Over 40 Yale students and staff members attended the 23rd annual United Nations Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.
The conference, which took place from Nov. 6 to 17, focused on the how the various initiatives of Paris climate agreement can be put into effect. The conference brings together thousands of stakeholders from around the world to engage in negotiations, research and action relating to climate change, attendee Courtney Durham FES ’19 said. Durham and the other Yalies participated in events and sat in on many of the negotiations, she added.
The conference was organized in a dynamic fashion, according to attendee Parfait Gasana FES ’18. Yale participants had the opportunity to interact with representatives from governments, corporations and nonprofits.
“The whole conference is structured so you are able to walk around and figure out what different groups and countries are working on,” Gasana said. “We were able to meet with the governor of California and have a really good one-on-one with him. That could not have happened if we spent the whole conference staying in one location.”
Yale has always maintained a strong presence at the conference, said Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. A large of number of Yale attendees were students from the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, said Catherine Martini FES ’18. While many of the students registered through Yale, some were there to represent either countries or nonprofits, she added.
“Yale has a number of students here, working on different projects,” Martini said. “We are here in a variety of different capacities, wearing a variety of different hats.”
The conference was focused on discussing the rulebook for the Paris climate accord, Martini said. The Paris accord took effect in 2016, a full four years before anyone expected. As a result, the conference was largely procedural, as negotiators worked through the major questions of how exactly the different rules and initiatives in the accord will work, she added.
Ever since President Donald Trump announced the United States would withdraw from the accord, it has been unclear what the U.S.’s role in combatting climate change will be going forward, Leiserowitz said. He added that many of the negotiators from other countries were perplexed by what is happening in the U.S., and they arrived at the conference wondering if Trump’s beliefs represent the beliefs of most Americans, he added.
Leaders from U.S. corporations, state governments, universities and civil society attended the conference and vocalized their commitment to uphold the climate agreement in spite of Trump’s opposition, Leiserowitz said.
“There is one thing that has been clear at Bonn, which is that there are many other actors within the United States, and their key message was, ‘We’re still in,’” he said.
People attended the conference in a variety of different capacities. Gasana said he was there as a supporting member of the Rwandan delegation. Much of the international debate on climate change centers on the experience of large developed countries, he said. Because of this, many of the smaller countries are sometimes forgotten. As a result, he added, small developing countries at the conference advocated for access to technologies that will allow them to advance without using the high-polluting methods many developed countries used in the past.
“Around [the climate change conference’s] time, countries like Rwanda are working very hard to make sure that they are not forgotten and that their concerns are added onto the list of things that the entire world has to care about,” Gasana said.
John Brandt FES ’19, Matthew Moroney FES ’18 and Sophie Janaskie FES ’18 and Yale-NUS professor Angel Hsu received an award at the conference for creating a data-driven project that addressed both climate change and sustainable development.
The first UN Climate Change Conference was held in Berlin in 1995.
Maya Chandra | firstname.lastname@example.org