Alums and students attend, participate in COP21

by Rachel Favors | 1/4/16 8:56pm

Dartmouth alumni, faculty and students were among the many delegates and attendees at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris. After approximately two weeks of negotiations and meetings, the conference culminated in 195 countries adopting the first legally binding and universal agreement on slowing global warming.

The agreement, which comes into force in 2020, establishes an international action plan for avoiding dire climate change by limiting global warming to well below two degrees Celsius, according to the European Commission.

Prominent among the Dartmouth participants in the conference, also known as COP21, was U.S. State Department’s special envoy for climate change Todd Stern ’73, the lead negotiator for the U.S. delegation.

Morgan Curtis ’14 and Leehi Yona ’16 both attended COP21 representing SustainUS, a youth-led delegation advocating for justice and sustainability in United Nations meetings on sustainable development, climate change, eradicating poverty, biodiversity loss and women’s rights.

As a youth delegate and a Dartmouth senior fellow, Yona followed the negotiations at the conference, conducted interviews of delegates and academics attending the conference, participated in symbolic protests and wrote opinion pieces, she said.

Before arriving in Paris, Curtis spent the five months before the conference cycling and gathering stories in eleven countries on a Climate Journey project. She focused on grassroots mobilization in climate action and gathering the stories of people who have made the transition from individual to collective action for the climate.

Curtis recalled her two weeks at the conference as the “most stimulating, difficult and transformative” of her life.

A group of students from the Tuck School of Business also attended COP21 as observers.

“It is important for my students who will be entering the work force soon to attend because we want them to be global leaders and think about their role as the cause and solutions to these climate change problems,” Tuck School of Business professor and pioneer of the course “Business and Climate Change” Anant Sundaram said.

Corporations are both the problem and solution to climate change as they are the biggest contributors to the emissions of greenhouse gases, Sundaram said. He added that the industry will have to do a lot of the research and development that goes into developing these clean energy technologies to solve the climate change problem.

Patrick Turevon Tu’16, observed many of the “behind the scenes negotiations” and attended the various panels and lectures held throughout the second week of the conference.

“I tried to attend a lot of the business lectures on building a clean energy market and investing in clean energy,“ Turevon said.

Sundaram said he finds it important for his business students to see how global negotiations and consensus building processes work or do not work.

The main objective of this annual conference is to review and revise the implementation of the Rio Convention, which in 1992, established a framework for action aimed at stabilizing the atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Although delegates and leaders from countries meet annually, an agreement is not reached every year, environmental studies professor and Union of Concerned Scientists delegate at COP21 Anne Kapuscinski said.

“This [conference] was really important because the international agreement that these nations are currently operating from was the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2020,” Kapuscinski said. “Countries have been hard at work for the past 20 years to negotiate a new agreement and it was understood and agreed upon that at this meeting, they were going to try to reach a new agreement for the global community.”

The countries at this conference took a more cooperative approach in Paris. States agreed to individually reduce their carbon emissions to a specific target rate and mutually enforce and coerce each other into continuing to lower their emission numbers in the future, Kapuscinski said.

Before and during COP21, countries submitted individual comprehensive national climate action plans to reduce carbon emissions. The long-term goal of the plans was to keep the increase in global average temperature to below two degrees Celsius. The governments also agreed to track each country’s commitment through an extensive transparency and accountability system.

The COP21 agreement will not be implemented until 2020 and the monitoring and verification mechanisms to see if countries are abiding by their commitment will not be in place until 2023, Sundaram said.

Although the agreement is a step forward, Sundaram said he is less optimistic about its timeline.

Yona expressed similar sentiments about some of the agreement’s weaknesses. She said that the reality of the agreement, although positive on the surface, is that the sum of the individual commitments will be emissions well over the 1.5 degrees Celsius limit and around 3.5 degrees according to an independent study by Climate Interactive.

“The agreement is a big step forward, but at a time when we need a marathon,” she said.

The Paris agreements affect the Dartmouth community since it is a public statement about the end of the fossil fuel era. To meet the goals of this agreement, a “deep and systemic transformation of our energy systems” is needed, Curtis said.

“With our $4.7 billion endowment still exposed to the fossil fuel industry, we must act swiftly to divest, demonstrating both our moral leadership and financial prudence,” she added.