UConn@COP made sure the US was more than a closed door on climate change at UN climate meeting

There was a presentation by the U.S. delegates advocating clean coal, Wanjiku Gatheru, a third-semester environmental studies major who attended the climate meeting, said. (COP23/Twitter)

Staff and students from the University of Connecticut recently connected with people from around the world at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting, the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23), in an effort to confront climate change.

The students and staff were part of a group called UConn@COP, a group of environmental advocates dedicated to attending the annual COP meetings.

This year’s event was hosted by Fiji, in the city of Bonn, Germany from Nov. 11 to Nov. 18 in, to “advance the aims and ambitions of the Paris Agreement and achieve progress on its implementation guidelines,” according to the UNFCCC website.

While President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, it takes four years to officially withdraw, so the U.S. is required to have representation at the convention for the next three years, Sarah Munro, the Sustainability Program Coordinator for the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP), said.

There was a presentation by the U.S. delegates advocating clean coal, Wanjiku Gatheru, a third-semester environmental studies major who attended the climate meeting, said. A group of people from SustainUS and the NAACP showed up early to the talk, filling the space, and started singing as a peaceful protest that made national news, Gatheru said.

We Are Still In (WASI), people and corporations from the U.S. who have agreed to uphold the standards of the Paris Agreement, set up a “big white blow up tent,” Caroline Anastasia, fifth-semester chemistry major who attended the climate meeting, said. It was entirely funded by sub-national governments, organizations and businesses including Coca Cola and the Mars candy company.

“That was encouraging to see that even though the federal administration doesn’t care anymore that other people still do,” Anastasia said.

Although UConn@COP as a group did not have access to the location of the U.S. delegation, a professor from UConn was able to see what U.S. representation looked like and took a photo, Anastasia said. Whereas other countries had big pavilions, “the presence of the United States was literally one door that was closed in the back corner of the area,” Anastasia said.

UConn hosted a networking night with Tufts University, Second Nature and the Association for the Enhancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an event that included over 200 people, Anastasia said.

Munro said students were also able to experience a wide variety of perspectives within their own group from UConn.

“This year (UConn@COP) had one of the most widespread and diverse groups that we’ve ever had,” Munro said. “I think that lent itself to some good insights that you wouldn’t otherwise get in a course where you’re just taking it with fellow political scientists or fellow engineers.”

There were disagreements on what the priorities of climate change action should be, Katie Main, a seventh-semester Environmental Engineering major who attended the climate meeting, said. Everyone prioritizes the branch of environmental change they study, Main said.

“The fact that 14 students couldn’t agree on a solution explains why the whole world can’t,” Main said.

There were students from all disciplines that allowed for different ideas for solutions, Gatheru said.

“I think we’re like minded in our love for the environment but how we love the environment is completely different,” Gatheru said.

Last year, UConn@COP met with President Herbst when they returned to discuss their experience and what plans they can implement at UConn to create a more sustainable campus, Munro said.

This year, UConn@COP has not had a chance to talk to President Herbst yet, Munro said. The group is working on plans for attending COP24 as well as the 2018 Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco Calif, Munro said.

“That’s another thing that we’re looking at and… saying okay how can we really act as a leader,” Munro said. “Especially in these next couple very critical years.”


Nicholas Hampton is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at nicholas.hampton@uconn.edu.