Catalyzing Climate Action Abroad

From Dec. 3–14 2018, approximately 30,000 individuals from across the globe flocked to Katowice, Poland, for the United Nations Convention of the Parties, COP 24. Nine Colorado College student researchers, including myself, professors Mark Smith and Courtney Shepard, President Jill Tiefenthaler, Executive Assistant to the President Lori Hamacher, Provost Alan Townsend, distinguished alumni, and members of the Board of Trustees participated in this internationally renowned conference. 

Photo by Adam Holliday

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change was chosen as the site for this study abroad experience because it has been the pioneer and catalyst of international economic policies focused on reducing the global atmospheric greenhouse gas levels since 1994. Furthermore, this yearly conference was the site for key climate negotiations that resulted in the creation of the Kyoto Protocol, Paris Agreement, and the newly established Katowice Rulebook. 

COP 24 served as a crucial opportunity for the UNFCCC, as negotiators representing different nations would ambitiously tackle a global implementation of the Paris Agreement through the creation of the Katowice Rulebook. Preceding COP 24, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the “Global Warming of 1.5 Degrees Report,” which pressured country negotiators to reduce global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than to two degrees Celsius. 

Colorado College students entering into the COP understood the importance and influence that COP 24 could have in promoting a rapid response to climate change. In addition to witnessing the dynamic atmosphere and studying international global policy negotiations, the CC students were tasked with implementing their own individual research projects. These projects focused on topics such as Norway’s electric vehicle adoption, power dynamics within the Paris Agreement and COP 24, and climate-induced displacement within Small Island States. 

The most intellectually stimulating aspect of this research was that it was not confined to the resources presented online or within a library; rather, students were able to directly engage with the world’s leading activists, scientists, leaders, and educators at press conferences, global policy negotiations, presentations, and booths. While students spent many hours focusing on these research projects, the most memorable days had them listening to Al Gore speak on the urgency of dealing with this global climate crisis, wandering around innovative pavilions that showcased the ways countries are tackling climate change, and sitting among international negotiators as they debated relevant policies.

Personally, I found that the most impactful encounters were those spent with community representatives present in Katowice. Since my own research project focused on climate-induced displacement within Small Island States, COP 24 provided me with the unprecedented opportunity to listen to community representatives from Tuvalu, Kribitas, and a multitude of other nations speak about how climatic events had destroyed their homes, loved ones, and sense of identity. These issues were especially impactful for me because they are predicted to affect my own home in Hawaii.

While these moments stood out as highlights, they often served as a powerful reminder of the results that ineffective climate policies can have on communities’ ways of life. Thus, by the end of the trip, many within CC’s delegation realized that while the Katowice Rulebook created at COP 24 was an optimistic step towards implementing the Paris Agreement, a serious increase in commitments to reduce global warming by nations is needed to limit global temperatures to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

 While it is evident that further climate negotiations are needed, we urge other students to take the initiative to reduce their own carbon footprints. Reducing our personal impact in small ways may appear trivial, but these actions will directly impact the global climate, which continues to threaten the livelihoods and identities of numerous nations, communities, and individuals. 


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