The Emory delegates, comprised of graduate and undergraduate students, attended the 25th Conference of Parties (COP 25) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from Dec. 7 to Dec. 15, 2019.
The COP, composed of 197 nations and territories, is the decision-making body that has annually reviewed and monitored the implementation of the UNFCCC since 1995. In 2015, COP 21 in Paris formed the first international climate agreement, the Paris Agreement, which aims to mobilize the involved countries to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the second half of the 21st century.
Associate Professor of Environmental Sciences Eri Saikawa applied to the U.N. in 2014 to send Emory students to observe the international negotiation on climate change, and her application was approved the same year.
“We started sending students in 2015 … to observe the creation of the Paris Agreement,” Saikawa said. “When we were approved in 2014, we were thinking of sending students just once.”
In the program’s first two years, the students’ travel and program costs relied on fundraising efforts but has since been wholly sponsored through a private donor. Students who wish to participate must apply to the Climate Change and Society course and enroll in or have completed ENVS 326/526.
After sending a group of Emory students to COP 22 in Morocco in 2016, Saikawa decided to make student attendance an annual effort. She collaborated with two faculty members to create the classes Climate Change and Society (ENVS 326/526) and U.N. Climate Change Conference (ENVS 426), to subsequently send students to the conference every year and allow them to receive academic credit for it.
According to Saikawa, the reasoning behind the creation of the program was not only to facilitate student involvement in climate change conferences but also to provide students the opportunity to meet individuals from business and non-governmental organization backgrounds who are experts in sustainability.
This year’s COP focused on the regulations of carbon markets and how to create a more feasible system to implement the Paris Agreement. However, after long negotiations, the parties made almost no tangible agreement, according to Saikawa.
“It’s a very disappointing COP,” Saikawa said. There still existed a lesson for student delegates, however, in witnessing the shortcomings of an agreement that is not met with meaningful action on behalf of the signees.
During COP 25, some Emory student delegates also presented their own research and answered questions at a student event after the conference.
Vanessa Ishimwe (20C) said she applied to the program because she appreciates the importance of international cooperation in addressing the climate crisis.
“Because the U.S. government refuses to participate in U.N. climate negotiations, it is our responsibility as Americans to be environmental diplomats and show the international community that we really are still in,” Ishimwe said.
During the conference, Ishimwe was impressed by former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s speech comparing fighting climate change to the same way a country would fight in war.
“He discussed how we should use similar strategies and resources that have won wars to win the fight against climate change,” Ishimwe said.
Glickman, who presented her research on policy diffusion of climate change in the U.S. at the event after COP, thought it was an enriching experience.
“I learned about sustainability initiatives of different levels of government along with the work of businesses and nonprofits to lower emissions in innovative ways,” Glickman said. “I plan to include some of what I learned there in my thesis.”
Ambika Natarajan (21C) commented that the negotiations in COP 25 were unsuccessful overall, as some countries such as Brazil and Australia attempted to reduce transparency within the carbon market.
“Throughout the conference, one of the key points was that there are sufficient cost-effective technologies available to meet what is required to stay within a 1.5 degrees Celsius change, but effective policy implementation is very slow,” Natarajan said.
COP 26 will be held in Glasgow in November 2020.