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Student delegation from Northeastern University and Global Resilience Institute attend UN Climate Change Conference | COP24 Blog

A delegation of Northeastern University (NU) students is attending the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24) event in Poland. The group is being led by Global Resilience Institute (GRI) Associate Director of Strategic Research Collaborations Laura Kuhl and GRI Program Manager for Research Partnerships Kyla Van Maanen.

Throughout the 10 day event, the NU team will sit in on live climate negotiations between national parties, attend lectures and events at the International Pavilion, and network at side events outside of the official grounds. This year’s COP is especially exciting as the focus shifts from securing national greenhouse gas reduction commitments to implementing climate change adaptation policy in practice. The student trip is being supported by GRI and NU’s College of Social Sciences and HumanitiesSchool of Public Policy and Urban AffairsCollege of Science and College of Arts Media and Design.

Follow along as Kyla and the Northeastern students take over GRI’s blog (below) Instagram, Facebook Page and Twitter!

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Negotiations – The Young vs The Old

By Arief bin Johan Alimin, International Affairs & Economics student, Northeastern University | 12/7/2018

With a multitude of issues set to be resolved by the end of COP24, there is no shortage of negotiations between the various stakeholders of the conference. Most interestingly is the juxtaposition of negotiations and dialogues of the high level policy discussions between member states and the more passionate and excitable discussions of youth non governmental organizations (NGOs).

When attending the informal consultations (debates between member states that are open to observers) on climate finance, it is clear that the policymakers in the room are constrained from crafting substantial policy. When observing the first informal consultation, specifically on Article 9 of the Paris Agreement that outlines matters pertaining to finance, the energy of the room is at a low with very few countries even participating in debate. Some key observations of this include the push from the delegates of the European Union in writing new language and attempting to cajole other member states to either support or debate the language that is on the floor. All this while many member states within the G77 + China group, which notably include India, Brazil, and Saudi Arabia, have decided to engage less in substantial debate due to numerous shared concerns.

In observing these debates, there are few member states that are speaking, let alone writing new international documents. Even the facilitators of the debate attempt to convey the urgency and importance of collaboration and participation – unfortunately, this message does not seem to be taken in with great regard. As a result, the tone of the room is tense, frustrating, and overall unproductive.

On the other hand of the spectrum, numerous youth NGOs have conducted their own sessions with other important stakeholders at the conference. Under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), youth NGOs are recognized as one of the nine constituencies in the conference and are therefore invited to numerous sessions to represent the voice of younger members in society. With this, there were two sessions that were notable in underscoring a tonal shift in climate negotiations between meetings of youth groups and the meetings of member states.

At the Constituency Meeting with Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC, Patricia Espinosa, youth groups asked hard-hitting questions related to the state of negotiations from the UN’s perspective and how the needed sense of urgency in implementing the Paris Agreement does not seem to exist in high level negotiations. Through this, it was evident that younger members of society are driving the push for climate action much more than the representatives of their member states. In another meeting with the United Nations Secretary General’s Envoy on Youth, Ms. Jayathma Wickramanayake, the members of youth NGOs sought advice on how to transfer their energy, passion, and voice to those at the policy making level – especially since these policy making negotiations were being conducted in rooms next door.

In all, the United Nations should be championed for including such diverse voices at COP24. Despite this, the challenge that still exists is to identify any means to link the proposals of youth members to policymakers in the most effective manner; at the least – conveying the importance of the need to act now and act fast.

About the author:
Arief bin Johan Alimin is an International Affairs & Economics student at Northeastern University. He serves as the current Vice President of the Northeastern International Relations Council and recently co-founded the United Nations Association of Northeastern University. Arief has completed a co-op at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia and is a member of the Malaysian Youth Delegation – a youth-led non profit focused on furthering climate action.

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Coal Transitions in Eastern Europe

By Nick Sorokin, 5th Year Undergraduate Student, Environmental Studies and International Affairs major | 12/6/2018

Most panels I have attended at COP have consistently stressed the need for the electricity sector to drastically reduce GHG emissions as quickly as possible. Specifically, speakers from a UN-sponsored IPCC Climate Science for Policymakers event relayed that 70-85% of electricity generation will have to come from renewables by 2050 to stay within the bounds of a 1.5°C world warming scenario. Central to this goal is the idea of a just energy transition, which is the perceived global need to help shift existing energy labor towards less carbon intensive technologies. A prime candidate for this transition is the coal industry.

I attended a panel this afternoon which focused on how local communities are preparing for a post-coal future. Hosted by Bankwatch, WWF, and the Climate Reality project, panel participants from small, coal producing Eastern European towns shared stories of their local efforts to move beyond coal-centered economies. The speakers were from Bobov Dol, Bulgaria and Prievidza, Slovakia, but the panel’s focus on economic hardship, health issues, and political divides sounded a lot to me like a description of West Virginia.

 

Nick standing on top of coal near the Poland Delegation's pavilion
Nick, standing on top of coal near the Poland Delegation’s pavilion

West Virginia’s economic performance and political influence are closely tied to the success of state coal companies. The state has consistently reaffirmed its commitment to coal production. But should political will materialize in WV to transition away from coal, today’s panel gave me hope that it will have established case examples to learn from.

Both of today’s Eastern European speakers recognized the need for their towns to transition away from coal despite risks of heavy political backlash. However, there exists a major disparity in hope between the two towns. The speaker from Prievidza relayed their growing optimism and employment levels in slowly transitioning away from coal, but Alojz Vlcko, mayor of Bobov Dol, described a bleak situation in which her constituency is struggling with poor air quality, unemployment anxiety, and school closings.

I must admit, I was expecting a rosier update on Bobov Dol’s journey towards less local economic reliance on coal. But I think this tale of two coal transitions translates to a broader takeaway of mine from this year’s COP. There are far more similarities between global political, energy, and economic transitions than I could have imagined. I am hopeful that an increasing number of energy transition case studies will help guide global change – especially in securing a just transition for West Virginian coal towns.

To learn more about Bobov Dol and Preividza, I’d highly recommend reading THIS UNFCCC hosted report.

About the author:
Nick has completed co-ops at the Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. During his time at Northeastern he has also completed four internships across solar PV financing, smart city consulting, Department of Defense microgrid deployment, and battery energy storage research. He has completed Northeastern Dialogue of Civilization trips to Russia, Brazil, and Peru.

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Public Health and Climate Change: A special UN and World Health Organization Climate Change Report

By Jule Davidoff, 4th Year Communication Studies Major, Northeastern University | 12/5/2018

Since arriving at COP24 Monday, I have attended a total of 18 separate events, including plenary sessions, informal meetings, and a wide variety of side events. I have learned so much more than I initially anticipated, and more than I even thought was possible in such a short timeframe. As a Communication Studies major with a minor in Art History, I am not typically exposed to the subject matter discussed at COP24 in an academic setting, so immersing myself in in-depth sessions here has been a great way to learn a lot very fast about a wide variety of topics, such as climate finance, capacity building, renewable energy sources and transition, corporate responsibility in the implementation of Paris Agreement goals, and much more.

Dr. Maria Neira, WHO DirectorMy favorite topic that I have learned about thus far, and one that I’ve grown quite passionate about, is the link between public health and climate change. I’ve been able to attend two events on the topic – the first was a press release put on by the World Health Organization, titled: Key Health Messages & Opportunities in the IPCC SR1.5, and the second was a side event panel, titled: 7 million unacceptable deaths. Special COP24 Health and Climate Change Report. The Press Conference debuted a report published by the WHO that details the public health impact of the IPCC Special Report 1.5 and includes 7 recommendations on how to move forward with public health as a top priority in the climate change dialogue.

Both events were led by the impressive Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Director. Dr. Neira’s passion is infectious, and her call to action is invigorating. She is clearly deeply connected to the cause of improving international public health through reducing the negative effects of climate change, and of all the events I have attended so far, hers made me the most motivated to make a personal change to help this cause.

In addition to the sincere and enlightening dialogue presented by Dr. Neira was the interesting content proposed in the WHO’s 7 recommendations to aid in decreasing the millions of deaths caused by climate change, the majority of which are a result of air pollution. Air pollution causes young children to die of severe asthma, the elderly to die of pneumonia, and all ages in between to be highly susceptible to lung cancer and other respiratory illnesses.

Of the 7 recommendations, I was most fascinated by the content of number four: Remove existing barriers to investment in health adaptation to climate change, especially for climate resilient health systems and “climate-smart” health care facilities. This recommendation is focused, among other health-institution related matters, on building new health facilities that are powered by renewable energy sources. Dr. Neira explained that there is a surprising lack of coordination between ongoing and upcoming health projects and renewable energy implementation, especially when it comes to building hospitals in developing nations. This is shocking, and a clear indicator of a gap that needs to be bridged by increased communications between the public health and renewable energy sectors. Luckily, Dr. Neira has made it her personal and professional mission to make public health in climate change a hot button issue, even stating that it is her goal to make public health the topic of COP25.

The disappointing reality is that public health will likely never be weighed in higher regard than the economic aspects of climate change and renewable energy transfer, but this is not to say that making public health in climate change a priority is not extremely important. If you’re interested in the report put out by the WHO, you can find the entire thing here!

About the author: Jule Davidoff is a 4th year senior at Northeastern University majoring in Communication Studies with a minor in Art History. Jule’s longtime involvement in the club Trash2Treasure, a student-run recycling program that runs bi-yearly at Northeastern, has sparked her passion in environmental advocacy and climate change efforts.

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COP24: Shifting Expectations

By Sofia Cardamone, Environmental Studies and International Affairs student, Northeastern University | 12/5/2018

COP24 panel in actionMy experience at COP24 thus far has been nothing short of fascinating. Being a combined Environmental Studies and International Affairs major, the intersection of policy and climate change has been the main focus of my studies while at Northeastern. Coming into to the conference, I did not know what to expect— I assumed it would be highly technical, and would focus on fine-tuning minute details of the Paris Agreements. It did not take me long to find out that those aspects were only a fraction of the vast array of things happening at COP24.

My first day was a whirlwind—within the first hour, I sat in what felt to me like the quintessential UN meeting room: large black seats with a pullout desk and a microphone at every chair. About 20 minutes in, Secretary General Antonio Guterres sat down to introduce the objectives of the conference (yes, I was geeking out).

The rest of the day was full of running from event to event and trying to make the most of my time here. After sitting in on several different types of sessions, I noticed there were certain panels who were attending COP24 to advocate the importance of their relative area of expertise, and/or societal problems to important heads of state.

Towards the end of the day, I sat in on one of the most interesting sessions of my whole day: a panel of tribal leaders of Amazonian states titled “The Megadriver of infrastructure in the Amazon”. Not knowing it was all in Spanish, I grabbed a set of headphones and started listening to the live translation. The panel focused on the issue that native communities in Peru had with newly built highways. They explained that contrary to common thought, highways were ruining their communities by causing deforestation, negatively affecting their cattle ranches, negatively affecting their cacao production, among other things. I immediately thought to myself, “But wouldn’t that make their communities more widely accessible? Or shed light on their culture? Wouldn’t they want to share their beliefs with the rest of the world?” The short answer was no, and I realized this was an ignorant way of thinking. The building of highways was viewed, in their eyes, as a disrespectful violation of their voluntary right to solidarity. They preferred to be isolated and protected because they felt it better conserved their livelihoods and land. It was understood that while highways may benefit broader society, it destroys their way of life.

COP Panel 12/5

The 30-minute panel ended far too quickly and I left with a million questions I wish I had the opportunity to ask. I was intrigued by the panelist advocating that future climate agreements take into account the struggles they face, regardless of how small they may seem on a global scale. I also witnessed this type of advocacy from the World Health Organization who wanted human health to be the main focus of next year’s COP25, and from a corporate accountability panel demanding that the UNFCCC end its connection with corporations. I realized that this is what these massive international conferences are all about: demanding change and justice, and to having their voices heard.

About the Author: 
Sofia Cardamone joined the Global Resilience Institute in July 2018 as a Co-op Research Assistant. She is currently pursuing a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies and International Affairs with a minor in Urban Studies at Northeastern University. Prior to joining the Institute, Sofia spent the summer abroad studying climate change science and policy in Brazil and Peru, which focused on climate hazards and city resilience as well as climate adaptation in emerging economies.

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The Polarizing Voices of COP24

By Arief bin Johan Alimin, International Affairs & Economics student, Northeastern University | 12/4/2018

COP24 neon sign Four years has passed since the signing of the Paris Agreement – the landmark international agreement in global leaders made an ambitious promise to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels. Here at COP24 in Katowice, Poland – it is expected that the final plan of action to bring the Paris Agreement into full force will be established. Given recent negotiation sessions prior to COP24, many governments are not on track meet to goals set in Paris. With such high stakes, the conference can be best described as a tug of war between government legislators and the push of civil society members urging them to do more.

As a delegate on behalf of Northeastern University, I found myself bouncing between high level meetings and smaller working groups all related to climate negotiation. It is refreshing to see the dynamic mix of negotiations and information sessions as it seemed as though numerous stakeholders are present at the conference, as opposed to just government representatives. From heads of states to heads of indigenous tribes, from environmental policy makers to youth representatives, from large corporations to local farm owners – it seemed as though everyone was at the table in some way or another to push the conversation forward.

In good fashion, we started the day with a Press briefing with the Secretary General of the United Nations – Antonio Guterres and the Special Envoy for the slated 2019 Climate Summit – Luis Alfonso de Alba. At the session they conducted an overview of the upcoming 2019 Climate Summit to be held in New York during the United Nations General Assembly. Most interestingly, the Secretary General noted his commitment to keeping youth and civil society members a part of the process in paving the way for a climate-friendly future. This focus seemed appropriate because we ran into numerous youth-oriented and youth-run non-governmental organizations (NGOs) at the conference. With such a large presence here at COP24, it is beyond refreshing to listen to the passion of younger members of society have their voices heard by those involved with the negotiation process.

COP24 panel discussion

Following this, we attended a plenary session on discussing finance as a driver for climate action. At the session, the facilitator moderated questions between the CEO of ING Group – Ralph Hamers and an Indigenous Leader from Chad – Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim. While Mr. Hamers revealed new investment mechanisms from major banks geared towards sustainable investing, Ms. Ibrahim underscored the need for a greater focus to not neglect those in rural areas as they have just enough capacity to further sustainability efforts. Having a conversation between representatives of two opposite ends of the spectrum encapsulated the atmosphere of the conference so far.

As the week unfolds, I am excited to follow the progress of negotiations between these different stakeholders. With such an array of voices at COP24, I look forward to the fruitful results that hopefully will address the issues of all peoples and stakeholders affected by the threat of climate change and bring the Paris Agreement into reality.

About the author:
Arief bin Johan Alimin is an International Affairs & Economics student at Northeastern University. He serves as the current Vice President of the Northeastern International Relations Council and recently co-founded the United Nations Association of Northeastern University. Arief has completed a co-op at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia and is a member of the Malaysian Youth Delegation – a youth-led non profit focused on furthering climate action.

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COP24 – The Path Forward

by Nick Sorokin, 5th Year Undergraduate Student, Environmental Studies and International Affairs major | 12/3/2018

This is the last week of my Undergraduate career at Northeastern. It is also the first week of my attendance at COP24, and a new path forward.

The new path of which I speak is global in scale and interconnected in nature. It is intended to guide a globalized world economy towards an endpoint of effective climate change mitigation and adaptation. It’s three primary avenues are sustainability, equity, and resilience.

COP 24 main entrance halls.

But the path is still under construction.

COP21 produced the Paris Agreement as a blueprint for global climate action. This year’s COP24 in Katowice, Poland will help finalize the Paris blueprint and identify financing commitments and mechanisms.

Although our Northeastern delegation arrived with only time to register and briefly explore the venue today, the excitement in the air was infectious. While I partially attribute this positive energy to attendees being able to keep their shoes on during the security checkpoint, it’s clear to me that I’ll enjoy my time here.

While the main focus of the conference is multi-lateral negotiations and agreements between nation-states, there is are a plethora of side events and informal working sessions to attend. The majority of side events are open to all, but others involve pre-registration and special ticketing.

I was able to attend an open side event today which served as a platform for global climate advocacy groups. During this event, the CliMates organization’s presentation stood out to me most.

They explored how there is a growing desire amongst younger people to pursue environmental sustainability-focused jobs, but found that there will be a significant shortfall between job seekers and jobs available. Given their framing of this jobs market disparity, CliMates called for the need to incorporate a sustainable, environmentally conscious mindset into every sector. The reason this presentation stood out to me was that it underlined one of the main subtexts of COP24, which is the need for a ‘just transition’. One of the key themes of this transition is the need to retrain workers in the fossil fuel industry to jobs in lesser carbon emitting sectors.

Overall – I very much enjoyed my first day at COP24 and would like to thank Northeastern SPPUA, CSSH, CAMD, COS and GRI for sponsoring our trip. I’ve benefited immensely from my experiences and opportunities at Northeastern, and hope to help identify other research universities, NGOs, and IGOs to partner with in the area of resilience research and sustainable development.

About the author:
Nick has completed co-ops at the Environmental Protection Agency and Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. During his time at Northeastern he has also completed four internships across solar PV financing, smart city consulting, Department of Defense microgrid deployment, and battery energy storage research. He has completed Northeastern Dialogue of Civilization trips to Russia, Brazil, and Peru.

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COP24 Day 1: Getting Oriented and Exploring

by Jule Davidoff, Northeastern University Class of 2019 | 12/3/2018

Today was our first day at the COP, so we headed to Katowice around 2 p.m. so we could arrive in time to register. The size of the conference center is notable, and nearly everything in sight is branded with COP24 signage. The map here shows the entire layout of the conference, and each block contains specific types of meeting rooms, attractions, and pavilions.

COP24 mapI think the best way to describe the first day is by what surprised me most: First, it was very interesting to notice how many different languages can be heard while walking around the conference, many of which are unrecognizable to my English-only speaking self. Secondly, I was very impressed to see how intricate and beautiful the country pavilions and non-governmental organization (NGO) pavilions are. The country pavilions are located in block E, and all have their own unique design and layout that represents the country’s culture.

It is also striking how much time and effort is put into the construction of the different pavilions and the conference center itself, and how many workers are present to make the event flow so smoothly. Certain NGOs also have their own pavilions in blocks E and H, such as Business Hub, powered by IETA: Climate Challenges, Market Solutions, and the Nordic Council of Ministers, and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) (titled #PandaHub), among dozens of others. Each pavilion has its own side events, many of which run all day long, concurrent with each other and other events happening throughout the convention.

Lastly, I was surprised by how many people were at the conference. Of course, I was expecting a lot of people in attendance, but between national delegations, NGO-attendees, and the many other categories attendees can fall under, the sheer number of individuals walking around in combination with people in the many side events and meeting rooms was a lot to take in. At the same time, it was inspiring and exciting to see how many people have traveled from across the world to attend the conference.

COP24

I’m really glad we were able to gather our bearings today when there weren’t many events happening so we can head in early tomorrow morning with fresh minds and an understanding of the layout of the convention. I’m looking forward to jumping into the convention and attending the many side events that have peaked my interest, such as ​”Climate is changing. Shouldn’t food systems change too?“, ​put on by the Food and Agriculture Association (FAO), and “​Ocean and Climate: the evidence unwrapped,” put on by Plymouth Marine Laboratory and hosted by the WWF, just to name a few.

We can’t wait to share more in-depth updates about the conference in the coming days!

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Stay tuned for tomorrow’s blog: This page will be updated every day with new content!

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