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ELAs Recognize Leaders of Environmental GenEd & Metanoia

The movers and shakers of UConn’s first-ever Environmental Metanoia and new Environmental Literacy General Education requirement swept the 2017-2018 UConn Environmental Leadership Awards (ELAs). Metanoia

Co-Winners in the Faculty Category, Jack Clausen, Scott Wallace (accepting for Dave Wagner) and Carol Atkinson- Palombo, receive their ELA trophies from Rich Miller and Greg Anderson

Hosted on April, 4th at the UConn Foundation, the 6th biennial award ceremony recognized a variety of prominent environmental achievements led by faculty, staff, students, and external partners. Most notably was the successful student-faculty led push for the establishment of an Environmental Literacy GenEd requirement—which was approved by the University and will be in place for the fall 2019 semester requiring that all students take at least one course with an environmental focus. It also highlighted UConn’s first-ever Metanoia on the Environment, which featured 44 events held throughout the 2018 spring semester. While these initiatives involved dozens of individuals and groups, a handful of standout students and faculty helped lead these charges into fruition. Amongst these include several ELA award winners.

 


2017 – 2018 ELA Winners

 

Dr. John (Jack) Clausen

  • Winner, Faculty Category
  • Professor, Department of Natural Resources & the Environment
  • Co-Chair, Metanoia on the Environment
  • Co-Chair, Environmental Literacy Workgroup

 

 

Dr. David L. Wagner

  • Winner, Faculty Category
  • Director, Center for Conservation and Biodiversity and Professor, Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Co-Chair, Metanoia on the Environment
  • Co-Chair Environmental Literacy Workgroup

 

 

Dr. Carol Atkinson-Palombo

  • Winner, Faculty Category
  • Associate Professor, Geography & Director, Environmental Studies Program
  • Chair, General Education Environmental Literacy Task Force for UConn Senate
  • Funding Sub-Committee Chair, Environmental Metanoia

 

 

Benjamin Breslau

  • Winner, Undergraduate Student Category
  • Class of 2018, B.S. Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Student Co-Chair for the Environmental Metanoia
  • Student Chair, Environmental Literacy Workgroup and Environmental Metanoia
  • SURF Award Recipient
  • Undergraduate Researcher in the Rittenhouse Lab
  • Office of Sustainability Intern (2015-2018)
  • UConn@COP22 Fellow
  • VP, ECOalition
  • Project Lead, HEEP Signage & Trail Dedication Ceremony

 

Dr. John Volin

  • Special Recognition
  • Vice Provost for Academic Affairs
  • Founded the Natural Resources Conservation Academy (NRCA), as NRE Department Head
  • Instrumental leader and champion among UConn’s senior administrators for the Environmental Metanoia, Environmental Literacy Gen Ed, and creation of the new UConn Institute for the Environment

 

Georgia Hernandez-Corrales

  • Winner, Graduate Student Category
  • Class of 2019, M.S. Ecology & Evolutionary Biology
  • Conducts research on plant physiology and global warming
  • Communicates research to rural communities in Costa Rica
  • Awarded NSF-Louis Stokes Alliance for Minority Participation – Research Fellowships
  • Founder of Brenesii – a Social Enterprise, focused on activities that combine science communication and outreach for individuals in marginalized communities

 

Len Oser

  • Winner, Staff Category
  • Instrumental in launching EcoCoin program at the Bookstore
  • 12,000 bags have been avoided and $600 was raised for various charities
  • Host to the annual Eversource Energy Efficiency Outreach Event and LED Desklamp Promotion during Move In/Week of Welcome at the UConn Bookstore
  • Expanded to regional campuses in March 2019

 

EcoHusky Student Group

  • Winner, UConn Group Category
  • Leads student sustainability engagement & outreach
  • Volunteered at Green Game Days, campus clean-ups, HEEP trail clearing, Celebrate Mansfield Festival, and the Hartford Marathon each year
  • Hosts campus environmental film screenings
  • Oversees Recycling Patrol, Stop the Drop, and plastic film/bags collection initiatives

 

Quantum Biopower

  • Winner, External Group Category
  • Partnership with UConn to send all the food waste from the dining halls, diverting thousands of pounds of food each week
  • Biogas created by the anaerobic digestion converted to electricity
  • Participates in education outreach with the community

 

 

 

Below is the complete list of all individuals and groups who were recognized at the 2017-2018 ELAs:

Recognizing Cherie Taylor for 20 Years of Service to UConn

Congratulations to Cherie Taylor for celebrating 20 years at UConn this year!  I’m fortunate that 15 of them have been in her role as my Administrative Coordinator, and as the office manager and “mater familiae” for the OEP, which was recently reconfigured and refocused as UConn’s Sustainability Office.  She’s been the perfect complement to me as Director, given my skill set and management style, and has helped our office make a positive difference, not only for the University, but also (as you can see by the testaments below) in the lives of the staff and students who have worked here over the years.  Happy Administrative Professionals Day, Cherie!  Thanks for all you do.  – Rich Miller, Director, Office of Sustainability

“Cherie is our #1 supporter, and will do anything to help us out in anyway that she can, and that does not go unnoticed. In and out of the office, Cherie always has out backs. One time, I needed to print a poster for a research presentation, and I didn’t realize I had to submit the request so far in advance. Cherie called the Print Shop and had the order rushed, and because of her I had my poster printed on time. That is just one of the ways Cherie goes above and beyond to help out the interns in the office.” – Caroline Anastasia

“Cherie is absolutely magical. If any intern comes to her with a tough problem that they have been unable to solve, she swoops in to fix it with no expectations greater than a thank you. Her care for the well-being of the people in her life is made abundantly clear every day when I walk into work and see some kind of snack or baked good ready to save me if I’ve had to skip lunch.” – Emma MacDonald

“If our office was a plant, Cherie would be the entire root system. She ultimately holds together the office, connects us with so many other departments on campus, and provides us with the information, motivation, and accountability we need. Roots grow and make new connections. Cherie makes things happen and knows exactly who, how, and when to do all that she does. I have never heard or seen anyone get things done faster than Cherie does. Roots also store energy and nutrients for the plant for future use. Cherie stores years of experience and knowledge – not just about the office and this campus community, but also about life. Thank you, Cherie, for giving your advice to us. Although roots may not be seen from an outside view, they are so vital for growth, beauty, and life of the plant. Thank you for being our roots and dedicating so much for the office, we appreciate you!” – Mara Tu

“Cherie is a force of nature and she makes things happen! She is such an important part of keeping the office running. She consistently goes above and beyond to make sure that everything is done right and that everyone in the office takes care of themselves.” – Charlotte Rhodes

“Cherie always takes the time to notice the little things that make people happy and often uses this knowledge to brighten people’s days when they need it the most, whether it’s bringing in snacks, making a pot of coffee, or complimenting someone’s outfit.  Additionally, Cherie always has everyone in the office’s best interests in mind by expecting a high standard from us, but also remaining understanding and going above and beyond to deliver whenever we need her help.  She definitely is the mother of the office, and we are all grateful for the care she takes to help make the OEP such a wonderful place to work.” – Jon Ursillo

“Cherie has been a steady presence in the office since my first day on the job, and my experience at the OEP has been made that much better for this. Cherie has always made me feel welcomed and appreciated in the office, and clearly cares about the interns and our well-being. She has so much faith in our success, and has helped me feel better on multiple stressed or sad occasions. I am also quite confident that the office would not have achieved half of what we’ve accomplished if it weren’t for Cherie keeping us all on track.” – Sophie MacDonald

“Thank you for always being our greatest advocate, for guiding us with encouragement, and for the care you have shown each of us both during and after our time at the OEP.” – Christen Bellucci (’18)

“Cherie runs a tight but loving ship. She’s always willing to lend support to anyone that needs it and if Cherie’s on the case, best believe things get done!” – Rose Croog (’17)

“Cherie treats us like we’re her own family, always has our back no matter what, and teaches us some super valuable life lessons – like pushing in your chair and not putting pictures of monkeys on your resume!” – Katie Mae Main (’18)

“Cherie is amazing! She made me feel so welcomed from our very first phone conversation during my hiring process. I’m so thankful to have been a part of the OEP group and gotten to know her. Congratulations on 20 years! ” – Jennifer Williams

“Cherie has been a rock for me at OEP through the many years and many changes. With her heart of gold she has always put others ahead of herself.  She supported me through my almost 13 years here and helped me navigate the UConn culture.  She also had the knack of finding leftover meeting food for me which is always welcomed and appreciated. – Paul Ferri, EH&S Manager

“Whether you go to Cherie for advice on department operations, the inside scoop on UConn administrative changes, or a confidential chat on a personal matter, you always know you’ll get a straight answer, the wisdom of a sage, and just enough sarcastic humor to spice things up.  Thanks for all you do Cherie.  And since I am POSITIVE we cannot convince you to stay on another 10 or 15 years, good luck wherever in the world your future takes you.” – Jim Hutton, Environmental Compliance Specialist

Cherie is undoubtedly the glue that keeps UConn’s high achieving sustainability program together. Her organization, persistence, and wealth of institutional knowledge impresses me every day!  The personal investment Cherie makes toward supporting our student interns is what truly separates her in my opinion. We rely heavily on and have high expectations of our student sustainability interns. Cherie does anything she can to ensure their success, even if that means cooking for them or providing life guidance. And I’ve been the lucky recipient of more than one baked good… sometimes daily! Cherie It’s been a pleasure learning from you in my first year at UConn. Thank you for all your support – you’ve been a great teammate! The little things you do that make our lives easier and better don’t go unnoticed, so today we thank you and celebrate your achievement at UConn. Congratulations!- Patrick McKee, Sustainability Program Manager

Greg Anderson Wins Lifetime Achievement at 2018 ELAs

Earlier this month, Greg Anderson accepted the first Lifetime Achievement Award in the 15-year history of UConn’s Environmental Leadership Awards

From 1973 and the moment he arrived in Storrs as a young assistant professor in Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, Greg Anderson has been a campus environmental leader, dedicating time and effort, above and beyond his internationally recognized research and academic pursuits, to making UConn a greener place. Four-and-a-half decades later, having been named a Board of Trustees’ Distinguished Professor, and served as an EEB department head, then a Vice Provost for Graduate Research & Education (VPGRE), Greg remains the “heart and soul” of the environmental movement at UConn.

Even as a semi-retired, emeritus faculty member, working from his lab in Torrey Life Sciences for the past few years, Greg is still as active, engaged and passionate about the environment as anyone on campus! Nearly 25 years ago, he founded and remains a leader of the committee that oversees UConn’s thought-provoking Teale Environmental Lecture Series.  Similarly, more than two decades ago, Greg established, and still co-chairs, the Campus Arboretum Committee, which has planted, identified, preserved and mapped out the locations of dozens of specimen trees across campus. In fact, just this past year, Greg has worked with the co-president of EcoHusky to begin a tradition of planting a graduating Class Gift Tree, using crowd-sourced funding by students and friends of the Arboretum, plus tools and expertise provided by UConn’s landscape architect and arborist staff.

His moral support and leadership has also been key to an environmentally-responsible campus.  In 2008, while serving as VPGRE, he was the senior administrator most responsible for convincing then-President Mike Hogan to sign UConn’s pledge for developing a Climate Action Plan (CAP) and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050. Greg was at the front of the room, standing proudly alongside then-state DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy (who later served eight years as head of President Obama’s EPA), when Hogan signed onto this important climate leadership commitment. And he was there four years later when Susan Herbst reaffirmed UConn’s carbon commitment upon her arrival as the University’s President.

Greg Anderson
Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, John Volin (right) and Director of the Center of Biological Risk, Associate Professor (EEB), Mark Urban (left), congratulate Greg Anderson for receiving the ELA Lifetime Achievement Award
Greg Anderson also delivered an inspiring keynote address to a full house of award winners, runners up, finalists and nominators during UConn’s 6th ELAs, held at the UConn Foundation on April 4th, 2019.

That year, and for several years after, Greg helped organize an annual series of panelists and guest speakers on topics relevant to Climate Impact, Mitigation and Adaptation, and he was instrumental in bringing his longtime colleague, Gene likens, a pre-eminent ecologist and founder of the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies, to UConn as President Herbst’s Special Advisor on the Environment.   The CAP has since driven UConn’s rise to the top of national and international green campus lists, according to the Sierra Club’s annual “Cool Schools,” Best Colleges, and GreenMetric World University rankings, among other sources.

The inaugural UConn Environmental Leadership Award for Lifetime Achievement looks great in the hands of Greg Anderson, the “heart and soul” of UConn’s Environmental movement for more than four decades.

2017-2018 ELA Honorees

Meet the Interns

Editor’s note: OEP interns are integral to the success of the program and we couldn’t be more proud of them! Read below to learn about more about the interns hired in spring 2018.

Emma MacDonald – Sophomore, Natural Resources

Emma MacDonald is a sophomore in the Natural Resources department with a focus in sustainable forest management, which aligns with her avid love of hiking. After two inspirational geoscience classes last fall, Emma has decided to pursue a minor in Geoscience as well. Since arriving at UConn, Emma has been an active member of EcoHusky, volunteering at events like Green Game Day before becoming an intern. She is the Vice President of the Forestry and Wildlife club, where her responsibilities include planning meetings and events, like hiking trips and maple syrup production classes. In addition to her environmental passions, Emma has always loved theatre, performing in over 25 shows throughout her career. Her favorites to perform are Guys and Dolls, Footloose, and The Music Man, while her favorite soundtracks are Les Miserables, Rent, Phantom of the Opera, and Wicked. Within the OEP, Emma is our social media coordinator as well as our videographer; look out for her many posts promoting events and other OEP news along with exciting videos, like this one training Recycling Auditors! So far, her favorite memories with the OEP are 2018’s Earth Day Spring Fling, and this fall’s football Green Game Day where her video of the “Goodest Boy in all of Connecticut,” Jonathan XIV, teaching UConn Nation how to recycle was debuted.

 

Matthew McKenna – Junior, Environmental Engineering

Matthew McKenna is currently a junior studying Environmental Engineering. In the office, Matt has worked on several different projects, including the annual Storrs campus Greenhouse Gas Inventory, creating a LEED building database, and improving the bikeability of campus. Last summer, Matt worked as an engineering intern at the Drinking Water Section of the CT Department of Public Health. While there, he was responsible for ensuring water systems complied with the Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) & the Safe Drinking Water Act, researching water treatment methods for Legionella, and maintaining a database of water reservoirs around the state. On campus, Matt is a student with the Connecticut Brownfield Initiative, through which he has written an EPA proposal grant for the town of Stafford and is currently working on creating a comprehensive brownfield inventory for the south central region of Connecticut. This summer he plans on interning with Arconic in Davenport, Iowa. He will be responsible for keeping track of Arconic’s emissions and environmental footprint while coming up with ways for the factory to become more sustainable. As a hobby, Matt enjoys camping and hiking, and is excited to work on UConn’s HEEP trails later this semester.

 

Charlotte Rhodes – Junior, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Charlotte Rhodes is a junior at UConn studying Ecology and Evolutionary Biology with a minor in Environmental Studies. Since joining the office, her projects have included writing for the blog, working on social media outreach, leading the newsletter production as editor, and assisting in the UConn@COP program. This past summer, Charlotte was a CAPAL Public Service Intern and worked with the U.S. Forest Service as a Sustainability Operations, Climate Change, and Wildlife Ecology Intern in California. Her many tasks included documenting and writing about the intersectionality of climate change, developing an Electric Vehicle Charging Process Guide, spearheading a Greening Fire initiative, and summarizing literature about prey species of the California Spotted Owl. Charlotte is passionate about public service, building relationships, climate change, and research. After graduation, she plans to pursue a graduate degree in entomology with a focus on disease vectors, hoping to eventually facilitate research at the nexus of climate change and public health. In addition to being an OEP intern, Charlotte is part of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars, a UConn@COP24 Fellow, and a member of EcoHusky. She is meticulous about staying organized, and doesn’t go anywhere without her planner! In her free time, Charlotte enjoys hiking, fishing, singing, exploring new places, crafting, and playing with her dog, Violet.

 

Natalie Roach – Sophomore, Environmental Science

Natalie Roach is a sophomore Environmental Sciences and Human Rights double major at UConn, integrating her passion for these two fields. In the office, she applies her interest in social justice issues, collaboration of ideas, and environmental conservation in her projects which include writing and co-editing the office blog, social media outreach, the office social justice initiative, and organizing for Earth Day Spring Fling. An active student on campus, Natalie is an officer of Revolution Against Rape, a cultural center discussion group facilitator, a member of the USG Sustainability Subcommittee, and a participant in Community Outreach’s alternative breaks. She is also part of a National Science Foundation research project focused on sustainable development in Ethiopia, and is doing research on the history of housing discrimination in Hartford for a traveling exhibition. Last summer, she worked on coordinating a high school internship program that introduced students to the water utility industry and the importance of water resources as program coordinator at Regional Water Authority. Outside of UConn, she is a dedicated member of the CT Sierra Club Political Committee. Natalie’s drive to combat inextricably linked social and environmental issues is rooted in finding community-based, inclusive, and just solutions. She hopes to carry this mindset into a professional career in environmental law, nonprofit organizations, or corporate social responsibility work. In her free time, you can catch her going on hiking adventures, playing lacrosse, at a hockey game, attending environmental conferences, baking, talking about social and political issues with peers, or spending quality time with her friends.

 

Mara Tu – Sophomore, Environmental Science

Mara Tu is a sophomore Environmental Sciences and Urban & Community Studies student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. At the OEP, she has brought enthusiasm to all of her projects including Green Game Days, EcoMadness, RecycleThon, and has contributed content to the webpage. Mara’s values of open dialogue, the spread of ideas, and encouragement of communal energy are reflected in her work in the office and on campus. Outside of the OEP, she is the treasurer of UConn’s EcoHusky, a team leader on the UConn alternative break to Birmingham, Alabama focused on civil rights and urban poverty, as well as a member of the USG Sustainability Subcommittee and ChinaCare. Her interests in the environmental field include conservation, local planning, urban systems, urban farms, and social equity. Currently, she is also in the UConn Climate Corps, an independent study program where students work with local municipalities to recommend potential adaptations to climate change, and is working on a history of housing discrimination in Hartford exhibit. She enjoys working on crossword puzzles (but rarely finishing them), crafting, hanging out with friends, engaging in political and social conversation, napping, taking photos, and dancing and singing to her favorite musicians!

Is Katsouleas the Sustainability-Minded President Students Asked For?

Dr. Thomas Katsouleas, was officially voted into office this past Tuesday by UConn’s Board of Trustees as the 16th president in UConn’s history. Serving as the current Provost and Executive Vice President at the University of Virginia (UVa) and previously as Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke, Katsouleas is certainly well qualified for the job. Even more notable, is his demonstrated commitment to furthering environmental sustainability efforts in his previous leadership positions at Duke and Virginia.

This past October, members of the student organizations EcoHusky, ECOalition, and the Undergraduate Student Government Governing Board drafted a letter to UConn’s Presidential Search Committee urging them to only consider candidates who have demonstrated a sincere commitment to environmental sustainability in their career. The letter was formally endorsed by the University Senate, reflecting a unified interest between the student body and this important UConn legislative organization, which is comprised of faculty, staff and students.

As an established green campus leader, it is crucial for UConn to have a president who recognizes sustainability as one of the University’s transcendent values. With the appointment of Dr. Katsouleas, it is clear that the Presidential Search Committee took these student concerns seriously.

As Dean of Engineering at Duke, Katsouleas helped to organize the inaugural National Academy of Engineering (NAE) Grand Challenges Summit. In 2010, he formed Duke’s Katsouleas NAE Grand Challenge Scholars Program. This program, the first of its kind in the nation, challenges students to use their expertise and skills to address one or more of 14 challenges posed by the NAE, many with links to sustainability.

Katsouleas is also an advisory board member of UVa’s Yamuna River Project. A heavily polluted waterway in India, the Yamuna is an environmental and public health concern. The project aims to restore the river and promote ecosystem recovery through interdisciplinary collaboration, with sustainable design solutions that “take into account, culture, behavior and policy, as well as technical feasibility and economic viability.”

As a Yamuna River board member, Katsouleas was in full support of the project as both a public service and learning opportunity. In a statement to CTMirror.org, he referred to these experiential learning opportunities as “not luxuries, but essential for an educated populace that wishes to address the human element in today’s challenges.”

Other notable involvements include helping to organize, and presenting at, UVa’s Sustainability Retreat in August 2015.  The retreat convened 60 of the University’s leaders in order to develop a framework for longer-term sustainability strategic planning.  As Dean of Engineering at Duke 10 years ago, Katsouleas supported the construction of Duke’s Smart Home, the nation’s first LEED Platinum-certified “live-in laboratory.” The Smart Home provides 10 select students with a greener, technologically advanced living space, while also demonstrating those attributes for related research and educational purposes.

President Katsouleas certainly has big shoes to fill, but his commitment to sustainability and students proves that he is up to the challenge.

Cultural Immersion at COP24

Cultural immersion is one of the key pillars of the UConn@COP program. This year, our fellows had the opportunity to tour various landmarks, facilities, and participate in breakfast club meetings to recap the events of the day. For more photos of the trip, please click on one of the photos below to be directed to an album.

 

Auschwitz and Birkenau

One of the most moving experiences throughout the trip, was the opportunity to tour Auschwitz and Auschwitz II-Birkenau. While many of our fellows have learned about the Holocaust, visiting the site gave them a new, personal, connection to the events that took place there.

 

Scenes from Krakow

During the trip, the UConn delegation stayed in Krakow. This historic city was filled with music, food, and vendors.

 

Wieliczka Salt Mine

The Wieliczka Salt Mine is one of the oldest operating salt mines. Inside the mine, our fellows learned about the mine’s history and got to explore ST. Kinga’s chapel.

 

Breakfast Club

Every morning at COP started with a Breakfast Club. These meetings allowed students to reflect on the their experiences and facilitated lively discussions about all aspects of the trip.

 

Higher Education Networking Event

This year UConn co-sponsored a COP24 Higher Education Networking Event with Cornell University. The event was hosted at Jagiellonian University and gave our fellows an opportunity to connect with other students attending COP24.

 

Wawel Castle

Wawel Castle has served as home to many Polish kings, and is now an art museum featuring pieces from a variety of time periods.

Faculty Reflections from COP24

Editor’s note: Our COP fellows learned so much from the conference, but so did the faculty members who accompanied them. Below are their thoughts from the trip.

 

Outcomes of COP 24: Accounting and Finance – Scott Stephenson

Opportunities at COP24 – Frank Griggs

 

Outcomes of COP 24: Accounting and Finance

Scott Stephenson – Assistant Professor, Department of Geography

Following progress made last year at COP 23, COP 24 promised to focus attention on several issues critical to finalizing the so-called “Paris Rulebook,” the set of guidelines countries will follow in implementing their Paris commitments now and in the future. While all parties to the Paris Agreement pledged in 2015 to submit plans (“nationally determined contributions”) for reducing emissions over time, key questions such as how thoroughly and how often they should report on their emissions remained unresolved.

Some of these rules have provoked fierce debate among parties. For example, while the United States and most European countries have argued for common transparency standards for all parties, some developing countries and China in particular have been wary of disclosing their emissions accounting to outside observers. Coupled with the uncertain role of the U.S. in the negotiations going forward, such disagreements repeatedly threatened to derail adoption of a robust rulebook, with clear signals for increased ambition by 2020, in the run-up to and throughout COP 24. In the end, following several missed technical deadlines and a delayed plenary that continued past the scheduled end of the talks, the COP signed off on a rulebook that resolved many of the most pressing issues while tabling several others until COP 25 and beyond.

One of the most significant developments was a resolution on emissions accounting that would require countries to use the latest accounting guidance from the IPCC last updated in 2006 and currently being updated for next year. A common set of accounting rules is essential for ensuring that countries meet their climate pledges. The final rulebook outlines a single set of rules without explicitly differentiating between developed and developing countries.

However, in order to gain the support of countries with low capacity to meet targets, the rulebook also allows countries to use “nationally appropriate methodologies” to report their emissions, which may lead some countries to portray their emissions as better than they actually are. Thus, we can expect continued tension on this issue as countries’ reporting methodologies come under scrutiny in the years leading to the first global stocktake in 2023.

Climate finance remains a challenging issue following COP 24. The Paris Agreement requires developed countries to contribute $100 billion per year by 2020 to support mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. Contributions are currently well short of this goal, not helped by the U.S.’ reneging on its $3 billion pledge last year.  Perhaps to remove perceived bureaucratic barriers to fulfilling climate finance pledges, the language of the rulebook tended toward flexibility and permissiveness in terms of how contributions are reported, allowing countries to count the full value of loans as climate finance rather than their “grant-equivalent” value. This could render collective goals such as “$100 billion per year” meaningless as the full “face value” of loans is typically less than the sum of the discounted future payments made by the loan recipient over the period of the loan.

On the positive side, Germany doubled its 2014 contribution to the Green Climate Fund (€1.5 billion), while Norway pledged $516 million, and the World Bank announced it would allocate $200 billion for its climate investment program. Ultimately, these contributions and more must be matched by other developed countries in order to meet not only the 2020 goal, but a new, more ambitious climate finance goal to be set by 2025. Countries have agreed to start discussing this goal at COP 26 in 2020.

 

Opportunities at COP24

Frank Griggs – Doctoral Candidate, Political Science

The UConn@COP24 returned to Storrs at approximately 1:45am on Saturday, December 8, after 22 hours of shuttles and flights from Poland. The trip was a tremendous opportunity. I learned a lot as a researcher, citizen, and human being, and managed to have a good time. It was inspiring to be amongst diplomats, researchers, students, and civil society activists who are working hard for the benefit of humanity and ecology.
The trip was super busy: early morning meetings and discussion with the UConn group; hour-long-plus bus rides to and from the conference in Katowice (we stayed in Kraków where there was less expensive lodging, also turned out there was more to do as tourists); all day participation in the COP (e.g. watching diplomats meet, listening to presentations by IPCC officials, civil society representatives, or country delegations); touring Auschwitz-Birkenau on our first day, prior to the COP’s commencement; tending to professional and familial matters back home during the evenings; and exploring Kraków as time and energy permitted.

I expected the conference to be organized into strictly delimited zones. Instead, country delegates and non-state actors extensively comingled at presentations, dining areas, displays, and simply walking about the conference center. This produced a serendipitous meeting. I was excited by the prospect of meeting diplomats, so I introduced myself to a group of delegates as a student-observer. I was especially pleased to meet them because they were the delegation from Sierra Leone, and I recently assigned an article and taught a class about energy justice in Sierra Leone. The delegation was likewise excited and insisted that I take a picture with their Minister of Energy (see photo below).

I highly recommend participating in the trip if you are interested in climate change and ecological issues beyond the scope of our GEP course. UConn’s Office of Environmental Policy coordinates the trip. Applications are accepted during the latter part of Spring term. Keep an eye out for notifications in the Daily Digest and the OEP website (https://ecohusky.uconn.edu/uconn-at-cop/).

 

Healthcare and Humans

Editor’s note: When thinking about climate change, human health is probably not the first thing to come to mind. That said, the link between climate change and our own health is quite strong and should certainly be considered. The blog below further explores this connection through the eyes of a COP24 delegate.

 

Shifting the Conversation – Sahil Laul

 

Shifting the Conversation

Sahil Laul – B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Global Health

Sahil talking to Dr. Maria, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, after the press release of the Special Report on Health and Climate Change.

I’ll be the first to admit writing blog posts is a difficult task for me—I much prefer to orate my personal experiences. My thoughts flow as a web and the linear parameters of a written piece often feel restrictive. But there is a power to writing—which I understand to reach beyond the spoken word—the power of dissemination. An oral story reaches your direct audience. A written piece, however, has the power to reach a large audience through shares, retweets, emails, texts, etc. And for that reason, I will do my best to write about one of the most powerful experiences I have had.

“Do I belong here?”

This was the question that incessantly rang in my head in the pre-trip meetings leading to the COP and during the first couple of days of the trip.

Don’t get me wrong—in no way did any fellow or faculty member make me feel like I did not belong, but rather this was an internal conflict I was struggling with.

When I first found out I was selected to be a UConn COP fellow I was incredibly grateful, but also surprised. There I was as a student studying Molecular Biology, Global Health, Spanish and Anthropology—subjects which seemed almost completely unrelated to the environment—on my way to the largest conference on climate change. Of course, climate change was a topic I was interested in and one which I believed was closely related to my discipline, but I was not sure if I had a place in the conversation amongst my peers who were environmental science, ecology and evolutionary biology, and geography majors.

This feeling lingered a bit into the COP where the conversations during the first couple of days heavily focused on the IPCC report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels and the source of related greenhouse gas emissions. Few tangible solutions were offered and even those which were suggested felt too obvious or far beyond my own comprehension. Equipped with a science background, I could appreciate the evidence based arguments. At the same time, however, I could discern a disconnect between the parties present at the conference—the scientific community insisting upon immediate action and delegates trying to make decisions best suited for their constituencies. It became clear that the actual arguments and solutions were being lost in translation somewhere in between.

COP 24 Special Report on Health and Climate Change by the WHO cover page.

Still, I decided to attend several sessions spanning a range of topics during the first two days to broaden my own understanding of climate science and the actions being taken to combat climate change. I listened passively taking in what I could and engaging when I could. Yet, I still felt that an important perspective was missing.

Although going into the COP, I was aware that health was not typically a large focus of the conference, I was surprised to see how absent the topic was from the conversation during the first two days. While I was personally hoping to hear more health related discussions given my own academic background, I also believed that it would be the source of the most compelling arguments. A global health professor once told me that “We are not saving our planet, we are saving ourselves.” She explained that our planet existed before us and would survive long after us, but we must combat climate change as we will be the ones to shoulder its effects. It seemed obvious to me that if the scientists at the conference were going to convince policymakers that climate change was an issue that needed to be addressed with immediate action, they would need to demonstrate the direct effects of climate change on people—their constituency.

Finally, on the third day of the conference, Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director of Public Health, Environmental and Social Determinants of Health, presented the COP24 Special Report on Health and Climate change to bring health to the forefront of the conversation. I was exuberant to see the health argument being addressed but shocked to learn that the report was the first one of its kind to be presented at a COP. After hearing the report which cited air pollution resulting in climate change as the cause of death for 7 million people, it became even more apparent that health care workers play a key role in climate action. After the press conference, I had the opportunity to talk to her before she moderated a panel of medical, environmental, political, and economic professionals discussing the imminent issue of climate change and its severe impact on health.

After I explained my own background and how I had been struggling to see my future professional role in the context of climate change until her press conference, she said to me and another UConn COP fellow: “Remember that you are a politician. Sometimes the medical students tell me yeah I am not a politician. But I say you are wrong, you are a Politician with a big P because taking care of people’s well-being means politics—in the good sense—not party issues but politics.”

At that point, something else became clear to me. I had been struggling to understand my role as a COP fellow but also grappling with the fact that there was such a large disconnect between the scientists and policymakers at the conference. Upon reflection, however, the parallels between climate change and global public health became evident. As an MCB and Global Health student I aspire to bridge the gap between the science based medical community and policy based public health community. The common denominator between both groups are people and their health—whether the focus is at the micro or macro levels. In the same way, at the heart of climate change, are people. In order to address any issue which requires a policy change, whether it be war, trade, health, or climate change, we must shift the conversation on either end to understand the effects on people.

Dr. Maria Neira moderates a panel side event entitled United Nations: 7 Million Unacceptable Deaths. Special COP24 Health and Climate Change Report.
Dr. Maria Neira giving the press release of the Special Report on Health and Climate Change in a press conference entitled WHO & CT – Key Health Messages & Opportunities in the IPCC SR1.5 & UN Climate Negotiations.

Youth Voices and Involvement

Editor’s Note: When thinking about solving worldwide problems, we often look to adults to determine a course of action. But at COP24, our fellows were pleased to see organizations recognize the youth voice as equally important. The blogs below discuss the significance of considering youth in these negotiations.  

 

Power with the (Young) People – Nikki Pirtel

Postcards for Change – Kayleigh Granville

Carrying the COP24 Experience Back Home – Leann McLaren

 

Power with the (Young) People

Nikki Pirtel – Senior, B.S. Environmental Science

The shortcomings of COP took the center stage due to its location and events happening at the venue, but this was overshadowed in my mind by the presence of young people, both inside the conference itself and outside in the Climate Hub, where events for and hosted by youth were in great supply. More well-known figures such as Greta Thunberg from Sweden and Toby Thorpe from Australia had significant roles in the conference, controlling the charge for climate change regulations and calling out government officials from all countries on their inabilities to be adults and lead on this topic.

A particularly inspiring event I attended outside of the conference was “The People’s Open Climate and Human Rights Event: How to hold your government accountable for its climate ‘inaction.’” This presentation refreshingly included an all-women panel from five different countries throughout Europe, including an activist from a small island off the northern coast of Germany and a reindeer farmer from Norway. All these women had vastly different experiences, but the same ambition to do something about the inadequacy of climate action in their country.

Six years after the establishment of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) by the UNFCC and three years after the Paris Agreement, there has been little to no global progress being made towards reducing emissions. These women had had enough of the inaction and began suing their governments for violating their human rights. Climate change has been negatively impacting their livelihoods for years and this was the only way to make their politicians pay attention to the issues that matter the most.

Although the UConn@COP24 delegation returned to campus after the first week of the conference (for final exams), I watched a fascinating interview that occurred during the second week with Greta Thunberg and her father. She described her experiences learning about climate change, why she came to care so much about the issue and what she decided to do with her newfound knowledge of it. Her father explained her transition from his perspective: how she had fallen into a deep depression, realizing that no one cared enough about the issue of climate change, but later felt that she could actually do something positive about the problem by changing herself and starting a worldwide phenomenon. Every Friday, instead of attending school, Greta would sit in front of the Stockholm Parliament building with a simple sign reading: “Skolstrejk för Klimatet (School Strike for Climate).” This eventually caught the attention of the media and would later cause a movement by students around the world. She says that without doing something about climate change now, many people will not survive in the future and this problem, therefore, should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds.

Although I’m a student who studies the science of climate change and how it has affected, and will affect, the functioning of both natural and human ecosystems, I have never been much of a climate activist and am not familiar with the policy side of the environment. However, participating in COP24 taught me not only about how international climate policy is governed, but also how to be a better climate activist. I realize now the importance of advocating for real change on a national level, because the United States has a lot of influence on international politics, especially with climate change… and despite the current administration’s announced plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement in 2020.

I truly believe the power of the youth will be able to overcome any delay, deregulation and backsliding on climate mitigation goals and make a significant difference for a better world, now and in the future.

 

Postcards for Change

Kayleigh Granville – Senior, B.S. Environmental Science

Switzerland’s glaciers have recently become the site of several climate change projects. We learned about these projects when we visited the Utopia International Association, a non-governmental organization whose mission is to promote sustainability in a world that is becoming increasingly virtual and connected. Utopia had set up one of the many side events related to the COP that were located outside of the actual conference venue but within the city of Katowice, and were therefore accessible to people without conference passes.

Their exhibit displayed huge pictures of Switzerland’s glaciers that had been covered in white sheets. The sheets were meant to make the glaciers, which are currently melting, look like tents in a refugee camp. The campaign aimed to illustrate how, like refugees, the disappearance of the world’s glaciers is another unintended consequence of human-induced climate change.

The sheets on one of Switzerland’s glaciers had been covered by yet another display: thousands of postcards written by young people from around the world. All of these postcards have messages about climate change, and the organizations involved in the project are hoping to raise awareness about the effects of climate change by breaking the Guinness World Record for the most number of postcards displayed in one place at one time.

Utopia had also collected hundreds of postcards from students around Europe, which they were exhibiting at their booth in Katowice and would later send to the glacier in Switzerland for a shot at the world record. Utopia’s representatives explained that they were presenting within the COP24 venue during the second week of the conference, and had created this side event to raise awareness about the glacier project during the first week of the COP.

The postcards that other students had written were powerful because they clearly showed how climate change is viewed as a prominent issue by our generation. Other messages, which were written by elementary to secondary school students, showed how even young children understand and worry about the consequences of climate change, with thoughts like “one touch of nature makes the whole world kind,” “we need a safe environment,” “save water, save earth,” and “you may know the differences, but the little creatures won’t: say no to plastic.”

Several of us students from the UConn@COP delegation wrote our own postcards for Utopia’s display in Katowice, ultimately to be sent to Switzerland. It was inspiring to see that Utopia was giving young people around the world, and students at the COP24 conference, a platform for their voices to be heard. Their presence outside of the conference venue showed the importance of having COP events that are accessible to the public. More information about Utopia’s projects can be found on their website: https://utopia-international.org/en/cop24/.

 

 

Carrying the COP24 Experience Back Home

Leanne McLaren – Senior, B.S. Political Science

Since my time spent at the COP24 Climate Change Conference in Katowice, Poland, I have tried to integrate the lessons I learned into my everyday life and future career aspirations. From this trip, I learned that climate change, although seemingly an abstract phenomenon, is real and affects the current and future lives of everyone on this earth.

Although it may seem that putting off the necessary changes to improve sustainability are feasible, the need for change is indeed crucial. With this, I try to be cognizant of how I can reduce the waste I produce. Simple habits, such as using plastic water bottles or even driving separate cars to the same destination, no longer feel moral to me and I encourage others to think the same.

In the future, I hope to carry these convictions as I strive to earn a PhD in political science, become a professor and mentor students. As a COP24 participant, I feel responsible for connecting these issues into my research. I’d like to delve into a research topic like “the intersectional effects of climate change in America as compared to other countries.” I also hope to develop a project that contributes to our knowledge of environmental politics within minority communities, using both quantitative and qualitative methods.

As a former congressional intern in the US House of Representatives, I recognize the importance of disseminating credible information and advocating for policy issues. I hope the work I accomplish in my career, given my experience participating in COP24, will help advance climate action and improve the lives of future generations.

 


 

Unlikely Connections

Editor’s note: Many similar themes were discussed at the COP, but some of our fellows took note of less talked about topics. Climate change has links to so many different disciplines, and the blogs below serve as a reminder to consider how deeply the environment is integrated into our lives.

 

Preserving His Creation: The Church and Climate Change – Charlotte Rhodes

Feeling the Effects of Climate Change – Emily Kaufman

 

Preserving His Creation: The Church and Climate Change

Charlotte Rhodes, Junior B.A. Environmental Studies

The daily Breakfast Club sessions hosted during COP gave everyone involved an opportunity to reflect on, and talk through, their experiences as a group. A number of topics frequently made their way into the conversations, but I didn’t expect religion to be one of them. It only made a short appearance in the discussions, but it prompted me to consider a new aspect of climate change.

I was raised in the church, but I never considered its role in climate change. During one of our morning discussion group sessions, referred to as the Breakfast Club, some expressed their views of Christianity as “scary” or “worrisome.” It’s true. The media fills our news with stories of religious zealots protesting human rights issues and rejecting sound science. But this is not a fair representation of the church. For most, church is a place where individuals can gather to express their gratitude, find comfort during times of trouble, and help others in need. I spent the one hour bus ride from our hotel in Krakow to the COP24 venue pondering all these ideas, desperately trying to put together one clear thought.

One of the cornerstones of the Christian faith is humanitarian work. While each church has its own specific goals, all efforts are based in service and compassion for others. This is where we find our link between science and faith. Science is scary, and climate change is an abstract topic. But as the Earth continues to warm and the effects of climate change take hold, lives will be at risk, and humanitarian action will be more important than ever.

Upon arrival at the venue, I decided to explore and ended up running into the Episcopal delegation. It was as if it were divine intervention. As a member of the Episcopal Church, I was excited to learn that my denomination has sent a delegation to the COP since 2014. They, along with other religious institutions, are steadfast in their dedication to the environment and its people. Representatives attend these conferences in the hopes of staying informed and learning what can be done to support the efforts against climate change. They understand how complex the issues are, but remain focused on outreach. It makes me proud to see my church, amongst others, participating in international discussions on climate change. But there are still a number of religious groups who haven’t made the link between climate change and the humanitarian mission of Christianity.

My hope is to see more communities of faith embracing climate science. But even if they don’t, I hope that they continue to service those in need. You don’t have to understand the science in order to recognize the need. At the end of the day, people are going to be affected by climate change and I’m excited to see the intersection between its effects and the church’s humanitarian work further develop.

Writers note: I do not mean to speak for other members of the Christian faith. These views are my personal beliefs, influenced by my knowledge and experience.

 

Feeling the Effects of Climate Change

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

In the beginning of the week at COP24, I attended the Climate Hub side events. These events were much more intimate than the actual conference and open to the public. Unlike the official COP, with thousands of people streaming in and out of concurrent panel discussions, negotiating sessions and countless national pavilions or NGO-sponsored exhibits and booths, the Climate Hub held just one workshop, presentation or panel discussion on the hour. At first, I was worried that I would not be able to reap the same benefits from participating in this kind of side event as I would from attending the official events inside the conference venue. However, though different, I got an equally fulfilling experience that pushed me outside of my comfort zone in ways the COP events wouldn’t have.

One workshop that occurred at the side event involved engaging in art and creativity. Each participant was given a large sheet of paper and was instructed to have someone trace the outline of our silhouette. We were then asked to draw out our emotions on our drawn bodies to a series of questions such as: How are you feeling right now?  How do you feel when you are angry? How do you feel when you are happy? and How do you feel about climate change? This activity was something I was not used to. I have rarely been asked to draw, much less draw my emotions, since elementary school. You could tell that many people were taken slightly off guard – especially us Americans – about being asked to do an activity that seemed so “vacuous.”

However, as we kept drawing, I began to appreciate the benefits of this activity. As someone who has always been passionate about environmental issues, I rarely think about how the destruction of the environment actually affects my body and makes me feel. Drawing out my emotions, I was forced to think about these unsettling feelings and internalize them. I started getting emotional myself – as I expressed these feelings, I found that it relieved a lot of internal stress about the environment that I was holding onto.

We ended the activity by holding hands and having a brief meditation where we were encouraged to think about climate justice and how connecting with each other and our bodies is vital to creating climate change solutions. This moment was extremely powerful.  People from across the world joined together and embraced the fact that we are all affected by climate issues and that we can use our emotions as fuel to make sustainable change.

Though all of us in the Climate Hub were from different places, the similarities that we felt were eye-opening. What I originally thought would be a mindless activity opened me up and inspired me to follow my passion to make change.