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Students join global leaders’ climate change mission

Vic­toria Porell, a fourth-​​year polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs com­bined major, frames cli­mate change as the quin­tes­sen­tial global issue, one which cannot be solved on a country-​​by-​​country basis. “Cli­mate change is one of the first truly global human secu­rity prob­lems,” she explained. “It’s not some­thing that any one state can take on, because cli­mate doesn’t under­stand borders.”

Porell was one of three North­eastern stu­dents who attended the 18th United Nations Frame­work Con­ven­tion on Cli­mate Change in Doha, Qatar. The event ran from Nov. 26 to Dec. 8, and con­vened some 19,000 del­e­gates from more than 190 coun­tries to nego­tiate a frame­work for reducing green­house gas emissions.

This was the third year in which a con­tin­gent of North­eastern stu­dents has attended the con­ven­tion. Denise Garcia, an asso­ciate pro­fessor of polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs, has orga­nized each of the experiential-​​learning oppor­tu­ni­ties, which have also included con­fer­ences in Den­mark in 2009 and South Africa in 2011.

“Cli­mate change is the most com­pli­cated area of world pol­i­tics and one of the hardest issues to move along the polit­ical spec­trum,” she said. “By attending the con­ven­tion, stu­dents got a glimpse of how world pol­i­tics works.”

Over the course of the con­fer­ence, the trio of North­eastern par­tic­i­pants net­worked with mem­bers of the global youth con­stituency YOUNGO, some of whom hail from coun­tries in Europe and Middle East; attended panel dis­cus­sions fea­turing promi­nent polit­ical fig­ures such as Ban Ki-​​Moon, the Secretary-​​General of the United Nations; and even co-​​sponsored a side event with the Inter­gov­ern­mental Panel on Cli­mate Change.

Andonis Marden, a fifth-​​year polit­ical sci­ence and inter­na­tional affairs com­bined major who attended the con­fer­ence, is par­tic­u­larly inter­ested in the rela­tion­ship between cli­mate change and migra­tion. Last semester, for example, he col­lab­o­rated with the deputy director of the Geneva Centre for Secu­rity Policy on a research paper focused on the poten­tial impact of cli­mate change on the pop­u­la­tion of Aus­tralia. The paper, which was pub­lished by the Lowy Insti­tute for Inter­na­tional Policy, posits that nat­ural dis­as­ters in the Pacific Islands have the poten­tial to dis­place thou­sands of people, many of whom could end up as envi­ron­mental migrants in Aus­tralia within the next decade.

“Hur­ri­canes and tsunamis could have a sudden impact on vul­ner­able human pop­u­la­tions,” Marden explained, adding that climate-​​induced dis­place­ment affects a dis­pro­por­tionate number of cit­i­zens in devel­oping nations.

Michael Green, a con­fer­ence attendee and fifth-​​year inter­na­tional affairs and envi­ron­mental studies com­bined major, described a poten­tial iter­a­tion of the worst-​​case global warming sce­nario and then offered hope that such a cat­a­strophe would never occur. “There would be mas­sive flooding and mil­lions of people would be forced into becoming cli­mate refugees,” he said, “but we can mit­i­gate and address these chal­lenges now.”

To that end, del­e­gates who attended COP 18 for­mal­ized lan­guage addressing loss and damage as a result of extreme weather events and extended the Kyoto Pro­tocol, a code of con­duct that requires indus­tri­al­ized coun­tries to reduce green­house gas emissions.

Marden, Porell, and Green think big-​​picture envi­ron­mental health, too, but they are also com­mitted to small-​​scale ecofriendly prac­tices. Porell, for example, chooses not to eat meat, citing agriculture’s impact on green­house gas emissions.

“Agri­cul­ture emits more methane into the air than all forms of trans­porta­tion com­bined,” she said.

– by Jason Kornwitz

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