Yalies tackle climate change in Cancun

Yale students will be in Cancun, Mexico for the next two weeks, but they will not be lounging at the beach.

The group of about 40 undergraduate and graduate students are heading south to work with international delegations and non-governmental organizations to discuss global climate change. The School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, the Yale Climate and Energy Institute and the Yale Law School have sponsored the students’ participation in the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, which started Monday.

“[The conference is] looking to find a successor to Kyoto Protocol,” said Nico Barawid ’12, a participant from the Environmental Protection Clinic at the Law School.

Yale was granted only 21 passes, so to accommodate the large interest in the conference, the University is sending two groups to attend the two-week conference, each group staying for one week, Erin Schutte ’12 said.

While some Yale students are attending the conference as observers, other students are participating as country delegates, working with country delegations at negotiation tables. Schutte, who applied to a class at the forestry school, is currently in Mexico under the delegation of the Seychelles.

“Over the summer and throughout the semester, I worked with the island nation of Seychelles to secure a position on their delegation and prepare documents for the UN Climate Change Conference,” Schutte said.

Schutte added that she and other Yale delegates attend meetings and report to their ambassadors when needed.

But students attending as observers do not simply sit and watch.

The Climate and Energy Institute allows observers to help organize meetings with delegates for an event that focuses on promoting green buildings and environmentally-sustainable options for developed and developing countries, Chandrika Srivastava ’12 said.

Being an observer at the conference is more than a one-or two-week experience — observing the conference also opens up future opportunities for students through networking events.

“I’m really interested in tracking what India does, so I’m trying to meet with the delegation of India,” said Srivastava.

Wanting Zhang FES ’11, became involved with the conference through her International Organizations and Conferences class. She is working with Islands First, a non-governmental organization that provides policy and legal resources to island delegations, according to Barawid, who is also working for the organization.

Observers have access to some negotiation meetings, but Zhang said that only the executive director of Islands First has access to the more exclusive meetings.

While the six students interviewed expressed excitement about attending the conference, many said that they do not have high hopes for substantial progress, especially in light of last year’s conference in Copenhagen, which produced an agreement that was neither legally binding nor ratified by many developing countries.

“We do not expect a legally binding agreement to be made in Cancun,” Schutte said, voicing the opinion of the Seychelles delegation. “However, we are hopeful that progress can be made on certain issues.”

The Climate Change Conference runs from Nov. 29 until Dec. 10. In 2011 it will be held in Durban, South Africa.

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