Swarthmore Delegation Heads to International Climate Change Conference

Benjamin Goloff '15

“We need humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences together on this issue," says Benjamin Goloff '15. "We don’t have time to not address it in a holistic way.”

Swarthmore is once again sending a delegation of students, faculty, and staff to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), aiming to strengthen the College’s role in the international climate movement.

The interdisciplinary delegation will travel to Lima, Peru, tomorrow to observe and interact with fellow non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and activist groups at the two-week conference. It’s a chance to both lend a voice and listen.

“The UNFCC conference will establish groundwork for a new, potentially sweeping international agreement on curbing carbon emissions,” says Benjamin Goloff ’15, an environmental governance and social change special major and biology major from New York City.

“It will bring together activists and indigenous groups from around the world to organize, place pressure on world leaders," adds Christopher Chalaka ’15, an environmental studies special major and biology major from Mukilteo, Wash., "and use the disruption that is climate change to demand equity and a just transition.”

The delegation includes Goloff, Chalaka, Zoë Cina-Sklar’ 15, Laura Rigell ’16, Director of Sustainability Laura Cacho, Eugene M. Lang Visiting Professor for Issues of Social Change Giovanna Di Chiro, and Assistant Professor of Political Science Ayse Kaya. Drawing from a wide cross-section of the College was no accident.

“This isn’t a science issue, or a policy issue, or a sustainability issue, in the narrow sense,” says Goloff. “We need humanities and social sciences and natural sciences together on this issue. We don’t have time to not address it in a holistic way.”

A student-run committee led by Di Chiro, Vice President for College and Community Relations Maurice Eldridge '61, and former President Rebecca Chopp began the process of applying for United Nations NGO observer status in the spring of 2012. Di Chiro, whose research focuses on the intersections of environmental science and policy, submitted the application on behalf of the College, which the United Nations approved.

A year ago, Swarthmore sent a delegation to the UNFCC in Warsaw, Poland. This year represents the next step, in which delegation members will seek to strengthen their alliances in the campaign to move away from fossil fuel-based economies.

“As an international body with the mission of combatting climate change, the UNFCC is a key forum for propelling this transition to a more just and sustainable world,” says Cina-Sklar, an honors political science major from Eugene, Ore., who researched the history and impacts of oil extraction in Ecuador last summer.

The delegation will have access to any state representative, activist organization, or academic expert at the conference and the numerous side events hosted every day, and will meet with Christiana Figueres '79, executive secretary of the UNFCC. It can also sit in on the official United Nations sessions, featuring nearly 200 delegates and NGOs discussing the ways to reduce emissions and enforce the Kyoto Protocol.

The delegation is eager to return with fresh perspectives from around the world to influence Swarthmore’s approach to sustainability. The faculty plans to incorporate UNFCC legwork into the curriculum and in broader conversations across campus. A half-credit course this spring will prepare students interested in joining a delegation to next year’s UNFCC in Paris, which could see an international agreement reached on “legally binding emissions targets to prevent catastrophic climate change,” says Di Chiro.

“We want to catalyze energy and mobilize the students,” says Goloff, “whether that’s excitement about the conferences or frustration with the disconnect between what we need to do to avert a real crisis and what’s actually happening.”

“Our students are smart, driven, and widely experienced,” adds Professor of English Literature Betsy Bolton, a supporter and organizer of the delegation. “They have an important role to play at the UNFCC, here on campus, and in their future work toward climate resilience and climate justice.”

Visit the delegation's blog for updates on the conference, beginning this weekend.