Swarthmore Well-Represented at Paris Climate Talks

"COP21: The Key Issues" panel

This is the third year in which Swarthmore has sent a delegation of official non-governmental organization observers to U.N.-sponsored climate talks. Photo by Dakota Pekerti '16

Swarthmore College is well-represented at what many are calling the most significant climate meeting in history.

Five students and two faculty members are part of an interdisciplinary delegation attending the 21st United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21) in Paris, which began Nov. 30 and concludes on Dec. 11. At the convention, U.N.-member delegations from around the world are hoping to negotiate an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and curb climate change.

The group attending the first week includes Eric Jensen, professor of astronomy and director of the Aydelotte Foundation, Indiana Reid-Shaw ’17, an environmental anthropology major from Hillsborough, N.C., and Dakota Pekerti '16, an engineering major and environmental science minor from Southlake, Tex. Assistant Professor of Political Science Ayse Kaya, Stephen O'Hanlon ’17, a sociology & anthropology and political science major from Downingtown, Pa., Anita Desai ’16, a political science major from Columbus, Ohio, and Nathaniel Graf ’16, a biology and chemistry major from Garnet Valley, Pa., are attending the conference's second week. 

For the students, their trip is the culmination of a class on the climate talks taught this semester by Professor of Environmental Studies Giovanna Di Chiro. The students are expected to keep a research and reflection journal and will co-organize a campus-wide event early next semester to present information about their trip. They are also blogging about their experience throughout the convention

While in Paris, the Swarthmore delegation serve as official non-governmental organization (NGO) observers, a status sought by and granted to the College by the United Nations in 2013. 

O'Hanlon recently told WHYY News that he is excited to meet young climate activists from all over the world at the convention.

"I'm hopeful that young people being at the conference will help to make this agreement as powerful and as effective as it can be," said O'Hanlon, adding that he sees Paris as the kick-off event for a new wave of climate activism.

"The Paris negotiations are representing the first time that world leaders are putting us in a different direction, putting us in a direction away from fossil fuels," he said. "That's a huge victory for our movement." Read the full article.

Christiana Figueres ’79, the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and is tasked with the global response to climate change and global warming and is a key figure in the negotiations.

“We haven’t questioned whether we’re going to get an agreement [in Paris] for many, many months,” she says in a recent interview in The Guardian. “Now the question is how ambitious is the agreement going to be. At the beginning of this year when I started talking about how we are going to get an agreement, people were quizzical. Now I think everybody has accepted that as a fact: we are going to get an agreement, because there is enough political will, increasing political will. It makes fundamental economic sense. It is in countries’ national interests to really spur up this transformation to a low-carbon economy.”  Read the full article.

This is the third year in which Swarthmore has sent a delegation to observe U.N.-sponsored climate talks. Previous groups of students, faculty, and staff have traveled to Lima, Peru, and Warsaw, Poland. This year's trip is supported in part by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

"It is a great opportunity to see first-hand both the possibilities and the difficulties that go towards these types of U.N. conferences," said Di Chiro prior to the 2013 conference in Warsaw. "These students have the rare opportunity to bring these reflections back to our campus to better our community."