Dispatches from Bonn: Professor Mark Smith’s Class Attends UN Climate Change Conference


Over Block 3, Colorado College students attended the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) 23rd annual “Conference of the Parties” (COP). This year’s convention, lead by Fiji, was held in Bonn, Germany. This event has historically been the staging ground of many important international climate change agreements, including the 2015 Paris Agreement, from which President Trump controversially withdrew U.S. support. Students with Mark Smith’s “Economics of International Climate Policy” attended the conference during the first two weeks of November. Instead of interviewing students about the class for an article, the students shared their impressions of attending the COP-23 conference.

Photo courtesy of Mark Smith

“A COP is a lot like a circus.  I don’t think [the students] believed me before hand, but I am sure they now understand what I meant. Each of us had a different experience—we met different people, went to different meetings, came away with different impressions. I’d say we were all shocked to find that, even among people who are profoundly concerned about climate change, there are vast differences in how to approach it.”

Mark Smith, Professor of Economics


“The COP was amazing in the most uplifting but also devastating way. In one sense, people and countries were sharing the progress that they had made and what their plans are for the future to mitigate and adapt to climate change. On the other hand, you are meeting and interacting with people whose homes have been destroyed, their lives completely changed, by an epidemic that they really played no part in causing. I’m still processing everything, but one of the most important take-aways for me was a sense of urgency: you shouldn’t wait until you’re ‘grown up’ to try to make a difference, and your individual behavior and choices do have an impact.”

Emily Abbott ‘19


“An inspiring disappointment. Without a doubt, one of the best experiences one who cares about climate change can have. However, the events and negotiations occurring at these COPs are not nearly enough. The point is to outline paths that deviate from ‘business as usual’ (continuing business with no regard to climate change). Unfortunately, a lot of the conversations being had are ensuring that the largest powers, the US as one example, can continue to profit off of climate change adaption and mitigation. Profiting off of others’ misfortunes and lives seems to be pretty ‘business as usual’.

Too many negotiators from comfortable vantage points do not understand the dire consequences of climate change – which poorer countries and peoples face now, and that everyone will face soon. Including people who are most affected by climate change, and have different understandings of it, is imperative to successfully reaching the Paris Agreement targets and becoming a sustainable world. If any of us want to stand a chance against climate change, we must truly disrupt ‘business as usual’.”

Jordan Churchwell ‘18


“The opening ceremony highlighted the success some U.S representatives have found in pursuit of emissions reductions, sustainability initiatives, and environmental justice. The showcase felt highly politicized, as some panelists referred to themselves as rebels for diverging from the federal climate approach (or lack thereof), but the narrative was met with high spirits by a crowd of international constituents and gave me optimism that the U.S may actually take the necessary steps to address climate change in the coming years…”

Jack Moseley ‘19


“At first, it felt like a display of American exceptionalism as the U.S. was the only country to have a massive structure in a different space (and when I say massive, I mean massive). However, the feelings of doubt dissipated when governors, mayors, large corporations, and NGOs stood up day after day to share how they would ensure that the U.S. was still committed to clean energy. After working the information desk at the center for a few days, it was clear that people were leaving feeling inspired by the idea that the U.S. had not just dropped and ignored all the commitments they had made the previous year in the Paris Agreements…”

Katherine Kerr ‘18


“This particular COP was important for a couple of reasons. The conference was hosted by Fiji, which was the first time a COP was presided over by a Small Island Developing State (SIDS). The talks were centered around indigenous peoples and focused on identifying those most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change globally…This was the first significant climate meeting attended by the United States after Donald Trump tweeted that the U.S. would not comply with the Paris Agreement. It was the first time that American politicians, companies, universities, and institutions had the opportunity to show public support for continuing climate goals, despite the government’s position.”

Sophie Leamon ‘18


“In November of 2015 the world convened in Paris and negotiated a multilateral agreement to limit global warming [growth] to ‘well below 2 degrees Celsius’. A monumental feat of international cooperation, the Paris Agreement establishes a noble goal, but the reality is that it will likely fall tragically short. Even if all countries indeed abide by their nationally determined contributions, the earth will still be on track to heat up by 3.5 degrees Celsius. The path to 2 degrees would require the world to fully decarbonize by the end of this century and subsequently generate massive negative emissions by actively removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere using theorized technology that may never actually exist. Fast forward to November 2017, the world is convening in Bonn, Germany to further hash out the details of international climate mitigation efforts.”

John Higham ‘18

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