Tuesday, February 9, 2016

“Re-COP” on COP21

After first hearing the acronyms COP, UNFCCC, IPCC, and RINGOs along with learning there is an entire intergovernmental process that works to address what causes climate change, its implications, and mitigation and adaption methods in my Environmental Science course my first year at Moravian, which Dr. Husic just happened to be teaching, I knew their was so much more to environmental studies than what I already had from prior education. All of this affirmed my decision to study and major in Environmental Policy and Economics. After taking more environmental courses at Moravian and eventually taking the Climate Crises course in the Spring of 2015, discussions about COP21 started and I thought to myself, how amazing would it be to attend such an reputable global political process. Having learned that Moravian holds accreditation to attend these conferences, I expressed interest in attending COP21 knowing I would be in my Senior year close to graduating and would have a good amount of knowledge on environmental issues from my coursework. In addition, I felt this will be the ultimate experience of my educational career, providing me with great insight into potential career paths.

Once receiving news in the summer that Moravian had received enough observer passes for me to attend, the reality of what an honor and privilege this was sank in and I became even more excited about the COP and what was to come. In the months leading up to leaving for Paris and while during COP21, Audrey and myself were involved in the joint Pathway to Paris and Citizens’ Climate Lobby internship where we in a sense, operated as a nexus between public discourse (specifically on Moravian’s campus) and climate policy advocacy, with the focus that people are the agents and drivers of change. It was a great way to bring people together and into the conversation that may not have normally had access or interest in. In addition, to the internship I had begun the research process for my InFocus project, which looks to examine the inequities climate change imposes on already impoverished nations and how it can affect sustainable development in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals. The realization that climate change threatens the lives and development of developing nations, especially those in already extreme and harsh environments from drought, desertification, flooding, rising sea levels, etc, is incontrovertible. Not only did I plan to attend the conference to listen in on the negotiation process and see if the voices of those in threatened areas from climate change are being heard and included in the agreement, but also to interview individuals from different non-profit organizations, to see what their thoughts are on the political process and gain insight from their experience and work on the frontlines of climate change.

All of this momentum of my educational interest, research, and internship came to a halt with the horrific news of the terrorist attacks in Paris. The concern for safety and the threat that I may not be able to attend this highly anticipated intergovernmental process, affirmed in me how much attending and being a part of this process meant to me. In addition it further defined my role I would be playing as a youth citizen. The extra precaution and heightened security in the city comforted me about attending and I am so glad we were still able to go.

While at COP, we all had the unique opportunity to be immersed in a new culture, be surrounded by such distinguished individuals, as well as listen and learn to what was being negotiated and talked about. A lot of my daily take-aways and reflections have been posted to the blog, which was another great part of the process. Blogging was a great way to educate others back home on what was happening, why this COP was such an important one, and what topics I thought would be important to share. I think the education piece is vital in moving forward with action on climate change here in the United States. Considering our dense political processes and lobbyist agendas, action against climate change is often overlooked or denied. This is why it is important for citizens, or non-party stakeholders how the Paris Agreement would put it, need to educate, initiate the change, and fight for the world we want. This is another reason I thought the role of youth and my participation was so vital. We will be the one’s left to adapt and mitigate climate change and without our voices heard and those of impoverished nations then the urgency of the matter is not as apparent. Without the awareness and participation of the everyday global citizen, then who will be fighting for action against this unbiased phenomenon that affects us all. Action can be taken through various means which were discussed in many side events such as carbon pricing and the carbon market, alternative energy use, and listening to the words of the people who are already experiencing the impacts from climate change.

At the venue itself, there was a lot to learn whether it was in the side events or just walking around meeting people interested in work similar to your own. Thankfully, since most of the science and research behind climate change is already well-defined and established, and learning more on the MOOC course through my internship, I feel like I didn’t have to learn anything entirely new on why climate change is happening, but I did learn a lot of new ways to adapt and mitigate against climate change whether it is through business models, innovative techniques and technology, or the hard work of nonprofit agencies whose missions help those most threatened by climate related injustices and disasters. I also learned a great deal about how an intergovernmental process works and how an agreement can be made in a short time period of two weeks.

The transparency of this UN process made access to the international stage for many nonprofits and other non-party stakeholders available through briefings and the opportunity to meet with those 190 nations involved in negotiating the text. Having the opportunity to observe all of this allowed me to believe an agreement would be made and the importance my voice (the role of youth) has in developing climate change policy. Furthermore, with my interest in furthering studying environmental policy in graduate school, I aspire to hopefully have a career in urban policy and planning, sustainable development, or as a policy analyst. Watching and listening to the UN and various political leaders negotiate for future generations futures, reaffirmed my decision to pursue these potential career paths further and attend graduate school.

Once returning from Paris the work to educate the public was not over. We were invited to be interviewed about our experience on WFMZ, asked to share our thoughts to questions for Moravian’s Inside Moravian e-newsletter, and are presenting at the Sustainability Conference in February. I hope to continue to have the opportunity to share my experience and to inspire people to take action.   

What an overall positive experience COP21 has had on my life, thus far! Thank you, to both of you, Dr. Husic and Dr. Binford, for planning the trip, educating me and the other students on the process of COPs, sharing your passion with us, and providing me with such a great educational experience I will never forget and take with me throughout the rest of my life.

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