CC students attend COP21 Climate Summit in Paris

Photographs courtesy of Gabriella Palko
Four CC students received funding from the college to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as the COP21 Climate Summit. They are participating in discussions about environmental policy on an international scale. Around 200 countries are represented at the Climate Summit. Photographs courtesy of Gabriella Palko

This week, Paris is hosting the 21st Session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and four CC students are in attendance. Colorado College senior Lily Biggar, senior Gabriella Palko, junior Zach Pawa, and junior Elliot Hiller are attending daily workshops and meetings aligned with the conference and sharing their experiences with the CC community.

“This is the largest conference on climate change to date and will have major implications for the next few decades of environmental policy,” said Biggar. “We feel like being here has given us a real life application of our studies.”

The four students are a mix of environmental policy and science majors, and have been learning about the UN climate conferences throughout their academic careers. They will spend time at the Climate Generations portion of the summit for their two weeks in Paris.

The students received funding from multiple sources on campus—the Conference Fund, the President’s Fund, and Ecofund.

“We are incredible grateful for the school’s support,” said Biggar.

The students have been Skypeing twice weekly with Mark Smith’s Environmental Economics class as well as Corina McKendry’s Global Environmental Policy class, and will be giving a presentation upon their return to campus.

The students recognize that this unique time politically to be in Paris. “Several protests were scheduled for this month but were barred by the French government due to the recent terrorism,” said Biggar. “Although we were disappointed that we couldn’t protest, we are starting to find other underground ways to speak out.”

The UNFCCC was initiated in 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The premise of the convention is working against human-induced climate change on the assumption that industrialized nations are mainly responsible for combating the issue.
The primary purpose of the conference is voting on a universal climate agreement that would sign by the 195 State Parties to the UNFCCC. So far, the COP21 seems to be on track to sign an agreement, with a few apparent barriers.

One of these issues is how to define and differentiate developing and developed countries and how they should be treated differently within the climate conversation. This issue has caused substantial conflict between the summit parties.

Within this discussion, a main source of conflict has been compensation for developing countries that often face more substantial consequences of climate change. Developed countries present at the summit are not agreeing amicably to the idea of monetary compensation for developing countries.

There are 40,000 negotiators from 200 countries present at the summit, with the ultimate goal of preventing more than a 2 degree Celsius temperature rise. The summit contributors have until today to come to an agreement.

The CC students have found that they are slightly more pessimistic about the outcome of the conference than when they arrived. “The experts we have spoken with say they don’t expect an ambitious agreement,” said Biggar.

To follow the group’s daily updates, visit their blog: here.

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