AUNE Environmental Studies Students Engage in UN Climate Change Debates

Jahdiel Torres-Cabá and Mari Brunner, master’s students in AUNE’s Department of Environmental Studies, spent several weeks in Warsaw, Poland, at the 19th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in November. Representatives from 197 governments met to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty obligating countries to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

Jahdiel's and Mari's group provided some media coverage of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change .

Jahdiel’s and Mari’s group provided some media coverage of the annual Conference of the Parties (COP) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change .

As members of the 11-student delegation from the Sierra Student Coalition (SCC), Jahdiel and Mari sat in on policy discussions, worked on media, and learned to take the long-term view. The SCC, of which Jahdiel was co-chair, was one of many groups operating within the framework of the conference’s civil society—universities, NGOs, and other nongovernmental organizations. One of the SCC’s goals was developing a media strategy to get news from the conference out to the world. Some students attended policy briefings while others wrote news stories, videotaped interviews, and sent out emails through their Rapid Response Network. Jahdiel was interviewed by TeleSUR, a Latin American television network, and Efe Agencia, a Spanish international news agency.

Two other SCC goals were to create permanent international partnerships and to change patterns of  oppression in institutions. They studied how power structures become embedded within governments and worked to create awareness of the United Nations’ own power structure.

The UNFCC Goal
The UNFCCC set a deadline of 2015 to replace the Kyoto Protocol.  “Civil society, youth of the world, are looking for an ambitious, fair, and legally binding treaty for all countries to commit to lower carbon emissions,” said Jahdiel, a Conservation Biology student. “We’ll try to accelerate because we only have until 2015.”

“Many governments are more conservative than they were when the Kyoto Protocol was signed,” said Mari, a student in the Sustainable Development and Climate Change concentration. Mari noted that the conference brought together many diverse groups.  “But one thing I took away from the experience is that civil society groups are much more willing to work together  now than ever before.”

Jahdiel and Mari met with Yeb Saño, (center) lead negotiator for the Philippines, who staged a hunger strike.

Jahdiel and Mari met with Yeb Saño, (center) lead negotiator for the Philippines, who staged a hunger strike.

Besides the daily routine of an early SCC networking get-together, policy briefings, and other conference activities, there were actions carried out by groups to put pressure on decision makers. Jahdiel and Mari joined a walk-out by environmental, youth, and labor groups protesting the COP as slow, ineffective, and dominated by polluters. They also met with Yeb Saño, the lead negotiator for the Philippines, who went on a hunger strike to pressure other negotiators to recognize that Typhoon Haiyan, which devastated his country, was caused by climate change, and to take action.

Little Action; Lots of Hope
Mari said she found the conference sometimes discouraging. “A lot of nations are focused on improving their economy and not on forming a strong agreement that will cut emissions,” she said. “So the conference was a little bit of everything – frustrating but with successes, because there are some countries with ambitious carbon emissions programs. There was very little action, but hope that something will happen.”

“The next few years are going to be crucial for developing a fair and legally binding treaty to lower carbon emissions, because climate change is happening already,” said Jahdiel. “We’ll still prepare and learn; even if it’s me in Puerto Rico and Mari in Michigan, we’re going to keep working and empowering our communities and spreading the word.”

Jahdiel and Mari went to the UNFCCC conference in Warsaw as part of a delegation from the Sierra Student Coalition.

Jahdiel and Mari went to the UNFCCC conference in Warsaw as part of a delegation from the Sierra Student Coalition.

Jahdiel attended the COP18 in Qatar in 2012; both he and Mari hope to be in Lima, Peru, in 2014 for the next round of COP meetings.