UConn@COP

The UConn@COP Fellowship Program strives to build future leaders in climate science and policy and to promote UConn’s leadership on climate change and sustainability issues through four main pillars:

1) Student Engagement
2) Experiential Learning
3) Interdisciplinary Group Discussion
4) Cultural Immersion

Participating fellows are selected through a highly competitive application process that considers GPA, relative extracurricular involvement, and a 700 word essay that speaks to their interest in the program.

The following blog articles have been written by past and present UConn@COP fellows, faculty, and staff, as well as by students who have attended events recapping the UConn@COP experience on campus.

Emtithat Mamhoud at COP26

by Sena Wazer

The first panel I attended at COP26 was focused on Climate Refugees. Honestly, it’s ironic when you consider that COP26 has a severe lack of focus on climate refugees included in the actual platform and agenda, even though more and more people are being displaced and will continue to be displaced moving forward. However, it was also one of the best panels that I attended during my time at COP26 because of a speaker named Emtithat Mamhoud. She is a Sudanese-American poet whose family fled from Sudan as refugees during the Darfur genocide, moving to the United States in 1998.

Several UConn Students and Climate Activist Emtithal Mahmoud hold up sign stating “Act Now”

She spoke about the need to listen to climate refugees and ensure that they are present and included in the spaces where decisions are made. She expressed frustration that resonated deeply with me regarding the lack of meaningful equitable climate action that generally comes out of these COP meetings. She shared a new poem, named, Di Baladna – Our Land in English – which starts off with the following quote:

“If you are reading this, I forgive you/You have grown far from the heart of me my child/have lost the familiar love we held for one another in your first years of life.”

Hearing her speak this poem gave me chills.

This experience was very powerful, and also very different from many of the events I attended. It was different because Mahmoud spoke from a personal perspective, being a refugee who has been affected by environmental issues herself. While many events – although certainly not all – felt impersonal, this one struck a deep chord with me and others in the room. It is indicative, I believe, of what effective environmental communication can do. Specifically, it helps one to understand a different perspective and more effectively convey an environmental issue in a way that feels personal and real. Through listening to people like Emtithat, I hope that bolder and more equitable climate action is possible. I believe it is, and if we are able to achieve this then I think COP could become a much more just and equitable place.

UConn@COP26

by Nidhi Nair

As a young girl growing up in a coastal state called Kerala in India, I was exposed to the devastating effects of climate change from an early age. Summers were sweltering, monsoons were ferocious and floods were frequent. In 2018, as I was packing up to move to the United States, my plans were delayed because of severe floods in Kerala caused by climate change, leading to the death of nearly 500 people in my state. I watched fearfully from my window as water filled my grandmother’s farm, and as roads became rivers in the deluge. This year, these trends have continued as nearly 22 people have died from flash floods and landslides caused by anomalous rainfall.

Nidhi Nair at COP26

Having grown up surrounded by the effects of climate change, I was motivated to understand and contribute to climate action, particularly climate finance, global data partnerships and R&D spending in climate research. As a student of economics, mathematics and statistics at the University of Connecticut, the opportunity to attend COP26 in Glasgow, Scotland this year was the perfect chance for me to combine these interests and learn more about the work done by a global coalition of environmental economists and policy makers.

COP26 started with a few space and timing issues, along with questions of inclusivity and representation. Many students, activists, researchers and policymakers from the Global South were not allowed to participate in the conference because of inequalities in vaccine access and cost considerations. I noticed that this led to clear differences in the number of observer passes handed out to delegates from developed countries like the United States compared to developing nations from across the globe.

Reasonably, this led to an air of despair and hopelessness among the young activists at COP26. After years of climate conferences after the seminal Paris conference, many of my fellow attendees seem to have given up on the prospect of multilateral discussions ever leading to fruitful outcomes. While this is an understandable reaction, I believe complete hopelessness about concerted climate action is impractical as there are many moving parts to global action, and compromise can only come through engaged discussion from multiple stakeholders. Beyond the global climate policy advancements made at Glasgow, the conference was a treasure trove of great ideas, conversations and discussions, and attending events hosted by scientists and grassroots organizations gave me hope for the future.

A summary of this week –

1. Events in the pavilion section of the conference included many researchers from around 70 different countries and organizations – and I tried to visit all of them! One of the best pavilion events I attended was in a section titled “All in for 1.5°” in which several small business owners with grassroots connections in six countries detailed their partnerships on climate finance. The global banks pavilion also held several interesting events throughout the week. It featured talks by representatives from the World Bank, Asian Infrastructure Development Bank, Climate Investment Funds, European Development Bank and many other financial and regulatory bodies. International development banks play a huge role in financing climate research in developing countries, where the impacts of climate change are the strongest.

2. I met Nancy Pelosi and other members of the American congressional delegation for an event titled “Gender Equity in Climate Action”. Various political leaders across the world discussed their country commitments, and I was disappointed by the symbolic and virtue signalling nature of their statements. Many representatives made empty promises to include gender based conditional requirements for the foreign aid they hand out for climate change. I thought this was inadequate and cumbersome as it handed the onus of responsibility to developing countries that are already battling the devastating consequences of climate change. On the plus side, Ecuador and Canada both discussed non-party stakeholder accountability from corporations which I saw as a positive sign.

3. An incredible event I attended was “Enhancing climate resilience for LDCs and SIDS through space data, finance mechanisms and partnerships” with speakers from Gambia, Scotland, Malawi, India and other countries. I was very impressed by the idea of a “data co-operative” to empower researchers to share their data with each other in ways that encourage innovative creation in least developed countries (LDCs) and small island developing states (SIDS). I was also inspired by Brazilian researchers who used space data to reduce indigenous vulnerabilities in the Amazon.

4. The U.S. Center also featured amazing presentations by organizations like the NOAA that detailed the U.S Climate Resilience toolkit in North Carolina, and the data analysis behind American climate action. Climate resilience in the United States is a fascinating topic that is more pertinent today than ever before, and I am glad that the U.S. Center emphasized the work that environmental economists are doing in building data tools to strengthen vulnerable communities.

As a cautious optimist, despite the many flaws associated with COP26, I left the conference more determined, hopeful and educated about the steps I can take to battle drastic climate change. COP26 was one of the most incredible weeks of my life, and I am more motivated than ever to pursue a career as an economist and to work on domestic economic policy that identifies financing gaps in underserved communities, and helps to strengthen vulnerable groups in the United States.

The People’s Summit for Climate Justice at COP26

by Musa Hussain 

Attending the United Nations climate summit called COP26 was an incredible experience in so many different ways. It was a privilege to be able to listen to, converse with, and learn from so many different climate justice activists and leaders from around the world. While attending the official COP was an amazing experience, what I found just as rewarding was spending time with the more grassroots centered groups and activists who converged at venues around the city.

These discussions and panels, organized by The People’s Summit for Climate Justice focused on how climate injustice intersects with other forms of oppression from racism to capitalism to imperialism. By highlighting the voices of indigenous people and others who have been marginalized, events at the People’s Summit helped me understand the ways in which the effects of climate change are disproportionately felt by those who actually contribute the least to it. Further, listening to speakers at the People’s Summit made me realize that what works as a solution to climate change for one group might not work for another group. While climate change is felt all over the world, its effects differ from region to region, from country to country, and each community has a different understanding of the best way to mitigate these effects.

For example, at a panel on eco-socialism, a Mexican activist pointed out that his solution of nationalizing the fossil fuel industry as an initial step to phasing it out would not, and does not work in countries such as Mexico where the federal government actually uses their control of the oil industry to enrich corrupt political actors, and to continue releasing emissions. I also found the more social, informal, and discussion-based events held by the People’s Summit to be fantastic.

While attending panels and lectures at the official conference was an absolute honor, conversing and grabbing a drink with some fellow climate activists we met through events at the People’s Summit was especially cool. For me, a hugely important part of the climate movement is learning from your fellow activists and building solidarity across the world, and this is something that can best be done through simply sitting down and talking with someone who might live across the world, but shares the same fight against climate change.

Overall, being part of both COP and the People’s Summit was an absolute honor, and the experience will allow me to become a better climate activist at UConn and in the global fight against climate change. By observing these two sides of the climate movement and their contrasting perspectives and strategies, I was able to understand that the fight against climate change is one that must be fought on many fronts, with a variety of tactics.

COP26: Amplifying Voices of Women, Children and Indigenous People

by Lindsay Alfano, J.D. Candidate 2022

“The people making the decisions are not the ones who need the changes most on the ground.” The first small lecture I attended while at COP26 truly defined and transformed my experience moving forward. Emitithal Mahmoud, a Sudanese American slam poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, emphasized that voices from communities affected need to be heard especially when discussing sustainable goals and policy.

Photo taken of UConn@COP26 students and Emitithal Mahmoud

Following a probing question, she further stated that students are leaders and have the power to change the current political narrative. Everyone left that conversation asking themselves, “What am I doing now to make a difference?”

As a third-year law student, I was hoping that attending COP26 would expose me further to environmental law and strengthen my impact within this field. Particularly, I wanted exposure to individuals and the varying cultural perspectives they bring climate change. Ultimately, I gained great insight while at COP26 and was impactfully enlightened to the necessity of environmental justice, the role I play in amplifying and including individuals in conversations, and the impact of the legal field and necessity for policy reform.

Photo taken by Sebastião Salgado capturing a young girl that lives in Kampo do Ruio Amônea Indigenous Territory, State of Acre captured in the COP26 pavilion.

Following the initial lecture, I focused on how the conference was working to include various individuals and advocate for environmental justice in COP26. The conference seemed to focus heavily on the involvement of and collaboration with women, youth, and indigenous people. On gender day, Fatou Jeng, an activist and founder of Clean Earth Gambia, brought to light the impact of climate change on agriculture in Gambia, a sector that women dominate, and how women in Gambia are disproportionately affected by climate change-based displacement. She found that women and girls should be at the center of the conversation. Another speaker stressed advocating for children because their future is dismal and argued that policy focused on the need for resiliency include children in the narrative and that the narrative reflect the severity of the situation. This same exposure was witnessed in a photograph taken by Sebastião Salgado capturing a young girl that lives in Kampo do Ruio Amônea Indigenous Territory, State of Acre. The photo seeks to show individual children who are impacted by illegal logging, gold mining, etc. Overall, the narrative of the conference seemed to encourage and demand amplifying a range of voices.

The attempt to integrate a range of voices was reflected in lectures and in a negotiation that worked to adjust law and policy. First, a panel of judges supported the necessity of collaborating with jurisdictions around the globe, continuing education on the effects of climate change, and protecting the human right to an environment that is not harmful. This discussion brought together several voices and the judges stressed the need for change. Second, in the negotiations to revise the Climate Tech Center and Network, there was a goal to add three seats to the board and provide a voice for three NGOs that focused on youth, women, and indigenous people. From a collaborative perspective, each of the countries seemed to be more than willing to work together despite the various backgrounds in the room. While appearing to support the amplification of these voices on the surface, there seemed to be push back from a few of the countries. This pushback did not accurately reflect the energy of the rest of the conference that was striving for inclusion, nor did it reflect the other countries that stressed the importance of these added seats at the table. In the end, the positions were included, but only the future can tell whether these three NGOs will actually have any power to influence and have a say in the decisions of the board.

To reflect back on the question from the first conference that I attended, I bring in a quote from the speaker at a talk led by the EPA who stated, “Now is the time to be an advocate and find any way to use your voice.” I am leaving the conference motivated to make a difference and advocate for those voices and stories that are often overlooked and undermined. As it has been stated, climate change is a human rights issue, and unless we begin to provide a platform for individuals to share their stories and a seat at the table for those left out of decision-making, we will never see true progress.

Challenging My Own Misconceptions About Climate Solutions

by Lily Forand

Before COP26, I had this idea that the only way to really reverse or halt the effects of climate change was through big government regulations. I’m a polisci major, whose background on the subject of climate justice is somewhat lacking compared to the rest of my peers on this trip. Big corporations and modern capitalism created this mess, and I assumed that government entities should be the ones to come in and clean it up. And to a certain degree this is very true; if congresspeople are ever released from the tight grip of monied interests, we could make significant strides towards engineering a greener, cleaner world.

My previously held notions of what a solution would look like were instead challenged by my misconceptions about what solutions beyond corporate regulation should be. While the government has power to stop companies from polluting and maintaining high methane emissions (among other things), I have come to believe that we need to focus on community-based solutions, created by the people that will be affected by them. As a panelist for the women and climate justice event I attended said, “we need empowerment, not solutions.” Solving the climate crisis isn’t about sweeping, one-size fits all measures taken by politicians who often lack grounded understanding of their constituencies. It is about giving people in those communities – women, indigenous people, young people, etc. – the resources and funds to create green communities. Of course, we still need to regulate big corporations and major polluters. Panelists spoke about community generated energy sources to replace fossil fuels, and I learned about new technology to grow fresh produce in multi-layered greenhouses in communities that wouldn’t otherwise have access to it. I heard from activists from all over who shared different perspectives on how best to tackle this challenge, all based on the specific needs of their communities.

I think before COP, I overestimated the ability that the U.S. Government has to solve the climate crisis. I now believe that we need lawmakers’ power and resources to be placed in the hands of the people if we want a climate solution that truly reflects the diversity of need in this country.

The Theme of Collaboration at COP26

by Duygu Ozcan

I wanted to join the UConn COP program to represent students who aspire to bring sustainable innovations to the business world. This year, our group is more diverse than ever because climate change is being understood across various dimensions; it is the fight of all humans and we want to contribute in each of our unique ways. Since business will always be a part of society’s drive to meet human’s needs, current and future leaders need to be equipped with the right knowledge and measures to contribute to the climate movement.

The events I attended at the COP26 climate change summit had the common goal of collaboration. They highlighted that, through overcoming differences and divisions, we can eliminate the disconnect between various groups and especially the decision makers and those who are directly affected by climate change. In the Advancing Gender Equality Conference, panelist Angelica Ponce Chambi stated that refugees, indigenous communities and people from the Global South dream to participate in the decision-making process of conferences such as COP. In another forum, panelists suggested that this disconnect can be solved through having conversations as equals and talking “with” people rather than talking to them. For a meeting featuring C40 leaders (Cities Climate Leadership Group- consisting of 97 cities around the world whose mayors are taking urgent action to confront the climate crisis), a youth activist mentioned a program where young activists meet and discuss their demands with the leaders, and they collaboratively come up with solutions. This serves as one of the examples of meaningful participation and sharing inspiring initiatives of innovation.

Duygu Ozcan with the Mayor of Istanbul

When collaborating, it is also important to share the stories of those who actively fight to restore the loss and damages of climate change.  As the activist and poet Emtithal Mahmoud suggested, we should find inspiration in the efforts of those who provide aid to communities affected by climate change. These people often have limited resources, but they organize and help the affected populations firsthand.  There should be more media coverage and storytelling of groups like such to convey the critical importance of immediate action and inspire people to support them financially. The stories should also center around affected communities and what their demands are with regards to preventing and repairing the damages so there is a complete analysis of needs.

The same collaboration work frame can apply to sustainable business models. Companies should not only collaborate with citizens but also their competitors and, in return, will achieve greater results. This year, it was the first time in 10 years that a fashion company (House of Baukjen) won the UN Global Climate Action Award. When I spoke with Geoff van Sonsbeeck (CEO), he mentioned the importance of setting a mission and following it across all functions of the supply chain. Contrary to most CEO’s visions, he actively encourages competitors or anyone else in the industry to reach out to his team so they can help them adopt to similar circular production models. Climate action should be a common goal that requires not prioritizing our own interests and when they adapted this belief, they not only contributed to a larger impact but also became more successful. By implementing a strong vision and a clear plan, they were able to reduce their carbon emissions by 50% and achieve net zero in 2 years. Within the same period, consumers recognized their efforts and their profits increased by five times. When a brand sets a standard of ethical and conscious business practices, it communicates a powerful signal for others to follow.

Negotiations at COP26

by Maizey MabrySmith 

I’ve always been fascinated by the legal side of global affairs. That’s why, upon arrival at the United Nations summit on climate change (COP26), my primary goal was to observe a negotiation. On Wednesday, I happened to stumble upon one of the rare negotiations that allowed non-party observers. I entered a small room with a large rectangular table and realized I was among a sea of delegates, each one prepared with their respective country’s name tag displayed in front of them. With the Chilean delegate to my left, and the UNFCCC Secretariat to my right, I stuck out like a sore thumb.

The two hours that followed were simultaneously the most monotonous yet captivating I’ve experienced at COP. Clearly a continuation of lengthy negotiations prior, this discussion hit the ground running–so much so that it took me the first hour to understand what exactly was being negotiated.

As it turns out, this session intended to revise the composition and purpose of the Advisory Board to the Climate Technology Center and Network (CTCN), the leaders in technology transfer appointed by the UNFCCC. The negotiation centered around one overarching goal: to improve the efficiency of the CTCN Advisory Board without jeopardizing the equitable participation of some members. It became evident that the achievement of this goal was to be determined by two focal issues: 1) the addition of two new government representatives to the Advisory Board, and 2) the inclusion of three NGO constituencies representing womxn (WGC), youth (YOUNGO), and indigenous peoples (IPO).

Both issues addressed a fundamental question: how many members is too many? Widespread support for the inclusion of the NGO voices appeared to be halted by multiple delegates. One such example is a comment from the Saudi Arabian representative who referenced a commonly adopted rule of management science to argue that the size of the Advisory Board shall not exceed the “ideal” number of twenty-two members. More obstacles were erected when the delegate from the Republic of Korea proposed that one representative could be appointed to speak for all three NGO applicants, claiming that the opinions of womxn, youth, and indigenous peoples appeared similar enough in character. China echoed this sentiment, but fortunately both were met with strong opposition from Mexico’s delegation. As discussions continued, the European Union, the United States, and Chile joined Mexico to identify themselves as strong proponents of prioritizing inclusivity over efficiency, if necessary in decisions to expand the size of the Advisory Board.

Due to the length of discussion, the negotiations never reached a consensus on the proposed amendments to the Constitution within the allotted time. The delegates were urged to meet later that night and swiftly reach a decision in the spirit of compromise. I returned the next morning expecting more of the same. I was pleasantly surprised to find that a consensus had been reached during the night. Three NGO representatives were welcomed onto the Advisory Board and two additional members were added without explicit plans to remove existing seats. I left with a strong sense of accomplishment despite my negligible role in the outcome.

One key takeaway from my observation of this session was the level of technical, language-oriented attention to detail. The addition or deletion of a single word was subject to a full discussion, requiring a complete consensus before proceeding. Such a commitment to precision in language is both fascinating and slightly humbling, as I often find myself frustrated by a lack of urgency in global efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Another takeaway was the presence of obvious contention between certain representatives and the NGO applicants. The decision to include a representative from each organization was made under the condition that they would participate as non-voting members of the Advisory Board, with essentially zero influence on the decision-making process. Thus, a lack of support for their mere presence was concerning to say the least.

Ultimately, this experience shattered any prior expectations I had of UN climate negotiations. While I may or may not apply the intricacies of the CTCN Advisory Board constitution to my own career, its lessons will continue to influence me for the rest of my life. In reality, this negotiation was a part of the massive web of the climate crisis, and the effort expended to achieve such a small win served as a simple reminder of this. I have a newfound respect for the delegates working hard to make change in these conversations and truly hope that these sentiments are echoed in the larger issues being tackled at COP.

COP26: A Lifetime in Two Days

By Chase Mack

UConn Student Chase Mack and University of Burundi Graduate Student Yves having a thumbs-up photo outside of a COVID clinic for Yves’s contact photo of Chase

Thus far, the United Nations Conference of the Parties (COP) in Glasgow this year has been more than I could have fathomed. Never have I mingled with such a diverse array of global citizens, ranging from the Minister of the Environment for Rwanda to an industrial representative of Danish industries and even including a Sudanese American poet. This wide collection of individuals has shown that the world is ready to collaborate and combat the climate crisis, yet the United States hesitates. How can cities like Utrecht emphasize growth centered on clean public transportation and flood mitigation while American cities sit idle with the belief that growth comes with tax reduction and the status quo? How can students from Burundi be searching for clean biomass energy sources to reduce local air pollution and investing in long-term human health while the United States subsidizes fossil fuels? Countries globally recognize the climate crisis, yet our country sets an example of performative action (e.g., nationally talking about being a leader in clean energy)  and hesitancy from a stubborn mindset.

Looking at the world, I was not given hope by the pledges and promises discussed by global leaders. Rather, I was given hope by those who are on the ground engaging in their local communities. Mayors, scientists, activists, and business are the engine for change, and those who dictate the policy at the top receive too much credit. Our society idolizes certain figures as beyond human and deserving of both the positives and negatives of the universe around us. Do John Kerry, AOC, Nancy Pelosi, and Joe Biden deserve the recognition of doing the bare minimum and stepping us back into the climate accords, when people on the ground are making that change happen? I believe not, and this sentiment was reinforced at COP. This takeaway occurred on
the first day, listening to an event put on by the United Nations Refugee Council.

Whether the United States joins or not, the world is moving beyond performative action. Activists like Emtithal Mahmoud, a Sudanese American poet from Yale, are educating the world around them about meaningful dialogue.  I was stirred when she said, “My father was born in a village that doesn’t exist anymore.” For context, this village was destroyed by the worsening effect of desertification, which is decimating populations across Sub-Saharan Africa, especially in areas like where her father was born in the Darfur region of South Sudan. This statement made me question my existing beliefs, since the imperative nature of the climate crisis had not set in. Conflicts and mass migration will occur due to climate change, but with proper resource allocation and resiliency projects.

Several UConn Students and Climate Activist Emtithal Mahmoud hold up sign stating “Act Now”

A climate advisor from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) named Andrew Harper emphasized the need to invest in peace. This idea awaken something inside of me, forcing me to question, how is our country investing in peace? Many Americans are still ignoring the catastrophe on our doorstep, instead debating about if it is truly there. Is that investing in peace? Every budget allocation debate between our esteemed public officials offers earmarks for strengthening our military-industrial complex, rather than strengthening resiliency projects here at home or investing abroad. Other entities within our nation are debating short-minded issues, without ever addressing the root causes. The climate crisis has no time for these sorts of shenanigans, with Mahmoud also stating that “We must engage with power” and further stating that friendships may not be permanent, but relationships are. This stuck with me, since as difficult and unfair the power structures are within our society, crises like the one we are entering, don’t always have the time to have endless debates. If we as a nation fail to address the climate crisis, power structures globally will be only reinforced.

A country that opened my mind to the destructive capacity of these endless debates was Rwanda. I had the privilege of meeting and interacting with the Rwanda Green Fund CEO Teddy Mugabo. The conversation I had with her was informative and spontaneous, lasting over half an hour. She opened my eyes to how the echo chamber of the U.S political quarrels has led to sluggish change, while Rwanda has an active legislature empowering national change. I must acknowledge the negatives like the political dictatorship within their nation, and the positives like their extremely high female political engagement, with over 2/3rds of the legislature being female. Rwanda, as a nation, banned plastic bags before 2012, and in 2018 banned single-use plastic items. Their Green Fund is utilizing grants from European nations, building affordable, clean housing in the capital Kigali, while improving the infrastructure of their rural communities in areas of landslide risk. Rwanda is an example of powerful national change paired with local leadership, and I believe that this is an example to us at UConn and nationally. I found that Rwanda, learning from their historical tragedies, has learned to invest in peace.

Endless debate is an investment in the status quo, which will lead to countless millions of climate casualties, refugees, and externalities. We must invest together in peace for a better world.

Natural Resources and Climate Change

Editor’s Note: Climate change requires humans to adapt and modify their behavior to preserve natural resources for generations to come. Our fellows identified a number of natural resource issues at the COP. Some areas have shown growth in adaptation measures, but other sectors require much more work if we hope to address and adapt to climate change.

Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis – Georgia Hernandez-Corrales

“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health – Himaja Nagireddy

 

Agriculture: The Forgotten Sector and the Food Security Crisis

Georgia Hernandez-Corrales – M.S. Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

[English version]

The biggest rebellion that a community can do in the face of the current climatic crisis is secure its food independence.

Dhanush Dinesh from the CCAFS given his talk about “food transform XII. Levels to transform food systems under climate change”.

One of the discussions that most impacted me at COP@25 was the issue of food security. Especially because I come from a country (Costa Rica) in which we are giant producers of pineapple, banana, and flowers. What would happen if a global catastrophe happens and we could not continue importing all our food? Would we survive with fruits and flowers?

This is the situation of many countries in the world where governments have looked away from the importance of food security. This issue was discussed in the side event on actions for future food security. Panelist Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) was very direct in stating that the collective imaginary is to think farming is desperate decision but should be a decision for prosperity. Unfortunately, this is how governments and society in general think about agriculture. They think agriculture is a symbol of poverty and lack of education. The irony is great when the entire population depends on this forgotten sector. Farmers are a fragile group which already has to address intrinsic problems and are more vulnerable now than ever because of climate change.

Dhanush talked about the need to transform the production system through simple steps so that governments and communities can easily adapt their production systems to better environmental practices.

Among the most important mechanisms are eliminating crop expansion and concentrating on increasing soil health, reducing food waste, and improving crops with new production technologies. He mentioned agriculture must be seen as something “cool” in order to encourage new generations of farmers that seek prosperity. Of course, this has to be coupled with a government that increases the resilience of markets and supports the social mobility of agricultural sectors. In addition, it should go hand in hand with the promotion of social change for more sustainable decision-making, such as more friendly environmental diets and reduction of food waste.

If we modify our behaviors as consumers, the market will be forced to change according to current demands. It seems that countries are not going to agree at the COP@25 negotiations, but against this, what is left is to safeguard the future through local governments. Now, the change has to begin at a very personal level, such as buying food locally, demand that local governments protect local producers and protect them from climate change and eliminate food waste. At the level of local government there must be a transfer of knowledge from universities and institutions towards production, zero agricultural land expansion, encourage agroecology, and to eliminate myths around technology that improves production.

[Spanish version]

Seguridad alimentaria para el futuro

La rebelión mas grande que una comunidad puede hacer ante la crisis actual es asegurar su independencia alimentaria.

Uno de los temas que más me impactaron en la COP@25 fue el tema de seguridad alimentaria. En especial porque vengo de un país (Costa Rica) en el que somos gigantes productores de piña, banano y flores. ¿Qué pasaría ante una catástrofe mundial y no pudiéramos seguir importando todos nuestros alimentos? ¿Sobreviviríamos con frutas y flores?

Esta es la situación de muchos países en el mundo donde los gobiernos han apartado su mirada de la importancia de asegurar la producción alimentaria nacional. Este tema se discutió en el Side Event sobre acciones para la futura seguridad alimentaria. El panelista Dhanush Dinesh (CCAFS) fue muy directo al mencionar que es inaceptable el imaginario colectivo que se tiene de que tornarse hacia la agricultura sea una decisión desesperada, sino que debería ser una decisión para la prosperidad. Lamentablemente así es como ven la agricultura los gobiernos y la mayoría de las personas en el mundo. La agricultura es símbolo de pobreza y falta de educación. Esto es irónico al pensar que toda la población depende de este sector olvidado y que ya es frágil para atender problemas intrínsecos, y aún ahora más vulnerable ante el cambio climático.

Dhanush habló de la necesidad de transformar el sistema de producción mediante pasos simples para que los gobiernos y comunidades se puedan adaptar fácilmente a sus sistemas de producción.

Entre los mecanismos más importantes están eliminar la expansión de los cultivos y concentrarse en aumentar la salud de los suelos, reducir la pérdida de comida, y mejorar los cultivos con nuevas tecnologías de producción. Mencionaba que de alguna manera hay que hacer ver la agricultura como algo “cool” para fomentarla entre las nuevas generaciones y que sea vista como un símbolo de prosperidad. Claro está, esto iría de la mano con un gobierno que aumente la resiliencia de los mercados y apoye la movilidad social de los sectores agrícolas. Además, debería de ir de la mano con la promoción de un cambio social para la toma de decisiones más sustentables, como el caso de dietas más amigables con el ambiente y una reducción del desperdicio de alimento.

Si modificamos nuestras conductas como consumidores, el mercado se verá obligado a cambiar conforme a las demandas actuales. Todo parece ver que los países no se van a poner de acuerdo en las negociaciones de la COP@25, pero ante tanta inoperancia lo que queda es salvaguardar el futuro mediante los gobiernos locales. Así que el cambio comienza a nivel muy personal, desde que compremos alimentos locales, exijamos a los gobiernos locales la protección de los productores locales para resguardarlos ante consecuencias del cambio climático, y hasta eliminar el desperdicio de comida. A nivel de gobierno local debe de existir una transferencia de conocimiento de universidades y centros de conocimiento hacia la producción, evitar la competición de productores locales con exteriores, fomentar la agroecología mediante la eliminación de monocultivos y que toda práctica esté a favor el ambiente, y finalmente, eliminar la misticidad alrededor de técnicas de mejora en la producción.

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

 

“Help, I Can’t Breathe!” – Air Pollution and Global Health

Himaja Nagireddy –  B.S. Molecular and Cell Biology, Physiology and Neurobiology, and Sociology

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

Far too often, we take the air we breathe for granted. A COP25 exhibit made it a point to draw attention to the air pollution that millions are experiencing on a daily basis, to help us understand why addressing air pollution is key to our fight against climate change.

The immersive art installation contained five pods which mimicked air pollution in four of the most polluted cities in the world (London, Beijing, Sao Paulo, and New Delhi), as well as one of the cleanest air environments in the world (Tautra in Norway).

The pods themselves were safe, containing perfume blends and fog machines to imitate the quality of the air at these different locations. The temperature was also controlled in the pods. A heater was added in the Delhi pod to mimic warm temperatures and an air conditioner was added to the Beijing pod to mimic the cold temperatures this time of year.

As soon as we walked into the first pod, which mimicked the air conditions of London, the decrease in air quality was clearly visible- the air was much foggier and smelled strongly. Walking into the New Delhi pod, one immediately felt the humid and sticky atmosphere of the city and the fog was a bit thicker. It was hard to see objects that were over 15 feet away with the smog. The transition into the Beijing pod was a stark temperature difference. We could see our breath turn into fog and merge with the heavy smoke in the room. The Sao Paulo pod was warmer but with a similar fog density. This lead to the last pod mimicking air quality conditions in Tautra, Norway. Here, the air was clear and smelled fresh, a welcome change from the other pods that were difficult to breathe in.

Walking through the pods put into perspective so much of what I had known but never really understood. It is one thing to read articles about air particulate matter in cities that exceed safe air pollution limits and ano ther to experience what degraded air quality feels like.

According to the World Health Organization, outdoor air pollution caused an estimated 4.2 million deaths in both urban and rural areas and has been linked to stroke, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, lung cancer and acute respiratory infections.

As a student interested in understanding the intersections between health and the environment, walking through the pods helped me better understand why addressing air pollution is critical to our fight against climate change and our goal for achieving social health and well-being globally.

This is but one example of how COP25 hosted a variety of platforms for stakeholders to raise their voices in an effort to bring global climate change issues and their relevance to social health and well-being close to home. As a first time COP attendee, I walked away from the event with a strong sense of hope and personal responsibility to continue fighting the fight against climate change, to ensure a more equal and fairer world for all.

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

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.

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

Indigenous Peoples and Indigenous Rights

Editor’s Note: Despite contributing little to climate change, indigenous groups will likely be among the first to suffer the consequences. These communities have been quick to advocate against climate change, but have struggled to make their voices heard amongst the global community. 

Disproportionate Representation at COP25 – Matthew Yang

The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge – Megan Ferris

 

Disproportionate Representation at COP25

Matthew Yang – B.S. Civil Engineering

Coming back from COP25 I’m overwhelmed with mixed emotions. On one hand I’m suffused with exuberance and a sense of fulfillment. Attending the UN Climate Change Conference was a once in a lifetime experience. I got to participate in a conference convening thousands of the world’s leading scientists, politicians, business leaders, students and activists. In Madrid I gained new experiences, insights and met genuinely inspiring people. Yet there was constantly this underlying feeling that I didn’t belong. This discomfort didn’t stem from the presence of intimidating ambassadors and overpowered prime ministers. Moresoe it came from a gradual awareness of the voices absent from COP25, the presences absent from the discussion.

Coastal, island, and sub-saharan communities in non-western countries are disproportionately affected by climate change. I had the privilege of hearing from ambassador Ronald Jean Jumeau of Seychelles, a small island nation off the eastern coast of Africa. He fears that rising sea levels are destined to make thousands of islands like Seychelles uninhabitable. Millions of people from island nations will be forced to flee their homes, abandoning their culture, way of life, and even their language. The COP is intended to be a space for nations to negotiate and propose a unified response to the climate crisis. Despite having the most to lose, nations like the Seychelles lack the representation and political clout needed to make their problems relevant in negotiations.

Nations like the Seychelles face tremendous logistical, economic, social and political barriers just to attend the conference. The COP was originally planned for Santiago, Chile, but violent protests in the weeks before forced Chile to withdraw. Scrambling officials were able to find a replacement venue in Madrid, Spain.

Thousands of people had to try their best to reschedule flights, rebook hotels, and recuperate expenses. We were some of the fortunate, who were able to still attend the conference in Madrid. However this logistical nightmare prevented hundreds of representatives from nations like Peru from attending the COP. For those representatives able to attend, the stakes were extremely high. The livelihood of thousands of people weighed on the handful of delegates sent by these disenfranchised communities. As the negotiations carried on, many of these delegates became more and more pessimistic. It was becoming evident that little to no progress was being made.

I am extremely grateful and honored to be among the 21 delegates UCONN sent to COP25. I’m also disturbed and upset by our school having representation not afforded to entire nations and impoverished populations bearing the brunt of climate change. There is a clear disparity in representation between western and non-western countries at the UN Climate Change Conference. Climate change and global superpowers inattention to developing and at-risk nations are rooted in economic disparity and the extractive economies of the west. After disenfranchising non-western countries for centuries, it’s vital western nations listen responsively to the communities suffering from climate change. We must be able to propose solutions for all, and not just for the hegemony.

 

The Power of Indigenous Communities and Traditional Knowledge

Megan Ferris – B.S. Environmental Science

Map of the Pacific Islands. (Photo: Megan Ferris)

Reflecting on all my experiences and encounters at COP25, I have decided that one of the most powerful lessons I learned was how resilient indigenous communities are and how important their role is in mitigating and stopping global climate change.

These communities have produced the lowest amounts of carbon dioxide that have entered the atmosphere and more importantly, they have an influential tool many developed countries don’t utilize — the power of storytelling.

Most of my memories gained from COP revolved around stories I heard from various people I encountered. Stories link people and communities to each other by appealing to the emotions. Many people have a hard time understanding the complicated numbers that are involved in discussions on global climate change. However, hearing firsthand stories of how nations, islands, and people are personally being affected allows others to truly comprehend the devastation involved in this global crisis, and thus I’m hopeful these indigenous voices and their work will get more people to act.

One story that left a lasting impact on me was from the people of the Polynesian islands.

Angelica Salele, from the island of Tuvolu, told me her experiences with her island sinking and how the salt water from the seas rising has destroyed much of the vegetation on the outskirts of the islands, leaving them with less food to eat.

She also told how she was a mother and her biggest desire is to have her child know the island she has grown to love. But she fears that the sea will one day swallow everything she calls home and her child will only know fear for the ocean and not the life and love she knows.

Another woman named Shawna Larson reflected on how her community in Alaska has some of the highest rates of cancer and illnesses due to DDT and other chemicals making their way into the sea and up into the Arctic, where it is in the fish they eat and then gets passed to children in the breast milk. She also commented on the power of storytelling and how it “makes you feel and feeling gives you responsibility and relationship to things.”

Shawna Lawson from Alaska and I discussed the importance of storytelling. (Photo: Megan Ferris).

Indigenous communities not only understand the power of storytelling but they also have traditional knowledge. Traditional knowledge works to simplify the scientific jargon and numbers for communities. It attempts to bridge this communications barrier in order to allow more people the opportunity to be informed and to open a space for dialogue in order to have action.

Local people need to be involved and traditional knowledge is another tool that can work to bring their voices to the table.

One speaker from the Polynesian islands said how she used to contemplate if she was “good enough” to discuss and take on this climate change emergency. She said people of their islands always look to others for the answers, until they realized their own worth and traditional knowledge.

She remarked, “I’m talking as an expert about being a human in the Pacific, not as an expert about climate science.” But because she wasn’t a scientist it doesn’t mean her voice should be any less important. She wanted to humanize the Pacific and other indigenous communities and leverage them into positions of power, which needs to be done.