey Tenenbaum, International Business Management and Natural Resources
Todd Stern, former Special Envoy for Climate Change for the Obama Administration, summed up the challenge in his remarks toward the end of COP23: Can we transform the economy quickly enough to avoid the catastrophic impacts of climate change? This dilemma stresses the urgency for businesses to take on a larger percentage of the U.S., as well as the global, effort in combatting climate change.
The challenge now is to capitalize on the benefits of areas like the renewable energy market and closed loop systems. Additionally, we need to develop more accurate models for predicting the cost associated with not implementing risk mitigation techniques meant to help curb our changing climate. It has been mentioned numerous times throughout the week that if we can figure out how to measure the cost, we can then figure out a way to implement it into the decision-making process.
There are examples of businesses that have already started to factor this into their decision-making. In a panel earlier in the week hosted by the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES), business leaders from a range of sectors discussed ways their companies have been on the forefront of implementing environmentally sustainable practices within their supply chains. David Eichberg, Sustainability and Social Innovations Lead for HP, explained how there has recently been a branching off of corporate environmental responsibility (CER) from the more commonly known practice of corporate social responsibility (CSR). Specifically at HP, they have implemented environmental scorecards, which feed into annual supplier scorecards (a multi factor rating of how “good” a supplier is). Now, when a supplier is more environmentally friendly it can boost their score by 10% and conversely, if they are not participating in environmentally friendly practices, their score stands to be reduced by up to 50%.
Perhaps my biggest take away from COP23 so far has been that policy takes time. When looking at how long agreements between countries can take (there were many previous attempts that lead to the formatting of the Paris Climate Agreement) it is easy to see that efforts in other areas have to be made if we want to win this “race.” U.S. businesses can make a huge statement because they represent such a large portion of the economy. A great example of this is the more than 1700 businesses that have signed the “We Are Still In” pledge, where they are committing to uphold the targets of the Paris Climate Agreement. Persistence such as this will help us continue to pull our weight in global effort to reduce climate change.
Is Corporate Social Activism a Good Thing? How the role of US businesses in climate policy has overstepped its mission
Jillianne Lyon, Human Rights and Political Science, Minor in French
Climate change and business are inevitably intertwined. The fossil fuel industry has propagated and profited off environmental degradation for years, aiding companies in all sectors to increase profit margins and dodge social accountability.
This year at COP23 in Bonn, Germany, business is playing a new role on the other side of the equation. Among local and academic leaders, American companies forged their own place in the UN climate conference, funding a US Climate Action Center adjacent to the Fiji-hosted pavilions. The US tent, nicknamed ‘WASI’ after its #WeAreStillIn slogan, represents organizations, politicians, and companies that have committed to the Paris Agreement goals in light of President Trump’s announced withdrawal this past June. Big brands like HP, Target, Coca Cola, Walmart, Microsoft, and Mars are spotlighted as they debut green initiatives on sustainability, renewable energy, and ethical investing. Federal silence on climate action has given way to an astonishing level of corporate social activism.
However, between the “We Are Still In” printed tote bags and specialty m&m’s, the back patting seems a bit premature. Conversations in the WASI tent are narrowly curated to feature businesses as lead protagonists in the fight against climate change, sidelining other key voices in the discussion. The predominantly white businessmen-dominated discussions curtail critiques on gender, colonialism, and classism that affect the core of climate change.
Focusing on business leaders limits the conversation of climate solutions to corporate actions. Many of the talks hosted by the WASI tent focused on economic incentives and the profitability of sustainability instead of policy reforms and targeted research. This allows companies to control the terms of climate reforms to minimize damages on their business. NGOs and public institutions that often call out corporate conduct are marginalized in these climate discussions where they should be highlighted. The WASI events lack representation from indigenous groups, Small Island Developing States (SIDS), racial minorities, and other communities disproportionately vulnerable to climate change effects.
Secondarily, business-centric dialogue amplifies the voice of the private sector in government, where corporate lobbying already plays a dominant role. Governor Kate Brown (OR) took time from her interview to commend Nike (headquartered in Oregon) for “working everyday to reduce their carbon footprint.” Brown, as well as representatives from Hawaii, Minnesota, and California focused their panel presentations on policies that engage manufacturing industries, support renewable energy companies, and (most importantly) create jobs. Catering local policies to business interests, as well as narrowing dialogue to economics, leaves space for company interests to take center stage.
All this being said, the companies member to the We Are Still In coalition at COP23 have undoubtedly displayed incredible leadership on climate change where the government has stepped back. Their level of corporate activism is in many ways unprecedented, and greatly applauded by the international community. This is the first time I’ve heard a multinational corporation highlight local agriculture, sustainable supply chains, or habitat preservation. However, in this acknowledgement, critique is also warranted. Problems arise when the private sector is empowered and even encouraged to play a center role in social activism. The core of any business is to manifest and increase profit. We cannot ignore capitalist structures when amplifying corporate voices, especially when consumerism fueled global warming in the first place. It is additionally problematic to overlook widespread green-washing, where businesses often fund sustainable campaigns like #WeAreStillIn while simultaneously engaging in climate damaging practices.
Businesses have an important role to play in the fight against climate change, but that role is not center stage. Local representatives, NGOs, and communities disparately affected by climate damages should be principal voices in the discussion, especially at events like COP23. It’s time to redirect power from profit-driven companies to people who fight and have always fought on the frontlines of climate justice.
The Future of Green Finance: How can Wall Street create a more sustainable economy?
Austin Langer, Finance and Economics
Business leaders from the top global banks joined each other on stage to discuss their responsibility in the financing of green investments and the role their institutions need to play in financing an energy transformation. Anne Kelly moderated this panel that was made up of Michael Wilkins, Managing Director, Global Envrionmental & Climate Risk Research, S&P Global Ratings; Abyd Karmali, Managing Director, Climate Finance, Bank of America Merill Lynch; Val Smith, Director and Global Head, Corporate Sustainability, Citi; and, Erin Robert, Exectuive Director, Sustainable Finance, JPMorgan Chase.
All of the business leaders were quick to acknowledge the role of human factors in climate change, but the conversation pivoted to discussing how to move forward to mitigate the risks of climate change and change our energy sources from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
The financial industry has begun to make more and more investments into sustainable companies, such as wind farms and solar panel companies. When looking at these investments instead of traditional companies the difference of returns are immaterial, just a few bases points. Although the banks are not maximizing their returns, there is a social return for being environmentally conscious and investing in sustainable companies. The banks are still able to make sizeable returns on their investments, while moving the world towards more sustainable energy choices.
Many of the banks represented at the panel have created green and environmental finance divisions, which are tasked with evaluating the sustainability of investments and whether the cost of lesser financial returns is worth the benefit of social returns. However, all the banks believed the Federal government needs to lead the investment future. Karmali stated, “The public sector needs to use its capital to de-risk low carbon opportunities in emerging markets so we can bring in private capital and scale up”. As we progress further as a society we see an increased emphasis on investing in socially sustainable companies to move away from fossil fuels and transition to renewable energy.
The following blog posts, written by student members of the UConn contingent to COP 23, emphasize the importance of solidarity and inclusion in the climate negotiations:
Redefinition: My Agency to Take Up Space Wawa Gatheru
Integrating Intersectional Feminism and Climate Policy Rebecca Kaufman
Women Revolutionizing the Environmental Movement Taylor Mayes
Warning! Climate Change is Real Colleen Dollard
UConn @COP23 Breakfast Clubs – Reconciling Science and Social Justice on Climate Change Jillianne Lyon
Redefinition: My Agency to Take Up Space
Wawa Gatheru, Environmental Studies, Minor in Environmental Economics and Policy
There is nothing more awkward than incorrect ideological association.
Over a year after the election of our most recent President and his infamous declarations of climate denial, perhaps the most frustrating outcome has been the ideological association placed upon the American people. As the United States operates under a democracy, the internationally perceived status of climate change legitimacy in the U.S. has mirrored that of our President – even while its alignment could not be further from the truth for most Americans.
I, along with 68% of Americans, believe in anthropogenic climate change. As a proud environmentalist with the hopes to dedicate her life to environmental justice, the ever-so accepted narrative of the American refusal to legitimize this fact has been frustrating. For so many, anthropogenic climate change is not just a distant fact, but a driver for action. And for me, the environment – its study, its appreciation, its protection – is my life.
So you can probably understand my distress at the thought that some of the most fundamental scientific truths about climate change might be overshadowed due to incorrect ideological association. And upon my arrival at COP23, this consciousness – one of possible incorrect alignment – discouraged me. How would I be accepted in the COP space as a dedicated environmental activist if my very nationality as an American could disqualify me from such a categorization? Could it also potentially disqualify my UConn cohorts and other U.S. citizens here in Bonn? Or worse – could this perception be another barrier for those who aspire to stand up against environmental injustices around the world?
Although these concerns raced through my mind during the weeks leading up to COP23, in the end, my interactions throughout this week at the U.N.’s Climate Summit in Bonn, Germany provided me with both a sense of relief and renewed inspiration. That’s because when I reflect, my cumulative experience at COP was more than just transformative. It was reaffirming.
Surrounded by hundreds of citizens, languages, and colors, I realized the following things:
I have the unalienable right to be a member of the climate justice movement. While my initial discouragement about my reception in the COP space was, and continues to be, legitimate, I must never, EVER question my right to take space in this movement. Every single relationship to the environment is valid and necessary in making long-lasting, sustainable, socially and scientifically competent change. Every single voice is necessary to accurately redefine environmental action as a non-partisan one.
There is no time for the exclusion of voices in this movement. During her presentation at the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network conference, Noelene Nabulivou, founder of DIVA for Equality FIJI and one of the most incredible people I have ever had the pleasure to meet, said it best. “We are in a social revolution, an economic revolution, an ecological revolution – because we have to be.” Climate change and adequate solutions must be appreciated in relation to every sector – social, economic, and ecological – as this appreciation will lead to understanding the interconnections and level of accountability that must be taken. The #WeAreStillIn movement represented this shared accountability, as it included voices that are not usually heard in the environmental movement – namely those of the private sector. In continuing to make the climate justice space inclusive, it must also be said that while all voices must be heard to create the most riveting changes, certain voices must be at the forefront of this movement. Women, specifically women of color and indigenous women, MUST be at the forefront of this movement, as they are simultaneously the most adversely impacted by environmental degradation. In this fact, it is this demographic that should be valued as indispensable actors and leaders of just and effective solutions.
Finally, I realize that the takeaways I received from COP cannot and will not live in momentary appreciation. There is no time. Climate change cannot exist only as a subject for discussion, but as a topic for action. Because the devastation of climate change has already begun, and we must act. Together.
Integrating Intersectional Feminism and Climate Policy
Rebecca Kaufman, Political Science and Human Rights, Minor in Public Policy
“We need to reclaim the ideal of ‘the commons’ and reject the prioritization of technological and economic fixes.” This quote by Ruth Nyambura, an Eco-feminist and activist from Kenya, was one of the many that I have messily scrawled in my notebook from the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) event, ‘Women Leading Solutions on the Frontlines of Climate Change’ — a side event at the UN Climate Conference COP23. Throughout the course of this session I felt empowered, inspired, and angry. However, Nyambura’s sentiments capture the essence of what I took from the event.
When working towards climate change solutions, it is clear that we need to fundamentally change the way that we consume and interact with our environment. This is overwhelming and sometimes feels scary, if not impossible. Personally, I have always understood access to a clean and healthy environment as the fundamental human right upon which the realization of all other rights relies. What Nyambura gets at is the idea that if we are not spiritually connected to our environment, and by proxy the other actors that exist within it (both human and non-human) we will never be able to address the overwhelmingly complex issue of climate change.
The fact of the matter is that the people who are disproportionally impacted by climate change-related issues like flooding and drought (and the subsequent shortages of food, water and shelter) are not the primary ones contributing to antecedents of climate change, like over-consumption of animal products, food waste, and fossil fuel emissions, among others. Many of the most-impacted people include women, such as Nina Gualinga, the Kichwa leader from the Pueblo of Sarayaku, Ecuador, who is working to preserve the Amazon rainforest, and Thilmeeza Hussein, founder of the NGO Voice of Women and former resident of the Maldives.
As I listened to Gualinga and Hussain talk about defining ‘development’ in a way that empowers those in countries that are developing and the negligence of those pushing to continue the use of fossil fuels (including the United States’ heartily-protested COP23 presentation on “clean coal” – are you kidding me?) I became angrier and angrier that this incredible WECAN conference was merely a ‘side event.’ Meanwhile, those with the the highest clearance, those with the most policy-making power were sitting at the main COP venues listening to a panel of environmental injustice perpetrators, like Shell, discuss alternative energy.
When Gualinga asked the question, “who is defining development?” she is addressing the fact that voices like hers aren’t at the table with corporations like Shell. The people whose lives depend on the preservation of diverse ecosystems are not at the table. The people whose employers have caused and perpetuated climate change related disasters are.
There are a lot of reasons for this. I would argue that one of the most prominent ones is the fear among those in power that their power will be dismantled or changed in some fundamental way. Perhaps after decades of disenfranchising indigenous people in the Global South, these policy makers and corporations have had a moment of reflection — where they realized that what they did was wrong and that the process of making amends and distributing appropriate reparations will be painful and time consuming but necessary.
Essentially, I think that the persistence of unequal power dynamics stems from our lack of a spiritual connection to our environment and each other. And our inability to form this connection has the direct consequence of maintaining institutionalized inequality and a western capitalist culture of consumption.
It is problematic that corporations are so highly valued as change-makers, when by definition, the mission of a corporation is to increase their profits. Especially in America, where private corporations are not subject to the same level anti-discrimination rules as the public sector. Furthermore, while not all governments represent their constituents well, their chief role, unlike businesses, is to represent the best interests of their constituents.
Businesses (perhaps with the exception of B-Corps) hold a fiduciary responsibility to maximize the profits of their stakeholders, who often represent the world’s elite. This, to me, is completely inconsistent with the core values of social and environmental justice — to attain a sustainable network of systems that are healthy, equitable, and compassionate.
This is not to say that corporations cannot use their profitability to effect positive social and environmental change. We should just be skeptical of their willingness to do this effectively — especially when promises of corporate responsibility are proven to serve as effective marketing. Even in the panels I’ve attended discussing the virtues of corporate social responsibility, corporate leaders are incredibly transparent in discussing social and environmental impact as fiscally beneficial — rarely addressing the fact that we should just be kind to others. We just should.
“Women’s movements have always been in the business of territories — be it bodies, communities or the world,” said Noelene Nabulivou of DIVA for Equality and the Pacific Islands Climate Action Network, Fiji. I will reiterate Nabulivou’s call to action because I think it is empowering and will inspire self-reflection. We are not all in this together. Climate change affects everyone, but people of color and women are impacted disproportionately. Failing to address climate change related disaster is a tool for maintaining institutionalized racism and sexism.
We need diverse bodies participating in climate negotiations. We need to mainstream the tenets of intersectional feminism into climate policy because intersectional feminism is inherently related to the power dynamics. A favorite quote of mine by Audre Lorde is, “It is not our differences that divide us. It is our inability to recognize, accept, and celebrate those differences.” It is the responsibility of our leaders to mainstream gender in climate policy. It is the responsibility of those in power to self-reflect on their bias. Negligence to do so perpetuates systematic sexism and racism.
Our identities are multifaceted and they intersect. And if there was anything that I took from WECAN’s event, it is that each of us has solutions. Those of us who have experienced institutionalized violence are often the most creative. And so, as stewards of the environments we occupy, it is our responsibility to use the privilege we do have to speak up.
Women Revolutionizing the Environmental Movement
Taylor Mayes, Environmental Studies and Political Science
On Monday, November 13th, UConn@COP23 attended an event at the conference called Women Leading Solutions on the Front Lines of Climate Change. The event was organized and hosted by WECAN, the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network, International. WECAN is a climate justice-based initiative established to unite women worldwide as powerful in worldwide movement building for social and ecologic justice. The event took place at the beautifully eloquent, Hotel Königshof, located right on the Rhine River in the city of Bonn. The hotel had a very vintage-chic-feminine vibe which created the perfect back drop for the event.
Upon entering the space, one could truly feel the room radiating with warmth and life. Imagine a room filled with passionate women from a diverse array of countries, communities, cultures, and identities from all around the globe. It was so refreshing to be in a space filled with such richness and color.
Our group stayed for three of the events panels and keynote speakers; each panel consisting of talks done by a composition of four very wise and experienced environmental activists. This was well executed, as the purpose of the event was to unite women from all different walks of life to join in solidarity and speak out against environmental and social injustice as well as to draw attention to the root causes of the climate crisis.
Addressing the root causes of this crisis and having discussions about racial and gender injustices is a form of resistance, and it should be given a lot of credit, as it takes courage to be disruptive and to revolutionize the way we talk about the environment. This was especially true in the context of the mainly white male cisgender dominated 23rd Conference of Parties, where the “main events” were often very superficial and non-substantive.
Present in the very tone and essence of all of the talks was the idea that this issue of climate change and environmental degradation would not be solved until women, especially brown and black women, are given a seat at the forefront of decision making table.
I greatly appreciated the unique way this event united a group of women, who were all so different in so many ways, around a common cause. Women who had a diversity of experiences: coming from different places, celebrating different cultures and religions, speaking different languages, and in turn, who face different struggles. And yet, even though this theme of unity was present, it did not erase or diminish any of the women’s identities — but instead maintained that fine balance by celebrating those differences at the same time. There was spoken word, poetry, different languages being spoken (and translated), and even an indigenous women’s warrior song, all used to conveyed the experiences and witnesses these women had to the effects of climate change.
The event was so uplifting, and inspiring for many, if not all, of the women in the room. Our anger and frustration with current state of the world was not only validated, but re-inspired which does not happen often. A flame was lit underneath my passion and drive, and to use the words of our speakers, Katherine England, I felt my earrings literally fall off. This “side event” at COP23 was an experience that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
Warning! Climate Change is Real
Colleen Dollard, Geography and Maritime Studies
Warning! Climate change is real and affects millions of people around the globe every day. The longer nations wait to take action the more perilous these impacts are expected to become. More importantly, the people who have contributed the least to climate change will be the ones to face the brunt of it first. Drought, infectious diseases, hunger, and displacement are all disproportionately impacting women and people who are living in less developed countries.
Additionally there are islands in the Pacific that have already been lost due to the rising sea level. At the Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network conference, Thelmeeza Hussain from the Maldives reported that her home is subjected to saltwater intrusion. This has led to a loss of drinkable water, destruction of agricultural lands from sea salt, coral reefs dead and bleached white or in the process of dying, and an increasing frequency of dangerous king tides. These impacts are not a product of the actions of the people of the Maldives, yet they are unfairly affected by the fossil fuel businesses and consumption in developed countries, who continue bad practices despite knowledge of climate change.
Real change starts with opening up the floor to their voices, listening, then implementing the policies that were chosen by them for their communities.
Thank you, Fiji and Germany, for hosting COP23 and empowering voices that otherwise may have been lost in the conversation. I look forward to raising awareness back at the UConn Avery Point Campus and elsewhere about issues like the role of gender in climate change and the social injustices of loss and damage already incurred from its effects.
UConn @COP23 Breakfast Clubs – Reconciling Science and Social Justice on Climate Change
Jillianne Lyon, Human Rights and Political Science, Minor in French
One staple of our UConn@COP23 week was the ‘Breakfast Club,’ where the group gathered each morning for a faculty-led discussion about a climate change-related topic and to share thoughts about our experiences from COP-related events of the previous day. As a senior majoring in Human Rights, I have principally been exposed to social justice narratives and it was constructive to hear voices from students majoring in Chemistry, Engineering, Business, Environmental Sciences, Geography and Environmental Studies.
The students were at many times split between those studying humanities and those in STEM, challenging norms accepted in both fields. Should we be talking about racism when we talk about climate change? Should pragmatic science-driven solutions be given preference even if they discount or perpetuate discriminatory effects?
In my Human Rights classes, climate change conversation has always gone hand-in-hand with analysis of environmental injustices. My courses focus on issues like racialized housing policies in Flint, Michigan, or violations of indigenous rights like the Dakota Access Pipeline. Discussions are often people-centric and use rights-claiming language. Everyone has the right to clean water; everyone has the right to life, to an attainable standard of health, to nondiscrimination. However, this conception of climate change can be limiting and is often dismissed in countries where such norms do not hold much authority.
On the other hand, I have recognized that exclusively human rights-driven narratives are not sufficient for addressing existential environmental threats, like climate change, which demand immediate, radical action from the global community. It is infinitely easier to demand reduced CO2 emissions than it is to demand the destruction of the patriarchy.
Science-based targets and emission thresholds provide states and private actors with clear goals and limits that are accessible and attainable. Unfortunately, international environmental agreements, like the Paris Accord, hold no definitive binding power, and are only as effective as the ensuing commitments made and actions taken by each nation.
One thing that has been made very clear to me by my COP23 experience is that climate dialogues are often exclusive spaces. They are white spaces, they are Western spaces, and they are male spaces. There’s a push to highlight SIDS (Small Island Developing States), to include gender analysis, to incorporate social justice. But these efforts have brought us panels with token minorities and corporate leaders who are applauded for green-washed diversity programs. Climate dialogue needs to emphasize diverse and nondiscriminatory leadership if it wants to correct the issues that caused climate change in the first place.
The UConn@COP ‘Breakfast Club’ discussions raised many of these issues. Deliberating back and forth with a diverse group of UConn students about climate change priorities has reaffirmed my belief in multi-dimensional dialogue. Social justice and science driven solutions to climate change do not have to be and are not mutually exclusive. Science-driven policies can ignore systematic inequalities and exacerbate them in proposed solutions. Social justice claims can be disconnected from the capacity of governments and constraints in the private sector. The key is striking a balance between these two narratives without excluding or marginalizing voices that should be playing main roles.
Our daily ‘Breakfast Club’ discussions pushed me to think more broadly and creatively about climate solutions. For every UConn class talking about environmental discrimination, there is one talking about habitat evolution, and another talking about corporate social and environmental responsibility. My experience at COP23 has reassured me that it is vital to bridge this divide and engage in inclusive climate discussions. Without leadership from diverse narratives, both scientific and humanitarian, our planet won’t stand a chance against climate change.