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Students attend U.N. climate conference

The University sent two delegations to the U.N.’s annual climate change meeting in Warsaw

The University sent two student delegations over the past two weeks to the 19th Convention of Parties, an annual meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, which serves as a platform for negotiations and assessments of international progress in reducing carbon emissions.

The meeting, which was held this year in Warsaw, Poland, drew various stakeholders in the discussion over climate change, including representatives from 194 countries, non-governmental organizations and coal companies.

The Climate and Development Lab, an on-campus research group, sent undergraduate students, graduate students and faculty members who are all involved in research projects related to climate change to the meeting. Students gathered data for their projects through interviews with international delegates and attended supplementary presentations on topics ranging from deforestation to coal divestment.

The convention was formed in 1992 as a global effort to combat global warming. The first COP meeting took place three years later, and the Kyoto Protocols, which hold developed countries legally accountable to emission reduction targets, were passed by COP in 1997. With the protocols set to expire in 2020, this year’s COP discussions focused on the need to develop and ratify a new agreement by 2015, said Keith Madden ’14, a delegate and double concentrator in environmental studies and international relations.

“It was not a vacation. We didn’t sleep at all,” said Sophie Purdom ’16, who is investigating carbon reduction from the perspective of corporate sustainability and social responsibility. “We would wake up at 6, take the bus to negotiations, meet with people, go to presentations, schmooze, forget to eat, pitch the CDL and share the cool stuff we are doing at Brown all day with no breaks.”

It was fascinating “to see how other countries think and talk about climate change,” Madden said. He said his project focuses on Latin America’s role in the climate negotiations and the extent to which “indigenous peoples’ voices are manifested in the government’s negotiating.”

“Yes, I was in Poland, but I honestly could have been anywhere in the entire world,” said Olivia Santiago ’16, whose research project investigates climate refugees in small-island developing states. “You were in the conference the entire time.”

Students from several other universities, including Duke University, the University of Waterloo, Washington University in St. Louis and Yale were all interested in hearing about CDL’s projects, publications and relationships with NGOs, Purdom said.

Founded in 2010 by Timmons Roberts, professor of environmental studies and sociology, the CDL serves as an on-campus think tank, offering Brown students “transformational learning experiences through the production of cutting-edge research and participation in the annual U.N. climate change negotiations,” according to the CDL website.

“I saw a couple other university professors bringing students to the U.N. climate negotiations, and I thought Brown students would be eager to have the experience of attending and being there with a purpose,” Timmons wrote in an email to The Herald. “The response from the students has been overwhelming, and the support we have received from across the University has made it possible. We are now the largest student group at the negotiations.”

The CDL specifically researches how climate change is impacting the 48 least developed countries as defined by the U.N. and Latin America. The lab also examines the relationship of the U.S. to international carbon reduction efforts, Purdom said. Students involved in the lab also approach climate change from  business, justice, policy and science perspectives.

Some members of the CDL are still at the COP, which is set to conclude at the end of the week.

“It was really valuable getting these insights about how these international political processes work and also being able to talk with different people within this sphere of international climate policy,” Madden said.


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