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.

Natural Resources and Climate Change

Editor’s Note: Climate change requires humans to adapt and modify their behavior to preserve natural resources for generations to come. Our fellows identified a number of natural resource issues at the COP. Some areas have shown growth in adaptation measures, but other sectors require much more work if we hope to address and adapt to climate change.

Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis – Georgia Hernandez-Corrales

“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health – Himaja Nagireddy

 

Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis

Georgia Hernandez-Corrales – M.S. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

[English version]

The biggest rebellion that a community can do in the face of the current climatic crisis is secure its food independence.

Dhanush Dinesh from the CCAFS given his talk about “food transform XII. Levels to transform food systems under climate change”.

One of the discussions that most impacted me at COP@25 was the issue of food security. Especially because I come from a country (Costa Rica) in which we are giant producers of pineapple, banana, and flowers. What would happen if a global catastrophe happens and we could not continue importing all our food? Would we survive with fruits and flowers?

This is the situation of many countries in the world where governments have looked away from the importance of food security. This issue was discussed in the side event on actions for future food security. Panelist Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) was very direct in stating that the collective imaginary is to think farming is desperate decision but should be a decision for prosperity. Unfortunately, this is how governments and society in general think about agriculture. They think agriculture is a symbol of poverty and lack of education. The irony is great when the entire population depends on this forgotten sector. Farmers are a fragile group which already has to address intrinsic problems and are more vulnerable now than ever because of climate change.

Dhanush talked about the need to transform the production system through simple steps so that governments and communities can easily adapt their production systems to better environmental practices.

Among the most important mechanisms are eliminating crop expansion and concentrating on increasing soil health, reducing food waste, and improving crops with new production technologies. He mentioned agriculture must be seen as something “cool” in order to encourage new generations of farmers that seek prosperity. Of course, this has to be coupled with a government that increases the resilience of markets and supports the social mobility of agricultural sectors. In addition, it should go hand in hand with the promotion of social change for more sustainable decision-making, such as more friendly environmental diets and reduction of food waste.

If we modify our behaviors as consumers, the market will be forced to change according to current demands. It seems that countries are not going to agree at the COP@25 negotiations, but against this, what is left is to safeguard the future through local governments. Now, the change has to begin at a very personal level, such as buying food locally, demand that local governments protect local producers and protect them from climate change and eliminate food waste. At the level of local government there must be a transfer of knowledge from universities and institutions towards production, zero agricultural land expansion, encourage agroecology, and to eliminate myths around technology that improves production.

[Spanish version]

Seguridad alimentaria para el futuro

La rebelión mas grande que una comunidad puede hacer ante la crisis actual es asegurar su independencia alimentaria.

Uno de los temas que más me impactaron en la COP@25 fue el tema de seguridad alimentaria. En especial porque vengo de un país (Costa Rica) en el que somos gigantes productores de piña, banano y flores. ¿Qué pasaría ante una catástrofe mundial y no pudiéramos seguir importando todos nuestros alimentos? ¿Sobreviviríamos con frutas y flores?

Esta es la situación de muchos países en el mundo donde los gobiernos han apartado su mirada de la importancia de asegurar la producción alimentaria nacional. Este tema se discutió en el Side Event sobre acciones para la futura seguridad alimentaria. El panelista Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) fue muy directo al mencionar que es inaceptable el imaginario colectivo que se tiene de que tornarse hacia la agricultura sea una decisión desesperada, sino que debería ser una decisión para la prosperidad. Lamentablemente así es como ven la agricultura los gobiernos y la mayoría de las personas en el mundo. La agricultura es símbolo de pobreza y falta de educación. Esto es irónico al pensar que toda la población depende de este sector olvidado y que ya es frágil para atender problemas intrínsecos, y aún ahora más vulnerable ante el cambio climático.

Dhanush habló de la necesidad de transformar el sistema de producción mediante pasos simples para que los gobiernos y comunidades se puedan adaptar fácilmente a sus sistemas de producción.

Entre los mecanismos más importantes están eliminar la expansión de los cultivos y concentrarse en aumentar la salud de los suelos, reducir la pérdida de comida, y mejorar los cultivos con nuevas tecnologías de producción. Mencionaba que de alguna manera hay que hacer ver la agricultura como algo “cool” para fomentarla entre las nuevas generaciones y que sea vista como un símbolo de prosperidad. Claro está, esto iría de la mano con un gobierno que aumente la resiliencia de los mercados y apoye la movilidad social de los sectores agrícolas. Además, debería de ir de la mano con la promoción de un cambio social para la toma de decisiones más sustentables, como el caso de dietas más amigables con el ambiente y una reducción del desperdicio de alimento.

Si modificamos nuestras conductas como consumidores, el mercado se verá obligado a cambiar conforme a las demandas actuales. Todo parece ver que los países no se van a poner de acuerdo en las negociaciones de la COP@25, pero ante tanta inoperancia lo que queda es salvaguardar el futuro mediante los gobiernos locales. Así que el cambio comienza a nivel muy personal, desde que compremos alimentos locales, exijamos a los gobiernos locales la protección de los productores locales para resguardarlos ante consecuencias del cambio climático, y hasta eliminar el desperdicio de comida. A nivel de gobierno local debe de existir una transferencia de conocimiento de universidades y centros de conocimiento hacia la producción, evitar la competición de productores locales con exteriores, fomentar la agroecología mediante la eliminación de monocultivos y que toda práctica esté a favor el ambiente, y finalmente, eliminar la misticidad alrededor de técnicas de mejora en la producción.

Georgia is a graduate student from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UConn.

 

“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health

Himaja Nagireddy –  B.S. Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology

Himaja interviewed prominent climate scientist James Hansen, whose 1988 Congressional testimony brought climate change into the national discussion. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

Far too often, we take the air we breathe for granted. A COP25 exhibit made it a point to draw attention to the air pollution that millions are experiencing on a daily basis, to help us understand why addressing air pollution is key to our fight against climate change.

The immersive art installation contained five pods which mimicked air pollution in four of the most polluted cities in the world (London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, and New Delhi), as well as one of the cleanest air environments in the world (Tautra in Norway).

The pods themselves were safe, containing perfume blends and fog machines to imitate the quality of the air at these different locations. The temperature was also controlled in the pods. A heater was added in the Delhi pod to mimic warm temperatures and an air conditioner was added to the Beijing pod to mimic the cold temperatures this time of year.

As soon as we walked into the first pod, which mimicked the air conditions of London, the decrease in air quality was clearly visible- the air was much foggier and smelled strongly. Walking into the New Delhi pod, one immediately felt the humid and sticky atmosphere of the city and the fog was a bit thicker. It was hard to see objects that were over 15 feet away with the smog. The transition into the Beijing pod was a stark temperature difference. We could see our breath turn into fog and merge with the heavy smoke in the room. The Sao Paulo pod was warmer but with a similar fog density. This lead to the last pod mimicking air quality conditions in Tautra, Norway. Here, the air was clear and smelled fresh, a welcome change from the other pods that were difficult to breathe in.

Walking through the pods put into perspective so much of what I had known but never really understood. It is one thing to read articles about air particulate matter in cities that exceed safe air pollution limits and ano ther to experience what degraded air quality feels like.

According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million deaths in both urban and rural areas and has been linked to stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

As a student interested in understanding the intersections between health and the environment, walking through the pods helped me better understand why addressing air pollution is critical to our fight against climate change and our goal for achieving social health and well-being globally.

This is but one example of how COP25 hosted a variety of platforms for stakeholders to raise their voices in an effort to bring global climate change issues and their relevance to social health and well-being close to home. As a first time COP attendee, I walked away from the event with a strong sense of hope and personal responsibility to continue fighting the fight against climate change, to ensure a more equal and fairer world for all.

Air quality exhibit at COP25 that immersed attendees in the air quality conditions experienced by populations around the globe. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy)

Himaja Nagireddy, from Acton, MA, is a senior undergraduate student pursuing three degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology with a minor in Chemistry.

The panel for the side event ‘Science and Innovation in Support of Climate Action for the Poor and the Vulnerable’. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy).

Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Rights

Editor’s Note: Despite contributing little to climate change, indigenous groups will likely be among the first to suffer the consequences. These communities have been quick to advocate against climate change, but have struggled to make their voices heard amongst the global community. 

Disproportionate Representation at COP25 – Matthew Yang

The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge – Megan Ferris

 

Disproportionate Representation at COP25

Matthew Yang – B.S. Civil Engineering

Coming back from COP25 I’m overwhelmed with mixed emotions. On one hand I’m suffused with exuberance and a sense of fulfillment. Attending the UN Climate Change Conference was a once in a lifetime experience. I got to participate in a conference convening thousands of the world’s leading scientists, politicians, business leaders, students and activists. In Madrid I gained new experiences, insights and met genuinely inspiring people. Yet there was constantly this underlying feeling that I didn’t belong. This discomfort didn’t stem from the presence of intimidating ambassadors and overpowered prime ministers. Moresoe it came from a gradual awareness of the voices absent from COP25, the presences absent from the discussion.

Coastal, island, and sub-saharan communities in non-western countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. I had the privilege of hearing from ambassador Ronald Jean Jumeau of Seychelles, a small island nation off the eastern coast of Africa. He fears that rising sea levels are destined to make thousands of islands like Seychelles uninhabitable. Millions of people from island nations will be forced to flee their homes, abandoning their culture, way of life, and even their language. The COP is intended to be a space for nations to negotiate and propose a unified response to the climate crisis. Despite having the most to lose, nations like the Seychelles lack the representation and political clout needed to make their problems relevant in negotiations.

Nations like the Seychelles face tremendous logistical, economic, social and political barriers just to attend the conference. The COP was originally planned for Santiago, Chile, but violent protests in the weeks before forced Chile to withdraw. Scrambling officials were able to find a replacement venue in Madrid, Spain.

Thousands of people had to try their best to reschedule flights, rebook hotels, and recuperate expenses. We were some of the fortunate, who were able to still attend the conference in Madrid. However this logistical nightmare prevented hundreds of representatives from nations like Peru from attending the COP. For those representatives able to attend, the stakes were extremely high. The livelihood of thousands of people weighed on the handful of delegates sent by these disenfranchised communities. As the negotiations carried on, many of these delegates became more and more pessimistic. It was becoming evident that little to no progress was being made.

I am extremely grateful and honored to be among the 21 delegates UCONN sent to COP25. I’m also disturbed and upset by our school having representation not afforded to entire nations and impoverished populations bearing the brunt of climate change. There is a clear disparity in representation between western and non-western countries at the UN Climate Change Conference. Climate change and global superpowers inattention to developing and at-risk nations are rooted in economic disparity and the extractive economies of the west. After disenfranchising non-western countries for centuries, it’s vital western nations listen responsively to the communities suffering from climate change. We must be able to propose solutions for all, and not just for the hegemony.

 

The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge

Megan Ferris – B.S. Environmental Science

Map of the Pacific Islands. (Photo: Megan Ferris)

Reflecting on all my experiences and encounters at COP25, I have decided that one of the most powerful lessons I learned was how resilient indigenous communities are and how important their role is in mitigating and stopping global climate change.

These communities have produced the lowest amounts of carbon dioxide that have entered the atmosphere and more importantly, they have an influential tool many developed countries don’t utilize — the power of storytelling.

Most of my memories gained from COP revolved around stories I heard from various people I encountered. Stories link people and communities to each other by appealing to the emotions. Many people have a hard time understanding the complicated numbers that are involved in discussions on global climate change. However, hearing firsthand stories of how nations, islands, and people are personally being affected allows others to truly comprehend the devastation involved in this global crisis, and thus I’m hopeful these indigenous voices and their work will get more people to act.

One story that left a lasting impact on me was from the people of the Polynesian islands.

Angelica Salele, from the island of Tuvolu, told me her experiences with her island sinking and how the salt water from the seas rising has destroyed much of the vegetation on the outskirts of the islands, leaving them with less food to eat.

She also told how she was a mother and her biggest desire is to have her child know the island she has grown to love. But she fears that the sea will one day swallow everything she calls home and her child will only know fear for the ocean and not the life and love she knows.

Another woman named Shawna Larson reflected on how her community in Alaska has some of the highest rates of cancer and illnesses due to DDT and other chemicals making their way into the sea and up into the Arctic, where it is in the fish they eat and then gets passed to children in the breast milk. She also commented on the power of storytelling and how it “makes you feel and feeling gives you responsibility and relationship to things.”

Shawna Lawson from Alaska and I discussed the importance of storytelling. (Photo: Megan Ferris).

Indigenous communities not only understand the power of storytelling but they also have traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge works to simplify the scientific jargon and numbers for communities. It attempts to bridge this communications barrier in order to allow more people the opportunity to be informed and to open a space for dialogue in order to have action.

Local people need to be involved and traditional knowledge is another tool that can work to bring their voices to the table.

One speaker from the Polynesian islands said how she used to contemplate if she was “good enough” to discuss and take on this climate change emergency. She said people of their islands always look to others for the answers, until they realized their own worth and traditional knowledge.

She remarked, “I’m talking as an expert about being a human in the Pacific, not as an expert about climate science.” But because she wasn’t a scientist it doesn’t mean her voice should be any less important. She wanted to humanize the Pacific and other indigenous communities and leverage them into positions of power, which needs to be done.

Sustainable Development

Editor’s Note: We must rethink how we structure our society and create our buildings. Building a greener, more sustainable world, is crucial if we hope to mitigate the effects of our changing environment.

Need vs. Greed: Balancing Economic Development and Sustainability – Spencer Kinyon

Sustainable Development and Youth Partnership – Sarah Schechter

 

Need vs. Greed: Balancing Economic Development and Sustainability

Spencer Kinyon – B.S. Political Science and Economics

Throughout COP25, UConn students had the unique opportunity to talk with people from different countries and organizations about the discovery and implementation of solutions to climate change. On the last day we attended COP25, myself and two other UConn students had the chance to interview C.K. Mishra, who is the Secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change for India. Secretary Mishra discussed how climate change is impacting India and the solutions involving mitigation and adaptation that the nation is pursuing. With over one billion people, India is an extremely large economy that is constantly growing. Therefore, India has had to find a way to balance economic development with sustainability.

This quote from Gandhi is true now more than ever in light of the climate crisis. The quote was displayed on the India pavilion at COP25. (Photo-Spencer Kinyon)

Under the Paris Climate Agreement, every country established Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), whereby each country agreed to reduce their emissions by a specific amount. Currently, India is only one of four countries that is on pace to fulfill its nationally determined contributions. As a result, Secretary Mishra stated that the country is pursuing “sustainable growth” in order to meet the needs and demands of the people, while thinking about their impact. Secretary Mishra highlighted that India is pursuing a goal of 40% renewable electricity by 2022 and moving away from coal to renewable energy.

Our conversation was fantastic because it allowed me to better understand how leaders in government are thinking about climate change and its real effects. He highlighted the point that individuals want to be sustainable, but also want cars. As a result, people’s lifestyles must change Secretary Mishra further inspired us to think of Mahatma Gandhi quote: “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” I believe that Mahatma Gandhi’s message is one that everyone in the world should be thinking about. We might not all be from the same country, but we all share this world, and we need to ensure that our world is sustainable.

The India pavilion at COP25 was a celebration of Mahatma Gandhi. (Photo-Spencer Kinyon)

In a separate discussion at the Chile pavilion, I learned that one of the methods through which India is pursuing climate adaptation is using artificial intelligence. Google has developed an initiative called “AI for Social Good”, whereby the company partners with governments and organizations to develop methods to use artificial intelligence to address problems in the world. Carla Bromberg, who is the Program Lead of AI for Social Good at Google, spoke of how they have accepted many projects related to climate change. Due to the increase in flooding r elated to climate change, Google partnered with the government of India to improve flood forecasting. Using data provided by India’s government, Google is able to utilize machine learning to forecast flooding and then notify people about potential floods. I found this use of artificial intelligence and data to be a fantastic method to adapt to climate change. It was inspiring to hear about Google’s efforts to use their technology to better the world and potentially save people’s lives.

 

Spencer is a Senior from Cheshire, Connecticut pursuing a degree in Political Science and Economics.

 

Sustainable Development and Youth Partnership

Sarah SchechterB.A. Environmental Studies and Anthropology

Student action on campus is powerful, present, and pushing universities towards progress. When youths have the opportunity to collaborate, there is no end to amazing projects that can be created.

This year UConn partnered with other institutions from the United States and had a booth where students could discuss the programs at their schools that related to COP25. Some of the students also spent the semester working on projects related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and presented them during “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals” on Tuesday, December 3.

Students resenting at the “SDGS for the SDGS: Students Doing Goal-Oriented Science for Sustainable Development Goals” event. (Photo: Sarah Schechter).

I spent some time talking with two students, Alexis Pascaris and Adewale Adesanya from Michigan Tech, who were focusing on SDG #11: “Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient & sustainable.”

One of the case studies they discussed, was the implementation of a Sustainable Demonstration House (SDH) at the university. This building, first constructed in 1979, has been more recently renovated with the help of the Alternative Energy Enterprise in order to make it more sustainable and energy efficient. Changes included adding solar panels, installing low-flow faucets, switching to LED bulbs, performing a blower test to check for heat leaks, committing to composting, recycling, and utilizing aquaponics. A small group of students live in and maintain the SDH, ensuring that tasks are being carried out. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1nDxTl61OTnuNOKuNk-ptNBKResNzIFWn/view?usp=sharing

After learning about the feature of the SDH at Michigan Tech, it sounded very similar to many of the sustainable actions at Spring Valley Student Farm at UConn.

At the farm there is the use of solar power, composting, recycling, some implementation of aquaponics for a period of time, beekeeping and also the students grow a great deal of food that is then distributed at Whitney Dining Hall.

Additionally, other students from campus have the opportunity to get involved with the farm through Farm Fridays, attending the Spring Valley Student Farm Club, or through the EcoHouse learning community. This interaction allows the farmers to share their sustainable lifestyles with the rest of campus, which will hopefully encourage others to do the same.

I was very interested to listen to the presentation and see that Michigan Tech and UConn have been working on similar projects. It is the hope that these projects will continue to spread throughout each school and in others as well.

One of the many projects ongoing at Spring Valley Student Farm. (Photo: https://dining.uconn.edu/spring-valley-farm/)

COP, Carbon Markets, and Culture

Editor’s Note: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement states that countries are to set up a global carbon market to encourage a more affordable transition towards carbon neutral economies. The implementation of the article was a major focus of COP25 – Read what our fellows have to say about it below!

Top Down and Bottom Up: The Dual Approach Needed to Address Climate Change – Lauren Pawlowski

Article 6 Deconstructed and Why No One Can Agree on a Solution – Hope Dymond

Carbon Pricing and Indigenous People: Key Issues at COP25 – Michael Goccia

 

Top Down and Bottom Up: The Dual Approach Needed to Address Climate Change

Lauren Pawlowski – B.A. Environmental Studies and B.S. Economics

 

A lot of the conversation and debate at COP25 was about carbon markets, carbon budgets, and renewable energy. There was heated talk in some of the high-level negotiations between country delegates regarding consensus on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which is centered on carbon markets.

These negotiations were only in one or two hour blocks and these high-status delegates only meet at the annual COP in December, in June, and at a few interim meetings during the year. Also, unless every country in attendance agrees, nothing gets passed, so I could clearly see the frustration of delegates over this lengthy process when countries like Egypt prioritized their own individual interests over global cooperation.

These types of international agreements and articles of the Paris Agreement are important in building a foundation of environmental policy on a global scale. However, it seems like a difficult task to reach consensus on and outline ways to implement these policies.

 

On a similar note, encouraging countries to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to reduce emissions through energy infrastructure is a good starting point for reducing climate change at the national level. However, change at the local level is more community-based, dignifying, and attainable.

Shawna Lawson, who is a part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Native Movement.org, and is Ahtna on her father’s side and Supiaq on her mother’s side,, mentioned at a panel that Native Americans have the highest rates of breast cancer, diabetes, incarceration, and suicide in Alaska. She talked about how DDT is still used in other countries besides the US today, so it biomagnifies in the global aquatic food chains and causes health problems within the tribes.

When I asked her how she tries to alleviate these social and environmental justice issues, she highlighted the importance of education and culture. Shawna said that in her traditional language, “there is no way to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ You have to show it.” In this sense, the tribes have to honor their responsibility to the earth through their daily actions and by passing on their cultural values through songs, stories, and teachings.

She talked about her tribe when she said, “We made an agreement to take care of the earth and the earth, in agreement, would take care of us.”

Through their indigenous way of life that honors the planet and its natural resources, they are environmental stewards. Shawna also told us how there are only two Alaskan tribal schools that educate indigenous people on the true history of US involvement in the tribal nations and colonization. By passing down stories of life before big oil extractors took over their lands, she said, they are able to take pride in their culture and ties to their environment.

In terms of the climate crisis, Shawna told the crowd that she worries about everyone else in the world. Her tribe, she said, “Will continue to be here. We will figure it out.”

This is one of many examples where bottom-up efforts to make a community more sustainable are best achieved through storytelling, activism, spreading awareness, and local policy change. This makes big issues like climate change and environmental justice more personal and relatable and it enables small individual actions to contribute to greater world change.

Environmental issues must be tackled from these two lenses: one from a technology, infrastructure, economic lens and one from a social change perspective. International, national, and local change all need to occur simultaneously in order for the world to tackle the climate crisis, but more individuals can contribute to this through action in the local communities that they know best. In this way, communities can honor their experiences and culture and fight for a better future together.

 

Article 6 Deconstructed and Why No One Can Agree on a Solution

Hope Dymond – B.S. Environmental Engineering

My first blog post was about Article 6, and I would recommend reading that (see Hope Dymond) first, as well as Alyssa Pagan’s Article 6 blog, to get a full understanding of this important component of this year’s negotiations.

Now that we have returned home, and the COP 25 has concluded, what is the status of Article 6? Let’s see if we can find out.

At the conference, it is impossible to be at every negotiation at once, and for a newcomer, even if I was at every negotiation I would falter in comprehending what was going on. However, I found a helpful tool at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s booth in Madrid. They write a Bulletin (check it out!) for each day of the conference that summarizes the goings-on of the party talks. From here is where we’ll look to see the failings of the COP in regards to Article 6, and details on what is next.

The COP ended Sunday December 15, two days after the official deadline of December 13th. And yet even with the extra time, regarding Article 6, “CMA President Schmidt reported no substantive agreement could be reached on this agenda item.”

The countries could not agree.

There were issues on specifics of Article 6 that countries held differing views on, and even after the two week conference the decisions could not be made.

One outstanding issue was whether carbon credits, or units, from the previous Kyoto Protocol could be used to in this new trading system under the Paris Agreement’s Article 6. Countries such as Australia and Brazil were proponents of this happening, but many other countries, as well as NGOs, called for the avoidance of double counting.

My understanding of the logic behind both sides is not that advanced, but it goes like this: If I am an Australian and I have spent lots of money reducing emissions in a certain sector, then suddenly I’m being told I can’t use my hard earned “credits” in a new carbon trading scheme, then I am being denied a reward for all my work.

On the opposing side, against double counting, is the bathtub argument from my first blog post. The millions of carbon credits put towards previous trading schemes such as the Kyoto scheme are called “hot air” because counting them again in the new trading system will flood the carbon market. You have probably heard what flooding any market will do –flooding will bring the prices way down and low prices make carbon markets ineffective.

To the groups standing firmly against double counting, these “hot air” credits need to be avoided. The negotiations on this topic were pushed to June 2020 where the SBSTA (another fun acronym meaning Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) will discuss further.

One more problem the countries couldn’t agree on was human rights. Some parties wanted to explicitly mention human rights in Article 6, other wanted to include “other rights”.

An example to help illustrate the consequences was brought up at a side event on a “Just Transition”. If Brazil sells a carbon credit of 1000 tonnes of carbon (let’s just use pretend units) to France, then France can emit 1000 tonnes of carbon into the air and in theory it is is “zero sum game”; France can report on its NDC that it did not emit those thousand tones because it bought the credit from Brazil.

But what actually happened in Brazil? If the carbon credit took the form of funding a renewable energy project that sounds pretty cool. All good things, right? Not always.

There are a substantial number of reports of renewable energy companies displacing indigenous people to build wind or solar farms. Read this article for information on native leaders in Honduras that have been killed in the struggle for their land, and to have free and open consent with incoming industry.

Fossil fuel and other extractive industries have done this for many years, but it is important to know that renewable development is not inherently people-conscious. An Article 6 that lacks provisions for human rights can secretly accelerate the endangering of those most vulnerable, while appearing to be beneficial.

Last year’s COP24, in Katowice, had not found agreement on the carbon trading system. Now, with another year and no conclusion, it is difficult to find optimism. However, the COPs will continue, as well as the many meetings that bring together the negotiating bodies and advisors year round.

Some countries may begin their own carbon trading systems in light of the progress that has been made at this year’s conference. As an observer, I feel my own disappointment that must pale in comparison to the frustrations felt by delegates that have worked for months only to turn up without a conclusion.

The climate negotiations are a world of acronyms. CMA means the Parties that have signed and ratified the Paris Agreement; CMA President Schmidt is the President of this year’s COP. (Photo: Climate Change News)

I think the only reasonable next step for us students and citizens is to learn as much as we can about these systems that are being proposed, such as Article 6. My most exhilarating experiences in the negotiating rooms were the ones where I realized I actually knew what the delegates were talking about, versus the times where I scanned the paragraphs being discussed over and over and still could not for the life of me comprehend.

It is important for us to be literate in the specifics of the conversation, such as carbon markets and carbon capture technologies. Knowing what is actually being talked about at these conferences makes me, and I hope you, less inclined to shrug it all off as toothless political babble.

Secondly, I have learned that the broader context of human rights and history needs to be understood by us. This is critical, and I think Harry Zehner’s blog post outlines the “tale of two COPs” well. At the next COP, Article 6 may actually be finalized. That gives all of us a whole other year to read up and understand what is at stake.

 

 

Carbon Pricing and Indigenous People: Key Issues at COP25

Michael Goccia – B.S. Management and Economics

 

My week at COP25 in Madrid has flown by. Before coming to Madrid I was apprehensive that there would not be enough to justify a whole week at the conference. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quantity of events to attend, making me wish we had the full two weeks to engage with more people and attend other events. I originally applied to the UConn@COP fellowship without knowing exactly what to expect at the COP. I knew there would be discussions and lots of different opportunities, but I was unsure what I would be able to attend. It was very impactful to attend the actual negotiation sessions as well as the unique side events.

 The wide range of topics for side events was impressive. I was very glad we were given the freedom to pick and choose which events we would like to attend. This allowed me to tailor my UConn@COP experience to my interests. I have an economics and business background so I gravitated to events with relevant topics, but I also saw UConn@COP as a unique opportunity to broaden my horizons. It is for this reason that I attended many sessions about climate justice and the impact of climate change on indigenous people. These events, especially those relating to indigenous people, were very unique to the United Nations.

 I think it would have been difficult to hear the perspective of these groups if I did not attend COP25 in Madrid. These discussions about indigenous peoples also helped me to better understand their perspective and the meaning of climate justice overall. I feel that the perspective of many indigenous groups and some countries is grounded in the context of colonization. This historical context to the climate change issue guided many groups to arrive at the conclusion that the countries who are primarily responsible for carbon dioxide emissions should be providing financial support to countries that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change.

 While at COP25 I was able to listen to many conversations about what the best course of action is to adequately address climate change. In addition to the idea that some countries should be paying reparations to those who are being disproportionately impacted, there was much discussion about green investment opportunities.

 One of the most informative sessions I was able to attend on this topic was called “The road to carbon pricing in emerging economies: issues and challenges.”  This included discussions about carbon pricing and issues specific to emerging economies and indigenous people.

 In my view, this was a key division at COP25. Climate justice proponents viewed green investment funds that expected a return on their investment as a new form of colonialism, while green fund investors viewed their approach as the most efficient way to help countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). I found this divide to be very interesting because I could see the truth to both arguments. It will be interesting to follow this discussion through the rest of COP25 and future COPs to see what the resolution will be. I think that both sides will need to compromise to reach an agreement, potentially having a blend of profitable investments in addition to gratis infrastructure projects in some nations.

 Michael Goccia is a senior from Mystic, CT pursuing a dual degree in Management and Economics.

The Importance of Personal Connections

Editor’s Note: Too often we discourage individuals from involving emotions in the decision making process. However, our fellows recognized that emotion, empathy, and personal connection is essential and necessary in addressing global issues holistically.

Hope Amongst Devastation: Personal Connection and Youth Involvement – Louanne Cooley

I’m Right, You’re Wrong! A Need for Empathy in the Environmental Movement – Xinyu Lin

The Essence of a Talanoa – Danny Osorio

 

Hope Amongst Devastation: Personal Connection and Youth Involvement

Louanne Cooley – JD School of Law

On our last day in Madrid for COP25, my body and mind are still battling out which gets to be in charge. The mind has mostly won this week allowing me to function on intermittent sleep and questionable food choices, but still be able to listen intently and speak more or less coherently. However, by yesterday, it was mostly a matter of running on coffee and enthusiasm. My body finally gave up and said, “Treat me like this and I’ll make you sorry,” and I spent the last 24 hours losing a fight against a cold. Basic epidemiology suggested that putting 25,000 people from 200 countries together was bound to make viruses very happy, and most of us have succumbed in one way or another.

Humanity is a cooperative, communal species. The energy here at COP25 is also infectious. Learning how others cope with climate change is simultaneously heartening and devastating. In the US, our most pressing issue is convincing people this is “real”; but in central Africa, people are dying from the combined effects of drought, malnutrition, disease and lack of resources exacerbated by climate change. Indigenous cultures world-wide are feeling the pressure of environmental degradation and loss of cultural knowledge. Island nations are losing land to sea level rise and seeing shifts in ocean ecology at unprecedented rates.

Early in the week, I sat in on several talks dealing with ‘loss and damage’. The concept is that wealthier countries historically responsible for industrialization and carbon inputs that drive climate change are responsible for assisting in offsetting the costs borne by vulnerable nations, essential recognizing their humanitarian obligations with financial assistance. As you can bet, this isn’t popular with developed nations and working out just who is responsible for what, for how long, and how much is the source of intense debate. Loss and damage arguments also highlight how interconnected issues of human rights, poverty, debt financing, international aid are with climate change.

The last two days of COP25 for me have mostly been about making personal connections. I spoke with a delegate from Uganda who works in the finance ministry and told me about the difficulty in maintaining the enthusiasm and energy to address climate concerns outside of the time spent at COP. Smaller nations with aligned interests can often effectually form voting coalitions to amplify their voice, but it is difficult to remain in contact during the rest of the year when much of their time and resources are spent responding to pressing immediate crises. This was echoed by delegates from Zambia and Fiji.

I also spent time talking youth activists like Adam Currie of Generation Zero which pushed for the recent adoption of the Zero Carbon Act in New Zealand.

Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of youth to lead civil activism to hold government responsible for climate action is imperative if we have any chance of meeting targets to limit emissions.

Last night many of our students attended the climate march in Madrid. It felt like the entire city was on the move, out to show support, be present, make their voice heard. There is still so much to do, and as we’ve learned from watching the negotiations, it happens slowly and incrementally. At a time when we are truly out of time, this is frustrating and exacerbating. But for lasting change to happen, but processes need to work in tandem: civil action and protest to highlight the issues and push governmental action, and the work of scientists and negotiators to building up long term data and translate that into robust, well thought out political frameworks.

 

This week has been devastating and hopeful. Devastating to hear the voices of those most vulnerable and affected, and hopeful that civil action, led by youth and supported by decades of dedicated work, can lead to real change.

 

I’m Right, You’re Wrong! A Need for Empathy in the Environmental Movement

Xinyu Lin – B.S. Civil Engineering

Armed with heavy skepticism, I sat down for a joint panel titled “Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road” hosted by researchers from China and representatives from the organization Peace Boat on the second day of COP. While I listened to details on China’s Green Belt & Road Initiative and a “sustainable” cruise boat, I took note of any questionable conclusions or potential greenwashing. At the end of the panel, I marched up to the front and began my quest to expose gaps in judg ement that were made in both projects.

A joint panel titled Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road featured Chinese researchers and representatives from the Japanese-based international NGO Peace Boat. (Photo: Xinyu Lin)

I ended up having a fantastic conversation with a representative from Peace Boat. We disagreed on certain approaches to solving the climate crisis, but we connected as people just trying to improve the world to the best of our abilities. He became a familiar face throughout the rest of my time at COP as I ran into him every day following the panel. My interactions with him reminded me that as my opinions have become stronger, so has my intolerance for bystanders and imperfect activism. I had forgotten the importance in understanding others — not just individuals most heavily affected by these problems, but also individuals that might even be impeding change.

UConn@COP fellows pose with a representative from Peace Boat after a fascinating post-panel conversation. (Photo: Xinyu Lin)

We’re drawn towards those that share our opinions. Within the environmental movement, it’s easy to find voices that echo our own trains of thought and to villainize those that don’t seem to get the basic ideas that underlie climate activism. Yet what good does it do to stay within our circles, preaching change to those who already agree with us?

In the urgency to tackle our climate emergency, we’re leaving behind patience and understanding. We can’t change minds without empathizing with them first.Yes, we certainly need to hold people accountable, but we also need the ability to collaborate effectively with people from other perspectives.

Amidst the urgency of the situation, we need to constantly remind ourselves why we care and what we’re fighting for — our communities, our connection, our ability to love, and our hope.

 

The Essence of a Talanoa

Danny Osorio – B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences

Danny participated in a youth Talanoa while attending COP25, where he spoke about his experiences with environmental destruction where he is from in Columbia.

I come from the Pacific coast of a country in South America and I would have never thought of participating in the honor of a Talanoa Dialogue.  Despite the limitations of how panels at COP25 work and how it could not really be a proper dialogue, I still feel happy I got to share part of my experiences and stories of how climate change has affected lives directly and indirectly.

In many of our Pasifika cultures, it is all about storytelling, or telling our story to make the connections. I met some Samoan delegates and the first thing they asked me was for my name and surname, and then they started making the connections.

They asked for my father’s name and I saw them thinking — they were coming with questions that I did not have the answers for. They would ask, “Is your grandfather from…?” or “Is your mother’s family from…?”

I didn’t know the answers but this is how they connect. This is where relationships are built and how the story goes on. The Talanoa Dialogue is an element of the COP that nurtures and helps continue this story telling, in the context of climate change.

The word ‘talanoa’ is a term meaning to talk or speak. The four elements around the word ‘talanoa’ are attributes that make the talanoa more meaningful and rich: Ofa/Love, Mafana/Warmth, Malie/Humour, Faka’apa’apa/Respect.

I don’t know if we necessarily fulfilled all of these requirements in the panel where I was a participant, but we certainly did when I was talking with other young representatives who were advocating for the voices of the ocean.

 

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
Human Emotions Influence Decision Making – Especially on Climate Emma MacDonald
Technocrats vs. Radicals on Addressing Climate Change Harry Zehner
The Climate Emergency Impacts Everyone, From the Queen of Spain to UConn Students Matt Yang
Article 6 and Emissions Trading Systems – Alyssa Pagan
The Situation in mi Country – Danny Osorio
Technology is Critical to Helping Farmers Adapt to Climate Change – Himaja Nagireddy
Time for Action – Spencer Kinyon
Indigenous People at the Forefront – Michael Goccia
Who Do we Turn to when National Governments Fail to Lead? – Georgia Hernandez – Corrales
Questioning the Paradox of Sustainable Development – Mara Tu
Environmental Justice IS Social Justice – Natalie Roach

 

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 year’s COP 25, or even look it up online, you will hear about a new topic: Article 6. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I the first day I arrived at the conference! But now I understand it is of vast importance to the negotiations taking place here.

It was Monday morning, our first event, hosted in one of the spacious press conference rooms. A small group of us UConn students sat in a row among many white plastic seats, and listened as the moderator asked questions on general topics. Evocative speakers they were, but generic.

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.


Human Emotions Influence Decision Making – Especially on Climate
Emma MacDonald – BS Natural Resources

The physical setup of the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) is a product of the values of western society as a whole.

The venue has separate outdoor entrances to the green and blue zones on opposite sides of the building. The green zone is just one of the six rooms, while the blue zone is five rooms. As may be predicted based on this info, the green zone is meant for the general public, and is more colorful and fun, while the blue zone is only admissible with a pass, and is where all of the negotiations and official side events occur.

This is a concrete example of shoving the more jovial side of our humanity aside in the interest of remaining logical and unemotional in our policy decisions, which I believe to be a mistake. The general public may be argued to pose a threat to the event and proceedings of the COP, but there should be an integrated method of interaction between the general public and the delegates/countries in the blue zone. Instead, the two parties are separated by walls and security checks.

The Moana Blue Pacific Pavillion (located in the blue zone in room six) did a wonderful job of combining business with celebration in their opening ceremony on Monday evening. They opened and closed the event with music and food, and spoke about their hopes to bring discussion of the oceans to the negotiation room soon.

Moana
The Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion served as a hub for Pacific island nations that are on the front lines of climate change impacts. (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

Important decisions should be based in logic and facts, but it would be remiss to exclude emotion, especially positive, joyful emotion, from the decision making process. If humans didn’t experience love and happiness then we would have no passion or motivation to continue.

It is true that the current definition of professionalism has an important place in the order of the world and especially in the topic of climate action. But it is also necessary to bring fun and lighthearted joy into professional spaces so that the ones making the “big” decisions are reminded of why they care in the first place.

Emma Spinning Thread
Emma learns to spin thread from cotton, a demonstration in the India Pavilion at COP25. (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

How can leaders be expected to make good, holistic decisions if they are weighted down by fear of what we may become and grief for a world that could have been- rather than lifted by the gifts the world is giving us?

Emma MacDonald is a junior in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. She is a Natural Resources major with a focus in sustainable forest management. You can follow Emma on Instagram @emmacdonald8


Technocrats vs. Radicals on Addressing Climate Change
Harry Zehner – BA Political Science

COP25 is a tale of two worlds. Although all observers, parties, and press are gathered here to find a solution to climate change, there are two distinct groups which view the problem through dramatically different lenses. On the one hand, there are what I will call “the technocrats.” This group earnestly cares about climate change. They believe in the power of markets driving innovative technological solutions and carbon tax schemes. When you go to the panels populated by the technocrats, you get a sense that they believe climate change is a policy problem. They believe that with the right regulations, market incentives and private investment, catastrophic warming can be averted. They pay lip service to the social problems exacerbated by climate change— such as gender, racial, economic and immigrant injustice — but rarely seek to challenge the systemic issues at the root of these injustices. Fundamentally, they believe that our system can be tweaked to beat climate change.

Harry and other UConn@COP25 fellows pose in front of a COP25 banner in between events at the conference. (Photo: Emma MacDonald).

I’ll call the second group “the radicals.” This group is generally composed of indigenous activists, global south NGOs, and representatives from least developed countries. They also care deeply about climate change, but more importantly, they care about climate justice. While their panels do discuss substantive solutions, they generally cast a broader net than the technocrats. They tie climate change back to colonialism and our extractive economic system. The radicals understand that all issues are deeply connected to climate change, from indigenous land rights to migration. Rather than constraining themselves to technological solutions, the radicals envision a world built on community and regenerative life rather than exploitation and profit. They envision a post-climate change world that is better than our current iteration, one that is truly democratic and just.

Harry Zehner
At a panel focused on energy sources “beyond coal,” Harry asked how students could connect with local movements to help build a cohesive, international movement. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

In the official negotiations, the technocrats from developed countries almost always win. They have the economic clout to sway negotiations and disregard poor countries’ priorities. But in the halls of COP25, the radicals offer a crucial ideological counterweight. Their passion and systemic analysis is necessary to understand the scope of the problem and work towards a just future for all of humanity, not just the privileged few.

Harry Zehner is a Junior political science major with a minor in environmental policy and economics.


The Climate Emergency Impacts Everyone, From the Queen of Spain to UConn Students
Matt Yang – BS Civil Engineering

There are a lot of expectations when you hear the name United Nations Climate Conference. Some of the greatest scientists, activists, and most powerful political figures in the world converge to this one conference center for two weeks in order to negotiate and address the most pressing issue of our generation. Yet here I am, a lowly college student from Connecticut, somehow standing 15 feet away from the Queen of Spain. Yes, that really did happen.

Queen of Spain
Queen Letizia of Spain (pictured on the right) walking out of a side event at COP25. (Photo: Matt Yang)

As you enter the venue at Feria de Madrid, you are greeted by the sheer metaphorical and physical scale of the event you are attending. Walking into the first conference room is what I would imagine walking into an aircraft hangar would feel like. That was just the first room as well, there were five more identical rooms that beckoned for exploration. Needless to say, it was a bit overwhelming. With a conference that has more than 20,000 delegates from nearly 200 nations, I found myself constantly eavesdropping to see if I knew what language they were speaking or what country they were from. I came to a quick realization that I’m not as good at geography as I thought I was.

Matt Yang
Matt and other fellows on their way to the COP venue from the metro station. (Photo: Hope Dymond)

The first day I felt my heart pumping out of my chest, and my anxiety building up as I made my way over to the first COP panels of the day with some of the other UConn@COP25 members. The highlight of the day was attending a panel named Transportation & Oil: Phasing out Diesel Engines and the Fuel They Use to Meet Paris Agreement Goals.

There I posed a question to one of the panelists about the role autonomous vehicles will play in meeting these goals. This sparked a heated debate with other UConn@COP25 members. Despite having differing opinions and methodologies, it was a nice realization that  we were all striving to achieve the same goal of decarbonizing our transportation system. It’s an extreme privilege to have peers who have differing opinions, whom you can collaborate with and engage in a respectful debate. These types of conversations have easily been some of the highlights of the trip so far. 

The second day I sat in on a panel discussing how big data can be used to create meaningful climate solutions. This panel discussed how data is currently being used by companies like Qlik and Deloitte to quantify and create carbon report cards. With these report cards, they are able to collaborate with C40 cities, which is a group of 94 cities across the world focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This was a refreshing change of pace, since many of the panels I sat on before were focused on policy based solutions, however this panel aligned with my passion of using technology for social good.

The message of this COP has been that this is no longer climate change, this is a climate emergency. We must act quickly, and that’s why finding ways to use technology such as big data and artificial intelligence to create meaningful climate solutions is extremely important. While policy based solutions are incredibly effective, technology is much quicker to build and scale. Both however, must be used in conjunction if we ever want to build a sustainable society.

Matthew Yang is a senior, majoring in civil engineering.


Article 6 and Emissions Trading Systems
Alyssa Pagan – BA Political Science & BA Art

Article 6
One of the major topics of the United Nations Climate Change Conference has been Article 6 of the Paris Accords. This article has been an issue in the negotiations since its conception in 2015 at the UN Conference of Parties (COP) 21. It is still a disputed article and has yet to be fleshed out and agreed upon between parties. The article would enable countries to trade carbon emission permits between each other in an emissions trading system.

What are Emission Trading Systems?
An emissions trading system would enable countries to cooperate on reducing their emissions. Countries have set their own limits for pollution. These limits are goals set by the countries for their reduction of emissions. These limits are referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. If a country develops more efficient or renewable energy and technology, they will reduce their levels of emissions as long as the growth in consumption does not exceed that reduction. If they are below their target they may sell, or trade, their emissions to other countries.

Article 6 has been under debate for so long as it has been difficult for the negotiators to agree on the rules. Many countries fear the issue of double counting, which is when the seller of a carbon trade and the receiver both count the reduction as their own.  This would help more countries reach carbon goals but would negate the entire reason for the emission trading system — to reduce overall emissions.

Concerns with the Negotiations
At a side event titled “The Right to Climate Justice: Collective Convergence for Just Solutions and Against Geoengineering and Other False Solutions,” leaders involved in climate change efforts from El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and the United States, warned how geo-technology and carbon trading markets will not work to meet the 1.5°C goal established at the United Nations COP21. One of the major concerns brought up at the panel was that carbon trading and geo-technology only treat symptoms and consequences of climate change, they do not tackle the root of the problem, consumption.

Another major issue with Article 6 was its lack of differentiation between the industrialized countries, many of whom have historically contributed the most to the current carbon dioxide levels, and the developing countries. Unlike the carbon market article of the Kyoto Protocol, where developed countries such as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark amongst others, referred to as Annex II countries, bore much more of the financial responsibility for climate measures, article 6 of the Paris Agreement enables all countries to be part of the emissions trading scheme. It can be argued there is some inequity in the target setting, as many of these developed countries did not meet their initial goals in the first stage of the Paris Agreement. Now, that emissions gap grows and has been effectively pushed onto the developing countries.

NNimmo Bassey, a representative from the NGO Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, posed the question, “What are we doing here pretending to talk about solutions?”

Pagan Photo
Panelists from El Salvador, Mexico, , Nicaragua, Nigeria and the United States discuss The Right to Climate Justice: Collective Convergence for Just Solutions and Against Geoengineering and Other False Solutions.” (Photo: Alyssa Pagan)

He then went on to describe how we know what to do, we must cut our consumption and leave fossil fuels in the earth, not open up an opportunity for companies and countries to continue to pollute. His speech stressed the urgency of climate change. Many countries are already bearing the burden of climate change while some of the biggest polluters continue to not take action, or worse, deny it is even a problem.

So far, I have found that panel to be the most impactful to how I have been thinking about the issues of climate change. The radical need to transform the system and not stick to the status quo of exploiting the Earth’s natural resources highlighted that low set targets and non-stringent rules on the emissions trading system pose a real threat to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. Overall, I felt that the negotiations needed the sense of urgency of this panel.


The Situation in mi Country
Danny Osorio – BS Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences

I spent most of my morning talking and listening to the delegation sent from Colombia to the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP).

It was sad. It is true that there are a number of projects lead by both non-governmental organizations and the public sector of Colombia.

Colombia is prepared to fight climate change but at what price?

Most of the sponsors are investors that want to do bird watching in our region at the expense of social development of small communities, or worse, the suppression of environmental leaders from indigenous communities because their solutions do not align with the western vision of conservation.

But the delegation at the Columbia pavilion said Colombia was fighting climate change. They said that it is true, deforestation in Caquetá is slowing down, however, I know the Amazon has been experienced an exponential increase in deforestation in the last year alone.

When I asked for an interview, the delegation told me that they couldn’t give one. They told me that they didn’t have a political position in the situation our country is experiencing.

Danny Osorio
Danny and other UConn@COP25 fellows seized the opportunity to meet and talk with climate change researchers and activists from across the globe (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

It was as if the lives lost in protests in the streets of Colombia where just a political opinion. As if hundreds of indigenous leaders weren’t murdered since 2016, over 100 in less than a year alone.

They were censored by the government, there wasn’t any other explanation. Their families were suffering but they didn’t have an opinion, not possible.

It leaves me feeling uneasy in thinking that the Colombian government doesn’t have the backbone to fight for the rights of its people on international grounds and much less to hear the voice of our nation that is agonizing in the streets.

Something was solidified for me today, ”los tibios se irán al infierno” — people that don’t support their country and don’t have an opinion in a situation like this are ‘condemned’, and they should be participating in the negotiations.

Danny Alejandro Osorio was born in Colombia and is a junior studying Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences.


Technology is Critical to Helping Farmers Adapt to Climate Change
Himaja Nagireddy – BS Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology

As the child of immigrant parents who were born and raised in farming families, I have come to appreciate the importance of promoting farmer resiliency as a way to support food security. Innovation in the agriculture and food sectors is a growing field that promises to do this, which would address poverty in many rural farmer and consumer communities around the world.

This topic, as well as other climate mitigation and adaptation innovation topics, were discussed at the Side Event on Science and Innovation in Support of Climate Action for the Poor and the Vulnerable. The panel consisted of various NGOs, government, and UN representatives who specifically addressed the importance of science and innovation to support a human rights-based approach to climate action and to promote climate responsiveness and social protection.

The panel for the side event ‘Science and Innovation in Support of Climate Action for the Poor and the Vulnerable’. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy)

During the event, panelists discussed current projects to develop seasonal forecast models to inform farmers about ideal crops to grow and what weather conditions to prepare for that can damage crops. In addition, such a model would allow farmers to estimate their annual crop yield, which is data that can be used to address issues of food security. In order for the model to be to be scalable, data from different regions needs to be centralized and the data needs to be able to predict for multiple weather scenarios.

I think it will be interesting to see how such machine-learning models can be applied to better inform agricultural practices and improve crop yield, which would be beneficial to both farmers and consumers. Such innovations, as mentioned in the panel, have to demonstrate a measurable impact in promoting farmer resiliency and adaptability as a method of promoting food security.

Air quality exhibit at COP25 that immersed attendees in the air quality conditions experienced by populations around the globe. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy)

In addition, these technology efforts need to bring together researchers, policy makers, and community members, specifically farmers. By facilitating dialogue between these different stakeholders, the technology that is developed can better cater toward the population it is trying to serve. This also bridges the gap between the “last mile” to ensure that such solutions are actually being implemented and have a significant direct effect for farmers.

Innovation in the agriculture and food sectors is critical to ensuring that initiatives can have strong impacts on climate change, poverty, and human rights. It will be interesting to see how other events at the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP25) address the need for innovation and technology and discuss the multifaceted benefits of such approaches.

Himaja interviewed prominent climate scientist James Hansen, whose 1988 Congressional testimony brought climate change into the national discussion. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

Himaja Nagireddy, from Acton, MA, is a senior undergraduate student pursuing three degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology with a minor in Chemistry.


Time for Action
Spencer Kinyon – BS Political Science and Economics

The central message of COP25 is #TimeForAction, which has been embedded in all discussions and on nearly every poster throughout Madrid. On the first day of the conference, Dr. Youba Sokona, the Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change asked myself and fellow UConn students, “What is an individual action that you have taken?” He was not curious about whether or not we recycle, use LED lights, or have a car with good gas mileage. He was really asking about the efforts we have made to transform our communities for the better.

The question has stuck with me over the past couple days. In America, we believe that simple changes in what we do with our waste, choices about light bulbs, and the gas mileage on our cars are enough to reduce emissions. The question made me realize that our political conversations and debates regarding climate change are centralized on pushing others to change their behavior. However, few of us are willing to substantially change our own behavior.

The most inspirational speaker I have heard from was Ambassador Ronald Jumeau from Seychelles.  In his speech, Ambassador Jumeau spoke of the impactful actions that Seychelles, which is an island ocean state, has taken to combat climate change. The efforts of island ocean states have included expanding sea grass areas, mangrove forests, and wetlands in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and prevent their nation from disappearing. Ambassador Jumeau stated the important point that island ocean states produce less than one percent of carbon emissions in the world, but have become responsible for trapping the carbon of the rest of the world and fighting climate change.

Spencer and other UConn@COP Fellows interviewed several delegates from countries on the front lines of climate change impacts, like the Seychelles throughout the conference. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

These nations have structured their economies and environmental policies, while having to pursue policies that do not give people jobs or ensure economic development in order to stop climate change. I found this extraordinary because these countries are not pursuing incremental actions, but are taking powerful actions. At COP25, I have realized that Americans truly need to step up their own individual decisions to be able to live in a more sustainable world. I am beginning to think more about the ways Americans can take actions in our lives that can improve sustainability and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It is time for Americans to take bold action on climate change.

Spencer is a Senior pursuing a degree in Political Science and Economics.


Indigenous People at the Forefront
Michael Goccia – BS Management and Economics

My first day at the United Nations Climate Summit & Conference of the Parties in Madrid, Spain was very exciting.  After our morning “breakfast club” group discussion and metro ride to the venue, we set out to explore everything COP25 had to offer.  I was fortunate to meet the Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who highlighted the importance of individual action.  I was also able to participate in several panel discussions on a variety of topics ranging from the adaptation of technology to mitigate the impacts of climate change to a discussion on the rights and resources of indigenous groups.  These discussions were very informative and impactful, with a wide range of perspectives and ideas being expressed.

IPCC Vice-Chair Dr. Youba Sokona shared a business card with UConn@COP Fellow Michael Goccia (Photo: Michael Goccia)

It was eye opening to hear from Robinson Descanse Lopez and Miguel Guimaraes who spoke particularly about the Amazon region in South America and some of the problems specific to that region in relation to climate change.  Robinson Descanse Lopez is the Vice President of Climate Alliance and oversees the Amazon region in South America.  I was startled to hear that 135 indigenous leaders and activists were killed in Colombia this year.  In addition to this human loss of life, the fires in the Amazon rainforest have caused damage that is estimated to take over 1,000 years to repair.  I think it was very impactful to hear of this situation from Mr. Lopez since he has been face to face with these issues. 

IPCC Vice-Chair Dr. Youba Sakona poses for a photo with several members of the UConn@COP25 delegations (Photo: Michael Goccia)

I also found Mr. Guimaraes’ comments about the situation of indigenous people in Peru very insightful.  One of the biggest issues for indigenous people in Peru is the legality of their land claims.  Many indigenous groups in Peru have religious claims to the land they live on.  These claims have not been respected by the Peruvian government.  To make matters worse, the Peruvian government has granted rights to some of the land to different corporations who plan to develop the land.

It was also inspiring to learn about Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) and the work that has been done regarding these issues.  I am very much looking forward to meeting more inspiring individuals here at COP25.

Michael Goccia is a senior from Mystic, CT pursuing a dual degree in Management and Economics.


Who Do we Turn to when National Governments Fail to Lead?
Georgia Hernandez-Corrales – MS Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Since our arrival at COP@25, the message that impacted me the most was the prevailing need for communities to take part in the solutions to climate change. In addition, the governments need to start listening to the needs and demands of their own people in the face of environmental problems. People around the world have risen and are claiming their place in decision making. In the first day at COP@25, the islanders and coastal nations, indigenous leaders, and women gave a clear and forceful message about their position on climate change. It was really empowering to see these groups and representatives of their nations be direct about the demands that the affected countries must meet. This is because the most vulnerable nations and groups are the ones that are most severely affected, such as indigenous people, rural communities, women and the poor.

All these nations and social groups converge on the idea that climate change is a human rights issue. Conservation of the forests is a way to protect the environment, but also is a solution against poverty. Preventing deforestation allows for indigenous people to continue utilize the ecological services of the forest to provide for their needs. The fight against climate change can not only become an energy technological change, but must be fair to all the actors involved. The vision of “development” and of good living is different for each of these nations and groups, and they demand to be respected as a group with a different thinking of the world.

Dr. Wayne Walker presented a long-term study on land change from the Amazon basin. The results showed that the indigenous communities of the Amazon protected the forest from the continuous conversion of the land compared to sites outside their territories. Despite this, they are the people who are most affected by climate change and least recognized by government entities. For this reason, at COP@25  we heard the voices of native peoples calling attention to the countries involved in the bulk of CO2 emissions and the companies that destroy their forests. The assertion of indigenous populations is more important today than ever.

The Colombian lawyer and environmentalist (COICA), Robinson López, mentioned that the life of indigenous groups must be guaranteed. As well, their ancestral knowledge, their autonomy and governance, and the protection of the forest must be recognized and guaranteed. For me, the most shocking notice was knowing the number of environmentalists killed worldwide. Robinson also mentioned that 462 environmental leaders have been murdered in Colombia alone since 2016, but the same happens worldwide.

A change in the construction of socio-environmental solutions in local governments or even at the community level is a must. As Dr. Duchelle (CIFOR) mentioned, the new leaders in environmental matters must be the local governments. In the case that national governments go in the wrong direction, as in the case of the United States or Brazil, it is local governments that could make the good decisions.

We have to provide these communities the power of decision that was taken from them and support them in a way, so they are able to lead the change in their own communities. We can no longer support the oppression of vulnerable communities.

[Versión en español]

Desde nuestra llegada a la COP@25 el mensaje que más me impacto es la necesidad imperante de los pueblos y comunidades de tomar parte en las soluciones ante cambio climático. Además de que los gobiernos escuchen las necesidades y demandas de los pueblos ante las problemáticas medio ambientales. Los pueblos de todo el mundo se han levantado y están reclamando su lugar en la toma de decisiones. El día uno en la COP@25 fueron las naciones de los países de las islas y zonas costeras, líderes indígenas y mujeres que dieron el mensaje claro y contundente sobre su posición ante cambio climático. Fue realmente empoderador ver a estos grupos y representantes de las naciones ser directos sobre las demandas que los países desarrollados deben de cumplir. Esto debido a que son las naciones y grupos más vulnerables los que están siendo afectados más severamente, como lo son los pueblos indígenas, comunidades rurales, mujeres y los pobres.

Las diferentes naciones y grupos sociales convergen en que el cambio climático es un tema de derechos humanos. Conservar los bosques es una medida para conservar el ambiente, pero también para luchar contra la pobreza. La lucha contra el cambio climático no puede solo volcarse a un cambio en la tecnología energética, sino tiene que ser justa para todos los actores involucrados. La visión del “desarrollo” y del buen vivir es diferente para cada uno de estos pueblos, y todos, desde los pueblos indígenas hasta las comunidades costeras piden que se les respete su visión de mundo.

De los estudios a largo plazo sobre el cambio de uso del suelo que presentó el Dr. Wayne Walker, las comunidades indígenas de la Amazonía resguardan el bosque ante la continua conversión de la tierra en sitios ajenos a sus territorios.  A pesar de esto, son los pueblos más afectados por el cambio climático y menos reconocidos ante entes gubernamentales. Es por lo que en la COP@25 se ha dado mucha importancia a la reivindicación de los pueblos originarios y están llamando la atención a los países que se ven involucrados en las emisiones de CO2 y compañías que destruyen sus bosques. La reivindicación de las poblaciones indígenas es hoy mas importante que nunca.

El abogado y ambientalista colombiano (COICA), Robinson López, mencionaba que a estos grupos indígenas se les debe garantizar la vida, la importancia de su conocimiento ancestral, se les debe respetar su autonomía y gobernanza, y reconocer la protección del bosque. Para mí lo más impactante fue conocer la cantidad de ambientalistas asesinados en todo el mundo. Robinson también mencionaba que sólo en Colombia desde el 2016 han asesinado a 462 líderes ambientalistas, pero lo mismo sucede en todo el mundo.

Un cambio en la construcción de soluciones socioambientales en los gobiernos locales o hasta a nivel de comunidad es necesario. Como mencionó la Dr. Duchelle (CIFOR), los nuevos líderes en materia ambiental deben ser los gobiernos locales. En el caso que los gobiernos nacionales vayan en la dirección incorrecta, como el caso de USA o Brasil, son entonces los gobiernos locales los que toman las buenas decisiones.

Estas comunidades deben tener el poder de decisión que se les fue arrebatado. No podemos seguir permitiendo que las comunidades más vulnerables sean oprimidas.

Georgia is a graduate student from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCONN.


Questioning the Paradox of Sustainable Development
Mara Tu – BS Environmental Science and Urban and Community Studies

Day 1 and Day 2 of COP25 consisted of me struggling to process and understand this ever paradoxical idea of sustainable development.

Sustainable development — officially defined as “economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources”– is a core part of this climate change conversation as an investment space to act as a solution. Yet, in itself, development is synonymous to growth/creating more.

Sustainability is often-times just used as an add-on word and mechanism to soften the impacts of that development rather than to reverse and neutralize the effects. The cost of “development” has been ecological despair, loss of human lives and homes, and an ever-unpredictable and changing climate, so what about “sustainable” development makes it much different?

At the beginning of the week, my thoughts went to the extreme of questioning, what even is the point of all of these built structures and carbon emissions to get everyone here in Madrid? Is this just us continuing this culture and mindset of consumption while tricking ourselves into believing we are actually doing something? Where do you draw the line for development and creation of “new”, even if there are sustainability wins? Do these costs outweigh the benefits? Where do we put the accountability and pressure for most drastic changes?

Of course, in the context of international climate talks and agreements, it is incredibly unfair to deny the opportunity and process of development from developing nations. Since developed nations have been able to grow economically and heighten quality of life at the expense of the environment, poorer nations, and internal national inequity, there (hopefully) seems to be an understanding that developed nations must be the ones to make drastic changes, while developing nations can catch up. Yet, where is the line to be drawn? At what point do countries need to be evaluating if their development is sustainable (socially and environmentally) or even necessary? Do we, as developed nations, have the right to push sustainability into the development agendas of other nations?

For me, many of these questions followed after attending a panel event at the Moana Pacific Blue Booth. The event, titled “Maritime Boundaries & Climate Change in the Pacific: Shaping the Dialogue”, had incredible speakers: Prime Minister Hon. Henry Puna of the Cook Islands, Dr. Melchior Mataki from Solomon Islands, and Christelle Pratt, from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna gives opening speech at Moana Blue Pacific pavilion. (Photo: Mara Tu)

Most of the event discussions went into strategies on how large Pacific Ocean states are using technology to mark maritime borders as sea levels rise for their own economic and borders’ sakes but also in order to protect those waters as they have for centuries.

The moment that struck me the most was during the Q&A portion of the event, when a man from one of the Pacific large ocean states stood up to ask, “Everyone is always telling us as Pacific Islanders to conserve, conserve, conserve and protect our lands and waters, but I don’t understand why we cannot use our resources to grow economically?”.

There was a resentful and truly hurt tone in his voice. As there wasn’t enough time from the panelists to respond, I walked away feeling this man’s frustration and confusion as if my own question was left unanswered.

Highlighting this paradox of sustainable development, this man saw economic growth using resources on the islands as a way to improve the lives and status of people from the Pacific Islands. On the other hand, other people, perhaps even including some of the distinguished people on the panel themselves, see climate change as a reason to hold back from potentially exploiting resources and to protect what has remained.

Another COP25 event that left me weighing the costs and benefits of sustainable development was one I attended with a few other UConn@COP cohort members titled “Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road”. During this event, the dangers of “sustainable development” and clashes between politics and true climate justice could be seen.

It had an odd assortment of panelist speakers; on one half, Chinese researchers talked about their solutions of promoting renewable energy along China’s Belt & Road trail, and on the other, representatives from the global NGO, Peace Boat explained their goals and new projects.

Mara poses for a photo with signage at the main COP25 venue. Madrid impressed as a host city with their ability to pull together a major international conference with only a month’s notice after Chile cancelled due to civil unrest in October. (Photo: Mara Tu)

The Chinese Belt & Road Initiative was a global development strategy launched by Chinese President, Xi Jinping as a modern-day “Silk Road”. This initiative, started in 2013, includes investment and built infrastructure in more than 150 countries around the world, with hopes to build connections between China and the rest of the world.

On the speaking panel, researchers discussed different ways of implementing solar panels onto these plots of land that China has invested in and the potential benefits (including reducing desertification, increasing farming potential, providing clean energy, etc.). The scale at which China was looking to invest in renewables and opportunities to implement sustainable development in different countries along these trade routes was impressive.

However, all of this discussion about development came with a warning: during the Q&A part of the event, a Tibetan woman in the audience bravely stood up and faced the audience to remind them about what happened to Tibet. She said, “It all started with one road; then came the trucks and then the army and then the extraction of our resources”. She emphasized that it is important to get some knowledge of historical context as well as being wary that countries can use infrastructure as ways to advance their own means and neocolonialism.

The second portion of the  panel event was dominated by Peace Boat. Peace Boat is an organization that uses a cruise ship, among many other programmatic projects, to bring people across the world together to promote peace, human rights, and sustainability. Driven by the Sustainable Development Goals from the UN, I was impressed with their mission and accomplishments but still a little taken aback by the need for the cruise ship, considering the environmental reputation they have. Even more shocking was the announcement of a new project, called “EcoBoat” that would be, as claimed, “the planet’s most environmentally sustainable cruise ship” with many cool new technological features and near-same uses as the Peace Boat.

UConn@COP Fellows learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from an art display in the main venue. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

While Peace Boat’s mission is admirable and no doubt has created unforgettable memories, educated thousands of people, and united people from around the world in a way like no other, I questioned if it was really worth the toxic waste, CO2 emissions, and marine disturbance from the ship.

The EcoBoat brought me even more skepticism. It wasn’t until after talking and really getting to know one of the staff members that I could at least understand where this NGO was coming from. While I still don’t believe there is a need for another cruise ship out on the sea, I admired that he truly believed in what he was doing. With his passion, I could only hope that he continues to do his work in a way that will benefit the greater good.

After a week of discussions and processing and hearing from people from all across the planet, I still haven’t completely concluded anything. But, I have had some takeaways about sustainable development. One, development will happen no matter what with economic profit as the ultimate driver of decisions: if not pushing for lower consumption, people must at least push for development to be as sustainable as possible. Two, developing nations have the right to figure out the best way and strategies for how they would like to go about development: developed nations should share the technology and research and resources for this without ill-will. Three, in general, it’s always important to question ourselves at some point in decision-making: ask ourselves, do we truly believe what we are doing is right and do the costs outweigh the benefits.

 Mara Tu is a junior Environmental Science and Urban and Community Studies student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


Environmental Justice IS Social Justice
Natalie Roach – BS Environmental Sciences

When I was ten years old, my dream was to work at the World Wildlife Fund. I wanted to follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps and save endangered species.

I made little business cards for myself with the panda logo on it and everything.

Over the years, I have grown away from that dream and towards other ones more focused on societies and social justice and food and people.

However I still have a soft spot in my heart for the World Wildlife Fund and everything it meant to me when I was younger – so when I saw the Panda Pavilion in the blue zone at COP, I was drawn to it.

The WWF Panda Hub also served as the U.S. Climate Action Center (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

In the midst of countries working their hardest to prove that they’re doing enough to stop climate change, the white and glass Panda Pavilion stood as a beacon of civil society and pure intentions. Well, more pure than other pavilions in the blue zone at least.

I ended up attending an event in the pavilion on oceans. It was a panel of scientists explaining the physical and biological impact of climate change on the body of water that covers 70% of our planet – plus the ambassador from the Seychelles, a small island in the Pacific Ocean that has begun feeling the effects of climate change.

While I learned some interesting facts about the ocean, the event overall was very frustrating. The Seychelles ambassador – a United Nations ambassador, a title that normally would get you a round of applause and excitement from any COP event – was not valued on the panel. His intro speech brought a completely different perspective to the panel, focusing on the cultural aspects and human implications of oceans. However, no one addressed or built off of what he said. None of the moderator’s questions were directed towards him. In fact, she asked a few questions about how small island nations are adapting to climate change, and actively directed them towards two other panelists. It seemed as though he was there solely as a way for them to check off the “island nations” box and not actually as a full participant.

I left feeling disappointed and unsure of my place. I’ve always had a passion for ecology – I’m majoring in environmental science – but I also have a passion for the human and social justice components of climate change and environmental degradation. This event was another example of how those two fields never seem to fit together.

UConn@COP Fellow Natalie Roach asks a question about member retention at a panel presentation on higher education sustainability initiatives. Natalie and other fellows built connections with students from all over the world during their time in Madrid. (Photo: Patrick McKee

Walking around the venue, I was even more sensitive to the fact that everything focused on reducing carbon emissions, and very little emphasis was placed on the plight of endangered species or the ecological solutions to climate change mitigation.

Then I ran into Danny, a fellow UConn@COP25 participant. He was looking similarly dejected – the COP can definitely be a lot to handle sometimes — and we ended up talking about what was going through our heads. Danny is someone who is also passionate about both ecology and social justice. He studies marine sciences and does research on turtles. I asked him how he was able to feel fulfilled in his studies when trying to balance these two fields, and he had a great answer about community and applying your knowledge.

This conversation reminded me that just because something doesn’t exist properly, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it – in fact, it usually is a sign that I really should do it if no one else will. It also reminded me of the importance of leaning on your people. I got more out of talking to Danny and other UConn@COP25 participants than I did from any event or lecture on the trip.

Later in the week, I had a great conversation with a woman from the World Wildlife Fund who ran an arm of the organization that focused on sustainable cities. They host international city contests and we had a passionate conversation about public transit. It turns out that, at least in some areas, the World Wildlife Fund is growing and expanding as well.

Natalie is from Cheshire, CT. She is an Environmental Sciences major with minors in Human Rights and Sustainable Food Crop Production. She will complete a Master’s in Public Policy in a fifth year as part of the UConn Fast Track Program.

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.