Science & Research

Students, faculty travel to Paris for climate conference

Conference complements students’ learning, research in environmental studies course

By
Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 1, 2015

A dozen students and two faculty members from the University’s Climate and Development Lab are attending the Paris Climate Change Conference as part of the course ENVS 1575: “Engaged Climate Policy at the U.N. Climate Change Talks.” The two-week conference, which began Monday, seeks to create the first legally binding agreement to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

J. Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology and co-teacher of ENVS 1575, created the course to share with students the experiences and contacts he has gained at U.N. Climate Conferences, he wrote in an email to The Herald. “There is no better way to learn about climate policy than to see it being made,” he wrote.

The students, equipped with tools to “effectively shape policy,” will attend the conference events and conduct research for the class with the hope of “fostering transformational learning experiences,” wrote Guy Edwards, visiting research fellow in environmental studies, who co-teaches the class alongside Roberts, in an email to The Herald.

Other University researchers who study climate change stressed the importance of this climate conference and the need for immediate action.

“Unless dramatic emissions reductions are achieved now, we are headed for the most rapid climate change in several million years,” wrote Stephen Porter, associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, in an email to The Herald.

Moreover, “slow processes in the earth will keep a ‘memory’ of what we do now for centuries — every year of increased emissions and warming commits us to a longer-term future of change,” wrote Timothy Herbert, professor of earth, environmental and planetary sciences and of environmental science, in an email to The Herald.

With growing political consensus and pressure from environmental groups to agree to a treaty, this climate conference could prove historic. These climate negotiations in Paris are also noteworthy in the aftermath of the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in the city.

The students and faculty members attending the conference are remaining vigilant and avoiding areas of the city where protests were planned, Roberts wrote.

While at the conference, the students must write a blog post and op-ed piece, in addition to working on individual research projects, wrote Kari Malkki ’16 in an email to The Herald. Malkki, a development studies concentrator, will also partner with civil society organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund as well as youth climate justice activists, she wrote.

“Attending the Paris conference will truly solidify our understandings of international climate policy,” Malkki wrote, adding that “it is also the ideal place to meet and learn from other individuals and organizations who work on those issues.”

The conference will build upon the overall curriculum of the class, in which the students learned “how negotiations work, how different negotiating groups and parties approach the conference and what they want to get out of it,” wrote Kailani Acosta ’16 in an email to The Herald. The class also studied movements in civil society, youth, women and indigenous peoples, among other topics, she added.

As part of the Climate and Development Lab, the class also focuses on “equity, justice and climate finance” in Latin America, the United States and several less-developed countries, Edwards wrote.

“I’ve learned that the U.N. climate negotiations are much less about ‘the environment’ as it is understood in the Western imagination than they are about ensuring equitable economic development in a warming world,” Malkki wrote.

Izza Drury ’16.5, who also worked as a research assistant for the CDL this past summer, will conduct research on the Vulnerable 20, a bloc of nations most vulnerable to climate change, she wrote in an email to The Herald. Similar to Malkki, Drury wrote that she looks forward to meeting people who have spent more time studying climate change than she has so far.

In addition to studying environmental policy in preparation for the conference, the class “generated relevant and important research in terms of international climate change,” Drury wrote. Her group helped produce a 100-page “Adaptation Finance Gap” report that will be distributed at conference side events, she added.

The report “analyzes the transparency and accountability of climate finance flows between donor and recipient countries and offers 10 main recommendations for improvement,” Crystal Avila ’16 wrote in an email to The Herald. Avila added that her main takeaway from the course is “how urgent it is for us to effectively address climate change in order to avoid catastrophe for the countries and communities most vulnerable to its impact.”

Herbert wrote that he would like to see students pursue a long-term project that assesses the University’s carbon footprint through its investment portfolio and provides guidance for reducing the endowment’s carbon footprint.

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