UConn@COP

Country Criticism

Editor’s Note: At the conference, fellows were excited to learn about the environmental concerns in other countries and get a more holistic view of the issues at hand. Unfortunately, not all nations prioritize the environment. Without effort from each country, climate action is hindered. The blogs below take a look at the importance of international involvement and a few of the countries responsible for delaying action.

 

Jair Bolsonaro: The Trump of the Tropics – Charlotte Rhodes

Who should have a say in climate negotiations? – Kayleigh Granville

A Climate Conference in Coal Country – Nikki Pirtel

Recycle, Reuse, Reduce? – Risa Lewis

 

Jair Bolsonaro: The Trump of the Tropics

Charlotte Rhodes – Junior, B.A. Environmental Studies

Walking into COP24, I was immediately struck by the Brazil Pavilion. Decorated with bright colors and large displays, the pavilion is a demonstration of the immense biodiversity and vital ecosystems housed in the region. But after my initial excitement set in, I was reminded that the Brazilian President, Jair Bolsonaro, has decided to take all of this away from the world.

Bolsonaro has rebuffed climate change and promised during his campaign to rollback protections on the Amazon rain forest for economic gain. This plan is toxic and because of the significant influence the Amazon has over the environment, will have a rippling effect throughout the environmental community.

The Amazon rain forest is a significant carbon sink and one of our most valuable resources against climate change. It can sequester millions of tons of carbon, successfully removing the greenhouse gas from the atmosphere. This is such an important resource and if Bolsonaro goes through with his plans for clear-cutting the Amazon, more action will be required by everyone else to meet the 1.5 degree goal.

Following the announcement that the United States would be pulling out of the Paris Agreement, many were worried that it would encourage other countries to pull out as well. Luckily that wasn’t the case, but these sentiments have now resurfaced with Bolsonaro’s election. The extent to which Brazil may influence other countries decisions remains to be seen, but without Brazil’s support, attaining global climate goals is going to be an even bigger challenge.

As I’ve been walking around the COP24 venue, I’ve had the chance to talk with a number of representatives from Brazil’s delegation. The sentiment among the Brazilian people certainly seems determined to protect the environment. Even if their president decided not to. Coupled with deforestation being the dominant topic at the side events hosted in Brazil’s pavilion, hope for the future is certainly alive. But action needs to be taken now. With such a strong push back from the Brazil’s federal government, how much can actually be done?

Many environmental non-governmental organizations (NGO) that service the Amazon have expressed concerns about their efforts being blocked by Brazil’s federal government. Environmental needs aside, the Amazon is home to a number of indigenous communities. These people are extremely vulnerable to climate change and without help and advocacy from NGO’s, will likely suffer the consequences.

Jair Bolsonaro, like Donald Trump, is a danger to the environmental movement and will likely hinder climate action progress. With such control over the Amazon rain forest, the ball is in his court. Based on my conversations at COP24, I’m confident that the Brazilian public and the global community will do all they can to preserve the ecosystem. But that doesn’t mean that I can rely on others to block his policy. While Bolsonaro is in office, there’s always going to be environmental threat and it’s critically important that we all stay informed.

 

Who should have a say in climate negotiations?

Kayleigh Granville – Senior, B.S. Environmental Science

On the first day of the COP 24 conference in Katowice, Poland, I attended a panel discussion on global climate action. The panelists were Patricia Espinoza, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Michal Kurtyka, the COP 24 President, Arnold Schwarzenegger, American actor and former Governor of California, and Hindou Ibrahim, an indigenous leader from Chad. All of the panelists spoke about what needs to be done to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and keep global warming below 1.5 ℃. Arnold Schwarzenegger offered solutions that sounded familiar to me as a citizen of the United States: drive electric cars, turn off the lights when you leave a room, reduce your meat consumption, and use LED lightbulbs. He sees climate change as an issue that world leaders and the UN cannot fix without the help of the common citizen, an idea that people in the developed world are generally in agreement with.

To my surprise, Hindou Ibrahim did not agree with him. In response, she explained how people from Chad and other developing nations are already suffering because of the effects of climate change, even though their countries did not contribute to the excessive carbon dioxide emissions that are causing climate change. Her opinion was that real, meaningful change needs to come from governments and policymakers. She used the California wildfires as an example. During the panel, Arnold Schwarzenegger had talked about how California was fortunate to have assistance in fighting the fires from surrounding states as well as Canada. Hindou Ibrahim pointed out that, had a similar climate-related disaster happened in Chad, they would have had no additional resources and no outside help. Rebuilding their community and re-establishing their culture without the resources available to California would be nearly impossible.

After the panel, several other UConn students and I had the opportunity to talk to Hindou Ibrahim. She was very kind and willing to talk to us, because she believes that it is critical for young people like us to be involved in climate policy. When we asked her what she thought could be done to decrease the impact of climate change on developing nations, she explained that policymakers should not be searching for climate solutions without consulting countries like Chad, where the impacts of climate change are different and usually more severe. Hindou Ibrahim wants indigenous leaders like her to have a bigger platform to speak from and negotiate, because, unlike Arnold Schwarzenegger, she believes that the solutions need to come from world leaders.

The difference in viewpoints between Arnold Schwarzenegger and Hindou Ibrahim was an eye-opening example of how people from developing and developed nations approach climate change differently. In nations like Chad, climate change can be life-threatening and yet there is not much the average person can do to curb it, especially because carbon emissions are usually already low. In nations like the United States, where carbon emissions are high, we often turn to solutions like Arnold Schwarzenegger posed in hopes that we can make a difference. Through the personal stories that Hindou shared, I understood that people in the developing world need to rely on their leaders to advocate for them. Hindou’s presence on this panel made me hopeful that the UNFCCC has also realized that developing nations need to be more involved in climate negotiations, and that we will see better solutions for these countries throughout the rest of the COP 24 conference.

 

A Climate Conference in Coal Country

Nikki Pirtel – Senior, B.S. Environmental Science

The location of the climate conference this year may have been a surprise to many people, as the country is not known for its climate action. Katowice, Poland was once a place where coal was mined and shipped to nearby power plants to burn for energy. This legacy of a post-industrial coal operation is still evident in the city and in Poland in general. On the bus to the conference between Krakow and Katowice, billowing clouds of smoke and particulate matter from the combustion of coal can be witnessed, horizons are smudged by smog and the smell of combustion extends cities away.

In the conference itself, the theme of coal is promoted, with selling of coal soap and displays of coal within the Katowice pavilion, causing great disbelief. Poland delegates here defended the coal usage of their country, questioning, “the United States burns coal too, doesn’t it?” as a means of justifying the action. This kind of attitude is not shared by all generations of Polish people. After asking a Polish master’s student at a networking event about coal, he acknowledged that most of the energy in his country is derived from the dirty fossil fuel and progress towards the NDCs and cleaner sources of energy (solar panels, thermal heaters, electric vehicles, etc.) is too slow for his liking.

The issue of coal burning and making insufficient progress towards Nationally Determined Contributions, however, is not so simple. The woman at the Katowice pavilion was partially right: other developed countries, especially the U.S, cannot point blame at certain nations that burn coal (the worst in terms of CO2 emitted) while also burning coal themselves. We all need to hold each other responsible, and especially citizens with their own governments. Additionally, the coal industry in Poland employs tens of thousands of people and therefore has a lot of power as well as support of many citizens. This situation makes large scale change difficult, especially if those changes are affecting peoples’ livelihoods.

What we need is a phasing out of fossil fuels, letting the older fossil fuel workers retire, make renewables more accessible and economically viable and retraining the younger employees in a greener energy sector. This, combined with a kind of mandated program in a carbon tax or dividend form, would be most effective for real change.

 

Recycle, Reuse, Reduce?

Risa Lewis – Junior, B.S. Agricultural and Resource Economics

With the contrasting sentiments of heartening passion and bleak hopelessness fighting for dominance as takeaways from COP24, I’ve found myself searching for the solutions that are making headway where policy and international agreements are not. The new “rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris Agreement, which recently passed at the end of COP 24, is a good start, but it does not provide the type of legally binding and stringent structure necessary to reduce emissions in order to avoid drastic consequences for the earth and people living on it.

For example, the market mechanism section of the Paris Agreement rulebook text could not be resolved and has been pushed to next year’s COP25 in Chile. One of the integral parts of this hang-up was agreement on voluntary carbon markets – the trading of emissions reduced beyond each country’s climate pledge – and their use as credits by other countries that cannot meet their pledges (or, from an economic efficiency standpoint, by countries that have higher costs to society of emissions reduction).

I attended a side event at COP24 on how to fix the problem of double accounting of carbon emission reductions. It was relatively technical, but it became fairly clear that solutions were possible, known, and agreed upon across disciplines and countries. And yet, Brazil has been blamed by many for the postponement of what appeared to otherwise be a logical fix to the double counting issue. This delay has a negative ripple effect, impacting various trading schemes and initiatives that use language dependent on Article 6.4, which was expected to replace the Clean Development Mechanism of the Kyoto Protocol.

So, if agreement on important policy is moving too slowly, what steps can be taken sooner to ignite reliable, continuous change? More research in energy efficiency? Greater efforts to recycle?

Regarding the latter, a recent episode of “60 Minutes” on CBS cast doubt on the reality of recycling plastic—possibly 2/3 of American recycled plastic is sent overseas (until recently to China), where its ultimate fate – landfilling or recycling – has been and remains difficult to ascertain. CBS also detailed a 3 million dollar project to clean up the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, a project that has been compared to “mopping up a flooded bathroom but leaving the tap on.” To put this in perspective, COP24 handed out plastic reusable water bottles and other “swag bag” items with plastic packaging. Other popular movements such as banning plastic straws are important steps on the way to behavioral change, but are ultimately miniscule shifts compared to the change necessary to prevent climate catastrophe. Like most social, politics and economics issues, reversing climate change requires nothing less than a complete shift in our social system. And activists are not the only ones who recognize this – the scientifically advised reductions in global carbon emissions reflect a dismantling of consumption culture (the very existence of “swag bags”).

The reality is that the kind of lifestyle promoted as the norm in America, and coveted by many across the globe due to the United States’ global influence, is not only impossible for other countries to attain, but also unsustainable for the planet. As the effects of climate change continue to accelerate sea level rise and exacerbate extreme weather events they will also disrupt the systems that prop up the American story of consumption. How soon this will happen is relatively uncertain, but indigenous populations that have existed far longer than ours are already being destroyed due to the unjust way climate change more severely impacts those with lifestyles that have contributed least to the problem.

If there’s anything I can take away from this conference to fight the despair, it is that I need to live more realistically, in a way that reduces my consumption and encourages others to do the same. Changing a culture of consumption means change through education and outreach, especially focused on younger generations. Overall, making living a simpler life ‘popular’ could prove to be the most productive step towards change.

 “COP24: Key Outcomes Agreed at the UN Climate Talks in Katowice.” Carbon Brief, 16 Dec. 2018.

 

Economics and the Environment

Editors note: Our COP fellows were quick to realize the importance of economics when it comes to solving global issues. Climate change is expected to impose an economic burden on every country, and unfortunately, some will be unable to cope. The following blogs discuss the economic complexities of climate change. 

 

Economics and Climate Justice – Frank Griggs

Financing a Greener Future – Jessica Weaver

Are we changing? Yes. Can we change? Can we listen? – Risa Lewis

Blazing the Trail Toward Renewables – Jon Ursillo

 

Capitalism and Climate Justice

Frank Griggs – Ph.D, Political Science

The most thought-provoking aspect of my first day at COP 24 related to a discussion that was organized and facilitated by climate justice activists. This was fortuitous for me. I was eager to speak with activists who are associated with a movement that I’ve been studying and have an affinity for. Climate justice primarily refers to a heightened concern for marginalized people who are experiencing the most severe burdens associated with climate change, and an orientation, ranging from criticism to rejection, of climate change policies that entail market-based or capitalist approaches (e.g. cap and trade, carbon tax).

Some climate justice activists entirely reject the United Nations’ climate change governance efforts, viewing it as a disingenuous pretense to address climate change, one that is foremost intended to preserve and promote the exploitation of market-capitalism. This has puzzled me for years. For those climate justice activists who reject market-capitalist systems, what alterative policies or political economic arrangements do they advance to address climate change? I argue that addressing climate change should be a multi-faceted global endeavor, one involving science-based research, politics, economics and cultural factors, and including some form of carbon pricing. I further believe that any carbon pricing regime will be subject to manipulation, but it’s a situation that calls for continual assessment and reform rather than complete rejection.

I joined a discussion that was in session upon entering the climate hub. At a seemingly opportune moment, I asked the facilitators-climate justice activists about their thoughts on cap and trade. The interaction did not go well. My question prompted eye-rolls and scorn from both facilitators. I tried to salvage the interaction by conveying a sincere desire to better understand them but was unsuccessful.

I initially felt puzzled, frustrated, and insecure by the interaction, but my first day at COP 24 was a positive learning experience. The activists provided insights regarding my questions – the two activists I met stated that they reject capitalism but offered little suggestion regarding alternatives. Also, it’s tempting to point a finger, but important to consider how I may have contributed to the awkward interaction. I joined the discussion while in session and missed the introduction and directions; I’m not trained in interview methods, and possibly failed to ask my questions in a more tactful manner; also relevant, the facilitators at least twice mentioned being “exhausted” from offering explanations to “patriarchy…[from the] global North,” a sentiment that seems understandable in light of their probable life experiences. Based on reflection and input from others, the activists and I had topically related but differing objectives – they likely sought expression while I was focused on policy.

 

Financing a Greener Future

Jessica Weaver – Senior, B.S. Political Science

During my time at the COP24 Conference I had the opportunity to sit in on a few presentations regarding green finance. As a student with minors in human rights and business, I am particularly interested in how the private sector plays a role in tackling climate change.

At the COP, the Netherlands pledged €100 million ($125m) to the Green Climate Fund (a fund created by the UNFCC focused on funding climate change issues), while other nations like Germany and Great Britain expressed great support for green finance options. While at the Netherlands pavilion, there were a multitude of presentations regarding climate finance options in their nations. In one particular presentation, there were discussions by various companies that advocated for innovative ways to monetize climate change solutions. Some explained the growing field of smart houses that use energy efficient materials, while others were much more obscure, including a dating app that paired environmental “wasters” and “savers” together.

Investment in climate change solutions has become a large part of the conversations, because without the actual monies going towards addressing climate change issues, there is no way progress could be made. There was a great presence of both multi-governmental funds like the Green Climate Fund, as well as private corporate funds focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and investing in energy efficient infrastructure as well as carbon reduction practices.

I was grateful to be able to see such a large presence of these funds, and left the COP hopeful that there were multiple parties in multiple sectors that see climate change as a good place to put their money. In the end, the onus for climate change solutions is not just on governments, it falls on the private sector as well to contribute to reducing climate change impacts. Climate change solutions cannot happen without governments, companies, and people investing their time and dollars into creating change.

 

Are we changing? Yes. Can we change? Can we listen?

Risa Lewis – Junior, B.S. Agricultural and Resource Economics

Heading to the COP24, I was hoping to find new ideas and insights within the field of environmental economics and policy, but I realize now I had subconsciously put my expectations for those new ideas within the familiar frameworks of thought and governance I was comfortable with. As a result, the most meaningful parts of my experience at the UN’s Climate Summit in Poland have been interactions and conversations with people with rather different perspectives from my own.

During a Climate Hub workshop entitled, “Women for Climate Justice: Local Struggles, Global Actions,” we were led through a meditative contemplation and drawing of the “territory of our bodies.” To invoke contemplation, the facilitator asked us how and where we felt the impacts of climate change and its potential solutions, including poverty, water scarcity, renewable energy, collective action, and ‘extractivism’ (the first time I had encountered the term).

As an example, the leader of our guided contemplation shared “market solutions” as something that greatly troubles her. Market solutions make up a significant portion of what I have been studying thus far (with a large exception perhaps being independent study of behavioral economics).  Naturally, her statement prompted me to take a renewed look at the conflicting ideologies about the best ways to combat climate change.  This a conflict I have examined more closely this semester through the juxtapositions of my resource economics classes and an English class on the history and human experience of capitalism.

The most rewarding part of the COP so far was putting these thoughts into active conversation. Being a young student of environmental economics and policy, I often find myself shying away from conversations because I feel I don’t have the confident perspective and experience necessary to provide valuable contributions. But just as the uncertainty surrounding climate change cannot be a reason for inaction (a point reinforced by Linda Mearns, senior climate scientist for the IPCC and NCAR, who shared how we make decisions in the face of uncertainty every day as a guest speaker at the UConn@COP “breakfast club” discussion), insufficient knowledge cannot be a reason to avoid conversation—at the very least, it may inspire greater self-education.

I found an opportunity to discuss these very ideas with a fellow workshop participant from Portugal on the bus ride back from the COP24 venue to Krakow. Like many in the climate change field, he came from a perspective that sees capitalist ideas as inherently incompatible with combatting climate change.  He believes that placing monetary values on the environment is unrealistic, and over-simplifies solutions to the climate problem. I’m not sure yet where I stand exactly on these issues but we definitely disagreed in many ways.  We challenged each other’s logic and understanding of different societal and economic systems.  In fact, I was so distracted by this engaging conversation that I left my passport behind on the bus! (However, there was a happy ending as I was able to retrieve my passport and other belongings – Polish bus dispatchers and the COP24 volunteers are incredibly compassionate). The complexity of the conversation only reinforced my belief that the solution is far from simple.

But people like my Portuguese friend have a point. A common idea expressed (often with exasperation) by speakers and observers alike at the COP24 conference is that this is COP…24. It has been 24 years since the first UNFCCC conference to collectively take action against climate change and, despite a recent period of stable emissions, they have begun to rise again, as has the movement of climate change denial. And so it is rather eye-opening how it required my visit to the heart of the global climate change debate to see, firsthand, the stagnation we are so desperately trying to break free from, before it’s too late. I have a greater appreciation now for the value of organized social movements and civic unrest such as that of Extinction Rebellion, a global movement represented at the Climate Hub.

With the normal avenues of change proving as yet to be too slow, being at the COP forces me to recognize the importance of this type of protest and action towards changing human behavior. As someone interested in studying human behavior from an economic standpoint, I tend to focus on questioning the efficacy of change-making mechanisms, like organized protests, in altering policy and actually impacting society. But this perspective is, in and of itself, an expression of aversion to change and reliance on traditional systems of progress. Therefore, even though I still am deeply interested in environmental economic policy research, I recognize the way in which a desire for climate action can be communicated much more effectively outside government systems, and I will put this recognition to use in my plans for future environmental economic research.

At the very least, conversations between people of conflicting ideological social circles are necessary—and most of society agrees on this—but the question of how to have conversations that are more than “sounding boards” remains. Many of the Climate Hub workshops I attended on feminism and intersectionality in climate change never surpassed a shallow level of sharing to the deeper level of give and take that I had hoped to experience. As one participant lamented in the wrap-up, the conversation remained distant.

But I found that the “territory of our bodies” workshop proved the most productive in inspiring conversation and sharing by providing a common ground of others’ often similar interpretations of the personal impacts of climate change. Just as behavioral economics works to better represent the often-flawed nature of humanity, sharing personal stories from a starting point of some common perspective appears to be a vital part of the shift towards actively reducing the effects of climate change.

 

Blazing the Trail Toward Renewables

Jon Ursillo – Junior, B.S. Environmental Science and Economics

A central theme to the COP24 UN Climate Change Conference was the need to switch from a fossil fuel-based economy to one grounded in renewable energy.  For instance, in the photo above, Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health, Environmental Health, and Social Determinants of Health for the World Health Organization, is imploring for the need to switch to renewables, citing that the health costs saved from mitigating climate change will be double the cost of actually mitigating climate change itself.  There are many critics of renewables, however.  These opponents insist that renewable energy is too expensive, relying on hefty government subsidies to be viable.  Moreover, they argue that renewables are not reliable given variations in weather between locations and even at a specific location.

COP24 showed that great strides are being made to thwart these criticisms.  The cost of renewable energy is plummeting faster than anyone predicted.  New solar energy is already cheaper than building new gas plants with projections for new renewable energy to be cheaper than existing fossil fuel plants in nearly every country by the mid-2020s.  This renders the cost-effectiveness argument against renewable energy invalid.

Additionally, Dr. Iain Staffell from Imperial College London helped address the issue of variability in weather between regions.  He created a tool called the “Renewables Ninja.”  The Renewables Ninja is an interactive map showing the potential of solar and wind energy across the world.  It is free to the public and helps individuals and businesses choose the optimal renewable energy option for their location.  The public availability of this information is an immense breakthrough toward the adoption of renewables on a global scale.

Finally, Danielle de la Cour, Senior Project Manager for The Ecompany, is taking on the issue of reliability of renewable energy.  The Ecompany provides a marketplace for private industry to secure contracts with renewable energy producers, working to facilitate the matchmaking process based upon the needs of each client.  These contracts that lock in price and production level are extremely valuable to both the producer and the business purchasing the energy.  The buyer wants to fix its costs and secure a guaranteed energy supply for the stability of its operations, and the producer can utilize the contract as leverage to convince banks to finance expansion given the guaranteed income that would come from the increased production capacity.  Further, this marketplace eliminates the need for traditional energy brokers, which Danielle described as expensive and inefficient.  The Ecompany eventually plans to integrate AI to help companies find the ideal energy plan to meet their individual needs.

The Ecompany and Renewables Ninja highlight the progress being made toward disruptive change in the energy sector, providing hope that the vision of Dr. Maria Neira and other climate activists can one day be actualized.

 

 

 

 

Climate Justice at COP24

Editor’s Note: Climate change is not strictly an environmental issue. Many of the UConn@COP24 fellows took a human-centered approach to climate change and noticed the significant intersection between people and their environment. The blogs below detail their experiences and represent the diverse voices present at COP24. 

 

Women’s Voices in Climate Negotiation – Jessica Weaver

Our climate is on fire and it’s time we all step up to put it out. – Adrienne Nguyen

Climate Change: The Faceless Genocide? – Sahil Lual

Youth Activism at COP24 – Emily Kaufman

 

Women’s Voices in Climate Negotiations

Jessica Weaver – Senior, B.S. Political Science

On my second day at COP24, I attended a side meeting regarding the intersection of gender and climate. The meeting was particularly focused on the progress of the Gender Action Plan and the Lime Work Programme. I learned about the steps that have been taken to provide “gender responsive” climate solutions that focus on helping women and girls adapt to climate change effects particularly with regards to water and agriculture resources.

Seniors, Leann McLaren and Jessica Weaver meet with U.S. Department of State delegates to discuss the Gender Action Plan and Lima Work Programme.

When the meeting commenced, delegates from Malawi and Costa Rica voiced concern over the lack of meetings between full delegation meetings. They asserted the need for funds for women and girls in the countries represented by the Least Developed Countries (LDC) Group because they are disproportionately dependent on climate-sensitive resources for their livelihoods.

I was able to view all of the interactions while sitting behind delegates from the United States. After the meeting closed, I asked the two delegates about their occupations and how they felt about the COP itself. Both worked in the Climate Office of the State Department and expressed their admiration for the large amount of students that were attending and participating in the dialogues that had already ensued. They also conveyed their satisfaction with the meeting proceedings and the importance of being a part of the negotiations to continue these projects into the coming years.

I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and am glad I was able to not only witness a glimpse of UNFCC proceedings, but also see a possible career avenue in the future. These negotiations are crucial not only for addressing the gender aspect of climate change, but for creating comprehensive dialogue for climate change solutions in COPs to come.

 

Our climate is on fire and it’s time we all step up to put it out.

By Adrienne Nguyen – Junior, B.S. Pathobiology and Molecular and Cellular Biology

Forest fires seem to be a hot topic these days. Especially because this year’s wildfire season has been the most destructive on record, internationally. Internationally. If you googled “2018 wildfires” the headlines are all about California. The wildfires alone in California emitted a year’s worth of power pollution. But what is happening at the other side of the world?

At the climate hub, I had the opportunity to listen to stories about the impact of forest fires on the climate from volunteers and leaders from Greenpeace. As we sat down in our seats, a man named Anton Beneslavskiy walked up on stage. A picture of black smoke clouds appeared on the screen. The slideshow progressed to aerial shots of forests engulfed in flames. He looked outside his window one morning in his city. The smog was so dense in the air that he could not see anything more than 50 ft away. In that moment, he knew something had to be done. He quit his career as a corporate lawyer and joined Greenpeace.

Another woman walked up on the stage. She was wearing a bright orange jumpsuit covered with smoke stains. The images of forest burning appeared on the screen again. In her 20s and standing about 5’3’’ tall, Larasati Wido Motovani, explained that she has suffered from upper respiratory diseases since she was a child. Lara’s from Indonesia and this year alone they’ve had countless wildfires. She glanced at the picture behind her and couldn’t speak. Tears started welling up at her eyes as she struggled to tell her story about how she leads groups of people to put out wildfires in her country.

These two leaders from Greenpeace are volunteer firefighters who changed their career paths to take action against climate change into their own hands. There is constant discussion on what needs to be changed, but most people are oblivious to the global effects. The California wildfires are arguably the most destructive climate related disasters this year but the attention has only been on them. This garnered aid from surrounding states and Canada to assist with putting out the fires. Yet, what about in Russia and Indonesia? And the rest of the world?

As I listened to their stories from a place of privilege, where I can breathe relatively smog free air in Connecticut, I now recognize that climate change action needs to be on the top of everyone’s priorities. Especially for those who may not face the immediate effects of climate change on a daily basis. We need everyone to start talking about climate change and bring the voices of those who are affected the most to the forefront.

 

Climate Change: The Faceless Genocide?

Sahil Lual – Senior, B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Global Health

On the morning of December 2, 2018, we made a trip from the city of Kraków to the town of Oświęcim, best known for being home to Auschwitz Concentration Camp. Although I knew that touring the camp would be a sobering experience, I was not prepared for what ensued. As we exited the bus to enter the gates of Auschwitz-I, it was immediately clear that an unfathomable tragedy had occurred there. The air was cold, the sky grey, the tone somber, the landscape lifeless, and the emotion overwhelming. The three-and-a-half-hour tour of Auschwitz-I main camp and Auschwitz-II Birkenau camp not only revealed the ruthless crimes against humanity that had taken place there but contextualized the individual experiences of hundreds of thousands of Jews during one of humanity’s worst genocides. As we left the camp to return to Kraków several discussions followed; however, the most powerful one was the parallel between the Holocaust and climate change—an idea I had never considered. One student explained how the Holocaust was undoubtedly a crime against humanity with clear perpetrators; however, climate change, a change that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths a year, despite being understood to have anthropogenic origins, is often overlooked as the same.

Shoes
Shoes, clothing, and anything of value were stripped from Holocaust victims by Nazis upon arrival to Auschwitz.

The following morning, we reconvened for our first breakfast club in preparation of our first day at the COP, and the conversation continued. Soon the parallels between the Holocaust and climate change became apparent prompting the question of why people are not held accountable for the same devastating loss of life. Research has clearly demonstrated the role of humans in the global rise of temperature, and it has been suggested that 200,000 deaths a year are linked to climate change, a number that will continue to rise as the earth warms. Yet, people, especially the CEOs of large companies and those with great political influence who contribute the most to climate change, are not implicated in the same way for the loss of life as Hitler and Nazi Germany were for the holocaust.

Why? Perhaps it is because the source of climate change cannot easily be pinpointed to a single person or group of people with a shared identity. Or maybe because we are still too naïve or ignorant and have not realized the truth about climate change—it is a faceless genocide. But if we do not realize this right now, it will be on us to repent to our children for the crimes we committed or idly allowed to be committed against humanity.

While thinking about this, I recalled learning about a Nazi resistance group called the White Rose. The White Rose consisted of German college students during the holocaust who realized that they as Germans would be held accountable for the incredible loss of lives from crimes being committed by Nazi Germans around them. Although the students were not Nazis, they understood that future generations would implicate them for the same crimes committed by the Nazis if they did not take action to stop it. As students, they had perspective and were able to mobilize a movement against Nazi Germany throughout Europe. Throughout my time at COP, one thing became clear: we as young people have the perspective and ability to catalyze change right now. And if we do not, it will be on us to answer to our children for the crimes we allowed to occur.

It is our time to act and as best stated in a biblical song by a slave:

“God gave Noah the rainbow sign. No more water, the fire next time!”

 

Youth Activism at COP24

Emily Kaufman – Sophomore, B.A. Environmental Studies and Sociology

The COP24 experience was one that came with inspiration, hope, but also frustration.

The first day that I had full access to the conference, I noticed that many of the events highlighted the “glamorous” messages that “renewables are cheaper and come with very few consequences” and that “a carbon tax will provide economic incentives and will pay itself off.” While, in hindsight, there is some truth to these messages, I found that many of these presentations failed to incorporate intersectionality and the humanity to these solutions.

In one panel about the myths of renewables, I found myself wondering if those praising this transition were considering those who have been working in the fossil fuel industry and will need to find another source of income. I had trouble accepting the fact that many people already being directly affected by climate change were reduced to statistics.

It wasn’t until I fell upon a panel about youth activism that I finally felt hope for meaningful systematic change. These panelists discussed the Talanoa dialogue, a term coined by the Fiji delegation in COP23, which recognizes the need to connect together as a global unit and share our stories in order to achieve our climate goals. As one panelist stated, “I have heard very few policy makers actually share their story.” The panelists stressed the importance of utilizing our creativity to create empathy, share stories, and internalize climate change issues.

I found this to be a refreshing take on the climate change movement—one that made me reconsider how we must tackle our impending world crisis.

I was so moved by this panel, that I started crying when I went up to thank the speakers for providing an often overlooked, but important perspective. The day after talking to these panelists, specifically to Jean Paul Brice Affana, a climate change activist, I was emailed and asked to speak on a panel to talk about intergenerational dialogues and youth activism.

This incredible opportunity made me recognize even more how important it is to make connections and share our stories with each other. If I had not reached out and shared how much their panel meant to me and connected to my passions, I would not have been able to have the opportunity to talk on a UN panel at COP24.

After this experience, I feel more confident about my pursuit of climate activism and inspired to share my story and fight for other stories to be heard. I am excited to become more of an activist on campus and hopefully empower others to make change.

The Power of Storytelling @ COP24

Editors note: One takeaway shared by many COP fellows was the power that a single story can hold. It’s easy to become overwhelmed or numb when looking at climate change and environmental degradation from the global perspective. Listening to another’s story and empathizing with them is vital to finding solutions to the problems we face. Below are four blogs from some of our COP fellows that discuss this idea. This is the first in a series of blogs that will be posted in response to UConn@COP24.

 

Communicating Climate Change – Delaney Meyer

The Talanoa Dialogue is Making People Care! – Kat Konon

The Emotional, Psychological, and Mental Impacts of Climate Change – LeAnn McLaren

Personal Connections: Making Climate Change Hit Home – Luke Anderson

The Media’s Role in Communicating Climate Science – Delaney Meyer

Providing Platforms to Broaden Perspective – Luke Anderson

 

Communicating Climate Change

By Delaney Meyer – Junior, B.S. Civil Engineering

During one of our morning discussions while attending COP24, we analyzed the Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator. This indicator is determined through a series of questions, which are designed to determine a preference between four comparisons. The comparisons include; extroversion versus introversion, sensing versus intuition, thinking versus feeling and judging versus perceiving. Each of the student fellows in the UConn@COP24 group used the indicator in order to determine where they would fall when compared to other groups of people. Based on data provided by UConn@COP faculty member, Scott Stephenson, the results of the group members’ distribution for indicator codes proved to be similar to results nationwide. Examining the data, the most glaring difference when comparing these two groups was based on the sensing versus intuition comparison. Nationwide the ratio was 73% to 27% while the fellows’ ratio was 31% to 69% respectively.

As a group, we dove into possible reasoning behind this difference and analyzed how this indicator could be used to improve the portrayal of climate change information. As students, we naturally prefer intuition to sensing. This is because of our curiosity and desire for explanations to problems. We do not accept our reality for what it is, we want to understand why it is the way it is and in the context of climate change, fix it. Thus, we can take statistics given to us and apply them to our reality.

Nationwide, people fall on the opposite side of the spectrum and seem to simply focus on their current reality and accept it for what it is. In this context, statistics cannot provide these people with an accurate depiction of what reality is like for others. In order to change this, climate change effects will have to become more personal to those all over the world. During our discussion, we asked ourselves how this could be done and turned to our experiences at COP24 for guidance.

One way in which effects of climate change have effectively been portrayed at COP24 has been through storytelling. Through a story, people are able to convey experiences and emotions to others. When listening to a story it is easy to put yourself into the story teller’s shoes and experience their reality as your own, which would be beneficial to those who focus on their present reality.

The stories that I have experienced while at COP24 have triggered a range of emotions. I experienced a woman firefighter from Greenpeace speak about how wildfires have impacted her. She spoke of her home in Indonesia and a wildfire, which destroyed much of the land that she knew as her home. She broke down in tears while telling this story showing vulnerability and causing many of us in the audience to begin to cry. Through this experience, I was able to better understand the impact of wildfires on communities. I was also able to connect with this woman through the feeling of intense loss that she had allowed us to experience with her. We were able to experience stories such as this one repeatedly throughout our week at COP24.

COP24 taught our group how to better convey information about climate change to the public. Through the use of storytelling as a technique to portray the impacts of climate change to the general public, we believe that people will develop a better understanding of the reality that others are facing due to climate change.

 

The Talanoa Dialogue is Making People Care!

By Kat Konon – Junior, B.S. Chemical Engineering

Most people, especially in light of the most recent IPCC report, know something about climate change. Some people focus on the science behind it, others focus on the consequences, and still others decide to ignore it altogether. It can be hard to process all the warnings, statistics, and charts that we learn about in school or see on the news. Because of this, Fiji introduced the Talanoa dialogue at COP23, which aims to give people a platform to “share stories, build empathy and to make wise decisions for the collective good.” This concept carried over into COP24.

I attended many different talks covering topics such as policy, renewable energy, plant-based diets, and youth action, but the ones I continue to think about the most were people from around the world simply sharing their stories. One speaker from New Zealand talked about how each year, summers in her community are magical. There’s fresh fruit, beautiful weather, and an overall lightheartedness. However, in recent years, summertime has also brought overtones of anxiety and fear as wildfires, a product of extreme record-breaking drought, grow more and more destructive. If that isn’t bad enough, her low-lying community’s land will be underwater by the end of her lifetime. As she talked she emanated sadness and frustration, but her drive to prevent others from having the same fate spoke the loudest. She called for climate justice and climate equity, phrases I heard over and over at the conference. Together, these ideas convey that global warming is an ethical and political issue, and it generally poses the greatest threat to those who are the least responsible. Therefore, developed countries need to provide aid to those in less developed countries who are disproportionately impacted by climate change.

Another speaker from China talked about how 10 years ago, when she was a child, she could see the stars. Now, she looks up and they’re not there because of pollution. If you can’t imagine wildfires or floods destroying your home, try to imagine this. It just makes me feel so sad.

There are a ton of reasons to care about climate change. So many, in fact, that it can be overwhelming. So start here. Start with the people who have to face it every day. Show some empathy and do your part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. You’d hate to be in their shoes someday.

 

The Emotional, Psychological, and Mental Impacts of Climate Change

By Leann McLaren – Senior, B.S. Political Science and History

During my time as a member of the UConn@COP24 cohort attending the United Nations’ Conference on Climate Change in Poland, I had the opportunity to participate in an event titled “Intergenerational Inquiry: Youth Stepping Up for Climate Action.” The event showcased multiple speakers from the UN Secretary General for Youth to delegates from Ghana and students from many different countries.

What I found especially provoking was the testimony from a youth activist from the island of Jamaica. He described his struggle of being exiled from his community as a kid due to his LGBTQ identity. From his story of homelessness he described how the impacts of climate change took an emotional toll on him in addition to his family problems. In Jamaica, he described how as a developing island nation, much of the national disasters have the ability to wipe out entire nations of people. The harsh effects of climate change disproportionately affected people who were not primary contributors of GHG emissions.

Similarly, with another student from India, he described how his motivation to become an activist for climate justice stemmed from his childhood. Memories of morning runs with his father in India became progressively dangerous as temperatures increased to over 125º degrees Fahrenheit. The harsh effects of climate change affected not only his health but also his emotional connections with his father. He explains how these changes impacted his psychological development and contributed towards his activism. 

Overall, the students and speakers in this event resonated with me. The narrative of their personal stories allowed me to see how climate change produced much more than physical effects, but negative emotional and mental health side effects as well. This event made me more aware of the totality of impacts caused by climate change and more motivated to take action as a result of these realizations. I now aim to reduce my personal emissions and raise awareness to promote behavioral change among others, not only for the sake of preventing the catastrophic increase in global temperatures, but also for the mental, emotional, and psychological well-being of others all over the world.

 

Personal Connections: Making Climate Change Hit Home

By Luke Anderson – Junior, B.S. Nutritional Sciences and Anthropology

Emotionally, UConn@COP24 was a very impactful experience. We began our first full day in Poland with a tour of the concentration camps from World War II, Auschwitz I and Auschwitz-Birkenau. This set the tone for the sort of raw emotional vulnerability that made my personal experience at COP transformative.

I’ve heard many stories about others’ sobering experiences visiting Auschwitz, but to approach our guided tour through the lens of climate justice made the history of dehumanization and devastation surrounding the Holocaust surprisingly more relevant to the circumstances of the world today. I saw this in climate-induced refugee displacement of those in the developing world and the intersectionality of the people who are so heavily affected by xenophobia and other forms of hatred and the universal impacts of climate change.

This is where I drew connections to my own life and where this trip really helped me rekindle my passion to push for change.

 

I was able to connect with people through their stories. Pictured to the right is Laura. She is a volunteer firefighter with GreenPeace from Indonesia who very emotionally shared the story of how her village has become devastated by the haze of wildfires, which both exacerbate and are exacerbated by atmospheric carbon emissions. She’s among the many worldwide whose lives have been threatened by diagnoses of upper respiratory and cardiovascular infections and chronic diseases as a result of these conditions. As she shared about the loss of friends who she’s lost to fires and the health effects wildfires have had in Indonesia she began to cry and was comforted by other volunteer GreenPeace firefighters from other areas of the world.

Throughout my childhood I had always considered myself well-off and disconnected these sort of impacts of climate change and how they disproportionately affect people of poorer communities. However, when I suddenly lost my father to a heart attack last year I was forced to face how rapidly public health crises, such as those caused by climate around the world, can impact any of us and how we have to interact with the world. My mother hasn’t worked a full-time job since I was born and after my father’s death, we became dependent, in many ways, on his life insurance and the healthcare benefits we were fortunate to still be able to receive through his employer. Hearing Laura’s story and stories like hers made me viscerally acknowledge how common stories like mine are and will continue to become. With the acceleration of climate change, this will happen first among minority populations and those in the developing world, then for the rest of us whose lack of exposure allows us to remain inactive in fighting for climate action and justice.

 

The Media’s Role in Communicating Climate Science

By Delaney Meyer – Junior, B.S. Civil Engineering

Having had a little over a week to reflect on my experience while in Poland for COP24, I am overcome with the abundance of information that I was presented with. However, I am stuck thinking about one particular experience that I had while at the climate hub. From this particular experience, I was able to gain important statistical knowledge and further understand how the media can spread messages about climate change more effectively.

The second day that I attended the climate hub, Greenpeace had several sessions about wildfires planned for the day. When we first walked in, there were visuals of firefighters and wildfires set up in addition to fire fighting gear on display as can be seen in the pictures attached. These images had an immediate impact on me and put the intensity of these fires into perspective.  I sat down with a few other students to listen to one of the Greenpeace firefighters discuss his job as a volunteer and introduce another woman to discuss the impacts of wildfires on climate change.

It was emphasized continually throughout the presentations that we witnessed that fires are a contributor to climate change and are a part of a continuous positive feedback loop. This feedback loop consists of an increase in temperatures leading to drier conditions that are prone to fires. The fires release huge amounts of carbon and methane into the atmosphere, which are both potent greenhouse gases. This release of gas leads to worsening global warming. This loop is continuous and becomes worse and worse as time goes on.

Although warming temperatures are a large reason that many of these fires have the fuel to begin, humans are also making this worse through the use of palm oil. Many peatlands, which are naturally wet and would be highly unlikely to catch on fire, are drained and burned in order to produce palm oil. Palm oil can be found in the majority of products that people use on a day-to-day basis including cosmetics, detergents and many different foods. It can be difficult to determine whether palm oil is present in many products because there are dozens of different terms that can be used to describe palm oil in a list of ingredients. The use of palm oil does not need to be stopped completely, however it is important that the general public becomes aware of the impacts that unsustainably produced palm oil has. When shopping it is important to look for the RSPO label and the Green Palm Oil label, which both ensure that the palm oil for that product has been sustainably produced.

After we had been given all of the facts about how fires can have such a large impact on climate change, another volunteer firefighter from Indonesia took the stage to share her story. She explained that the draining of peatlands near her home lead to a large fire which destroyed much of her community and killed many of her close friends. As she shared her story, she had to pause to compose herself, which portrayed just how much of an impact these fires had on her life. By the end of the story, much of the audience was in tears along with this woman and had a deeper understanding of how a small choice of what product to eat or use can impact someone’s life across the world.

This experience emphasized how important story telling is when attempting to make a point. This was a theme that many of us saw throughout the COP and feel should be used in order to effectively portray climate change to people across the world. Testimonials evoke an emotional response out of people, which they are more likely to act on than when exposed to a bunch of statistics and political discussions. When educating others about climate change we need to appeal to people’s emotions to spark motivation for change.

 

Providing Platforms to Broaden Perspectives

By Luke Anderson – Junior, B.S. Nutritional Sciences and Anthropology

Despite having a long way to go in terms of whose interests are served and what actions are taken, COP is a place where people from all backgrounds can have a platform for their voices to be heard and to get involved in combating climate change. One of the reasons for this is because environmental issues, and climate change in particular, impact every aspect of each of our lives.

Climate issues require remarkably interdisciplinary solutions. As someone who is frequently asked about how my studies in Anthropology, Nutritional Sciences, and Mathematics are connected to climate change, attending COP24 really appealed to me as an opportunity to explore these connections.

And COP24 did not disappoint.  Because of the interdisciplinary and multi-cultural nature of the COP, I was constantly surrounded by people whose lives encompass vastly different experiences from my own. I was empowered by the incredible enthusiasm of the people I met for getting young people involved in their work to combat climate change and minimize its exponential impact on future generations.

The picture [to the right] is from a panel discussion, which was followed by audience (and UConn student) participation, about the role of intergenerational engagement in the Talanoa Dialogues, a COP platform focused on humanizing the effects of climate change and informing policy making through storytelling. At the event we were able to connect with other students, policy advisors, activists, and people involved in the United Nations Human Rights Council, among others.

Fellow UConn@COP delegate Emily Kaufman and I were invited to this event by Jean Paul Brice Affana (second from right), a policy advisor on climate finance and development from Bonn, Germany, after a moving panel the previous day. We came to this panel dispassionate and drained from the lack of meaningful personal connections we had been able to make exploring the COP venue that morning. The panel featured Jean Paul, director of the documentary on youth activism in the climate movement “Youth Unstoppable” Slater Jewell-Kemker (front left), Fijian Minister Inia Seruiratu who was instrumental in helping establish the Talanoa Dialogue at COP23, and 15-year-old activist and global climate strike leader Greta Thunberg. After a passionate and blunt address on the reality of climate change from Greta and an emotionally impactful screening of the trailer for Slater’s film, Emily and I approached Slater and Jean Paul in tears thankful for the stories shared on the importance of passionate young people in the climate movement.

In political dialogue, in the United States and elsewhere, we see a lot of apathy, especially around issues as vast and daunting as climate change. However, this apathy, and a lot of our inability to act on pressing issues, is rooted in a lack of connection and subsequent inability to empathize with the stories of those who are most affected. Platforms for sharing stories such as documentaries, sitting down with a traveler from Norway in the Kraków market over some kielbasa and mulled wine, or formalized panels under the Talanoa Dialogue help to bridge these gaps and broaden perspectives to a point where most people come to realize that, regardless of cultural barriers, all over the world we are fundamentally the same. Without these platforms it’s too easy to lose sight of the values and life experiences that bind us.

In the words of chef Anthony Bourdain on his career traveling the world connecting people through their stories, “If I’m an advocate for anything, it’s to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food. It’s a plus for everybody.”

I wholeheartedly believe that the world would be better off if our ambitions were more firmly grounded in our values than our résumés. And traveling with UConn@COP across the ocean has helped cement that sentiment.

2020 Vision For a Greener UConn

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:

An interaction at Earth Day Spring Fling, one of the environmental outreach events hosted by UConn.
  • 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.

Tree planting with Jonathan! UConn was recently re-certified as a Tree Campus for 2017 by Tree Campus USA.

Coffee and Climate Change

UConn@COP23 fellow and OEP intern Wawa Gatheru explains the topic of her poster, power in resistance.

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.

 

With the advent of the new U.S. administration not supporting the Paris Climate Accords, sub-national entities were a big topic during this year’s trip.

 

“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.”

– Megan Boyer, Biological Sciences Major

 

UConn@COP23 fellows were inspired by the many powerful art installations they saw while in Germany.

 

UConn@COP23 – Bonn Climate Change Conference

Bonn

Trip Description

COP 23 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and will be hosted this year by the small Pacific island state, Fiji, and held in Bonn, Germany from November 6 th to November 17th, 2017. The event will bring together diplomats, business executives, heads of government and other delegates to discuss action on climate change. COP 23 will highlight the voices of countries most vulnerable to climate change, and will focus on action.

In the words of Fiji Prime Minister and Chair of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama, he will be “guiding the deliberations of almost 200 countries as [they] gather in Bonn, Germany, in November to continue to seek a more decisive response on the part of the industrial nations….And to set aside funds to enable developing countries such as Fiji to adapt to the changes to their way of life that have been caused through no fault of [their] own.”1

The University of Connecticut will be providing full funding, excluding meals other than breakfast, for a select group of undergraduate students to travel to Bonn from November 12th – November 18th to attend events associated with the conference. Airfare, housing, and city transportation will be provided. In addition, students will have the opportunity to experience the beautiful city of Bonn, Germany.

Application

The application must be completed and submitted to sarah.munro@uconn.edu by 11:59pm EST on Monday, April 3rd in order to be considered by the Selection Committee for the trip. Only complete applications will be considered. Applicants will be notified of the Committee’s decision via e-mail on Monday, August 18th. Decisions will not be released prior to then.

For more information on past UConn@COPs, click here.

1 http://www.fiji.gov.fj/Media-Center/Speeches/HON-PRIME-MINISTER-BAINIMARAMA-2017-NEW-YEAR-S-MES.aspx

UConn Talks Climate at the Climate Change Cafe

IMG_1808
Margaux Verlaque-Amara talking to an attendee about her experiences at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

In early February, the UConn contingent to COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, hosted its Climate Change Café, an opportunity for the UConn community to learn about their experiences at the UN Climate Change Conference. Through conversations and a series of posters made by the students, those in attendance were able to learn more about climate change, global politics, and human rights, and how they are all connected. A number of attendees wrote thoughtful reflections describing their experiences at the Café. Below are some highlights from the reflections:

The idea that every country can get together to talk about the future of sustainability shows that this is bigger than a political issue. It is a human issue. –Joshua Tellier

Attending a conference like COP would help me get a better grasp on the impact of climate change both in America and in other countries, and this would help me in my studies and my career. –Matthew McKenna

Poster
One of the posters on display at the Climate Change Cafe. Written and designed by Kristen Burnham.

The best aspect of the Café…was the students who were there to explain their posters and talk firsthand about the issues surrounding climate change. –Weston Henry

“36 of the 50 countries most affected by climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa”. This fact was posted on one of the 15+ informational posters in the room. Although a region with mostly developing nations, of which only contribute “4% of global carbon emissions”, this area of Africa experiences some of the most severe effects of environmental degradation. –Kelly Finn

Attending this event was deeply inspiring, and gave me hope for the future. –Sophie MacDonald

UConnatCOP22
The UConn contingent to COP22 outside the Green Zone.

It was awesome to learn that such an opportunity exists to travel somewhere completely different, so far away and with such a unique culture, to interact with fellow students and activists who have the same mission. –Emma Belliveau

The continuation of the COP22 event and the positivity and hope exhibited from delegates and world citizens alike, prove that resistance, even in the direst situations, is both possible and relevant. –Wawa Gatheru

The future is truly bright green, and the continuing support of UConn to give students the resources and experience to be future pioneers of this change reaffirms this. –Colin Mortimer

UConn@COP22 Green Zone

The UConn contingent attended a number of panels at the COP22 Green Zone, each of which discussed unique, current topics associated with climate change action. As detailed below, the students noticed a few recurring themes throughout the panels, such as economics, human rights, culture, as well as voice and representation:

“We are only trustees for those that come after us.” Wyatt Million

The American Approach Stephanie Hubli

Collaboration Among Nations Eddie McInerney

The World Won’t Wait Ben Breslau

The Privilege of Prevention and Necessity of Mitigation Kristin Burnham

The French Influence Hannah Casey

Climate Change Policy and Human Rights Discussion Klara Reisch

When Climate Action Conflicts With Human Rights Usra Qureshi

Trade Unions: The Champions of Renewable Energy Kristin Burnham

 

“We are only trustees for those that come after us.”

Wyatt Million, Student, Biological Sciences

The conference theme for our group’s first full day in the Green Zone at COP22 was Financing, featuring numerous concurrent sessions about topics like funding alternative energy projects and the price of carbon. While such topics are not the first thing I think about as an environmental scientist, I realize that money is the driving force behind most things, and that financial considerations are critical factors for combatting climate change and achieving sustainability goals. However, I found myself wandering away from the economic jargon at these meetings and exploring what the rest of COP22 had to offer.

EEB COP 22 Marrakech
Representatives from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Marrakech’s Atlas Mountains

Turning a corner, I heard a presentation about the effects of sea level rise on cultural identity. The International National Trust Organization (INTO) out of Great Britain was hosting an event highlighting the heritage loss that is associated with climate change. The fate of island nations such as Kiribati, whose elevation is less than three meters on most islands, are most at risk from increasing sea levels. In addition to losing the land and homes these indigenous people need to survive, the culture that is tied to their homes will be drowned out. The presenters showed INTO’s research on the importance of cultural identity to a person’s health and wellbeing and the significant sociological impacts of cultural loss.

This aspect of climate change is often overshadowed by the scientific and economic topics, but I found it compelling to more holistically consider the services supplied by the environment. The presenter went on to quote English novelist and poet from the 1800s, William Morris, stating, “They are not in any sense our own property to do with as we like with them. We are only trustees for those that come after us.” He said this concerning historical buildings and artifacts passed down from one generation to the next, but when I heard this, I immediately applied it to the environment. Our current society should be the guardians of the environment for the future, not the destroyers of it. As Morris says, it was passed on to us but it does not belong to us to do with as we please. The environment will forever belong to future generations.

 

The American Approach

Stephanie Hubli, Student, Environmental Engineering

Panel
United States representative from the White House discussing how the federal government is leading by example by transforming its own vehicle fleet to ZEVs and LEVs. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

At first, I will admit I was initially disappointed at the lack of representation I saw from the United States at COP22.  It seemed as though my discontent with America’s next choice President elect and my reservations about the next four years were traveling to Morocco with me.  As the week progressed, I became a little more open minded and inspired.  At COP-related events, I met students from the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, and University of Central Arkansas, and I attended panel discussions featuring U.S. representatives.

There was one panel in particular that was of interest to me. It consisted of delegates from countries that have agreed to cut back on their carbon emissions through transportation initiatives.  French and American panelists identified similar objectives with differing policy strategies.  Both countries stressed the role of reducing vehicle emissions in reaching the 2030 carbon reduction targets.  The French delegate described an approach that required change: for example, rental car companies are mandated to incorporate low emission and electric vehicles into their fleets.  On the other hand, the U.S. delegate advocated for an approach focused not on directives but on leading by example in order to transform the transportation sector.  The U.S. representative explained the American methodology is to use the government’s own federal fleet vehicle purchases as a catalyst for companies and the public to follow suit.  In a country that was built upon the principles of liberty, such a method should prove more effective. Obtaining an understanding of these government policies, I am encouraged and hopeful for the future of the United States’ climate control intervention.

 

Collaboration Among Nations

Eddie McInerney, Student, Political Science

Before applying to attend COP22 in Marrakech, I had done some preliminary research with an advisor on the previous COP, studying the equity implications of emissions reductions goals by different countries. In particular, we focused on members of the G20, and did a case study of the Nationally Determined Contributions by Mexico, the United States, and Japan. At the time, I lamented that even with the President’s progressive take on climate change, the plan for reductions submitted to the UNFCCC by the U.S., was scarce in both quantitative and qualitative detail. Then Donald Trump was elected and, unbelievably, things became more uncertain.

Image
Artwork created using plastic bags, seen at the Green Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

So, when I arrived in Marrakech with the rest of the UConn group for COP22, my main expectation was that those attending the conference would speak almost exclusively in the context of America’s new role in efforts to adapt and mitigate for climate change. However, I was surprised to learn that, even with the major political shift in the U.S., these countries attending, especially the developing ones, were more focused on regional methods.  This was highlighted nowhere more expertly than during the panel discussion on Climate Change Adaption and Resilience in Africa.

Throughout the panel, COP22 was consistently highlighted as an African COP, one that was more accessible to developing African countries, with smaller economies. The hope was that this COP could help unite them in efforts to prepare for climate change. The panelists also discussed the role of academics in innovation and research, and the importance of scientific academies across the continent. Even those African delegates who disagreed with some of the logistics of implementing the Paris Agreement, were not arguing about America’s role, but rather about the Francophone relationship, and how it has affected development in French-speaking African countries.

Holistically, this panel, among others, opened my eyes to the insular view that (some) Americans have on the climate change issue. It also reinforced the notion that collaboration among nations was a key to resiliency against the more pressing consequences of climate change. The panel showed that although the U.S.’s own adaptation and mitigation strategies are undoubtedly important, our country must also work closely with developing nations so that they can learn from our experiences – good and bad – then can grow responsibly, without the same environmental consequences as countries in Western Europe, North America, and East Asia.

 

The World Won’t Wait

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Even as things look temporarily bleak for America’s federal government, the rest of the planet is still working hard to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Each day, we attended several panels, discussions, and displays throughout the COP22 Green Zone. Several companies demonstrated how they’ve taken advantage of landscapes such as Morocco’s to create and market renewables. MASAN, for example, is one of many solar companies who seek to increase Morocco’s renewable energy usage to 50% by 2025! Other companies, such as Bombardier, have invested in making trains throughout Europe and the Mediterranean that are more energy efficient, faster, and made of materials that can easily be recycled when the trains are outmoded. Even Royal Air Maroc, the airline we flew to Morocco from NYC, had a display that discussed fuel economy innovations that reduce the carbon footprints of its planes and the use of dry cleaning methods that reduce water and energy consumption.

Green Zone
COP22 Green Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

Transportation was also discussed a great deal in one panel series that I attended on E-Mobility.  Among the speakers was a Minister from Quebec, who proudly explained that his province has capitalized enormously on the opportunities provided by an expanding market for hybrid and electric cars. Quebec, alongside Holland and California, is a founding member of the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Alliance. As a member of this group, Quebec has become part of North America’s largest cap-and-trade entity. Using legislation from California and nine other US States as a guide, the province has passed Canada’s first legal ZEV standard. Furthermore, Quebec works with the private sector to promote the spread of hybrid and electric car sales. The provincial government offers an $8,000 rebate to those who purchase ZEVs, and Nissan has agreed to provide credits to drivers who trade in and purchase used ZEVs. Nissan is also developing more efficient batteries for their cars to comply with COP21’s emissions recommendations. These deals have allowed Quebec to export its eco-friendly cars, and to expand its network into U.S. states like Vermont and Maine. A representative from California expanded on this. He explained that the state has an emissions goal of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Another panelist discussed the similarly progressive actions taken by the French Government. France currently requires more than half of public fleets to consist of ZEVs, and will mandate 100% by 2025. Private fleets will also be required to have aty least 10% LEVs by 2020.

Another intriguing panel discussed the advances in modeling climate solutions. Scientists working for the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) have created a system for advising countries around the world on bringing electricity to all people. These scientists use the Climate, Land use, Energy, and Water Strategies (CLEWS) system to determine how best to improve the lives of civilians around the world.

Green Zone
The UConn contingent outside of the Green Zone. Photo taken by Mark Urban.

From all of the sessions that I attended, and all of the displays and exhibits I visited, I understood one thing very clearly about how the rest of the world is working on climate issues. There is no question about whether or not the climate is changing. There are no debates between scientists, journalists or celebrities as to whether or not humans are the cause. Every scientist, policy maker, student, businessperson, and teacher attending the COP has accepted that the effects of man-made climate change are already harming their countries and communities. The focus at this conference was on how to adapt as quickly and sustainably as possible to droughts, floods, storms, wildlife loss, and agricultural shifts. There was a sense of urgency in the Green Zone. Where COP21 was concerned with forging a lasting international climate mitigation deal, the theme of COP22 was implementation and action. Across the planet, people are tired of simply discussing the issues, and they’re tired of trivial changes. The global body is starting to act.

The world is moving forward, with or without the United States government. Progressive companies and innovative green entrepreneurs throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa are capitalizing on the ever-expanding demand for renewable energy and clean technologies in the global market. Many nations’ governments, as well as U.S. state and local governments, and colleges and universities, continue to create and enforce policies and best practices that alleviate the harms of pollution and environmental degradation to civilians. The United Nations and NGOs continue to seek out sustainable uses of natural resources using the newest and most accurate available science. And our millennial generation, more connected than ever before, need only break out of our online echo chambers to build the largest, strongest, and most actively coordinated global community in human history.

The next few years, even the next few decades, may be very difficult. But we, the people of Earth, have the power to make the world better for ourselves. It will take unprecedented communication and organization, but in the end I believe that we will make this world better for the next generation.

 

The Privilege of Prevention and Necessity of Mitigation

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

At UConn, I spend a lot of time working with my incredible team of undergraduate engineers on the Ethiopia Project from Engineers without Borders. Like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia as a country is particularly vulnerable to climate change. With highly variable seasonal rainfalls and a disproportionately high dependence on sustenance agriculture, increasingly extreme droughts, attributed to climate change, have had devastating effects on food security.

Kristin
Kristin Burnham at one of the seven waterfalls encountered during the contingent’s hike up the Atlas Mountains. Photo taken by Mark Urban.

The first full COP 22 session I attended was presented by members of the Network of African Science Academies.  Despite Africa only contributing 4% of the global carbon emissions, 36 of the 50 countries most affected by climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Africa lacks the infrastructure that North America, Asia and Europe have to deal with climate change.

When I think of fighting climate change I think of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  I think of solar panels and alternative fuels.  I think prevention.  In this panel, fighting climate change had an entirely different tone. Fighting climate change meant research and modeling to predict where climate change was going to cause the most damage, who it was going to affect the most, and how to most efficiently limit the destruction.

This is not to say that Africa isn’t making great strides in sustainable, renewable energy resources. This is the harsh reality that no matter what progress we make, no matter what we do, climate change is happening. The effects are real, they are destructive and they are, to a degree, inevitable.  Faced with limited infrastructural and human resources, focusing discourse solely on prevention is a luxury that Africa, and many other developing countries, can’t afford.

 

The French Influence

Hannah Casey, Student, Environmental Studies, Public Policy

Innovation Zone
A view of the COP22 Innovation Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

A COP22 panel discussion I attended, titled the ‘African Coalition,’ included several French businessmen discussing renewable energy expansion into rural areas of Africa. They described electrification of the African continent not as a business opportunity but as a business responsibility, almost a moral imperative to provide people in these developing nations with the product they are selling. They stressed the importance of creating markets to deal with the issues related to deploying renewable energy at local levels in the developing world. Another panelist, Abdoulaye Sene, who was President of an NGO, Global Local Forum, explained that energy dispersion across African nations faces bureaucratic and administrative challenges. He also opined that technical training, on electrical engineering and installation skills, is extremely important.  He thought it should be the renewable energy businesses’ duty to extend these resources.

As a result of Morocco’s long history as a French colony, France has a large influence on many aspects of Moroccan government, resources, and society. However, as a questioner pointed out at the end of the roundtable discussion, many Moroccans believe that France has reneged on deals and promises, to the detriment of sustainable economic growth in Morocco. It will be interesting to see whether a more market-based, but socially-responsible, business approach, like the one described by the panelists, succeeds better than the approach used by politicians and government officials. The business approach may provide a more stable path to electrification throughout Morocco than ever before because of the business imperative to succeed or lose capital investment. Since electrification, especially with solar power and other renewable resources, is a critical issue throughout the developing world, it would have been an even more effective discussion had there been additional representatives of African nations, and their specific interests and concerns, on the panel.

 

Climate Change Policy and Human Rights Discussion

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

There are the typical buzzwords around climate change policy that were echoed in almost every sector at COP22: sustainability, clean energy, conservation, and the list continues, but never did I hear a mention of human rights until I attended a particular panel discussion. The Paris Agreement was the first international declaration on climate change to address human rights. It states in the preamble of the agreement, “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights.” So the COP22 panel entitled “Human rights and climate change: what’s next after Paris?” sounded promising. As I listened to each of the panelists, I was inspired, even a bit overwhelmed, by the level of concern and consideration expressed for human rights issues in the climate policy discourse.

Human Rights
“Human rights and climate change: what’s next after Paris?” panel at the COP22 Green Zone. Photo taken by Klara Reisch.

Kimaren Ole Riamit from the IIPFCC spoke about indigenous people and how climate change policy has affected and will affect their livelihood. “Indigenous people represent a world we are trying to achieve,” he remarked. They are the ones who contribute the least but suffer the worst. An example of such exploitation is through the unjust acquisition of land. Land grabs have targeted millions of hectares, and have displaced indigenous people in attempts to build industries and further agricultural investments.

These land grabs are not exclusive to the oil, coal, and agricultural industry, but have been a result of biofuel and bioenergy efforts as well. Governments are signing away land to build sugar cane plantations for ethanol production or jatropha for biodiesel. This forces neighboring communities to bear the effects. In the United States, specifically, there has been an outcry about the development of a pipeline through indigenous land, but what if this program was not a pipeline but a wind farm or carbon storage area? Regardless of whether we are drilling for oil or developing the newest technologies for environmental sustainability, the effects on the native communities are not to be forgotten.

Kelly Stone, a panelist from Action Aid at the event explained, “It’s not just a loss of property, it is a loss of livelihood and identity.” If we are implementing new climate change policies, we have to consider what the human rights risks are and who will bear those risks. It is easy to over-idealize climate change policy because the distant effects on the general population overshadow the effects of those in our backyards, but we should not stand for it.

 

When Climate Action Conflicts With Human Rights

Usra Qureshi, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology, Human Rights

Conflict doesn’t always need to involve a “good” and an “evil.” We do not question nor vilify the need for sustainable practices in our world in order to combat the effects of climate change. But sometimes these efforts have negated another core axiom upon which this world is built: human rights.

I attended a session at COP22 featuring a panel of human rights activists, who were present during the Paris Agreement negotiations at COP21. Last year, when the language of the Paris Agreement was still in the works, these activists fought hard to protect the rights of all. Yes, indeed – they found clauses upon clauses, which despite their potential to infringe on the rights of communities (particularly the indigenous), remained unchanged in the Agreement, as if justified by the salience and nobility of the climate change cause.

COp22
Outside COP22. Photo taken by Klara Reisch.

Even now, certain provisions in the Paris Agreement leave it very possible for land to be stolen, livelihoods lost, and ecosystems destroyed in the name of large renewable energy or biofuel projects. In particular, there is a failure to address the needs of indigenous populations. This is especially true for the administration of the Green Climate Fund, which is the UNFCC’s primary financing mechanism for climate mitigation and adaptation projects in developing nations, projected to cost about $100 billion a year by 2020.

The participation of indigenous people is not considered in the Green Climate Fund. Access to the fund occurs either through accredited identity or a formal letter. This process combined with the lack of representation of the indigenous within the language of the Paris Agreement (showing up three times, in only the preamble and declarative clauses) seems to guarantee that their voices will neither be heard nor considered. The Paris Agreement also fails to consider the engagement of such populations, or the potential benefits that non-western knowledge systems can provide in combating climate change.

Usra
Usra outside COP22. Photo taken by Klara Reisch.

With irresponsible attempts to introduce clean energy to societies, food prices tend to soar, the quality of water declines, and land grabs occur. Residents of the developing world are left to suffer the most. Human rights advocates estimate that 17 million hectares of their land was grabbed for projects that benefitted primarily western countries and corporate interests. Land is a limited resource. Equipped with such honorable intentions as renewable energy development, it suddenly becomes easy to just…steal it. For example, the Aguan Biogas Project, Barro Blanco Gravity Dam, and JK Papermill Afforestation were all incredibly noble attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or create renewable energies. However, each was noted for its failure to consult with and consider the needs of community members and civil society, and each was responsible for the brutal displacement of indigenous populations and the depletion of resources necessary for their survival.

We need to do better. It is by no means impossible to shift to renewable practices while keeping the rights of all in mind. Consulting with communities and amendments to the Paris Agreement with more inclusive language are the first steps. The path to sustainability might not be as clear as we had hoped for, but it is, without doubt, there.

Trade Unions: The Champions of Renewable Energy

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

A diverse group of trade and labor union representatives, from Philippian electricians to Canadian oil sands workers to New York nurses, presented the concept that through ‘just transitions,’ the people who stand to lose the most from transitioning away from oil and coal can become the people who have the most to gain from investment in renewable recourses.

Kristin and Klara
Kristin (right) and Klara at COP22.

We were all thinking it – How possibly could a labor union representing oil workers benefit from less oil production and more use of renewable energy? The answer for Kim Conway of Unifor, a Canadian trade union, was simple: the goal of trade unions is ultimately to ensure protection of workers’ pay and jobs. If the government, NGOs and local leaders are willing to open the policy discourse to include trade unions, if the tone shifts from leaving the coal industry behind to moving coal workers forward with new jobs in the emerging renewable energy market, if there is a ‘just transition,’ unions will fight with them.

It is undeniable that unions have formidable political power. We saw their political prowess in shaping labor policy in the 1960’s and we saw it again in the election of Trump. So rather than villainizing coal workers for denying climate change, for fighting to keep their industry and livelihoods, let’s fight for the government to specifically include energy labor unions in all plans to transition to renewable energy. Let’s not forget the coal workers whose hard work powered our nation, often at the cost of their own personal health and safety. Let’s make sure the transition to clean energy is a just transition not only because time is short and we need everyone’s support, but because it is the right thing to do.

Reflections on COP22

The following blogs are reflections on the group’s experiences in Marrakech and at COP22:

Message from COP22: KEEP CALM and Keep Fighting the Good Fight! Oksan Bayulgen and Rich Miller

Signs of Hope Throughout Marrakech Brooke Siegel

A Remarkable Learning and Cultural Experience Genevieve Nuttall

There is Hope in the Human Spirit Margaux Verlaque-Amara

Back to Nature, Where it All Started Wyatt Million

 

Message from COP22: KEEP CALM and Keep Fighting the Good Fight!

Oksan Bayulgen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty Director of UConn’s Global House

Rich Miller, Director, UConn Office of Environmental Policy & Sustainability

Only a few days after the historical elections in the United States, we set out to North Africa to attend the U.N.’s international conference on climate change. COP22 was supposed to be a relatively straightforward, low-key conference a year after the monumental Paris Agreement had emerged from COP21. The goal was to take stock of the progress each country has made so far and flesh out the remaining challenges in the implementation of the national pledges.

Instead, this goal was overshadowed by the unexpected turn of events in the U.S., with the improbable election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. Given his climate change denialism and explicit rejection of the Paris Agreement (in addition to many other statements in favor of the fossil fuel industry), there were genuine concerns that the hard fought achievements of the previous year would be reversed with a possible withdrawal of the U.S. from the historical agreement. When we landed in Marrakesh, Morocco, we found ourselves right in the middle of that pervasive sense of doom and gloom.

To be honest, on our first day in Marrakesh, we were very pessimistic as well.  Based on our combined years of experience, whether it’s conducting research and teaching various classes on the politics of energy, or working to develop environmental and sustainability programs at UConn or in the corporate world, we have come to appreciate the critical importance of leadership and an institutional balance of power in designing and implementing environmentally friendly policies. Even in a democracy like that of the U.S., where there are strong checks and balances, a president singlehandedly has a lot of power to affect and change the course of policy in the years to come. It would be naïve and uninformed to assume that the path of progress that was set by an outgoing president could not be reversed by a new president.

rich-oksan-message
The UConn@COP22 team of 12 students, four faculty members, and two sustainability staff, at the Green Zone in Marrakech, Morocco

Yet, as the week went by, seeing and interacting with some of the passionate and committed “foot soldiers” of this environmental movement, we started to relax and see the glass half full. There are three main reasons why we are more hopeful now.

 

First of all, even though anti-globalization forces have gained ground and popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world in recent years, it is clear to us that COPs in many ways represent the best of globalization. They prove that there are no national boundaries, no walls, and no cultural differences when it comes to the aspiration to find solutions to a truly global challenge such as climate change. These conferences are the best and most hopeful responses to the isolationist and xenophobic calls that we have come to see in many countries around the world. They reinforce the belief that we are not alone in this world in our fight against dark forces that want to reverse progress.

[COPs] prove that there are no national boundaries, no walls, and no cultural differences when it comes to the aspiration to find solutions to a truly global challenge such as climate change.

Secondly, the fact that COP22 took place in Morocco, a developing country with many economic challenges of its own, in and of itself, sends a hopeful message. One of the themes of this meeting was the synergy between sustainable development goals and climate action. The clear message was that policies to fight climate change could be successful only if they also provide economic and social benefits to communities and respect the rights of vulnerable, marginalized groups. Or put differently, countries do not need to choose between economic development and the environment. It is not a zero sum game. Concerns about economic insecurity need not trump anxieties about environmental insecurity. Sustainability requires us to think of these two as complementary and as reinforcing each other. To us, the location of this COP and the excitement and commitment of so many delegations from developing countries, especially in Africa, proved unequivocally that the momentum of Paris cannot be reversed. With or without the U.S., the Paris accord will live on.

Poster for Higher Education Networking Event
UConn and Marrakech’s Universite Cadi Ayyad (enrollment 85,000) co-hosted a higher education networking event, co-sponsored by AASHE and Second Nature. Colleges United for Climate Action attracted 50 students, faculty, and staff, mostly from the U.S. and Morocco.

Finally, in the course of a week, we witnessed among our students (as well as millions more in the U.S. and around the world) the transformation of the post-election blues into a fresh determination and commitment to keep fighting.  We think (and hope) that this setback will motivate and empower younger generations to participate in the decision-making processes at local and national levels, in the plethora of ways that our democracy offers.  And, as demonstrated by dozens of students, from Morocco’s Cadi Ayyad University, UConn and several other American universities, who spoke at the higher education networking event, Colleges United For Climate Action, there are more that unite than divide the younger generations around the world. Climate change is the defining and unifying challenge of our times and the millennials are all in!

 

Overall, this was an amazing trip! Beautiful Marrakesh was the backdrop to the great new friendships we formed and the new networks we established. This trip also proved, once again, the importance of experiential learning. Outside the traditional classroom setting, we were able to see, breathe, feel climate change and learn about the innovations, and policy solutions that real bureaucrats, corporations, and civil society organizations bring to the table. Last year in Paris and again this year in Marrakesh, history was made and we were there to witness it!

UConn needs to continue this participation in future COPs, and other colleges and universities should engage as well. Now more than ever, higher education needs to lead by example on the myriad science, policy and human rights issues surrounding climate change. We are all better for having attended this conference.

And now… we need to keep calm and keep fighting the good fight!

Signs of Hope Throughout Marrakech

Brooke Siegel, Student, Environmental Studies, Urban and Community Studies

The second that we boarded our Royal Air Maroc flight to Morocco, the COP22 logo was plastered everywhere we looked: painted on the fuselage of the airplane and printed on every seat cover. When we got off of the flight in the Marrakesh airport we could not walk more than 10 feet without seeing a COP22 sign, logo, or environmental message. Many people stopped us in the airport to ask if we were attending the conference as well. In the city itself, COP22 was carved into the landscaped gardens and a sign was hanging from every streetlight, including a call for climate action in multiple languages.

To me, this was both exciting and refreshing to see that the importance of the environment was being advertised and publicly displayed for all to see. Even with these signs everywhere, I found myself skeptical that the local people of Marrakesh actually understood the significance of COP22, apart from bringing big-spending tourists into this very entrepreneurial city.  Maybe they were aware that it was an environmental conference and that we were talking about the importance of mitigating climate change. But what does that really mean to them? Did they understand the implications of a warming climate on their daily lives?

lantern shop
A lantern shop in the market. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci

On the second day of the trip, my questions were partially answered at the Green Zone and later, after visiting the market. After lots of searching and negotiating, I picked out a lantern to purchase from a local vendor. The man I purchased it from saw that I had a bag already hanging from my arms and said in broken English something like, “Put the lantern in the bag you already have. We must recycle to help the environment.” For me, this was a very eye-opening and refreshing experience. It made me extremely hopeful that COP 22’s message is spreading beyond the walls of the conference. Maybe this was just an isolated experience and the vast majority do not fully understand climate change, but it is a vision of hope for our future and the future of our planet. I am optimistic that it is not just the formally educated individuals attending this conference who understand the importance of saving the planet for future generations.

 

 

A Remarkable Learning and Cultural Experience

Genevieve Nuttall, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Conservation Biology and Biodiversity

The COP22 experience was remarkable. Even though we were in Marrakech for only five days, we met many interesting people, saw many wonderful sights, and listened to many inspiring and informed presentations on climate change issues from international delegates.

At the COP conference, I had the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics, such as sustainable agriculture, electric vehicles, and women’s rights, and how climate change impacts these subjects. It was interesting to interact and learn from people who came to COP22 from distant continents, like nations as far apart as Costa Rica and Kenya or the US and Senegal. Despite the differences in backgrounds and perspectives, it was reassuring to know that so many people around the world are united in the search for common solutions to climate-related problems, and passionate about preserving a sustainable future.

gen-1COP22 was held in Marrakech, a bustling and exciting city in the North African country of Morocco. We explored the city on the first night and had the chance to watch painters create a mural portraying climate change and a group performing traditional Moroccan dances. I enjoyed the cultural experience of our tour through the city, especially the food, which included some incredible vegetable dishes, olives, and tea.

I loved learning about and discussing the problems and solutions related to climate change, and I’m optimistic about the future of our Earth after listening to all of the great ideas posed by delegates at the COP. Although combatting climate change will be difficult, I left Marrakech knowing we have the commitment and tools to make it possible.

The COP22 conference was spectacular, and I am so happy that I was able to have this experience. In the second half of the week, I attended panel sessions on biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, and food security. I really enjoyed all of the talks on agriculture and this topic inspired me to continue studying conservation biology and its integration into agriculture. I found that the delegates speaking about farming were the most passionate and made the audience excited and hopeful. I was a little disappointed by the biodiversity speakers because they seemed disinterested when they spoke and didn’t emphasize the importance of biodiversity and how it goes hand in hand with climate change. But the conference as a whole was incredible. I spread the word about the conference using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and people seemed excited to learn about what was happening in Marrakech.

cafe in MoroccoI loved meeting the students from the University of Cadi Ayyad in Marrakech, during the networking event that UConn helped plan and co-sponsored with our Moroccan hosts. It was inspiring to listen to their ideas and see their innovations to promote the sustainability of their University community. We were able to exchange contact information to keep in touch in the future, which was exciting.

My favorite activity other than the COP itself was visiting the Atlas Mountains. From our hotel, we were able to see the silhouette of the mountains, and I am so glad we were able to drive to them and hike up to a waterfall that fed a river that ran through the communities in the mountains. At the top of the mountain, we had mint tea at a little café right next to the waterfall. This experience was a great way to end such an amazing trip to Morocco.

 

There is Hope in the Human Spirit

Margaux Verlaque-Amara, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

It started with the security guard patrolling the TSA line. He slowly walked down the line, smiling and greeting those as he went. When he stopped at us, we exchanged greetings. We got to talking, and I asked him if he had ever been to Morocco. He said no, but mentioned he would love to someday. I told him that our group was attending the UN Climate Conference, and his face instantly lit up. He said to me, “I can’t believe that some people can deny that climate change exists, young people like you have to go out there and make some change, for us, our kids, our grandkids.” In the first leg of our long trip to COP22, I had already encountered this profound idea that the safety of our Earth knows no borders, but still, some are not compelled to believe or pay attention to the rapidly changing world around them. Why is that? That’s a complex idea, one wrapped up in politics and social circles and privilege. But what is even more interesting to me is that one of the first interactions outside of the sphere of my fellow classmates and professors was with a security guard, and he had a felt the same gravity and urgency we all felt as we were embarking on this journey.

The topic of climate change is not just for liberal ideological spheres, it is for everyone simply because it affects everyone in some capacity. Everyone should engage in these conversations whenever they are able to. Especially in the current political climate that is divided between the advocates and the skeptics, engagement in thoughtful and evidence-based conversation is crucial. I responded to the guard by saying, “Well you can be a change too, ya know?” By just urging others to pay attention to your environment, I said, you are already doing more than a lot of other people. He agreed with a smile on his face, and told us good luck as we continued on down the line.

Speaking of political climate, we are definitely in the depths of a drastic shift in political influence in the United States. And, for most of my fellow classmates and professors, we don’t see the change as a positive one. We can argue about how to best improve healthcare insurance, or how to reform the tax system, but we cannot get around the fact that our Earth is changing very rapidly, and we cannot dispute the overwhelming evidence that shows humans are contributing to this. But the topic of climate change has been devalued and rejected throughout the entirety of our recent presidential election in favor of possible economic prosperity and job security (although sustainability-related industries can easily support a prosperous economy, but that’s a different discussion).

market in Marrakech
A market at Marrakech

I met a man deep in the famous Marrakech markets who spoke to me about the election. A small group of us were wandering the tightly packed stalls filled to the brim with the best of Moroccan goods when we met. As we browsed along a wall of leather bags, the man and I got to talking and he asked what we thought of our newly elected president, Donald Trump. Trump is an open climate change skeptic, so, along with his other disagreeable rhetoric and behavior, the COP22 group definitely has reason to be concerned for the future of our climate policies. However, the man in the market, who is a Brazilian living in Canada, had his own opinion about our new leader. He said, “Well, I know he is racist and not the best qualified, but I have a strong feeling he will do good things for the middle class which is so bad right now.” I was absolutely intrigued because it seemed that his stance had nothing to do with the facts or policy of Trump’s campaign, but it had everything to do with this idea of personal financial gain. I changed the topic and said, “What about the fact that he doesn’t believe in climate change?” This did not seem to dissuade the man in the market at all, as he waved his hand in the air and said that kind of thing does not matter. HUH?! I responded with a few one liners that I’ve perfected since the election but, to my dismay, the man was not budging. Now I don’t know this man’s whole back story, but what I got from him was this: many people will go to any length to see change in personal status, no matter what other baggage their vote has. And this makes sense if you think about it – we are all trying to survive out here. But what is surviving if you are stepping over other types of survival in the process?

This man didn’t even vote in the U.S. election, but in the midst of growing global populism, he gets lost in the jibber-jabber of false promises and exploited ideas, a problem many Americans had at the polling station this past election. Unfortunately, climate change policy got lost somewhere along the line because a personal connection was not made for most people. What will it take to make that personal connection with the threat of climate change? How is it too abstract for some folks like the Brazilian-Canadian, yet an imminent threat to a random TSA security guard? Maybe exposure, maybe privilege, maybe a different set of values.

students outside Cadi Ayyad University
Students Usra, Margaux, and Ben outside Cadi Ayyad University. Photo taken by Mark Urban

So here we are, a bunch of American students in Morocco, trying to make sense of how our values and hopes collide with the rest of the world’s. But at our cores, we humans are not all that different from one another no matter where we are from; and if this trip taught me anything, it is that exactly. We try our best to make the right choices for ourselves and the people we love. For instance, Muhammad, the man who served us delicious tagine and warm bread on the cramped city street, lives his life day to day and makes enough to sustain what he already has. He talked about Morocco’s corrupt health system where if you can’t pay, you die, and how important it is to just keep working no matter what. And Salema, the belly dancer we met in the desert restaurant, who left an abusive marriage and lives to support herself in a world where it is difficult for a woman to make it on her own. These are the people of the world, they are trying to do their best with the tools they are given, and it leaves little room for the nuance that we American college students have the luxury of contemplating. Where does climate change advocacy fit into the life of the average human who has to worry about a multitude of other things just in order to survive?

I still have so many questions floating around my mind after this trip. But if there is one thing I know now, it is that I believe in the power of the human spirit. I believe there is strength in knowledge and urgency, and if the right voices were talking, humans would come together to change our world. Of course it is complicated, and there are powerful and corrupt leaders who put personal gain over the lives of others. Every structure that is built into our daily lives need to see a change, the table needs to be restructured so the common person’s voice is heard. Yet, there is strength in numbers, and if you give people the right political and industry support, the right knowledge, and the right incentive, the threat of climate change can be at the forefront of their lives, and we can all move towards a better world together.

 

Back to Nature, Where it All Started

Wyatt Million, Student, Biological Sciences

Atlas Mountains
A view of the Atlas Mountains during the excursion

The last UConn@COP22 activity of our trip to Morocco brought me back to where my passion for the environment all began. The final afternoon and evening in Marrakesh were spent on an excursion to the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, which rise out of the desert terrain about an hour south of the city limits. After the driver parked our shuttle bus cliff side, rather precariously for some in our group, we met Mohamed, our enthusiastic mountain guide. He expertly led us on a walk that turned into a hike, that eventually turned into a climb, with several stops along the way to rest, admire the beautiful vistas, and purchase various local items.

We started by crossing a river and then weaved our way through shops and homes to follow a small stream up the side of a mountain. The small stream started to become more powerful but, as the elevation increased, so did the difficulty of the terrain, causing the group to hop across rocks and scamper up boulders. Nearing the top, we encountered the first waterfall, an impressive rush of crystal clear water down a 20-foot boulder, but it was relatively small compared to what was above.

After more hiking and climbing, we arrived at the highest waterfall, at least 50-feet tall, pouring glacial water down into a shallow, clear pool. I caught myself hypnotized by the power and sound of the falling water, and as I turned to look at the mountain range behind us, a type of euphoria sent me back to my childhood. As I waded into the cold water and stood beneath the falls for a few seconds, it literally took my breath away.

Wyatt under waterfall
Wyatt standing underneath one of the seven waterfalls

For me, the outdoors has been more than a place for hiking or fresh air or taking cool pictures, it is more of a home. The environment has been a vital part of my life growing up, so being in such a beautiful place took me back to when I first realized that I would do anything to protect it. Because I was so affected by the outdoors as a child, my enthusiasm has been growing nearly 15 years and has been focused now on protecting ecosystems and conserving natural resources. COP22 provided me with more direction for my future but the Atlas Mountains reignited my most basic connection with the environment.

My access to the outdoors as a child led to my love of nature and, later, to my involvement in environmental issues and decision to pursue a degree in the Biological Sciences at UConn. And I believe this experiential learning could reign true for future generations. Providing children with the opportunity to experience first-hand the effects of climate change will do more than just explaining the science to them. It is one thing to understand climate change and another to care enough to do something about it. Being in those mountains reminded me of exploring in my backyard and family vacations to the Adirondack Mountains. It reminded me of what is at stake in the fight against climate change.