UConn students, staff travel to Paris for climate change conference

A group of UConn students and faculty are in Paris this week for a climate change summit. (@UConn/Instagram)

Though the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris have resulted in noticeable security increases at COP21, the United Nation’s 21st conference on global climate change policy, 18 students and staff members from the University of Connecticut embraced the opportunity to participate in the international event,  director of the office of environmental Policy Richard Miller said.

“After the attacks, each student was offered the opportunity to back out – no questions asked – but each student confirmed that they still wanted to participate,” Miller said in an email interview from Paris, France. “We can all be proud of the talented students chosen to represent UConn at this prestigious and potentially historic, international policy event.”

COP21 is the 21st Conference of the Parties, a meeting of experts from over 190 countries that have adopted the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) since the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and will run from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 in Paris, France. This year’s talks will focus on the UN’s 2009 commitment to raise $100 billion to help developing countries cope with climate change, as well as on negotiating international measures to prevent global temperatures from increasing by more than two degrees Celsius, or 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit, the UNFCC’s standard of acceptable warming.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2013 Summary for Policymakers, global temperatures must remain within 3.6 degrees fahrenheit of pre-industrial levels to avoid the most extreme projections of flooding, wildfires and drought.

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While there were no changes to the UConn attendees’ schedule, Miller said French authorities shut down a climate march expected to draw 200,000 environmental activist to the streets of Paris-due to security concerns following the Nov. 13 attack on Paris and Saint Denis, France, which resulted in 130 deaths.

Despite the crackdown in Paris, the Guardian reported that over 2,000 climate protests in over 150 countries have been carried out in parallel with COP21.

“The tragedy in Paris has only strengthened our resolve,” France coordinator for grassroots environmentalist group 350 Nicolas Haeringer said in a Nov. 17 press release. “This movement for climate justice has always also been a movement for peace – a way for people around the world to come together, no matter their background or religion, and fight to protect our common home,” “We urge people to join other Global Climate Marches around the world to show their solidarity and support – there couldn't be a more important time to push for climate justice and the peace it can help bring."

Jessica Griffin, a fifth-semester environmental science and ecology and evolutionary biology major, visited sustainability exhibitions on hydrogen fuel cells, green architecture and vertical farming in addition to seeing the sights of Paris, including the Eiffel Tower, the Louvre and Notre Dame Cathedral, while the UConn contingent was in France from Dec. 30 to Nov. 6. Griffin said she appreciated the opportunity to absorb global perspectives on climate change at COP21.

“Being at exhibits and activist events surrounding COP21, I have been able to meet people from around the world who share my passion and who have come here to collaborate on solutions for climate change,” Griffin said from Paris in a Facebook interview. “I have enjoyed being surrounded by a group of people unified by a common purpose: maintaining the health and safety of earth and future generations.”

Miller said UConn’s COP21 program was funded by nearly $40,000 in contributions from the College of Liberal Arts and Science, the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the School of Engineering, the Marine Sciences Department, the Office of Global Affairs and the Office of Environmental Policy’s Campus Sustainability Fund. The 12 student attendees have been tweeting to #UConnTalksClimate and will begin organizing post conference projects including art exhibits, panel discussions and demonstrations on climate change upon returning to campus.


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.