COP, Carbon Markets, and Culture

March 11, 2020

Editor’s Note: Article 6 of the Paris Agreement states that countries are to set up a global carbon market to encourage a more affordable transition towards carbon neutral economies. The implementation of the article was a major focus of COP25 – Read what our fellows have to say about it below!

Top Down and Bottom Up: The Dual Approach Needed to Address Climate Change – Lauren Pawlowski

Article 6 Deconstructed and Why No One Can Agree on a Solution – Hope Dymond

Carbon Pricing and Indigenous People: Key Issues at COP25 – Michael Goccia

 

Top Down and Bottom Up: The Dual Approach Needed to Address Climate Change

Lauren Pawlowski – B.A. Environmental Studies and B.S. Economics

 

A lot of the conversation and debate at COP25 was about carbon markets, carbon budgets, and renewable energy. There was heated talk in some of the high-level negotiations between country delegates regarding consensus on Article 6 of the Paris Agreement which is centered on carbon markets.

These negotiations were only in one or two hour blocks and these high-status delegates only meet at the annual COP in December, in June, and at a few interim meetings during the year. Also, unless every country in attendance agrees, nothing gets passed, so I could clearly see the frustration of delegates over this lengthy process when countries like Egypt prioritized their own individual interests over global cooperation.

These types of international agreements and articles of the Paris Agreement are important in building a foundation of environmental policy on a global scale. However, it seems like a difficult task to reach consensus on and outline ways to implement these policies.

 

On a similar note, encouraging countries to reach their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and to reduce emissions through energy infrastructure is a good starting point for reducing climate change at the national level. However, change at the local level is more community-based, dignifying, and attainable.

Shawna Lawson, who is a part of the Indigenous Environmental Network, Native Movement.org, and is Ahtna on her father’s side and Supiaq on her mother’s side,, mentioned at a panel that Native Americans have the highest rates of breast cancer, diabetes, incarceration, and suicide in Alaska. She talked about how DDT is still used in other countries besides the US today, so it biomagnifies in the global aquatic food chains and causes health problems within the tribes.

When I asked her how she tries to alleviate these social and environmental justice issues, she highlighted the importance of education and culture. Shawna said that in her traditional language, “there is no way to say ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m sorry.’ You have to show it.” In this sense, the tribes have to honor their responsibility to the earth through their daily actions and by passing on their cultural values through songs, stories, and teachings.

She talked about her tribe when she said, “We made an agreement to take care of the earth and the earth, in agreement, would take care of us.”

Through their indigenous way of life that honors the planet and its natural resources, they are environmental stewards. Shawna also told us how there are only two Alaskan tribal schools that educate indigenous people on the true history of US involvement in the tribal nations and colonization. By passing down stories of life before big oil extractors took over their lands, she said, they are able to take pride in their culture and ties to their environment.

In terms of the climate crisis, Shawna told the crowd that she worries about everyone else in the world. Her tribe, she said, “Will continue to be here. We will figure it out.”

This is one of many examples where bottom-up efforts to make a community more sustainable are best achieved through storytelling, activism, spreading awareness, and local policy change. This makes big issues like climate change and environmental justice more personal and relatable and it enables small individual actions to contribute to greater world change.

Environmental issues must be tackled from these two lenses: one from a technology, infrastructure, economic lens and one from a social change perspective. International, national, and local change all need to occur simultaneously in order for the world to tackle the climate crisis, but more individuals can contribute to this through action in the local communities that they know best. In this way, communities can honor their experiences and culture and fight for a better future together.

 

Article 6 Deconstructed and Why No One Can Agree on a Solution

Hope Dymond – B.S. Environmental Engineering

My first blog post was about Article 6, and I would recommend reading that (see Hope Dymond) first, as well as Alyssa Pagan’s Article 6 blog, to get a full understanding of this important component of this year’s negotiations.

Now that we have returned home, and the COP 25 has concluded, what is the status of Article 6? Let’s see if we can find out.

At the conference, it is impossible to be at every negotiation at once, and for a newcomer, even if I was at every negotiation I would falter in comprehending what was going on. However, I found a helpful tool at the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s booth in Madrid. They write a Bulletin (check it out!) for each day of the conference that summarizes the goings-on of the party talks. From here is where we’ll look to see the failings of the COP in regards to Article 6, and details on what is next.

The COP ended Sunday December 15, two days after the official deadline of December 13th. And yet even with the extra time, regarding Article 6, “CMA President Schmidt reported no substantive agreement could be reached on this agenda item.”

The countries could not agree.

There were issues on specifics of Article 6 that countries held differing views on, and even after the two week conference the decisions could not be made.

One outstanding issue was whether carbon credits, or units, from the previous Kyoto Protocol could be used to in this new trading system under the Paris Agreement’s Article 6. Countries such as Australia and Brazil were proponents of this happening, but many other countries, as well as NGOs, called for the avoidance of double counting.

My understanding of the logic behind both sides is not that advanced, but it goes like this: If I am an Australian and I have spent lots of money reducing emissions in a certain sector, then suddenly I’m being told I can’t use my hard earned “credits” in a new carbon trading scheme, then I am being denied a reward for all my work.

On the opposing side, against double counting, is the bathtub argument from my first blog post. The millions of carbon credits put towards previous trading schemes such as the Kyoto scheme are called “hot air” because counting them again in the new trading system will flood the carbon market. You have probably heard what flooding any market will do –flooding will bring the prices way down and low prices make carbon markets ineffective.

To the groups standing firmly against double counting, these “hot air” credits need to be avoided. The negotiations on this topic were pushed to June 2020 where the SBSTA (another fun acronym meaning Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice) will discuss further.

One more problem the countries couldn’t agree on was human rights. Some parties wanted to explicitly mention human rights in Article 6, other wanted to include “other rights”.

An example to help illustrate the consequences was brought up at a side event on a “Just Transition”. If Brazil sells a carbon credit of 1000 tonnes of carbon (let’s just use pretend units) to France, then France can emit 1000 tonnes of carbon into the air and in theory it is is “zero sum game”; France can report on its NDC that it did not emit those thousand tones because it bought the credit from Brazil.

But what actually happened in Brazil? If the carbon credit took the form of funding a renewable energy project that sounds pretty cool. All good things, right? Not always.

There are a substantial number of reports of renewable energy companies displacing indigenous people to build wind or solar farms. Read this article for information on native leaders in Honduras that have been killed in the struggle for their land, and to have free and open consent with incoming industry.

Fossil fuel and other extractive industries have done this for many years, but it is important to know that renewable development is not inherently people-conscious. An Article 6 that lacks provisions for human rights can secretly accelerate the endangering of those most vulnerable, while appearing to be beneficial.

Last year’s COP24, in Katowice, had not found agreement on the carbon trading system. Now, with another year and no conclusion, it is difficult to find optimism. However, the COPs will continue, as well as the many meetings that bring together the negotiating bodies and advisors year round.

Some countries may begin their own carbon trading systems in light of the progress that has been made at this year’s conference. As an observer, I feel my own disappointment that must pale in comparison to the frustrations felt by delegates that have worked for months only to turn up without a conclusion.

The climate negotiations are a world of acronyms. CMA means the Parties that have signed and ratified the Paris Agreement; CMA President Schmidt is the President of this year’s COP. (Photo: Climate Change News)

I think the only reasonable next step for us students and citizens is to learn as much as we can about these systems that are being proposed, such as Article 6. My most exhilarating experiences in the negotiating rooms were the ones where I realized I actually knew what the delegates were talking about, versus the times where I scanned the paragraphs being discussed over and over and still could not for the life of me comprehend.

It is important for us to be literate in the specifics of the conversation, such as carbon markets and carbon capture technologies. Knowing what is actually being talked about at these conferences makes me, and I hope you, less inclined to shrug it all off as toothless political babble.

Secondly, I have learned that the broader context of human rights and history needs to be understood by us. This is critical, and I think Harry Zehner’s blog post outlines the “tale of two COPs” well. At the next COP, Article 6 may actually be finalized. That gives all of us a whole other year to read up and understand what is at stake.

 

 

Carbon Pricing and Indigenous People: Key Issues at COP25

Michael Goccia – B.S. Management and Economics

 

My week at COP25 in Madrid has flown by. Before coming to Madrid I was apprehensive that there would not be enough to justify a whole week at the conference. I was pleasantly surprised by the variety and quantity of events to attend, making me wish we had the full two weeks to engage with more people and attend other events. I originally applied to the UConn@COP fellowship without knowing exactly what to expect at the COP. I knew there would be discussions and lots of different opportunities, but I was unsure what I would be able to attend. It was very impactful to attend the actual negotiation sessions as well as the unique side events.

 The wide range of topics for side events was impressive. I was very glad we were given the freedom to pick and choose which events we would like to attend. This allowed me to tailor my UConn@COP experience to my interests. I have an economics and business background so I gravitated to events with relevant topics, but I also saw UConn@COP as a unique opportunity to broaden my horizons. It is for this reason that I attended many sessions about climate justice and the impact of climate change on indigenous people. These events, especially those relating to indigenous people, were very unique to the United Nations.

 I think it would have been difficult to hear the perspective of these groups if I did not attend COP25 in Madrid. These discussions about indigenous peoples also helped me to better understand their perspective and the meaning of climate justice overall. I feel that the perspective of many indigenous groups and some countries is grounded in the context of colonization. This historical context to the climate change issue guided many groups to arrive at the conclusion that the countries who are primarily responsible for carbon dioxide emissions should be providing financial support to countries that have been disproportionately impacted by climate change.

 While at COP25 I was able to listen to many conversations about what the best course of action is to adequately address climate change. In addition to the idea that some countries should be paying reparations to those who are being disproportionately impacted, there was much discussion about green investment opportunities.

 One of the most informative sessions I was able to attend on this topic was called “The road to carbon pricing in emerging economies: issues and challenges.”  This included discussions about carbon pricing and issues specific to emerging economies and indigenous people.

 In my view, this was a key division at COP25. Climate justice proponents viewed green investment funds that expected a return on their investment as a new form of colonialism, while green fund investors viewed their approach as the most efficient way to help countries meet their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). I found this divide to be very interesting because I could see the truth to both arguments. It will be interesting to follow this discussion through the rest of COP25 and future COPs to see what the resolution will be. I think that both sides will need to compromise to reach an agreement, potentially having a blend of profitable investments in addition to gratis infrastructure projects in some nations.

 Michael Goccia is a senior from Mystic, CT pursuing a dual degree in Management and Economics.

The Importance of Personal Connections

Editor’s Note: Too often we discourage individuals from involving emotions in the decision making process. However, our fellows recognized that emotion, empathy, and personal connection is essential and necessary in addressing global issues holistically.

Hope Amongst Devastation: Personal Connection and Youth Involvement – Louanne Cooley

I’m Right, You’re Wrong! A Need for Empathy in the Environmental Movement – Xinyu Lin

The Essence of a Talanoa – Danny Osorio

 

Hope Amongst Devastation: Personal Connection and Youth Involvement

Louanne Cooley – JD School of Law

On our last day in Madrid for COP25, my body and mind are still battling out which gets to be in charge. The mind has mostly won this week allowing me to function on intermittent sleep and questionable food choices, but still be able to listen intently and speak more or less coherently. However, by yesterday, it was mostly a matter of running on coffee and enthusiasm. My body finally gave up and said, “Treat me like this and I’ll make you sorry,” and I spent the last 24 hours losing a fight against a cold. Basic epidemiology suggested that putting 25,000 people from 200 countries together was bound to make viruses very happy, and most of us have succumbed in one way or another.

Humanity is a cooperative, communal species. The energy here at COP25 is also infectious. Learning how others cope with climate change is simultaneously heartening and devastating. In the US, our most pressing issue is convincing people this is “real”; but in central Africa, people are dying from the combined effects of drought, malnutrition, disease and lack of resources exacerbated by climate change. Indigenous cultures world-wide are feeling the pressure of environmental degradation and loss of cultural knowledge. Island nations are losing land to sea level rise and seeing shifts in ocean ecology at unprecedented rates.

Early in the week, I sat in on several talks dealing with ‘loss and damage’. The concept is that wealthier countries historically responsible for industrialization and carbon inputs that drive climate change are responsible for assisting in offsetting the costs borne by vulnerable nations, essential recognizing their humanitarian obligations with financial assistance. As you can bet, this isn’t popular with developed nations and working out just who is responsible for what, for how long, and how much is the source of intense debate. Loss and damage arguments also highlight how interconnected issues of human rights, poverty, debt financing, international aid are with climate change.

The last two days of COP25 for me have mostly been about making personal connections. I spoke with a delegate from Uganda who works in the finance ministry and told me about the difficulty in maintaining the enthusiasm and energy to address climate concerns outside of the time spent at COP. Smaller nations with aligned interests can often effectually form voting coalitions to amplify their voice, but it is difficult to remain in contact during the rest of the year when much of their time and resources are spent responding to pressing immediate crises. This was echoed by delegates from Zambia and Fiji.

I also spent time talking youth activists like Adam Currie of Generation Zero which pushed for the recent adoption of the Zero Carbon Act in New Zealand.

Harnessing the energy and enthusiasm of youth to lead civil activism to hold government responsible for climate action is imperative if we have any chance of meeting targets to limit emissions.

Last night many of our students attended the climate march in Madrid. It felt like the entire city was on the move, out to show support, be present, make their voice heard. There is still so much to do, and as we’ve learned from watching the negotiations, it happens slowly and incrementally. At a time when we are truly out of time, this is frustrating and exacerbating. But for lasting change to happen, but processes need to work in tandem: civil action and protest to highlight the issues and push governmental action, and the work of scientists and negotiators to building up long term data and translate that into robust, well thought out political frameworks.

 

This week has been devastating and hopeful. Devastating to hear the voices of those most vulnerable and affected, and hopeful that civil action, led by youth and supported by decades of dedicated work, can lead to real change.

 

I’m Right, You’re Wrong! A Need for Empathy in the Environmental Movement

Xinyu Lin – B.S. Civil Engineering

Armed with heavy skepticism, I sat down for a joint panel titled “Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road” hosted by researchers from China and representatives from the organization Peace Boat on the second day of COP. While I listened to details on China’s Green Belt & Road Initiative and a “sustainable” cruise boat, I took note of any questionable conclusions or potential greenwashing. At the end of the panel, I marched up to the front and began my quest to expose gaps in judg ement that were made in both projects.

A joint panel titled Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road featured Chinese researchers and representatives from the Japanese-based international NGO Peace Boat. (Photo: Xinyu Lin)

I ended up having a fantastic conversation with a representative from Peace Boat. We disagreed on certain approaches to solving the climate crisis, but we connected as people just trying to improve the world to the best of our abilities. He became a familiar face throughout the rest of my time at COP as I ran into him every day following the panel. My interactions with him reminded me that as my opinions have become stronger, so has my intolerance for bystanders and imperfect activism. I had forgotten the importance in understanding others — not just individuals most heavily affected by these problems, but also individuals that might even be impeding change.

UConn@COP fellows pose with a representative from Peace Boat after a fascinating post-panel conversation. (Photo: Xinyu Lin)

We’re drawn towards those that share our opinions. Within the environmental movement, it’s easy to find voices that echo our own trains of thought and to villainize those that don’t seem to get the basic ideas that underlie climate activism. Yet what good does it do to stay within our circles, preaching change to those who already agree with us?

In the urgency to tackle our climate emergency, we’re leaving behind patience and understanding. We can’t change minds without empathizing with them first.Yes, we certainly need to hold people accountable, but we also need the ability to collaborate effectively with people from other perspectives.

Amidst the urgency of the situation, we need to constantly remind ourselves why we care and what we’re fighting for — our communities, our connection, our ability to love, and our hope.

 

The Essence of a Talanoa

Danny Osorio – B.S. Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences

Danny participated in a youth Talanoa while attending COP25, where he spoke about his experiences with environmental destruction where he is from in Columbia.

I come from the Pacific coast of a country in South America and I would have never thought of participating in the honor of a Talanoa Dialogue.  Despite the limitations of how panels at COP25 work and how it could not really be a proper dialogue, I still feel happy I got to share part of my experiences and stories of how climate change has affected lives directly and indirectly.

In many of our Pasifika cultures, it is all about storytelling, or telling our story to make the connections. I met some Samoan delegates and the first thing they asked me was for my name and surname, and then they started making the connections.

They asked for my father’s name and I saw them thinking — they were coming with questions that I did not have the answers for. They would ask, “Is your grandfather from…?” or “Is your mother’s family from…?”

I didn’t know the answers but this is how they connect. This is where relationships are built and how the story goes on. The Talanoa Dialogue is an element of the COP that nurtures and helps continue this story telling, in the context of climate change.

The word ‘talanoa’ is a term meaning to talk or speak. The four elements around the word ‘talanoa’ are attributes that make the talanoa more meaningful and rich: Ofa/Love, Mafana/Warmth, Malie/Humour, Faka’apa’apa/Respect.

I don’t know if we necessarily fulfilled all of these requirements in the panel where I was a participant, but we certainly did when I was talking with other young representatives who were advocating for the voices of the ocean.

 

We’ve Moved!

February 24, 2020

Spring semester has begun with more than just a few spring cleaning items at the Office of Sustainability. We have moved to a freshly renovated new space in the Institute of the Environment located in the Building #4 Annex behind Horsebarn Hill.

The relocation solidifies our place within the new Institute of the Environment (IoE) and has already enabled increased collaboration with our new partners, the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering (CESE), The CT State Museum of Natural History, and the Natural Resources Conservation Academy – not to mention several familiar faculty members and their grad students doing sustainability-related research in one the IoE’s many labs.

Sustainability was considered throughout our move as well as the comfort and productivity of our staff and intern team. With the help of Project Manager Tom Reichardt in Facilities Operations, we were able to design an efficient work space that minimized waste

Moving to a new office meant acquiring new furniture. In order to cut down on unnecessary waste, we decided to bring over all of our chairs from the old office, as well as  some other furnishings, office supplies, computers, and printers. This significantly cut down the amount of new resources we used in the move, and saved money as well. All new furniture and construction materials were selected with sustainability at the forefront. Check out more energy-saving measures in the flyer above.

Staff and interns all agree that our new office space is already feeling like home!  The color scheme is relaxing and the high ceilings reduce the claustrophobia associated with interior offices. Despite not having windows to see the abundant natural scenery, including serene farmland and the Fenton tract of the UConn Forest at our doorstep, two “drive-thru” style windows connect the collaborative intern space with two of the offices for staff. And while you can’t order an Impossible burger, these windows allow for productive conversations and quick feedback on assignments and projects from Sustainability Program Manager, Patrick McKee, and Administrative Coordinator, Cherie Taylor. Meanwhile our Director, Rich Miller, is also not far away, in the sustainably-renovated office right across the hall.

SUSTAINABILITY PROFILE OF OUR NEW OFFICE

  1. HVAC pre-filters and low VOC paints, adhesives, and furniture used to preserve indoor air quality
  2. LED lighting used in all fixtures to save energy
  3. Installed 100% recyclable Interface Carbon Neutral Flooring carpet tiles
  4. New ceiling tiles made of 76% recycled material
  5. All furniture fabrics are made of 100% post-consumer recycled polyester
  6. Reuse of all doors, frames, and ceiling grids prevented construction waste during renovation.
  7. All construction waste was properly sorted and recycled when possible
  8. Insulation added to walls to improve energy efficiency

 

Come visit us! Take the yellow line bus down to the end of Horsebarn Hill Rd., and stop by our office anytime you have a question about campus sustainability initiatives.

 

 

COP25 First Impressions

December 4, 2019

Editor’s note: UConn@COP25 Fellows were asked to share their first impressions of their experience at the COP after the first two days of the conference. Here’s what they had to say:

42 Hours in Madrid – Louanne Cooley
Approaching Environmental Issues on an Individual Level
– Sarah Schechter
The Impacts of Climate Change on Moana and Pacific Island Nations – Lauren Pawlowski
Thinking Beyond Borders & Labels – The Reality of Climate Migration – Megan Ferris
Commonalities across Cultures: Injustice for Identity Minorities – Xinyu Lin
Additionality a Must for Carbon Offsets – Hope Dymond
Human Emotions Influence Decision Making – Especially on Climate Emma MacDonald
Technocrats vs. Radicals on Addressing Climate Change Harry Zehner
The Climate Emergency Impacts Everyone, From the Queen of Spain to UConn Students Matt Yang
Article 6 and Emissions Trading Systems – Alyssa Pagan
The Situation in mi Country – Danny Osorio
Technology is Critical to Helping Farmers Adapt to Climate Change – Himaja Nagireddy
Time for Action – Spencer Kinyon
Indigenous People at the Forefront – Michael Goccia
Who Do we Turn to when National Governments Fail to Lead? – Georgia Hernandez – Corrales
Questioning the Paradox of Sustainable Development – Mara Tu
Environmental Justice IS Social Justice – Natalie Roach

 

42 Hours in Madrid
Louanne Cooley – JD, School of Law

As I write this, it’s 1 AM and we’ve been in Spain for about 42 hours. Every minute here reveals greater depth and texture as I come to know more about this remarkable group of students, faculty and staff, all learning together about the complex issues around climate change, and all committed to expanding our role as citizens working for solutions.

European Union panel.
European Union panel on legislative response to Climate Change
Oisin Coghan- Friends of Earth Ireland
Lola Vallejo- IDDRI
Malta Hentschke- Klima Allinz
Yvon Slingenberg, EU DG-Climate Action (Photo: Louanne Cooley).

That we are here at all speaks to that commitment. UNFCC COP25 was originally to be hosted by Brazil, but with the election of a populist president a year ago, they withdrew. Chile stepped into the gap so the conference could still be held in South America, but the civil unrest in October of this year caused Chile to pull out too. With a month to go before the conference, Spain worked with Chile to provide a venue, and people worldwide scrambled to change travel plans to make it work. It’s a testament to how important these issues are that we are all here, eager to talk, listen, learn and take action, but many could not travel to Spain, and it is important to recognize that their voices won’t be heard this year.

The staff at UConn’s Office of Sustainability made a heroic effort to get us here, changing flights, finding new accommodations, making sure we would still have access. We arrived excited and grateful for the opportunity.  After taking in the artistic treasures of Spain at the Prado and wandering the rainy streets of Madrid sampling tapas and churros yesterday, today was all business. We arrived at IFEMA Feria de Madrid early Monday having picked up our passes yesterday evening. The COP25 organizers have pulled off a real coup managing to move the venue from Chile to Madrid with a little over four weeks to completely revamp and reorganize. We jumped right in to attend side events, visit pavilions, and most importantly, meet people and learn about their ideas.

I’m a law student at UConn Law working at the Center for Energy & Environmental Law so I was eager to learn about legal frameworks for implementing climate action. The EU pavilion hosted a side event, Fighting Climate Change: The Legislative Response addressing a proposed EU Climate Change Law. Yvon Slingenberg, Director of International, Mainstreaming and Policy Coordination at the Directorate-General for Climate Action (DG CLIMA) in the European Commission, talked about a proposal to implement a system of tariffs on goods coming from countries that have failed to make their emission reduction targets under the Paris Agreement. That would be real change in policy to put a financial penalty on countries doing business in Europe to force climate accountability. I’m eager to learn more about the EU Climate Change Law and watch how it is debated and what provisions are enacted in the weeks to come.

In addition to the law surrounding climate change, I am also interested in how climate issues are communicated, especially to people without a science or technical background. One way to do this is through art. I’m a knitter and I’ve been involved with a global project originating in the US called the Tempestry Project. Conceived by Emily McNeil, Justin and Marissa Connelly of Anacortes, Washington, a Tempestry is created using climate data to make a visual representation of temperature change as fiber art. For the last month, I’ve been working on a “Global New Normal” Tempestry using annual deviation from average temperature from 1880 to the present and inspired by Dr. Ed Hawkin’s warming stripes climate visualization work.  Working on the project is a way to engage with the process of temperature rise which isn’t really perceptible on a day to day basis. Watching the years of progress as I knit, the darker blues dropping out to be replaced by lighter colors, then darker and darker reds, it is impossible to ignore how our planet has changed. I had a chance to talk to Rahul Bansal of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat at the UNFCCC Pavilion about the project and showed him my work. Seeing and touching the Tempestry is a very powerful way to connect with what can be an abstract process. Rahul was so taken with the project that he thought the UN might be interested in displaying Tempestry next year at COP26 in Glasgow.  Being able to connect to people is one of the huge benefits of being here at COP25. Many of the speakers I heard today made the point over and over that climate change is about people. Solutions need to be people focused and need to reach everyone. Everyone has a role to play, whether as a scientist, policy maker, educator or citizen in accepting responsibility and working for change.

UConn COP25 Fellows
UConn COP25 Fellows with Rahul Bansal, UNFCCC (Photo: Louanne Cooley).

It’s now Tuesday and after a few brief hours of rest, we are back at COP25. Today there are more pavilions to visit, events to attend, and people to talk to. So many people to talk to with ideas and hopes and fears, willing to listen to each other and work together. That really is the most hopeful part of being here, surrounded by people, all in it together. It is time for action!

New Normal Global Tempestry
New Normal Global Tempestry (Photo: Louanne Cooley).

Louanne Cooley is a third-year student at the University of Connecticut School of Law. She is a research assistant at the Center for Energy and Environmental Law at UConn Law and is pursuing a Certificate in Energy and Environmental Law. Follow Louanne on Twitter @louanne_cooley and on Instagram @louanne.at.cop25


Approaching Environmental Issues on an Individual Level
Sarah Schechter – BA Environmental Studies and Anthropology

We constantly hear the phrase “think globally, act locally,” but how do we actually put that into practice? When we act on a local level we are trying to benefit the town or municipality that we are working with, but what if that’s still too large of a scope?

Walking into Day 1 of COP25 I was unsure of what to expect, in awe of the bright lights and intricate booths. One was made from cardboard, another had a wall of plants, and still another had a giant Earth sitting in a dish of ice.

I made my way to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) booth, prepared to discuss volunteering with them later in the week. I was then introduced to the Vice-Chair of the IPCC, Dr. Youba Sokona, who asked the group “What are you doing on an individual level?” We started to answer with what was being done in our communities, but he adamantly asked again, “But what are you doing?”

I chimed in with what I try to do on a regular basis and he seemed satisfied. However, this spurred my mind in the direction of how we go about solving daunting environmental issues. Perhaps we aren’t breaking them down enough, clouded by the anxiety of the terrifying concepts.

UConn@COP25 Group
Members of the UConn@COP25 delegation and Vice-chair Professor Dr. Youba Sokona of the IPCC (Photo: Miriah Russo Kelly).

Later I attended a side event titled, “Global climate action: Indigenous rights, territories and resources” in which the Director of Energy 2050 posed a similar question. He looked at the room full of international individuals, all with diverse backgrounds spurred by different interests, and he asked, “What are you doing?” He followed this with encouragement to go out and educate the world, echoing with the idea to “Do your part.”  

There it was again, a reminder for individual action and that everyone’s contribution matters when combating climate change.

Panelists from Global Climate Action Side Event
Panelists from Global Climate Action side event at COP25. (Photo: Sarah Schechter).

Another side event, “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” focused on the production and consumption of food around the world. Plant-based diets were heavily discussed by the panelists, who supported the act of becoming vegan or vegetarian for health and environmental purposes. Deputy Director of the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), Zitouni Ould-Dada, said that the responsibility is on the people. He made it clear that he was not there to force anyone to switch to a plant based diet, but he reminded the room that each person decides what they choose to eat. While there was some controversy regarding this statement, due to socioeconomic factors that can take away choices, he still brought up the idea of individual action.

Panelists from “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” COP25 side event.
Panelists from “Transformative Climate Resilient Pathways for Sustainable and Healthy Food Systems, Diets, and Landscapes” COP25 side event. (Photo: Sarah Schechter).

In one day, I heard about approaching environmental issues on an individual level three times. Clearly, there is the desire to break down problems surrounding climate change into more manageable tasks. While I personally think that acting on a larger scale is still valid and important, because it allows for a broader response, I do see why individual action must still be present in the conversation. I look forward to the rest of my time at COP25 and I wonder when the call for individual action will be mentioned again.

Sarah Schechter is a junior from Danbury, CT, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Anthropology.


The Impacts of Climate Change on Moana and Pacific Island Nations
Lauren Pawlowski – BA Environmental Studies and BS Economics

In the first hour I spent at COP25, I felt lost. This is my first time at a conference this huge and important; I didn’t want to miss out on any chance to listen to world leaders, talk to representatives of international organizations, and see all of the exhibits. There were so many events happening all at once — I couldn’t decide where to head first. However, I quickly figured out where to go to see each country’s exhibit space or “pavilion” and where to listen to panel speakers at the side events.

Part of the magic of COP is finding out about little happenings from talking to different people you meet. Towards the end of the day, a group of the UConn@COP25 Fellows and I were tired, hungry, and mentally drained, but we met a funny man from the Himalayas who convinced us to stay longer.

He told us about his work in planting millions of mangrove trees in the Pacific Islands region and why this was so important to restoring coastal ecosystems and maintaining indigenous communities. His passion for the oceans drew us to stay and participate in the ceremonial welcome event at the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion, which was happening in 10 minutes. It started out with the island natives performing songs and saying blessings in their indigenous languages. They also taught us traditional greetings in these languages as well. I quickly learned that the term “moana” is used to describe the sea or the ocean and that these island communities from countries like Fiji, New Zealand, and Tuvalu are very proud to be presenting a unified front focused on the importance of oceans at COP25.

Cook Islands President Puna
Cook Islands President Henry Puna helped to kickoff the opening of the Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion. Rising sea levels jeopardize island nations and threaten to shrink their land and sea boundaries. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

In a collective communal prayer, they were thankful for having representation from the island countries, for being in a space to talk and share experiences, and for the opportunity to connect with as many people as they could at this event. It surprised me how welcoming they were to all, even though their island nations and tribal communities are facing the worst effects of climate change, including sea level rise and collapse of coastal ecosystems. They were insistent on having everyone try the kava drink, which is a tea-like beverage often used for medicinal purposes in Fiji, and on taking a group photo with flowers in our hair.

Moana Signs
UConn students pose with signs at Moana booth at COP25. (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

While this welcoming ceremony was peaceful and sweet, the UConn Fellows and I learned more about the issues the islands face when talking to the delegate from Fiji. He told us how frustrated his community was with the conversations at COP; he believed they were too focused on emissions reductions and energy. He told us that his goal for this conference was to add the topic of oceans to the mix, because he said that without protecting aquatic animals, plants, and the coastal ecosystems, indigenous communities could lose their livelihoods. Everyone around the world relies on the ocean for fish, other food products, recreation, and ecosystem services. He said even if we prevent emissions we must also prevent ocean pollution and degradation. Without this, the world will face legal challenges to deal with climate migration of island communities. One of the closing remarks at the ceremony was from the Fiji representative, who spoke about how we are all in a collective canoe, which “takes the message of our people, of our life, of our ancestors” and how we must join in this canoe together and share experiences to tackle the climate issues along this journey.

We cannot forget the voices of indigenous communities and the sinking islands around the world. We must not only prevent climate change, but also protect existing aquatic and coastal ecosystems for a socially and environmentally sustainable future.

Lauren Pawlowski is a sophomore from Shelton, CT. She is pursuing a BA in Environmental Studies and a BS in Economics as part of the UConn Honors Program. Follow her on Twitter for the latest COP25 updates @laurepawlowski


Thinking Beyond Borders & Labels – The Reality of Climate Migration
Megan Ferris – BS Environmental Science

What I was most excited about seeing at COP was the involvement and discussions of climate migrants. During previous years at the COP, the term “climate migrant” wasn’t mentioned quite as much as it already has been in several of the opening panel discussions at COP25.  The concept of environmental migration — a very politically — and socioeconomically-charged issue  has been swept under the rug. But as our seas rise, more people from island nations and coastal communities are being forced to move inland or to mainland countries to look for new homes -two examples of this displacement are the Carteret Islanders and the people of Bangladesh.

Subway Sign
Signage in the Madrid Metro calls attention to alarming statistics about climate change and its impacts on society. (Photo: Megan Ferris)

After just the first day at COP, and with a hopeful mindset, I attended two side events revolving around issues of environmental migration. At one of the events, the speakers brought up a new potential solution called the Nansen Climate passport, which would secure migrants’ access to Germany and remarked, “at least the kinks start the discussion.”   This acknowledges the importance of beginning the conversation about new solutions and getting past the hurdle of inaction, despite the challenges and issues that will inevitably occur.

Another aspect of this issue I found interesting was the notion of clear and unambiguous terminology.  Referring to “climate-induced migrants” directly assigns responsibility and raises awareness about the consequences of climate change, especially as they affect populations that have had so little to do with causation. I find that accepting responsibility is something many countries fail to do.

With this in mind, it would help to observe the inter-sectional realities of a country’s citizens, including environmental migrants, who were forced to leave their homeland, and shouldn’t be penalized or criminalized for doing so.

Climate Migration
COP25 delegates filled a meeting room and discussed climate-induced migration issues. (Photo: Megan Ferris).

The panel brought up a point that I appreciated, which was to “think beyond borders, beyond labels, and as a global community.” No one wants to leave their own home, and as the number of climate-induced migrants increases each year, we need to start raising awareness and motivating more solutions to this complex interdisciplinary issue. We need to make sure that climate-induced migrants of the world are protected. As I continue my experience at COP25, I hope to see more discussion and solutions proposed!

Megan Ferris is a senior from Danbury, CT and class of 2020 Environmental Science Major/ Animal Science Minor


Commonalities Across Cultures: Injustice for Identity Minorities
Xinyu Lin – BS Civil Engineering

The American environmental movement is not secretive about its lack of diversity in leadership. Despite recent pushes to increase representation for identity minorities in decision-making positions, the gender and racial gap is undeniable. Women of color are left unheard while suffering the heaviest effects from the climate crisis.

As my third day at COP25 ends, I’m left reflecting on how diversity & representation issues appear across different cultures. It might seem obvious that there are marginalized groups in every country, but I’m well-aware that my understanding of equitable participation is heavily rooted in the uniquely diverse makeup of America. These past few days at COP have provided me with a privileged opportunity to interact with people in other countries experiencing climate injustice first-handedly, and to thoughtfully process these ideas in conversations with other UConn@COP Fellows.

 IASS Co-Creative Dialogue
UConn students engaging in the IASS Co-Creative Dialogue & Reflection Space. (Photo: Anji Seth)

A side event I attended titled “Indigenous Women: Frontline Defenders in the Fight Against Climate Change,” featured women with origins ranging from Tanzania to Myanmar sharing their experiences as leaders at the front lines of the climate emergency. Even in these countries with racial homogeneity and defining cultural identity, indigenous women are the pillars of community and hold sacred knowledge on medicinal practices, ecology, and food production. As Pirawan Wongnithisathaporn of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact said, “we are the ones who protect the land, and who have been doing it for a long time.” Her voice is a reminder of the knowledgeable female leaders who are well-informed on the problems and solutions facing their own peoples.

IASS Co-Creative Dialogue
Panel of Indigenous women discussing female empowerment and leadership within Indigenous community climate action efforts. (Photo: Xinyu Lin)

A powerful theme amongst identity minorities is amplifying across national boundaries. Despite the Global North’s attempts to propose market-based solutions and technological fixes to the climate emergency, efforts must be concentrated towards funding projects at the community level. We need our decision-makers to reflect the people being most directly affected.

Xinyu Lin is a senior studying Civil Engineering with minors in Environmental Engineering and Math.


Additionality a Must for Carbon Offsets
Hope Dymond – BS Environmental Engineering, Minor Human Rights

I  assumed I would know most of the buzzwords here at the Conference of the Parties. For example, you will hear about the Paris Agreement, signed in 2016 as a treaty among many of the world’s countries. In the agreement they committed to reducing emissions, adapting to climate change and financing these shifts. NDC’s, another important term, are Nationally Determined Contributions, made by each country to define the amount it will “contribute” to the global effort to reduce emissions; a country by country target required by the Paris Agreement.

However, if you walk around this year’s COP 25, or even look it up online, you will hear about a new topic: Article 6. Don’t know what that is? Neither did I the first day I arrived at the conference! But now I understand it is of vast importance to the negotiations taking place here.

It was Monday morning, our first event, hosted in one of the spacious press conference rooms. A small group of us UConn students sat in a row among many white plastic seats, and listened as the moderator asked questions on general topics. Evocative speakers they were, but generic.

The third person to speak was a slender French man with glasses. I sat down with my tiny notebook open, and just like I had done for the other two speakers, I wrote down his name and started jotting in bullets of what he was saying. Soon this name, Guilles Dufrasne, was surrounded by stars denoting real importance.

Guilles Dufrasne
Guilles Dufrasne, France, discusses rules for carbon markets on panel presentation on Article 6 of the Paris Climate Agreement at COP25. (Photo: Hope Dymond)

What was he saying? That we need to “finalize the rules for carbon markets.” Ok, cool. He continued, “There are 19,000,000,000 carbon credits crushing the Paris Agreement from the inside.” Dramatic! I was intrigued. “Article 6 is where this will be discussed.” Now I had to learn more about this Article 6, whatever it was. Turns out it is part of the Paris Agreement, a part they are working on finalizing this year at COP in negotiation halls.

A visualization came next. Guilles said picture a huge bathtub, one with many little holes in it. The point of carbon markets here is simple. Emissions of greenhouse gasses that warm the planet are assigned a price per unit. If I am a country, say Spain, and I want to reach my Nationally Determined Contribution target, I can lower my own emissions. But that might not get me all the way there, and I still emit. So I can “buy” carbon credits from another country, say Costa Rica, which is basically me investing in a carbon reduction project there. There are many examples of projects that take greenhouse gasses out of the air, and the result of these market efforts should be an eventual lowering of overall carbon emissions. Back to the bathtub. Carbon pricing has been tried many times before, and failed many times before. All of the little holes in the tub are places where the policy is “leaky”.

One hole in the tub is extra carbon credits from previous projects. If there are trillions of them they will flood the market and crash the prices. Countries will just use these “credits” from the past to trade, and no real reductions project will take place. I am no economist, but this made dire sense to me.

One hole in the tub is lack of additionality — where projects that can be invested in for carbon credits are not sucking in any more carbon from the air than they would have in the first place. Forestry projects are a good example of this. Pretend I am Spain again. I buy some carbon credits from my pal Costa Rica, paying them to protect 1000 acres of trees to offset a certain amount of CO2. We all know trees are good for that! But the trees were already going to be protected. We had no plans of cutting them down! In fact, my carbon offset has created no additional reduction in atmospheric carbon, while I am polluting to add additional carbon into the air.

These failures in policy are grave. One tiny hole in the tub and all the water — every drop — will come flowing out.

Bathtub
Amateur sketch demonstrates the “Bathtub” model for greenhouse gas emissions. (Drawing: Hope Dymond)

If carbon markets are done incorrectly they will add carbon to the air in vast quantities; according to a World Resources Institute report the amount of carbon added through faulty implementation of Article 6 could be more than all the reductions proposed by every country’s NDC combined! Before this policy could even begin to be implemented on a worldwide scale, it has to be airtight. No leaks.

This is not an easy thing to do. In reality, it is a momentous task, and there is a diversity of opinion on every aspect of carbon pricing. In my subsequent days at COP the knowledge and controversy on Article 6 just kept coming in. Some people I listened to at COP say it is all pointless, some say it will always have negative consequences. I have talked to other experts that insist it can be done to great benefit, and understand the intricacies of involving human rights into the conversation. These are all topics for my next blog post. I hope I have left you more informed and a little more intrigued.

Hope is studying Environmental Engineering with a minor in Human Rights.


Human Emotions Influence Decision Making – Especially on Climate
Emma MacDonald – BS Natural Resources

The physical setup of the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP) is a product of the values of western society as a whole.

The venue has separate outdoor entrances to the green and blue zones on opposite sides of the building. The green zone is just one of the six rooms, while the blue zone is five rooms. As may be predicted based on this info, the green zone is meant for the general public, and is more colorful and fun, while the blue zone is only admissible with a pass, and is where all of the negotiations and official side events occur.

This is a concrete example of shoving the more jovial side of our humanity aside in the interest of remaining logical and unemotional in our policy decisions, which I believe to be a mistake. The general public may be argued to pose a threat to the event and proceedings of the COP, but there should be an integrated method of interaction between the general public and the delegates/countries in the blue zone. Instead, the two parties are separated by walls and security checks.

The Moana Blue Pacific Pavillion (located in the blue zone in room six) did a wonderful job of combining business with celebration in their opening ceremony on Monday evening. They opened and closed the event with music and food, and spoke about their hopes to bring discussion of the oceans to the negotiation room soon.

Moana
The Moana Blue Pacific Pavilion served as a hub for Pacific island nations that are on the front lines of climate change impacts. (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

Important decisions should be based in logic and facts, but it would be remiss to exclude emotion, especially positive, joyful emotion, from the decision making process. If humans didn’t experience love and happiness then we would have no passion or motivation to continue.

It is true that the current definition of professionalism has an important place in the order of the world and especially in the topic of climate action. But it is also necessary to bring fun and lighthearted joy into professional spaces so that the ones making the “big” decisions are reminded of why they care in the first place.

Emma Spinning Thread
Emma learns to spin thread from cotton, a demonstration in the India Pavilion at COP25. (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

How can leaders be expected to make good, holistic decisions if they are weighted down by fear of what we may become and grief for a world that could have been- rather than lifted by the gifts the world is giving us?

Emma MacDonald is a junior in the College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resources. She is a Natural Resources major with a focus in sustainable forest management. You can follow Emma on Instagram @emmacdonald8


Technocrats vs. Radicals on Addressing Climate Change
Harry Zehner – BA Political Science

COP25 is a tale of two worlds. Although all observers, parties, and press are gathered here to find a solution to climate change, there are two distinct groups which view the problem through dramatically different lenses. On the one hand, there are what I will call “the technocrats.” This group earnestly cares about climate change. They believe in the power of markets driving innovative technological solutions and carbon tax schemes. When you go to the panels populated by the technocrats, you get a sense that they believe climate change is a policy problem. They believe that with the right regulations, market incentives and private investment, catastrophic warming can be averted. They pay lip service to the social problems exacerbated by climate change— such as gender, racial, economic and immigrant injustice — but rarely seek to challenge the systemic issues at the root of these injustices. Fundamentally, they believe that our system can be tweaked to beat climate change.

Harry and other UConn@COP25 fellows pose in front of a COP25 banner in between events at the conference. (Photo: Emma MacDonald).

I’ll call the second group “the radicals.” This group is generally composed of indigenous activists, global south NGOs, and representatives from least developed countries. They also care deeply about climate change, but more importantly, they care about climate justice. While their panels do discuss substantive solutions, they generally cast a broader net than the technocrats. They tie climate change back to colonialism and our extractive economic system. The radicals understand that all issues are deeply connected to climate change, from indigenous land rights to migration. Rather than constraining themselves to technological solutions, the radicals envision a world built on community and regenerative life rather than exploitation and profit. They envision a post-climate change world that is better than our current iteration, one that is truly democratic and just.

Harry Zehner
At a panel focused on energy sources “beyond coal,” Harry asked how students could connect with local movements to help build a cohesive, international movement. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

In the official negotiations, the technocrats from developed countries almost always win. They have the economic clout to sway negotiations and disregard poor countries’ priorities. But in the halls of COP25, the radicals offer a crucial ideological counterweight. Their passion and systemic analysis is necessary to understand the scope of the problem and work towards a just future for all of humanity, not just the privileged few.

Harry Zehner is a Junior political science major with a minor in environmental policy and economics.


The Climate Emergency Impacts Everyone, From the Queen of Spain to UConn Students
Matt Yang – BS Civil Engineering

There are a lot of expectations when you hear the name United Nations Climate Conference. Some of the greatest scientists, activists, and most powerful political figures in the world converge to this one conference center for two weeks in order to negotiate and address the most pressing issue of our generation. Yet here I am, a lowly college student from Connecticut, somehow standing 15 feet away from the Queen of Spain. Yes, that really did happen.

Queen of Spain
Queen Letizia of Spain (pictured on the right) walking out of a side event at COP25. (Photo: Matt Yang)

As you enter the venue at Feria de Madrid, you are greeted by the sheer metaphorical and physical scale of the event you are attending. Walking into the first conference room is what I would imagine walking into an aircraft hangar would feel like. That was just the first room as well, there were five more identical rooms that beckoned for exploration. Needless to say, it was a bit overwhelming. With a conference that has more than 20,000 delegates from nearly 200 nations, I found myself constantly eavesdropping to see if I knew what language they were speaking or what country they were from. I came to a quick realization that I’m not as good at geography as I thought I was.

Matt Yang
Matt and other fellows on their way to the COP venue from the metro station. (Photo: Hope Dymond)

The first day I felt my heart pumping out of my chest, and my anxiety building up as I made my way over to the first COP panels of the day with some of the other UConn@COP25 members. The highlight of the day was attending a panel named Transportation & Oil: Phasing out Diesel Engines and the Fuel They Use to Meet Paris Agreement Goals.

There I posed a question to one of the panelists about the role autonomous vehicles will play in meeting these goals. This sparked a heated debate with other UConn@COP25 members. Despite having differing opinions and methodologies, it was a nice realization that  we were all striving to achieve the same goal of decarbonizing our transportation system. It’s an extreme privilege to have peers who have differing opinions, whom you can collaborate with and engage in a respectful debate. These types of conversations have easily been some of the highlights of the trip so far. 

The second day I sat in on a panel discussing how big data can be used to create meaningful climate solutions. This panel discussed how data is currently being used by companies like Qlik and Deloitte to quantify and create carbon report cards. With these report cards, they are able to collaborate with C40 cities, which is a group of 94 cities across the world focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This was a refreshing change of pace, since many of the panels I sat on before were focused on policy based solutions, however this panel aligned with my passion of using technology for social good.

The message of this COP has been that this is no longer climate change, this is a climate emergency. We must act quickly, and that’s why finding ways to use technology such as big data and artificial intelligence to create meaningful climate solutions is extremely important. While policy based solutions are incredibly effective, technology is much quicker to build and scale. Both however, must be used in conjunction if we ever want to build a sustainable society.

Matthew Yang is a senior, majoring in civil engineering.


Article 6 and Emissions Trading Systems
Alyssa Pagan – BA Political Science & BA Art

Article 6
One of the major topics of the United Nations Climate Change Conference has been Article 6 of the Paris Accords. This article has been an issue in the negotiations since its conception in 2015 at the UN Conference of Parties (COP) 21. It is still a disputed article and has yet to be fleshed out and agreed upon between parties. The article would enable countries to trade carbon emission permits between each other in an emissions trading system.

What are Emission Trading Systems?
An emissions trading system would enable countries to cooperate on reducing their emissions. Countries have set their own limits for pollution. These limits are goals set by the countries for their reduction of emissions. These limits are referred to as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs. If a country develops more efficient or renewable energy and technology, they will reduce their levels of emissions as long as the growth in consumption does not exceed that reduction. If they are below their target they may sell, or trade, their emissions to other countries.

Article 6 has been under debate for so long as it has been difficult for the negotiators to agree on the rules. Many countries fear the issue of double counting, which is when the seller of a carbon trade and the receiver both count the reduction as their own.  This would help more countries reach carbon goals but would negate the entire reason for the emission trading system — to reduce overall emissions.

Concerns with the Negotiations
At a side event titled “The Right to Climate Justice: Collective Convergence for Just Solutions and Against Geoengineering and Other False Solutions,” leaders involved in climate change efforts from El Salvador, Mexico, Nicaragua, Nigeria, and the United States, warned how geo-technology and carbon trading markets will not work to meet the 1.5°C goal established at the United Nations COP21. One of the major concerns brought up at the panel was that carbon trading and geo-technology only treat symptoms and consequences of climate change, they do not tackle the root of the problem, consumption.

Another major issue with Article 6 was its lack of differentiation between the industrialized countries, many of whom have historically contributed the most to the current carbon dioxide levels, and the developing countries. Unlike the carbon market article of the Kyoto Protocol, where developed countries such as Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark amongst others, referred to as Annex II countries, bore much more of the financial responsibility for climate measures, article 6 of the Paris Agreement enables all countries to be part of the emissions trading scheme. It can be argued there is some inequity in the target setting, as many of these developed countries did not meet their initial goals in the first stage of the Paris Agreement. Now, that emissions gap grows and has been effectively pushed onto the developing countries.

NNimmo Bassey, a representative from the NGO Environmental Rights Action in Nigeria, posed the question, “What are we doing here pretending to talk about solutions?”

Pagan Photo
Panelists from El Salvador, Mexico, , Nicaragua, Nigeria and the United States discuss The Right to Climate Justice: Collective Convergence for Just Solutions and Against Geoengineering and Other False Solutions.” (Photo: Alyssa Pagan)

He then went on to describe how we know what to do, we must cut our consumption and leave fossil fuels in the earth, not open up an opportunity for companies and countries to continue to pollute. His speech stressed the urgency of climate change. Many countries are already bearing the burden of climate change while some of the biggest polluters continue to not take action, or worse, deny it is even a problem.

So far, I have found that panel to be the most impactful to how I have been thinking about the issues of climate change. The radical need to transform the system and not stick to the status quo of exploiting the Earth’s natural resources highlighted that low set targets and non-stringent rules on the emissions trading system pose a real threat to the 1.5°C goal of the Paris Agreement. Overall, I felt that the negotiations needed the sense of urgency of this panel.


The Situation in mi Country
Danny Osorio – BS Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences

I spent most of my morning talking and listening to the delegation sent from Colombia to the United Nations Conference of Parties (COP).

It was sad. It is true that there are a number of projects lead by both non-governmental organizations and the public sector of Colombia.

Colombia is prepared to fight climate change but at what price?

Most of the sponsors are investors that want to do bird watching in our region at the expense of social development of small communities, or worse, the suppression of environmental leaders from indigenous communities because their solutions do not align with the western vision of conservation.

But the delegation at the Columbia pavilion said Colombia was fighting climate change. They said that it is true, deforestation in Caquetá is slowing down, however, I know the Amazon has been experienced an exponential increase in deforestation in the last year alone.

When I asked for an interview, the delegation told me that they couldn’t give one. They told me that they didn’t have a political position in the situation our country is experiencing.

Danny Osorio
Danny and other UConn@COP25 fellows seized the opportunity to meet and talk with climate change researchers and activists from across the globe (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

It was as if the lives lost in protests in the streets of Colombia where just a political opinion. As if hundreds of indigenous leaders weren’t murdered since 2016, over 100 in less than a year alone.

They were censored by the government, there wasn’t any other explanation. Their families were suffering but they didn’t have an opinion, not possible.

It leaves me feeling uneasy in thinking that the Colombian government doesn’t have the backbone to fight for the rights of its people on international grounds and much less to hear the voice of our nation that is agonizing in the streets.

Something was solidified for me today, ”los tibios se irán al infierno” — people that don’t support their country and don’t have an opinion in a situation like this are ‘condemned’, and they should be participating in the negotiations.

Danny Alejandro Osorio was born in Colombia and is a junior studying Molecular and Cellular Biology and Marine Sciences.


Technology is Critical to Helping Farmers Adapt to Climate Change
Himaja Nagireddy – BS Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology

As the child of immigrant parents who were born and raised in farming families, I have come to appreciate the importance of promoting farmer resiliency as a way to support food security. Innovation in the agriculture and food sectors is a growing field that promises to do this, which would address poverty in many rural farmer and consumer communities around the world.

This topic, as well as other climate mitigation and adaptation innovation topics, were discussed at the Side Event on Science and Innovation in Support of Climate Action for the Poor and the Vulnerable. The panel consisted of various NGOs, government, and UN representatives who specifically addressed the importance of science and innovation to support a human rights-based approach to climate action and to promote climate responsiveness and social protection.

The panel for the side event ‘Science and Innovation in Support of Climate Action for the Poor and the Vulnerable’. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy)

During the event, panelists discussed current projects to develop seasonal forecast models to inform farmers about ideal crops to grow and what weather conditions to prepare for that can damage crops. In addition, such a model would allow farmers to estimate their annual crop yield, which is data that can be used to address issues of food security. In order for the model to be to be scalable, data from different regions needs to be centralized and the data needs to be able to predict for multiple weather scenarios.

I think it will be interesting to see how such machine-learning models can be applied to better inform agricultural practices and improve crop yield, which would be beneficial to both farmers and consumers. Such innovations, as mentioned in the panel, have to demonstrate a measurable impact in promoting farmer resiliency and adaptability as a method of promoting food security.

Air quality exhibit at COP25 that immersed attendees in the air quality conditions experienced by populations around the globe. (Photo: Himaja Nagireddy)

In addition, these technology efforts need to bring together researchers, policy makers, and community members, specifically farmers. By facilitating dialogue between these different stakeholders, the technology that is developed can better cater toward the population it is trying to serve. This also bridges the gap between the “last mile” to ensure that such solutions are actually being implemented and have a significant direct effect for farmers.

Innovation in the agriculture and food sectors is critical to ensuring that initiatives can have strong impacts on climate change, poverty, and human rights. It will be interesting to see how other events at the 25th United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP25) address the need for innovation and technology and discuss the multifaceted benefits of such approaches.

Himaja interviewed prominent climate scientist James Hansen, whose 1988 Congressional testimony brought climate change into the national discussion. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

Himaja Nagireddy, from Acton, MA, is a senior undergraduate student pursuing three degrees in Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology with a minor in Chemistry.


Time for Action
Spencer Kinyon – BS Political Science and Economics

The central message of COP25 is #TimeForAction, which has been embedded in all discussions and on nearly every poster throughout Madrid. On the first day of the conference, Dr. Youba Sokona, the Vice-Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change asked myself and fellow UConn students, “What is an individual action that you have taken?” He was not curious about whether or not we recycle, use LED lights, or have a car with good gas mileage. He was really asking about the efforts we have made to transform our communities for the better.

The question has stuck with me over the past couple days. In America, we believe that simple changes in what we do with our waste, choices about light bulbs, and the gas mileage on our cars are enough to reduce emissions. The question made me realize that our political conversations and debates regarding climate change are centralized on pushing others to change their behavior. However, few of us are willing to substantially change our own behavior.

The most inspirational speaker I have heard from was Ambassador Ronald Jumeau from Seychelles.  In his speech, Ambassador Jumeau spoke of the impactful actions that Seychelles, which is an island ocean state, has taken to combat climate change. The efforts of island ocean states have included expanding sea grass areas, mangrove forests, and wetlands in order to mitigate the effects of climate change and prevent their nation from disappearing. Ambassador Jumeau stated the important point that island ocean states produce less than one percent of carbon emissions in the world, but have become responsible for trapping the carbon of the rest of the world and fighting climate change.

Spencer and other UConn@COP Fellows interviewed several delegates from countries on the front lines of climate change impacts, like the Seychelles throughout the conference. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

These nations have structured their economies and environmental policies, while having to pursue policies that do not give people jobs or ensure economic development in order to stop climate change. I found this extraordinary because these countries are not pursuing incremental actions, but are taking powerful actions. At COP25, I have realized that Americans truly need to step up their own individual decisions to be able to live in a more sustainable world. I am beginning to think more about the ways Americans can take actions in our lives that can improve sustainability and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. It is time for Americans to take bold action on climate change.

Spencer is a Senior pursuing a degree in Political Science and Economics.


Indigenous People at the Forefront
Michael Goccia – BS Management and Economics

My first day at the United Nations Climate Summit & Conference of the Parties in Madrid, Spain was very exciting.  After our morning “breakfast club” group discussion and metro ride to the venue, we set out to explore everything COP25 had to offer.  I was fortunate to meet the Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) who highlighted the importance of individual action.  I was also able to participate in several panel discussions on a variety of topics ranging from the adaptation of technology to mitigate the impacts of climate change to a discussion on the rights and resources of indigenous groups.  These discussions were very informative and impactful, with a wide range of perspectives and ideas being expressed.

IPCC Vice-Chair Dr. Youba Sokona shared a business card with UConn@COP Fellow Michael Goccia (Photo: Michael Goccia)

It was eye opening to hear from Robinson Descanse Lopez and Miguel Guimaraes who spoke particularly about the Amazon region in South America and some of the problems specific to that region in relation to climate change.  Robinson Descanse Lopez is the Vice President of Climate Alliance and oversees the Amazon region in South America.  I was startled to hear that 135 indigenous leaders and activists were killed in Colombia this year.  In addition to this human loss of life, the fires in the Amazon rainforest have caused damage that is estimated to take over 1,000 years to repair.  I think it was very impactful to hear of this situation from Mr. Lopez since he has been face to face with these issues. 

IPCC Vice-Chair Dr. Youba Sakona poses for a photo with several members of the UConn@COP25 delegations (Photo: Michael Goccia)

I also found Mr. Guimaraes’ comments about the situation of indigenous people in Peru very insightful.  One of the biggest issues for indigenous people in Peru is the legality of their land claims.  Many indigenous groups in Peru have religious claims to the land they live on.  These claims have not been respected by the Peruvian government.  To make matters worse, the Peruvian government has granted rights to some of the land to different corporations who plan to develop the land.

It was also inspiring to learn about Coordinator of Indigenous Organizations of the Amazon River Basin (COICA) and the work that has been done regarding these issues.  I am very much looking forward to meeting more inspiring individuals here at COP25.

Michael Goccia is a senior from Mystic, CT pursuing a dual degree in Management and Economics.


Who Do we Turn to when National Governments Fail to Lead?
Georgia Hernandez-Corrales – MS Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Since our arrival at COP@25, the message that impacted me the most was the prevailing need for communities to take part in the solutions to climate change. In addition, the governments need to start listening to the needs and demands of their own people in the face of environmental problems. People around the world have risen and are claiming their place in decision making. In the first day at COP@25, the islanders and coastal nations, indigenous leaders, and women gave a clear and forceful message about their position on climate change. It was really empowering to see these groups and representatives of their nations be direct about the demands that the affected countries must meet. This is because the most vulnerable nations and groups are the ones that are most severely affected, such as indigenous people, rural communities, women and the poor.

All these nations and social groups converge on the idea that climate change is a human rights issue. Conservation of the forests is a way to protect the environment, but also is a solution against poverty. Preventing deforestation allows for indigenous people to continue utilize the ecological services of the forest to provide for their needs. The fight against climate change can not only become an energy technological change, but must be fair to all the actors involved. The vision of “development” and of good living is different for each of these nations and groups, and they demand to be respected as a group with a different thinking of the world.

Dr. Wayne Walker presented a long-term study on land change from the Amazon basin. The results showed that the indigenous communities of the Amazon protected the forest from the continuous conversion of the land compared to sites outside their territories. Despite this, they are the people who are most affected by climate change and least recognized by government entities. For this reason, at COP@25  we heard the voices of native peoples calling attention to the countries involved in the bulk of CO2 emissions and the companies that destroy their forests. The assertion of indigenous populations is more important today than ever.

The Colombian lawyer and environmentalist (COICA), Robinson López, mentioned that the life of indigenous groups must be guaranteed. As well, their ancestral knowledge, their autonomy and governance, and the protection of the forest must be recognized and guaranteed. For me, the most shocking notice was knowing the number of environmentalists killed worldwide. Robinson also mentioned that 462 environmental leaders have been murdered in Colombia alone since 2016, but the same happens worldwide.

A change in the construction of socio-environmental solutions in local governments or even at the community level is a must. As Dr. Duchelle (CIFOR) mentioned, the new leaders in environmental matters must be the local governments. In the case that national governments go in the wrong direction, as in the case of the United States or Brazil, it is local governments that could make the good decisions.

We have to provide these communities the power of decision that was taken from them and support them in a way, so they are able to lead the change in their own communities. We can no longer support the oppression of vulnerable communities.

[Versión en español]

Desde nuestra llegada a la COP@25 el mensaje que más me impacto es la necesidad imperante de los pueblos y comunidades de tomar parte en las soluciones ante cambio climático. Además de que los gobiernos escuchen las necesidades y demandas de los pueblos ante las problemáticas medio ambientales. Los pueblos de todo el mundo se han levantado y están reclamando su lugar en la toma de decisiones. El día uno en la COP@25 fueron las naciones de los países de las islas y zonas costeras, líderes indígenas y mujeres que dieron el mensaje claro y contundente sobre su posición ante cambio climático. Fue realmente empoderador ver a estos grupos y representantes de las naciones ser directos sobre las demandas que los países desarrollados deben de cumplir. Esto debido a que son las naciones y grupos más vulnerables los que están siendo afectados más severamente, como lo son los pueblos indígenas, comunidades rurales, mujeres y los pobres.

Las diferentes naciones y grupos sociales convergen en que el cambio climático es un tema de derechos humanos. Conservar los bosques es una medida para conservar el ambiente, pero también para luchar contra la pobreza. La lucha contra el cambio climático no puede solo volcarse a un cambio en la tecnología energética, sino tiene que ser justa para todos los actores involucrados. La visión del “desarrollo” y del buen vivir es diferente para cada uno de estos pueblos, y todos, desde los pueblos indígenas hasta las comunidades costeras piden que se les respete su visión de mundo.

De los estudios a largo plazo sobre el cambio de uso del suelo que presentó el Dr. Wayne Walker, las comunidades indígenas de la Amazonía resguardan el bosque ante la continua conversión de la tierra en sitios ajenos a sus territorios.  A pesar de esto, son los pueblos más afectados por el cambio climático y menos reconocidos ante entes gubernamentales. Es por lo que en la COP@25 se ha dado mucha importancia a la reivindicación de los pueblos originarios y están llamando la atención a los países que se ven involucrados en las emisiones de CO2 y compañías que destruyen sus bosques. La reivindicación de las poblaciones indígenas es hoy mas importante que nunca.

El abogado y ambientalista colombiano (COICA), Robinson López, mencionaba que a estos grupos indígenas se les debe garantizar la vida, la importancia de su conocimiento ancestral, se les debe respetar su autonomía y gobernanza, y reconocer la protección del bosque. Para mí lo más impactante fue conocer la cantidad de ambientalistas asesinados en todo el mundo. Robinson también mencionaba que sólo en Colombia desde el 2016 han asesinado a 462 líderes ambientalistas, pero lo mismo sucede en todo el mundo.

Un cambio en la construcción de soluciones socioambientales en los gobiernos locales o hasta a nivel de comunidad es necesario. Como mencionó la Dr. Duchelle (CIFOR), los nuevos líderes en materia ambiental deben ser los gobiernos locales. En el caso que los gobiernos nacionales vayan en la dirección incorrecta, como el caso de USA o Brasil, son entonces los gobiernos locales los que toman las buenas decisiones.

Estas comunidades deben tener el poder de decisión que se les fue arrebatado. No podemos seguir permitiendo que las comunidades más vulnerables sean oprimidas.

Georgia is a graduate student from the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Department at UCONN.


Questioning the Paradox of Sustainable Development
Mara Tu – BS Environmental Science and Urban and Community Studies

Day 1 and Day 2 of COP25 consisted of me struggling to process and understand this ever paradoxical idea of sustainable development.

Sustainable development — officially defined as “economic development that is conducted without depletion of natural resources”– is a core part of this climate change conversation as an investment space to act as a solution. Yet, in itself, development is synonymous to growth/creating more.

Sustainability is often-times just used as an add-on word and mechanism to soften the impacts of that development rather than to reverse and neutralize the effects. The cost of “development” has been ecological despair, loss of human lives and homes, and an ever-unpredictable and changing climate, so what about “sustainable” development makes it much different?

At the beginning of the week, my thoughts went to the extreme of questioning, what even is the point of all of these built structures and carbon emissions to get everyone here in Madrid? Is this just us continuing this culture and mindset of consumption while tricking ourselves into believing we are actually doing something? Where do you draw the line for development and creation of “new”, even if there are sustainability wins? Do these costs outweigh the benefits? Where do we put the accountability and pressure for most drastic changes?

Of course, in the context of international climate talks and agreements, it is incredibly unfair to deny the opportunity and process of development from developing nations. Since developed nations have been able to grow economically and heighten quality of life at the expense of the environment, poorer nations, and internal national inequity, there (hopefully) seems to be an understanding that developed nations must be the ones to make drastic changes, while developing nations can catch up. Yet, where is the line to be drawn? At what point do countries need to be evaluating if their development is sustainable (socially and environmentally) or even necessary? Do we, as developed nations, have the right to push sustainability into the development agendas of other nations?

For me, many of these questions followed after attending a panel event at the Moana Pacific Blue Booth. The event, titled “Maritime Boundaries & Climate Change in the Pacific: Shaping the Dialogue”, had incredible speakers: Prime Minister Hon. Henry Puna of the Cook Islands, Dr. Melchior Mataki from Solomon Islands, and Christelle Pratt, from the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.

Cook Islands Prime Minister Henry Puna gives opening speech at Moana Blue Pacific pavilion. (Photo: Mara Tu)

Most of the event discussions went into strategies on how large Pacific Ocean states are using technology to mark maritime borders as sea levels rise for their own economic and borders’ sakes but also in order to protect those waters as they have for centuries.

The moment that struck me the most was during the Q&A portion of the event, when a man from one of the Pacific large ocean states stood up to ask, “Everyone is always telling us as Pacific Islanders to conserve, conserve, conserve and protect our lands and waters, but I don’t understand why we cannot use our resources to grow economically?”.

There was a resentful and truly hurt tone in his voice. As there wasn’t enough time from the panelists to respond, I walked away feeling this man’s frustration and confusion as if my own question was left unanswered.

Highlighting this paradox of sustainable development, this man saw economic growth using resources on the islands as a way to improve the lives and status of people from the Pacific Islands. On the other hand, other people, perhaps even including some of the distinguished people on the panel themselves, see climate change as a reason to hold back from potentially exploiting resources and to protect what has remained.

Another COP25 event that left me weighing the costs and benefits of sustainable development was one I attended with a few other UConn@COP cohort members titled “Ecological Protection and Renewable Energy Transition in the Belt & Road”. During this event, the dangers of “sustainable development” and clashes between politics and true climate justice could be seen.

It had an odd assortment of panelist speakers; on one half, Chinese researchers talked about their solutions of promoting renewable energy along China’s Belt & Road trail, and on the other, representatives from the global NGO, Peace Boat explained their goals and new projects.

Mara poses for a photo with signage at the main COP25 venue. Madrid impressed as a host city with their ability to pull together a major international conference with only a month’s notice after Chile cancelled due to civil unrest in October. (Photo: Mara Tu)

The Chinese Belt & Road Initiative was a global development strategy launched by Chinese President, Xi Jinping as a modern-day “Silk Road”. This initiative, started in 2013, includes investment and built infrastructure in more than 150 countries around the world, with hopes to build connections between China and the rest of the world.

On the speaking panel, researchers discussed different ways of implementing solar panels onto these plots of land that China has invested in and the potential benefits (including reducing desertification, increasing farming potential, providing clean energy, etc.). The scale at which China was looking to invest in renewables and opportunities to implement sustainable development in different countries along these trade routes was impressive.

However, all of this discussion about development came with a warning: during the Q&A part of the event, a Tibetan woman in the audience bravely stood up and faced the audience to remind them about what happened to Tibet. She said, “It all started with one road; then came the trucks and then the army and then the extraction of our resources”. She emphasized that it is important to get some knowledge of historical context as well as being wary that countries can use infrastructure as ways to advance their own means and neocolonialism.

The second portion of the  panel event was dominated by Peace Boat. Peace Boat is an organization that uses a cruise ship, among many other programmatic projects, to bring people across the world together to promote peace, human rights, and sustainability. Driven by the Sustainable Development Goals from the UN, I was impressed with their mission and accomplishments but still a little taken aback by the need for the cruise ship, considering the environmental reputation they have. Even more shocking was the announcement of a new project, called “EcoBoat” that would be, as claimed, “the planet’s most environmentally sustainable cruise ship” with many cool new technological features and near-same uses as the Peace Boat.

UConn@COP Fellows learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) from an art display in the main venue. (Photo: Patrick McKee)

While Peace Boat’s mission is admirable and no doubt has created unforgettable memories, educated thousands of people, and united people from around the world in a way like no other, I questioned if it was really worth the toxic waste, CO2 emissions, and marine disturbance from the ship.

The EcoBoat brought me even more skepticism. It wasn’t until after talking and really getting to know one of the staff members that I could at least understand where this NGO was coming from. While I still don’t believe there is a need for another cruise ship out on the sea, I admired that he truly believed in what he was doing. With his passion, I could only hope that he continues to do his work in a way that will benefit the greater good.

After a week of discussions and processing and hearing from people from all across the planet, I still haven’t completely concluded anything. But, I have had some takeaways about sustainable development. One, development will happen no matter what with economic profit as the ultimate driver of decisions: if not pushing for lower consumption, people must at least push for development to be as sustainable as possible. Two, developing nations have the right to figure out the best way and strategies for how they would like to go about development: developed nations should share the technology and research and resources for this without ill-will. Three, in general, it’s always important to question ourselves at some point in decision-making: ask ourselves, do we truly believe what we are doing is right and do the costs outweigh the benefits.

 Mara Tu is a junior Environmental Science and Urban and Community Studies student in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.


Environmental Justice IS Social Justice
Natalie Roach – BS Environmental Sciences

When I was ten years old, my dream was to work at the World Wildlife Fund. I wanted to follow in Jane Goodall’s footsteps and save endangered species.

I made little business cards for myself with the panda logo on it and everything.

Over the years, I have grown away from that dream and towards other ones more focused on societies and social justice and food and people.

However I still have a soft spot in my heart for the World Wildlife Fund and everything it meant to me when I was younger – so when I saw the Panda Pavilion in the blue zone at COP, I was drawn to it.

The WWF Panda Hub also served as the U.S. Climate Action Center (Photo: Emma MacDonald)

In the midst of countries working their hardest to prove that they’re doing enough to stop climate change, the white and glass Panda Pavilion stood as a beacon of civil society and pure intentions. Well, more pure than other pavilions in the blue zone at least.

I ended up attending an event in the pavilion on oceans. It was a panel of scientists explaining the physical and biological impact of climate change on the body of water that covers 70% of our planet – plus the ambassador from the Seychelles, a small island in the Pacific Ocean that has begun feeling the effects of climate change.

While I learned some interesting facts about the ocean, the event overall was very frustrating. The Seychelles ambassador – a United Nations ambassador, a title that normally would get you a round of applause and excitement from any COP event – was not valued on the panel. His intro speech brought a completely different perspective to the panel, focusing on the cultural aspects and human implications of oceans. However, no one addressed or built off of what he said. None of the moderator’s questions were directed towards him. In fact, she asked a few questions about how small island nations are adapting to climate change, and actively directed them towards two other panelists. It seemed as though he was there solely as a way for them to check off the “island nations” box and not actually as a full participant.

I left feeling disappointed and unsure of my place. I’ve always had a passion for ecology – I’m majoring in environmental science – but I also have a passion for the human and social justice components of climate change and environmental degradation. This event was another example of how those two fields never seem to fit together.

UConn@COP Fellow Natalie Roach asks a question about member retention at a panel presentation on higher education sustainability initiatives. Natalie and other fellows built connections with students from all over the world during their time in Madrid. (Photo: Patrick McKee

Walking around the venue, I was even more sensitive to the fact that everything focused on reducing carbon emissions, and very little emphasis was placed on the plight of endangered species or the ecological solutions to climate change mitigation.

Then I ran into Danny, a fellow UConn@COP25 participant. He was looking similarly dejected – the COP can definitely be a lot to handle sometimes — and we ended up talking about what was going through our heads. Danny is someone who is also passionate about both ecology and social justice. He studies marine sciences and does research on turtles. I asked him how he was able to feel fulfilled in his studies when trying to balance these two fields, and he had a great answer about community and applying your knowledge.

This conversation reminded me that just because something doesn’t exist properly, doesn’t mean that I can’t do it – in fact, it usually is a sign that I really should do it if no one else will. It also reminded me of the importance of leaning on your people. I got more out of talking to Danny and other UConn@COP25 participants than I did from any event or lecture on the trip.

Later in the week, I had a great conversation with a woman from the World Wildlife Fund who ran an arm of the organization that focused on sustainable cities. They host international city contests and we had a passionate conversation about public transit. It turns out that, at least in some areas, the World Wildlife Fund is growing and expanding as well.

Natalie is from Cheshire, CT. She is an Environmental Sciences major with minors in Human Rights and Sustainable Food Crop Production. She will complete a Master’s in Public Policy in a fifth year as part of the UConn Fast Track Program.

7 Steps to Planning a Green Event

November 25, 2019

Hosting a sustainable event is a tough goal to realize, but with careful planning, you can make adjustments that significantly reduce its overall environmental impacts. With an abundance of programs and activities happening each week on campus, organizing a green event is a great way to reduce your environmental footprint and encourage others to follow suit! Here are 7 easy steps to follow to get started:

  1. Go Paperless – Going paperless is an easy and productive first step in hosting a green event. This may include replacing paper agendas with a projection of the agenda on a TV or projector screen in the room, taking notes on a computer, and sending online invitations. In the advertising process of events, paper can be reduced by reusing the backs of used papers to print advertising flyers and printing a limited number of flyers to strategically place around campus. Social media is also a highly effective tool for event promotion.
  2. Reduce Transportation Needs – Choosing a central location for all of the attendees is a crucial step in reducing the transportation footprint of any event. Knowing the locations of departments and people who are attending and finding a space in between all of them can make walking or biking to the event more practical. Hopping on one of UConn’s buses or carpooling are also great solutions to reducing the carbon footprint of transportation to the event.  Providing a way to attend the meeting or event virtually or to view it digitally afterwards is especially useful for large conferences that may have guests traveling by plane or longer distances. Fortunately, UConn events can be live-streamed and recorded/uploaded for free by the completely student-run organization, UCTV, by filling out an Events Filming Requests Form.
  3. Choose an Energy Efficient Building – Another item to consider when choosing a space for an event is the energy efficiency and environmental performance of the building space being utilized. UConn is home to many LEED certified buildings, but there are many other buildings that have undergone LED lighting retrofits and other energy efficiency improvements. Choosing one of these buildings over less efficient buildings will reduce the energy intensity of any event. Even better than choosing a LEED building, meet outside! There are many outdoor spaces on campus that can bring you closer to nature. Try a walking meeting to Horsebarn Hill or the Hillside Environmental Education Park!
  4. Select Eco-Friendly Catering – If an event is going to be catered, it makes sense to think about the impact of the food and dining supplies. In the U.S. alone, more than 100 million plastic utensils are used every day according to National Geographic. These plastics, as many of us know, do not break down in the environment. UConn Catering offers sustainable food options as well as biodegradable and recycled content single use dining ware. An even better step in reducing plastic waste related to dining would be investing in group-owned reusable utensils and/or plates to wash and reuse at every meeting or catered event. Additionally, always encourage guests to bring reusable containers to take home leftovers. The chance to bring Tupperware for leftover food will boost morale and improve meeting attendance! Be sure to choose food options that are lower on the food chain to make the greatest environmental impact. Ordering less meat (especially beef) eliminates the extra resources required to raise animals as opposed to growing produce. Spreading awareness on food sourcing is also a great way to encourage sustainable decision-making let amongst your attendees. Let them know if their food is local, vegan, or sustainably sourced!
  5. Recycle! – Making sure that any waste generated by an event is properly disposed of is fundamental to a green event. This can be ensured by checking in advance to see if the meeting space has clearly marked and paired trash and recycling bins (they should be side by side!). All meeting spaces at UConn should have recycling infrastructure, but if a room doesn’t happen to have a recycling bin in it, please contact the Office of Sustainability to address the issue.
  6. Buy Carbon Offsets – After an event is made as low impact as possible, there still is the matter of all the energy and carbon associated with lighting the space, powering projectors and laptops, and even embedded in the manufacturing of these products!  In order to help address unavoidable greenhouse gas emissions, carbon offsets can be purchased to negate the carbon footprint of the event. One such company providing carbon offsets for easy purchase online is TerraPass. These carbon offsets don’t erase the usage of fossil fuels, but they support projects that offset emissions like reforestation or landfill gas recovery which reduces the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
  7.  Educate Guests – Last, but certainly not least, is the opportunity to educate your coworkers and attendees on sustainable practices. For most people, sustainability isn’t the first thing they think about at work. Many of us have grown up never worrying about where our waste goes, or where our food comes from. As events are used to gather people together to share ideas and time, they are also a great opportunity to collectively learn how to live more sustainably.

All in all, it can be relatively simple to host a green event on the UConn Storrs campus. It just takes a little bit of planning, prior knowledge, and willpower. To better spread awareness about sustainability in your office on a more continual basis, be sure participate in the Green Office Certification Program!

President announces new student working group on climate change!

November 4, 2019

Photo by Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant

This Tuesday, President Katsouleas announced the creation of a joint student-faculty working group to create “coordinated analysis, policy formulation and strategic planning on issues of sustainability, particularly reducing emissions.” In the announcement, which came via a campus-wide email, Katsouleas made an open call for applications from the student body, stressing that “diversity, including with respect to academic background, will be an important consideration.” The group will work for the remainder of the Fall semester and into the Spring to create a detailed action plan for the University.

The formation of this group comes in response to student demands from the Sept. 20th climate strike and subsequent sit-ins. Momentum for a student-led working group has been building since last semester, when UConn@COP24 fellows and Office of Sustainability interns discussed the idea with UConn’s Executive Vice President & CFO, months before President Katsouleas began his tenure as President on August 1st. The University Senate has played a key role, by endorsing the strikers’ demands and being continuous advocates for sustainability on campus. President Katsouleas has also agreed to convene a committee of the Board of Trustees, TAFS, to focus solely on coming up with recommendations for addressing the demands!

These are monumental steps in the right direction from the university administration. Not only is President Katsouleas committing to rapid forward momentum on the issue of sustainability, but he is also positioning students at the forefront of that effort.

All students who are interested can apply by sending a letter of interest and resume to president@uconn.edu. We strongly encourage all interested UConn students to apply!

Indigenous Peoples’ Week at UConn

October 18, 2019

Since the late 1980s, activists have been attempting to change Columbus Day — a federally recognized holiday — to Indigenous Peoples Day. Advocates argue that the historical account of Columbus obscures his record of colonization, which led to slavery, genocide, illnesses, and near extinction, of the Taino people by the mid-1500s. The Taino were the most numerous indigenous people of the Caribbean islands encountered by Columbus after his trans-Atlantic voyage in 1492.

Dozens of cities and states across the United States have recognized this holiday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day since advocacy began in the late 1980s. UConn has joined in recognizing this holiday in recent years. This year, the Office of the Provost emailed the UConn community about this recognition and the history behind it. The Native American Cultural Program hosts a week-long event series each year in celebration, dubbed Indigenous Peoples’ Week.

Indigenous people, in the United States and across the world, are on the frontlines of the fight for environmental and climate justice. In the United States, indigenous people are often associated with closeness to nature and a low-impact way of life. While this image is sometimes a caricature, in many cases, it holds true. Struggles for land rights and protection against pollution or displacement, whether caused by the effects of climate change, such as rising sea levels and extended droughts, or by big businesses and expanding agricultural interests, are issues of survival for many of the world’s 370 million indigenous people.

22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River

Indigenous Ecuadorians have long-pursued legal action against Texaco and Chevron, large oil conglomerates, for pollution of their homeland from large oil spills. While these lawsuits have dragged on for years, and even decades, they serve as reminders of the determination of indigenous people.

In 2016, indigenous people of the Standing Rock reservation came together to protest the Dakota Access Pipeline, which was slated to run through ancient burial grounds and dangerously close to the tribe’s fresh water supply. Thousands of protesters brought international attention to the issue of indigenous land rights and environmental justice.  However, in 2017, protesters were eventually dispersed and removed by state and federal authorities and the final phase of the pipeline project was swiftly approved by the Army

Helena Gualinga of Ecuador

Corps of Engineers (ACOE). Although the project was completed and oil is flowing through the pipeline, a federal judge ordered the ACOE to reconsider certain environmental impacts. The reservation is currently litigating the adequacy of that second review, which was done in 2018 – their fight is yet another example of the challenges and environmental risks faced by indigenous people.

The most recent global climate strikes are most commonly associated with Greta Thunberg, the 16 year old Swedish activist who started the Fridays for Future student movement. But indigenous youth have been heavily involved on the frontlines of this movement as well. Other prominent activists include the 22-year old Makasa Lookinghorse of the Six Nations of the Grand River, who is

Xiye Bastida of Mexico

fighting for Native American water rights in opposition to a permit granted by Ontario, Canada, which allows the Nestle Corporation to pump millions of gallons of water per day from a local aquifer. We must recognize Helena Gualinga, who has fought for climate justice in her homeland of Ecuador, and Xiye Bastida, who has fought against extraction culture and for environmental justice in Mexico.

Indigenous activists have been leading on environmental justice issues long before it has gained the attention of the public eye. This Indigenous Peoples’ Week, we recognize and support them in their continued struggle for environmental and climate justice.

 

 

The climate strike at UConn and beyond

October 16, 2019

On Friday, September 20th, millions of students across the world left class and took to the streets to demand climate justice. Protesters gathered in every corner of the world, from Pakistan and India to the United States and Australia. Then, on Friday, September 27th, millions of students left class again to continue the fight for climate justice. In between, Greta Thunberg, the catalyst for the global strikes, gave a blunt speech to world leaders gathered at the United Nations: 

           “You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I’m one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”

Young people no longer feel like asking politely for change to come — they are demanding it. At the end of her brief yet immensely powerful speech, Greta perfectly encapsulated the mood of the strikes: “The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not.” 

At UConn, over a thousand students attended the first strike on the Student Union Lawn. On the lawn, there were art exhibits on environmental justice, hula hooping and sign making stations as well as a demands table, where interested students could learn more about the UConn-specific demands from the strike organizers.

Photo by Cameron Cantelmo

At noon, hundreds of students gathered in front of the Student Union to hear the strike’s dynamic student speakers. These students spoke on intersectionality, global climate justice, eco-anxiety and the need to act quickly. After the speeches wrapped up, over four hundred students marched to the President’s office at Gulley Hall to list their demands. A call and response chant of “What do we want? Climate justice! When do we want it? Now!” echoed through Fairfield Way. At Gulley Hall, strike organizers listed their demands to the raucous crowd. Then, President Katsouleas arrived and responded through the organizer’s megaphone. He promised to take the demands seriously and dedicate a special Board of Trustees committee to researching solutions to UConn’s rising carbon emissions. 

The strike was a landmark moment in UConn’s history. Actions regarding the demands, including sit-ins at the President’s office, have continued following the strike.

In an email two Wednesdays ago, the President committed to forming a student working group on climate change as well as expediting the University’s emission reduction goals. 

Photo by Harry Zehner

Meet the Interns!

October 2, 2019

Editor’s Note: Another year, another round of new interns. This year we have our largest intern team ever! Read on to learn about the amazing, passionate students we hired this semester.

Hope Dymond – Sophomore, Environmental Engineering

Hope is currently a sophomore studying Environmental Engineering with a minor in Human Rights. She came to UConn as salutatorian from Common Ground, an ecologically themed high school in New Haven, and is ready to not only build her technical skillset, but also to learn about new topics.  Since joining the office, she has helped design and edit the new Sustainability Activity Book, worked on the annual Green Metric Survey, and helped with Energy Use Intensity tracking. On campus she has been part of Horticulture Club, Alternative Break’s Immokalee trip, the Student Farmworker Alliance, UConn@COP, and UConn Survivor Spring 2019 (did she win? You’ll have to watch it on YouTube to find out!). In the upcoming year, she is committed to her plans to go spelunking, camping, and climbing with Outing Club. Any activity out in the sunlight is an activity Hope wants to get in on, and she is excited to explore the HEEP. Hope values creativity and, when she makes time for it, loves to paint portraits with watercolor. She tries to see the true learning value in every task, and while it can be tough, she enjoys the moments when things change her mind.

 

 

 

Lauren Pawlowski – Sophomore, Environmental Studies and Economics

Lauren is currently a sophomore at UConn double majoring in Environmental Studies and Economics. Since arriving at UConn, she has been an active member/volunteer for EcoHusky, USG Sustainability Sub-Committee, UConn Club Track, Women and Minorities in Economics, and also secretary for UConn Club Pole Vault and the UConn Student/Farmworker Alliance (SFA). Her favorite memories involving the OS so far include attending the Earth Day Spring Fling and Green Game Days and contributing to the Sustainability Student Activity Book. This past summer, she worked as a Laboratory Technician Intern for the Fairfield Water Pollution Control Facility collecting water samples and conducting chemistry analyses. For spring break 2019, she participated in the Community Outreach alternative break trip to Immokalee, FL which focused on migrant farmworker rights. Lauren is interested in green building design, renewable energy, sustainable business practices, reducing food waste, and fun plants. She looks forward to growing her windowsill collection of succulents and also attending COP25 in Santiago, Chile this winter as a UConn@COP Fellow. In her free time, you can find her hiking, biking, travelling, skiing, or running around on campus or on a UConn Outing Club trip. Lauren ran her first (and maybe last) half marathon this summer and looks forward to completing a Tough Mudder next summer. She also enjoys painting, reading, spending time with friends, seeing dogs, listening to acoustic guitar, and going to random UConn events. 

 

 

Harry Zehner – Junior, Political Science

Harry is a junior majoring in Political Science with a minor in Environmental Economics and Policy. He is dedicated to making the cities we live in more sustainable, through a focus on sustainable urban design, efficient transportation, social equity and democratized city planning processes. Harry has worked at the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters (a state-wide environmental advocacy group), Sustainable CT (a municipal environmental certification program) and as a policy advisor on a New Haven mayoral campaign. Through these jobs, Harry has developed a range of skills, from developing and writing housing policy to researching statewide legislation. At UConn, Harry works as the Opinion Editor at the Daily Campus, where you can find his weekly column, and as the Program Director for Nathan Hale Homework Club, a middle-school tutoring program. In his spare time, Harry enjoys reading, hanging out with his friends, playing intramural soccer and recording his love-life podcast called (name). After graduation, Harry plans to work on policy in local elections, advising candidates on the deep connections between sustainability and housing, transportation, food, planning and equity. 

 

 

 

Maizey MabrySmith – Sophomore, Environmental Studies

Maizey Mabrysmith is a sophomore Environmental Studies major here at UConn. Prior to the start of her internship, Maizey participated in multiple sustainability events and projects around campus such as organized cleanups, Green Game Day and the Hartford Marathon. She hopes to increase participation in these incredible events and better engage the student body using her new perspective as an intern. Maizey is also a returning member of the EcoHouse learning community, this year serving as a floor mentor for incoming freshmen. Through these two new roles she hopes to provide environmentally-conscious students an outlet to make change. Maizey loves anything and everything outdoors, and spends her summers lifeguarding. For the past two years, she has worked as a Marine Patrol Officer for the Town of Columbia to implement and improve strategies for invasive species protection on Columbia Lake. Maizey has always had a strong passion for volunteer work and fulfills that by spending a large part of her free time at the Windham Region No-Freeze shelter. Maizey is excited for all that this year will bring in the office and is most looking forward to trailblazing the HEEP and improving signage to make the area more accessible to all of UConn’s nature lovers.

 

Green and Blue at UConn’s Football Green Game Day

September 16, 2019

Green Game Day was a bright spot on an otherwise disappointing day for UConn football fans. The Huskies lost a close game on the field, but Mother Earth won outside the stadium where EcoHusky and EcoHouse volunteers, along with Office of Sustainability interns, took to the tailgating fields to collect cans and bottles from fans. Volunteers sporting blue Green Game Day shirts walked among the rows of cars, approaching UConn alumni, Connecticut locals and even some Illinois fans to help make their game day a bit greener. 

Some student volunteers even ventured into the spirited student lot, all in the name of recycling! Unsurprisingly, they emerged with more bags than any other tailgate area. 

In total, the volunteers collected 58 bags of recyclable bottles and cans. 

While most of the volunteers scoured the fields, others staffed the Office of Sustainability tent in the HuskyFest fan zone, quizzing fans on their environmental knowledge and giving out prizes for correct answers. One notable addition to the prize table this year was the new UConn Sustainability Activity Book. Our youngest fans (and a few older ones) jumped at the chance to color and learn. One excited young Husky was heard walking away from the tent exclaiming: “Dad look! Jonathan’s on every page!”

From baby boomers to generation Z, all ages were equal parts enthralled, enthused and stumped by the intern’s questions. At the end of their experience at the tent, all participants had learned something about the environment and UConn’s sustainability efforts. 

Once inside, fans were treated to a recycling PSA from none other than Jonathan the Husky. Likely due to the inspiring recycling video, the Huskies got off to a strong start, scoring the first 13 points. Alas, it was not to last, as Illinois came storming back to win 31-23. 

While UConn’s first loss of the season was disappointing, it can teach us a valuable lesson about recycling: Care for the environment must be sustained, or else we risk losing all our progress. And vice versa: No matter what your habits are, you can always turn it around and become an EcoWarrior.

Green Game Day was a roaring success for all involved. We hope to see you during the basketball season at Gampel, or next year at the Rent!