UConn@COP

The UConn@COP Fellowship Program strives to build future leaders in climate science and policy and to promote UConn’s leadership on climate change and sustainability issues through four main pillars:

1) Student Engagement
2) Experiential Learning
3) Interdisciplinary Group Discussion
4) Cultural Immersion

Participating fellows are selected through a highly competitive application process that considers GPA, relative extracurricular involvement, and a 700 word essay that speaks to their interest in the program.

The following blog articles have been written by past and present UConn@COP fellows, faculty, and staff, as well as by students who have attended events recapping the UConn@COP experience on campus.

COP25 First Impressions

Editor’s note: UConn@COP25 Fellows were asked to share their first impressions of their experience at the COP after the first two days of the conference. Here’s what they had to say:

42 Hours in Madrid – Louanne Cooley
Approaching Environmental Issues on an Individual Level
– Sarah Schechter
The Impacts of Climate Change on Moana and Pacific Island Nations – Lauren Pawlowski
Thinking Beyond Borders & Labels – The Reality of Climate Migration – Megan Ferris
Commonalities across Cultures: Injustice for Identity Minorities – Xinyu Lin
Additionality a Must for Carbon Offsets – Hope Dymond

 

42 Hours in Madrid
Louanne Cooley – JD, School of Law

As I write this, it’s 1 AM and we’ve been in Spain for about 42 hours. Every minute here reveals greater depth and texture as I come to know more about this remarkable group of students, faculty and staff, all learning together about the complex issues around climate change, and all committed to expanding our role as citizens working for solutions.

European Union panel.
European Union panel on legislative response to Climate Change
Oisin Coghan- Friends of Earth Ireland
Lola Vallejo- IDDRI
Malta Hentschke- Klima Allinz
Yvon Slingenberg, EU DG-Climate Action (Photo: Louanne Cooley).

That we are here at all speaks to that commitment. UNFCC COP25 was originally to be hosted by Brazil, but with the election of a populist president a year ago, they withdrew. Chile stepped into the gap so the conference could still be held in South America, but the civil unrest in October of this year caused Chile to pull out too. With a month to go before the conference, Spain worked with Chile to provide a venue, and people worldwide scrambled to change travel plans to make it work. It’s a testament to how important these issues are that we are all here, eager to talk, listen, learn and take action, but many could not travel to Spain, and it is important to recognize that their voices won’t be heard this year.

The staff at UConn’s Office of Sustainability made a heroic effort to get us here, changing flights, finding new accommodations, making sure we would still have access. We arrived excited and grateful for the opportunity.  After taking in the artistic treasures of Spain at the Prado and wandering the rainy streets of Madrid sampling tapas and churros yesterday, today was all business. We arrived at IFEMA Feria de Madrid early Monday having picked up our passes yesterday evening. The COP25 organizers have pulled off a real coup managing to move the venue from Chile to Madrid with a little over four weeks to completely revamp and reorganize. We jumped right in to attend side events, visit pavilions, and most importantly, meet people and learn about their ideas.

I’m a law student at UConn Law working at the Center for Energy & Environmental Law so I was eager to learn about legal frameworks for implementing climate action. The EU pavilion hosted a side event, Fighting Climate Change: The Legislative Response addressing a proposed EU Climate Change Law. Yvon Slingenberg, Director of International, Mainstreaming and Policy Coordination at the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) in the European Commission, talked about a proposal to implement a system of tariffs on goods coming from countries that have failed to make their emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. That would be real change in policy to put a financial penalty on countries doing business in Europe to force climate accountability. I’m eager to learn more about the EU Climate Change Law and watch how it is debated and what provisions are enacted in the weeks to come.

In addition to the law surrounding climate change, I am also interested in how climate issues are communicated, especially to people without a science or technical background. One way to do this is through art. I’m a knitter and I’ve been involved with a global project originating in the US called the Tempestry Project. Conceived by Emily McNeil, Justin and Marissa Connelly of Anacortes, Washington, a Tempestry is created using climate data to make a visual representation of temperature change as fiber art. For the last month, I’ve been working on a “Global New Normal” Tempestry using annual deviation from average temperature from 1880 to the present and inspired by Dr. Ed Hawkin’s warming stripes climate visualization work.  Working on the project is a way to engage with the process of temperature rise which isn’t really perceptible on a day to day basis. Watching the years of progress as I knit, the darker blues dropping out to be replaced by lighter colors, then darker and darker reds, it is impossible to ignore how our planet has changed. I had a chance to talk to Rahul Bansal of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat at the UNFCCC Pavilion about the project and showed him my work. Seeing and touching the Tempestry is a very powerful way to connect with what can be an abstract process. Rahul was so taken with the project that he thought the UN might be interested in displaying Tempestry next year at COP26 in Glasgow.  Being able to connect to people is one of the huge benefits of being here at COP25. Many of the speakers I heard today made the point over and over that climate change is about people. Solutions need to be people focused and need to reach everyone. Everyone has a role to play, whether as a scientist, policy maker, educator or citizen in accepting responsibility and working for change.

UConn COP25 Fellows
UConn COP25 Fellows with Rahul Bansal, UNFCCC (Photo: Louanne Cooley).

It’s now Tuesday and after a few brief hours of rest, we are back at COP25. Today there are more pavilions to visit, events to attend, and people to talk to. So many people to talk to with ideas and hopes and fears, willing to listen to each other and work together. That really is the most hopeful part of being here, surrounded by people, all in it together. It is time for action!

New Normal Global Tempestry
New Normal Global Tempestry (Photo: Louanne Cooley).

Louanne Cooley is a third-year student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She is a research assistant at the Center for Energy and Environmental Law at UConn Law and is pursuing a Certificate in Energy and Environmental Law. Follow Louanne on Twitter @louanne_cooley and on Instagram @louanne.at.cop25


Approaching Environmental Issues on an Individual Level
Sarah Schechter – BA Environmental Studies and Anthropology

We constantly hear the phrase “think globally, act locally,” but how do we actually put that into practice? When we act on a local level we are trying to benefit the town or municipality that we are working with, but what if that’s still too large of a scope?

Walking into Day 1 of COP25 I was unsure of what to expect, in awe of the bright lights and intricate booths. One was made from cardboard, another had a wall of plants, and still another had a giant Earth sitting in a dish of ice.

I made my way to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) booth, prepared to discuss volunteering with them later in the week. I was then introduced to the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Dr. Youba Sokona, who asked the group “What are you doing on an individual level?” We started to answer with what was being done in our communities, but he adamantly asked again, “But what are you doing?”

I chimed in with what I try to do on a regular basis and he seemed satisfied. However, this spurred my mind in the direction of how we go about solving daunting environmental issues. Perhaps we aren’t breaking them down enough, clouded by the anxiety of the terrifying concepts.

UConn@COP25 Group
Members of the UConn@COP25 delegation and Vice-chair Professor Dr. Youba Sokona of the IPCC (Photo: Miriah Russo Kelly).

Later I attended a side event titled, “Global climate action: Indigenous rights, territories and resources” in which the Director of Energy 2050 posed a similar question. He looked at the room full of international individuals, all with diverse backgrounds spurred by different interests, and he asked, “What are you doing?” He followed this with encouragement to go out and educate the world, echoing with the idea to “Do your part.”  

There it was again, a reminder for individual action and that everyone’s contribution matters when combating climate change.

Panelists from Global Climate Action Side Event
Panelists from Global Climate Action side event at COP25. (Photo: Sarah Schechter).

Another side event, “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” focused on the production and consumption of food around the world. Plant-based diets were heavily discussed by the panelists, who supported the act of becoming vegan or vegetarian for health and environmental purposes. Deputy Director of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Zitouni Ould-Dada, said that the responsibility is on the people. He made it clear that he was not there to force anyone to switch to a plant based diet, but he reminded the room that each person decides what they choose to eat. While there was some controversy regarding this statement, due to socioeconomic factors that can take away choices, he still brought up the idea of individual action.

Panelists from “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” COP25 side event.
Panelists from “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” COP25 side event. (Photo: Sarah Schechter).

In one day, I heard about approaching environmental issues on an individual level three times. Clearly, there is the desire to break down problems surrounding climate change into more manageable tasks. While I personally think that acting on a larger scale is still valid and important, because it allows for a broader response, I do see why individual action must still be present in the conversation. I look forward to the rest of my time at COP25 and I wonder when the call for individual action will be mentioned again.

Sarah Schechter is a junior from Danbury, CT, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology.


The Impacts of Climate Change on Moana and Pacific Island Nations
Lauren Pawlowski – BA Environmental Studies and BS Economics

In the first hour I spent at COP25, I felt lost. This is my first time at a conference this huge and important; I didn’t want to miss out on any chance to listen to world leaders, talk to representatives of international organizations, and see all of the exhibits. There were so many events happening all at once — I couldn’t decide where to head first. However, I quickly figured out where to go to see each country’s exhibit space or “pavilion” and where to listen to panel speakers at the side events.

Part of the magic of COP is finding out about little happenings from talking to different people you meet. Towards the end of the day, a group of the UConn@COP25 Fellows and I were tired, hungry, and mentally drained, but we met a funny man from the Himalayas who convinced us to stay longer.

He told us about his work in planting millions of mangrove trees in the Pacific Islands region and why this was so important to restoring coastal ecosystems and maintaining indigenous communities. His passion for the oceans drew us to stay and participate in the ceremonial welcome event at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion, which was happening in 10 minutes. It started out with the island natives performing songs and saying blessings in their indigenous languages. They also taught us traditional greetings in these languages as well. I quickly learned that the term “moana” is used to describe the sea or the ocean and that these island communities from countries like Fiji, New Zealand, and Tuvalu are very proud to be presenting a unified front focused on the importance of oceans at COP25.

Cook Islands President Puna
Cook Islands President Henry Puna helped to kickoff the opening of the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion. Rising sea levels jeopardize island nations and threaten to shrink their land and sea boundaries. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

In a collective communal prayer, they were thankful for having representation from the island countries, for being in a space to talk and share experiences, and for the opportunity to connect with as many people as they could at this event. It surprised me how welcoming they were to all, even though their island nations and tribal communities are facing the worst effects of climate change, including sea level rise and collapse of coastal ecosystems. They were insistent on having everyone try the kava drink, which is a tea-like beverage often used for medicinal purposes in Fiji, and on taking a group photo with flowers in our hair.

Moana Signs
UConn students pose with signs at Moana booth at COP25. (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

While this welcoming ceremony was peaceful and sweet, the UConn Fellows and I learned more about the issues the islands face when talking to the delegate from Fiji. He told us how frustrated his community was with the conversations at COP; he believed they were too focused on emissions reductions and energy. He told us that his goal for this conference was to add the topic of oceans to the mix, because he said that without protecting aquatic animals, plants, and the coastal ecosystems, indigenous communities could lose their livelihoods. Everyone around the world relies on the ocean for fish, other food products, recreation, and ecosystem services. He said even if we prevent emissions we must also prevent ocean pollution and degradation. Without this, the world will face legal challenges to deal with climate migration of island communities. One of the closing remarks at the ceremony was from the Fiji representative, who spoke about how we are all in a collective canoe, which “takes the message of our people, of our life, of our ancestors” and how we must join in this canoe together and share experiences to tackle the climate issues along this journey.

We cannot forget the voices of indigenous communities and the sinking islands around the world. We must not only prevent climate change, but also protect existing aquatic and coastal ecosystems for a socially and environmentally sustainable future.

Lauren Pawlowski is a sophomore from Shelton, CT. She is pursuing a BA in Environmental Studies and a BS in Economics as part of the UConn Honors Program. Follow her on Twitter for the latest COP25 updates @laurepawlowski


Thinking Beyond Borders & Labels – The Reality of Climate Migration
Megan Ferris – BS Environmental Science

What I was most excited about seeing at COP was the involvement and discussions of climate migrants. During previous years at the COP, the term “climate migrant” wasn’t mentioned quite as much as it already has been in several of the opening panel discussions at COP25.  The concept of environmental migration — a very politically — and socioeconomically-charged issue  has been swept under the rug. But as our seas rise, more people from island nations and coastal communities are being forced to move inland or to mainland countries to look for new homes -two examples of this displacement are the Carteret Islanders and the people of Bangladesh.

Subway Sign
Signage in the Madrid Metro calls attention to alarming statistics about climate change and its impacts on society. (Photo: Megan Ferris)

After just the first day at COP, and with a hopeful mindset, I attended two side events revolving around issues of environmental migration. At one of the events, the speakers brought up a new potential solution called the Nansen Climate passport, which would secure migrants’ access to Germany and remarked, “at least the kinks start the discussion.”   This acknowledges the importance of beginning the conversation about new solutions and getting past the hurdle of inaction, despite the challenges and issues that will inevitably occur.

Another aspect of this issue I found interesting was the notion of clear and unambiguous terminology.  Referring to “climate-induced migrants” directly assigns responsibility and raises awareness about the consequences of climate change, especially as they affect populations that have had so little to do with causation. I find that accepting responsibility is something many countries fail to do.

With this in mind, it would help to observe the inter-sectional realities of a country’s citizens, including environmental migrants, who were forced to leave their homeland, and shouldn’t be penalized or criminalized for doing so.

Climate Migration
COP25 delegates filled a meeting room and discussed climate-induced migration issues. (Photo: Megan Ferris).

The panel brought up a point that I appreciated, which was to “think beyond borders, beyond labels, and as a global community.” No one wants to leave their own home, and as the number of climate-induced migrants increases each year, we need to start raising awareness and motivating more solutions to this complex interdisciplinary issue. We need to make sure that climate-induced migrants of the world are protected. As I continue my experience at COP25, I hope to see more discussion and solutions proposed!

Megan Ferris is a senior from Danbury, CT and class of 2020 Environmental Science Major/ Animal Science Minor


Commonalities Across Cultures: Injustice for Identity Minorities
Xinyu Lin – BS Civil Engineering

The American environmental movement is not secretive about its lack of diversity in leadership. Despite recent pushes to increase representation for identity minorities in decision-making positions, the gender and racial gap is undeniable. Women of color are left unheard while suffering the heaviest effects from the climate crisis.

As my third day at COP25 ends, I’m left reflecting on how diversity & representation issues appear across different cultures. It might seem obvious that there are marginalized groups in every country, but I’m well-aware that my understanding of equitable participation is heavily rooted in the uniquely diverse makeup of America. These past few days at COP have provided me with a privileged opportunity to interact with people in other countries experiencing climate injustice first-handedly, and to thoughtfully process these ideas in conversations with other UConn@COP Fellows.

 IASS Co-Creative Dialogue
UConn students engaging in the IASS Co-Creative Dialogue & Reflection Space. (Photo: Anji Seth)

A side event I attended titled “Indigenous Women: Frontline Defenders in the Fight Against Climate Change,” featured women with origins ranging from Tanzania to Myanmar sharing their experiences as leaders at the front lines of the climate emergency. Even in these countries with racial homogeneity and defining cultural identity, indigenous women are the pillars of community and hold sacred knowledge on medicinal practices, ecology, and food production. As Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact said, “we are the ones who protect the land, and who have been doing it for a long time.” Her voice is a reminder of the knowledgeable female leaders who are well-informed on the problems and solutions facing their own peoples.

IASS Co-Creative Dialogue
Panel of Indigenous women discussing female empowerment and leadership within Indigenous community climate action efforts. (Photo: Xinyu Lin)

A powerful theme amongst identity minorities is amplifying across national boundaries. Despite the Global North’s attempts to propose market-based solutions and technological fixes to the climate emergency, efforts must be concentrated towards funding projects at the community level. We need our decision-makers to reflect the people being most directly affected.

Xinyu Lin is a senior studying Civil Engineering with minors in Environmental Engineering and Math.


Additionality a Must for Carbon Offsets
Hope Dymond – BS Environmental Engineering, Minor Human Rights

I  assumed I would know most of the buzzwords here at the Conference of the Parties. For example, you will hear about the Paris Agreement, signed in 2016 as a treaty among many of the world’s countries. In the agreement they committed to reducing emissions, adapting to climate change and financing these shifts. NDC’s, another important term, are Nationally Determined Contributions, made by each country to define the amount it will “contribute” to the global effort to reduce emissions; a country by country target required by the Paris Agreement.

However, if you walk around this ye

The third person to speak was a slender French man with glasses. I sat down with my tiny notebook open, and just like I had done for the other two speakers, I wrote down his name and started jotting in bullets of what he was saying. Soon this name, Guilles Dufrasne, was surrounded by stars denoting real importance.

Guilles Dufrasne
Guilles Dufrasne, France, discusses rules for carbon markets on panel presentation on Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP25. (Photo: Hope Dymond)

What was he saying? That we need to “finalize the rules for carbon markets.” Ok, cool. He continued, “There are 19,000,000,000 carbon credits crushing the Paris Agreement from the inside.” Dramatic! I was intrigued. “Article 6 is where this will be discussed.” Now I had to learn more about this Article 6, whatever it was. Turns out it is part of the Paris Agreement, a part they are working on finalizing this year at COP in negotiation halls.

A visualization came next. Guilles said picture a huge bathtub, one with many little holes in it. The point of carbon markets here is simple. Emissions of greenhouse gasses that warm the planet are assigned a price per unit. If I am a country, say Spain, and I want to reach my Nationally Determined Contribution target, I can lower my own emissions. But that might not get me all the way there, and I still emit. So I can “buy” carbon credits from another country, say Costa Rica, which is basically me investing in a carbon reduction project there. There are many examples of projects that take greenhouse gasses out of the air, and the result of these market efforts should be an eventual lowering of overall carbon emissions. Back to the bathtub. Carbon pricing has been tried many times before, and failed many times before. All of the little holes in the tub are places where the policy is “leaky”.

One hole in the tub is extra carbon credits from previous projects. If there are trillions of them they will flood the market and crash the prices. Countries will just use these “credits” from the past to trade, and no real reductions project will take place. I am no economist, but this made dire sense to me.

One hole in the tub is lack of additionality — where projects that can be invested in for carbon credits are not sucking in any more carbon from the air than they would have in the first place. Forestry projects are a good example of this. Pretend I am Spain again. I buy some carbon credits from my pal Costa Rica, paying them to protect 1000 acres of trees to offset a certain amount of CO2. We all know trees are good for that! But the trees were already going to be protected. We had no plans of cutting them down! In fact, my carbon offset has created no additional reduction in atmospheric carbon, while I am polluting to add additional carbon into the air.

These failures in policy are grave. One tiny hole in the tub and all the water — every drop — will come flowing out.

Bathtub
Amateur sketch demonstrates the “Bathtub” model for greenhouse gas emissions. (Drawing: Hope Dymond)

If carbon markets are done incorrectly they will add carbon to the air in vast quantities; according to a World Resources Institute report the amount of carbon added through faulty implementation of Article 6 could be more than all the reductions proposed by every country’s NDC combined! Before this policy could even begin to be implemented on a worldwide scale, it has to be airtight. No leaks.

This is not an easy thing to do. In reality, it is a momentous task, and there is a diversity of opinion on every aspect of carbon pricing. In my subsequent days at COP the knowledge and controversy on Article 6 just kept coming in. Some people I listened to at COP say it is all pointless, some say it will always have negative consequences. I have talked to other experts that insist it can be done to great benefit, and understand the intricacies of involving human rights into the conversation. These are all topics for my next blog post. I hope I have left you more informed and a little more intrigued.

Hope is studying Environmental Engineering with a minor in Human Rights.

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.

 

Searching for Hope at COP24

Editor’s Note: During the conference, some of our fellows found themselves overwhelmed by climate change. But despite the feeling of hopelessness, countries have banded together to mitigate the problem. This worldwide cooperation inspires hope for the future and has acted as a source of empowerment for many of our COP fellows. The following blogs detail the emotional journey that many of our fellows experienced.

 

Finding the Good Among the Bad – Kat Konon

Hypocrisy and Hope at COP24 – Adrienne Nguyen

Out of Frustration Arises Empowerment – Jon Ursillo

A Blog About Blog Writing for COP24 – Sophie MacDonald

 

Finding the Good Among the Bad

 Kat Konon – Junior, B.S. Chemical Engineering

The UConn@COP program takes students like me to the UN’s annual Climate Summit and Conference of the Parties (COP) with the expectation that we’ll share our experiences with others in the UConn community and beyond. It’s great for us fellows to have witnessed the conference in action, but we magnify the value of our participation in the COP by communicating what we experienced with as many people as possible upon returning home.

I wanted to come home with some motivational and insightful comments about what we can do to slow down climate change. I took notes and intended to distill one week of meetings, speeches, and demonstrations into just the highlights. When it comes to climate change, we have to emphasize the good or else we risk being overwhelmed by all of the bad news.

Unfortunately, I unintentionally ended up sharing too many lowlights.  These were some of the harsh realities I learned about the effects of climate change and a few of the ironies I observed about where COP24 was being held and how it was being run. I didn’t even realize how negative my recap of the trip had been until my friend, who was beside me more often than not when I shared my COP experience with others, decided to field the “So, how was Poland?” question for me. Her summary went something like this:

“It was depressing! They started off with a trip to Auschwitz which sparked a conversation about climate genocide. With that on her mind, Kat then listened to indigenous peoples at the COP talk about how climate change is ruining their lives. Umm… usually she starts crying right about now. Anyway, she was really interested in the renewable energy initiatives, but those were undermined by the coal fired power plants she saw outside the venue every day (Poland’s electricity generation is 80% coal-based). Not to mention that the conference itself was co-sponsored by coal companies. Also, she was excited by a talk on plant-based diets but one of those speakers pointed out that many of the conference meals were unsustainable because of the high meat content. So, it’s ironic that people at the conference were calling for change but they’re not even serving more sustainable food, which is an effective way to reduce your personal carbon footprint! And so now she feels really guilty but also so lucky to be an American.”

After re-evaluating how I communicated about my experience with friends, I realized that there were also several parts of COP24 that gave me hope.

Greta Thunberg, a 15-year-old activist from Sweden, is inspiring young people to speak up. Every Friday, she skips school to protest outside of the Swedish Parliament. Her initial goal was for Sweden to reduce its emissions to be in line with the Paris Agreement, but COP24 gave her a platform to call for global action to limit the planet’s warming.

NGOs were well-represented, which stresses the idea we don’t have to rely solely on our national governments to implement change.  Groups interested in energy, human rights, religion, law, rainforest preservation, and much more, championed their causes. Interacting with representatives from all of these different NGOs showed me that if you’re passionate about something, there’s a way to link it to the environment. Climate change is everyone’s problem.

During the last panel I attended, a speaker asked, “If we can’t change small things, how will we change big things?” That was a perfect note to end on because, on the way home, we reflected on the conference and talked about how UConn is still committed to achieving aggressive climate goals for the campus, despite the U.S. pulling out of the Paris Climate Agreement. The University aims to be a carbon neutral campus by 2050, and factors such as energy efficiency projects and LEED-certified buildings are helping us stay on track for our 2020 interim goal of a 20% reduction in carbon emissions from a 2007 baseline. We aren’t sustainable yet, but we are a leader among college campuses and I am so proud to be part of that.

 

Hypocrisy and Hope at COP24

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

I would describe my experience at COP24 in three words: insightful, frustrating, and hopeful.

I was able to attend the plenary session for the Talanoa Dialogue which had representatives from all of the countries, providing their remarks in support for the new platform. Across all of the 2-5 minute statements, every country stressed that the IPCC 1.5˚ report must be at the heart of these discussions because of its emphasis on the need for urgent and ambitious action. The underlying message was that we had enough discussions three years after the Paris Agreement. It is time to commit to action because we’re on a catastrophic trajectory towards a global warming of 3.0˚C.

While our UConn cohort was only present during the first week of COP, as the policy making decisions happened the following week, I left the conference feeling frustrated. COP’s events schedule was filled with panels discussing critical issues such as the intersection of gender, feminism, poverty, and climate change and bringing in representatives from indigenous populations to speak. However, these events were only considered “side events”. It seems odd that even though COP24’s theme was to promote storytelling, these voices were not a part of formal negotiations. On one of the bus rides, I met a Portuguese conference attendee who said that Poland heightened its security in preparation for the conference and subjected all protestors to jail if they started any unapproved riots.

Poland’s law basically negates the meaning of the Talanoa Dialogue. At one of our pre-trip meetings back at UConn, we watched a video of protestors disrupting Trump’s “Coal for Climate” meeting at COP23. But COP24 didn’t allow for these diverse and plural voices to be heard. In fact, the Young Feminist for Climate Justice group had to get permission to host and schedule a march during the conference. How are we supposed to make change if the conference is censoring protests? This essentially creates yet another barrier for the voices of activists and non-governmental organizations to actually be included in climate negotiations.

The headlines that I have read about the results of COP24 focus on the “insufficient action” and “morally unacceptable” outcomes which were “totally inadequate.” The guidelines didn’t propose any immediate action towards getting on a low-carbon pathway by 2020.

I’m unsatisfied with the outcome of COP24 but I haven’t lost hope.

I met someone at the Climate Hub, who was a member of the Conference of Youth, and we discussed the US’s recent political climate. When I told him how dismayed I am about how rapidly our country’s politics are regressing, he mentioned that it is almost better to have the person in our current administration because it sparked a surge of diverse voices who want to spearhead change. This is analogous to COP24’s outcomes and the fight for climate change. The lack of action only lights the fire for young climate activists to hold the government accountable for avoiding a climate catastrophe. Greta Thunberg, the feisty 15 year-old Swedish climate activist, sure is not going to stop calling out political leaders for failing to make climate change higher on their agenda. People are not going to stop telling their stories but rather they’ll just raise their voices.

In the words of the Fiji Climate Champion for COP23, Minister Inia Seruiratu, “Are we like the people dancing on the titanic while the ship was sinking? We should not be so patient.” At COP24, I learned that we can no longer leave climate change in the hands of the government. It’s everyone’s responsibility to start demanding and taking ambitious action.

 

Out of Frustration Arises Empowerment

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

COP24 yielded immense frustration with the status of global climate action.  The current course of climate change mitigation, if continued, is on pace to put the 2 degree Celsius warming goal from Paris out of reach by 2030.  The United States conducted a side event promoting coal and other fossil fuels and also partnered with Russia, Saudi Arabia, and Kuwait to blunt the acceptance of the alarming new IPCC report, detailing action required to prevent 1.5 degrees Celsius of warming.  Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, coordinator of the Association of Native Peul Women of Chad, pleaded for climate action on behalf of her people’s lives, but was given few tangible results.  The host venue offered a meat-laden dining menu and lined its walls with plastic cups and jugs of water, juxtaposing the purpose of the conference with blatantly unsustainable practices.

Despite the exhaustive list of reasons for despair, I left the COP24 hopeful and empowered.  In the midst of uncertainty regarding U.S. climate action, Joseph Robertson, Global Strategy Director for Citizens’ Climate Lobby, highlighted bipartisan support for a new carbon dividend bill, which would put a price on carbon in the United States and return 100 percent of the money back to the American people.  Moreover, I witnessed Germany pledge 1.5 billion Euros to finance climate action across the world, particularly assisting developing nations adapt to a changing climate that they largely had no hand in changing.  Additionally, I received powerful encouragement from Dr. Maria Neira, Director of Public Health, Environmental Health, and Social Determinants of Health for the World Health Organization, who implored Sahil Laul, another UConn student at COP24, and me to “Remember that you are politicians…you are politicians with a big P.”

Above all, perhaps the most inspiring aspect of my experience was engaging with the other UConn students on the trip.  The passion, knowledge, and diverse perspectives that each student expressed were remarkable.  I sincerely believe that I learned more from my peers during the week at COP24 than I have learned in all of my classes combined this past semester.  Not only was I enlightened, but I was also injected with renewed hope and purpose that other students shared my desire for action.  Further, the caliber of students from the UConn contingent gave me trust that the fight for the future of humanity will relentlessly persist.  I am confident that the UConn students who attended COP24 will actualize Greta Thunberg’s vision for the world’s youth.  The 15 year-old climate activist from Sweden spoke for all of us when she asserted, “We have come here to let you know that change is coming, whether you like it or not. The real power belongs to the people.”

 

 

 

A Blog About Blog Writing for COP24

Sophie MacDonald – Junior, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

I am Overwhelmed. This post was meant to be more positive, and maybe instill a sense of hope while discussing a less-than-cheerful topic. I will get around to that bit in the end, as my experience at COP24 was immensely valuable. For now, though, let me just say: I have struggled to write this blog. Learning about, writing about, discussing the complexities of climate change, is HARD. It is MENTALLY TAXING. There are so many reasons why. In fact, that’s actually one reason right there: it really isn’t just one topic.

Climate change encompasses so many issues and movements that I’m finding it impossible to talk about all of it accurately and concisely (in 500 words or less, a guideline you will notice I’ve greatly exceeded). I don’t want to misrepresent any of the science or the social movements involved, because skepticism surrounding climate change is so easy to feed by accident. Even if you explain a given facet of the issue perfectly, there are still a lot of people who will not believe the data presented, or will refuse to buy into the importance of environmental justice. Any imperfection in your presentation can severely damage credibility in this field where no one wants to believe that what you are saying is real in the first place. The goal is to involve as many people as possible in the conversation, so getting the facts straight and delivering the message well is crucial.

In order to further this goal, it is also important to be empathetic to the widest possible audience. This is not easy to do in when discussing such a charged topic. There is plenty of blame to be placed, and it is difficult to talk about climate change without feeling anger. This is not to say that we shouldn’t be angry; we absolutely should be. However, I and others in my generation have a tendency to create a narrative around blaming older people for the mess we seem to be in now, and I don’t know that focusing on this is the best way to get support for the environmental movement. Also, while industrial growth over time and its negative effects on the environment and its people are certainly as a result of those who came before us, I can’t fairly say that I would have acted differently in their position. Up until somewhat recently, few members of the general public could readily access the scientific research being done. Even if they could, it was easier in previous decades, for a variety of reasons, to perceive its ramifications as a distant problem with plenty of room for doubt. Of course, when we generation-blame, the anger is often truly directed at past policy-makers, not the general public. However, this point isn’t always made clear amidst the passionate speech-making – which is understandable, given that the nit-picking and caveat-creating I am doing now aren’t exactly conducive to a stirring call to action – and I have older adults in my life who have taken offense to this sort of dialogue and are more prone to discredit the ideas being shared because of it.

Generational tensions are just one example of the difficulty in finding common ground in this movement. There are so many ways to shut down a conversation about climate change, something few want to discuss in the first place, by inadvertently alienating someone based on some part of their identity. Of course, such identities can also be used to one’s advantage. We talked a lot amongst the students at COP about being able to relate climate change to people’s personal lives in order to really get them to care. This seems like a promising route to take, and directly rooted in the empathy I believe is so vital to all of this. It does become somewhat difficult to employ, though, when dealing with comparatively wealthy New Englanders, for instance, who aren’t yet seeing direct consequences in their immediate lives. It is much simpler to ignore problems when they aren’t at your own doorstep.

ANYWAYS, as you can see, I circle in my head over and over again when thinking about climate change and how to convey its effects to others. There are so many ways to get discouraged, and so many rabbit holes to fall down.*

So, I have thought a lot, and more thinking can always be done. Eventually, though, I do need to get to the point and act on my thinking. This is much easier said than done. A common theme throughout the environmental movement, and at COP24 specifically, is the hemming and hawing: ‘We must carefully think it all through and make sure steps are taken in the proper order!’ So the conversation goes. However, as Daniela Jacob, chapter lead author of the latest IPCC report, emphasized as a panelist for the COP24 event “From Science to Policy,” this has been the dialogue surrounding climate change for 30 years – we have thought about it plenty. Even now, this thinking and discussing is being used as a stalling tactic and is perpetuating the “political war” that is standing in the way of true progress.

The future now is clearer than ever. At this point, science pretty clearly demonstrates that

  1. Climate change is happening
  2. Increased carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are a significant contributor
  3. Humans are a major source of this increase, and
  4. This process is bad, for us and for the rest of the living planet. (Check out a previous OEP blog for a nice summary of the impacts).

The time to act is now, and there are many ways for individuals to help. The ones I will talk about next are rather aimed at college students, since such guidance is what I was looking to get for myself out of COP. One specific action to take if you plan to go directly into scientific research is to browse through the sections in the IPCC report titled “Knowledge Gaps and Key Uncertainties” at the end of each chapter. Here, the report includes topics and questions that require further research, some pertaining to atmospheric data, others to the social and political components, and still others to the economic aspects of climate change. I learned about these sections of the report at the previously mentioned “From Science to Policy” panel and was super excited, as this is exactly the detailed plan of attack that I had been looking for upon which to potentially base my own future career. In terms of furthering the movement more generally, and perhaps on a larger scale, there is always the option of taking the knowledge gained from the IPCC and other sources directly to policymakers. One way to do this as a student is by supporting or acting in environmental lobbyist groups. To quote another panelist, Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, “most leaders are not leaders, they are followers.” The onus is on our leaders to enact policies and generally act on behalf of our future, but realistically we must show them why they should act: we will not support them and they will be out of a job if they don’t.

Despite my constant internal grappling with all of this – now externalized at the start of this blog! – attending COP24 gave me some hope. There are people out there in positions of power who truly care. Whether enough people are doing enough caring to fix the problem before it is Too Late ™ remains to be seen. However, we have more knowledge and more clarity in purpose than ever before. With our ever-growing scientific knowledge, technological capability and awareness of the social and political effects of climate change, my generation has the potential to do incredible things. Ideally, we will choose to act on that capacity, and humanity will be better for it.

 

*(read NYT’s Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change if you want to fall with me! Parts of it are overdramatized, but it’s a good overview of the U.S. debate on climate change and on how it became a debate in the first place. The article also touches on the fact that climate science has over a century of scientific backing.)


 

Technological Methods for Addressing Climate Change

Editors Note: COP fellows had the opportunity to visit numerous pavilions sponsored by individual countries which highlighted their unique commitments to addressing climate change. While most countries showcased goals and projects related to energy efficiency and renewable energy, some countries discussed other technological solutions. The following blog discusses one such technological solution to mitigating climate change and its impacts on marine ecosystems.

CCell – One Innovation Among Many @COP24 – Sophie MacDonald

 

CCell – One Innovation Among Many @COP24

Sophie MacDonald – Junior, B.S. Mechanical Engineering

Technology alone is not going to stop climate change. The success of any large-scale movement is contingent on backing from the hearts and minds of the people it is affecting. In the case of climate change, this essentially means that everyone across the globe, or at least those people with direct access to policy (who in turn are backed by constituents… so really, it needs to be everyone) needs to be convinced of the importance of environmental stewardship and of using sustainable technology in the first place.

All of this in mind, the tech industry meanwhile is doing some pretty incredible things. One especially promising technology featured at the United Kingdom pavilion at COP24 is that of CCell, a device that harnesses wave energy in order to ultimately generate electricity and grow coral reefs to protect coastal areas and maintain marine biodiversity. The system consists of just a few key components, making the technology comparatively cheap, and the basic process is as follows:

  • A carbon fiber shell floats at wave height and harnesses the motion-based energy of waves.
  • This mechanical energy is converted into electrical energy inside a compact element featuring a hydraulic piston as the driving mechanism (I do not fully understand how this works, but it sounds very cool!)
  • Electrical energy is used for electrolysis (current-driven chemical reaction) in order to create a layer of limestone over a steel structure – any steel structure, you could throw a bike in the ocean and hook this device up – that has been placed underwater
  • This limestone attracts marine wildlife, and coral reefs in particular grow 2-5 times as quickly and are allegedly 20 times more resilient than a typical reef on this newly formed rock
  • The excess electricity not used in the electrolysis process (which requires just a low, safe voltage) may be returned to shore for use on land
CCell System
CCell system connected to an on-land electrical grid. Source

The last item on the list is a goal for the immediate future of the device, but the conversion of wave energy to coral reefs has been tested and implemented with success.

Like all novel technologies, it is important to take all of the above information with a healthy dose of skepticism, and I was initially tempted to chalk this technology up to a flashy sideshow with no real application. After talking with an engineer on the project, though, and doing plenty of individual research, I am quite hopeful for this project’s future.

First, the technology they are employing for limestone creation is not new; it is backed by 30 years of research, refinement, and implementation, and is a patented process under a company called BioRock. CCell’s addition to this process is that of off-shore harnessing of wave energy to produce the necessary electricity, and the two technologies work in tandem better than they ever could separately. CCell provides BioRock with electricity on the open ocean, enabling BioRock to have a wider range of applicability, and BioRock gives CCell a secure place to ground their device.

CCell technology seems to be about as invasive as a large buoy. It is also quite robust and degrades minimally over time, so concerns about harm to marine life appear to be mitigable.  Looking at CCell’s twitter page, they also seem to really care about environmental stewardship, and as a start-up company in renewable energy, are definitely not in it solely for the money.

Overall, this technology seems to have a lot of potential on a small scale, and specifically has promise as an energy source and means of coastal protection for smaller island communities. These communities are going to be the most affected by climate change – despite typically contributing minimally to its causes – due to sea level rise, so I have high hopes for CCell. While it will definitely never remotely reach the scale necessary to prevent global warming on its own, my guess is that in the small number of places it reaches, it will have a real, positive impact.

For more information, go to http://www.globalcoral.org/ccell-energy-save-coral/ or refer directly to CCell’s website and social media.

 

 

 

 

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.