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Observers at the making of global history

Northeastern students, alumni, and faculty will be in Copenhagen next Friday as observers for the fifteenth United Nations Climate Change Conference, which could prove to be one of the most historic meetings among global leaders in the past 60 years.

The event, running from December 7 to December 18, will convene more than 15,000 participants from 192 countries, representing government, business, and environmental groups, to negotiate a framework for reducing green house gas emissions.

For Assistant Professor of Political Science Denise Garcia, who spearheaded the experiential learning opportunity for 15 Northeastern students, the conference is the most important global meeting since the multilateral trade conference that led to the founding of the World Trade Organization after World War II.

World leaders attending the conference face a litany of difficult issues, she said.

“The biggest challenge will be on how to pay for and address adaptation and mitigation strategies,” said Garcia, noting that it won’t be easy for developing nations to afford the renewable technologies needed to power their growth and development in more environmentally sustainable ways.

Garcia noted the importance of reworking the Kyoto Protocol, a code of conduct aimed at combating global climate change. One hundred and eighty seven sovereign states have signed the agreement, but the United States has not.

International affairs major Josh Minney, ’10, who studied the Kyoto Protocol in Garcia’s conflict negotiation course last spring, views the meetings as a chance to increase awareness of the environmental and economic impact of global climate change.

“Food and water scarcity are problems,” explained Minney, who noted that the United States is the world’s largest consumer of energy and its second largest polluter after China. “But climate change is turning up the heat on all of these problems.

“Finally, the idea of going green and climate change has reached the public. ‘Going green’ is now a hip term.”

Over the past several months, Northeastern worked hard to gain the necessary accreditation to attend the meetings. President Joseph Aoun, for example, wrote to the United Nationsclimate change secretariat requesting observer status as a non-governmental organization, which was granted.

Each of the students attending also wrote letters to the secretariat expressing their interest in the conference, and Garcia wrote a cover letter confirming Northeastern’s commitment to be a part of the historic proceedings.

Northeastern alumnus Richard McLaws, who graduated in January with a degree in political science, took care of the logistics: he booked hotels and planned dinners.
Members of the Northeastern contingent are eager to see how the meetings will play out.

McLaws, who is particularly interested in how climate change impacts human security, said, “Everyone is going to be at this meeting. If there’s any progress, it has to happen here.”
The significance of the Northeastern community’s attendance—as well as the attendance of several other university delegations, including those from Harvard, Yale, Princeton and University of California at Berkeley—isn’t lost on Minney.

“I like to think that we are the future leaders of America,” he said. “We signed on to go before President Barack Obama. We are going to learn as much as we can and then put it into practice, if the government’s not going to do it.”

Over the course of the week, Northeastern students will have a chance to attend side lectures and other events aimed at building awareness of global climate change. Minney is bringing along his résumé to network with other environmental activists.

“Here is an opportunity for students to blend theory and practice,” said Garcia. “Not only will they get to see how complex negotiations take place; they’ll get an up close view of how the United Nations works, how consensus is built and how opposing positions are reconciled.”

Scott Quint, associate dean of International Student and Scholar Services and Intercultural Programs, who is part of the university’s delegation, sees a parallel between Garcia’s work on conflict negotiations and his own efforts to facilitate cross-cultural interactions among students.

By attending the climate conference, said Quint, “Students will learn just how interconnected our global community is, and how decisions can impact cultures on a global scale.”

– Courtesy of CSSH Dean’s Office

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