Swarthmore has made it a mission to lead in the climate change movement: The College was one of the first to adopt a carbon charge, hosted a workshop at the recent Global Climate Action Summit, and has committed to being a zero-waste campus by 2022.
Beginning Saturday, Swarthmore will further exercise its commitment to combating climate change by sending six students, two faculty members, and a staff member to Katowice, Poland, where they will attend the 24th annual international climate negotiations.
These negotiations, which will take place Dec. 3–14, are known as the Conference of the Parties (COP24) and facilitated by the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Leaders from more than 20 countries will convene to discuss policies and actions that address climate change on a global scale.
“It’s the only intergovernmental platform in the world where all nations can assemble and discuss how to adapt to and mitigate climate change,” says Eriko Shrestha ’19, a political science and environmental studies double major from Nepal.
Christopher Graves, an associate professor of synthetic inorganic chemistry and environmental studies; Amos Frye ’19, an honors economics and environmental studies major from Fairport, N.Y.; Shana Herman ’19, an environmental policy and conservation biology special major from Villanova, Pa.; Marianne Lotter-Jones ’19, a biology major from Hampshire, England; and Brittni Teresi ’19, an honors psychology and environmental studies major from Las Vegas, will attend the first week of the negotiations, in which countries will focus on climate adaptation and finance.
During the second week, English Literature Professor and Department Chair Betsy Bolton; Sustainability Program Manager Melissa Tier ’14; Saadiq Garba ’19, a biology major from Washington, D.C.; and Shrestha will sit in on discussions surrounding progress in implementing the Paris Agreement.
Funded by the President's Climate Commitment Fund and the Lang Center for Civic & Social Responsibility, this trip marks the fifth consecutive year that Swarthmore is sending a delegation to these international climate negotiations. The College started sending a delegation in 2013 after a student-run committee completed an application for nongovernmental organization (NGO) observer status. Environmental Studies Professor Giovanna Di Chiro, who helped lead the committee, submitted the application on their behalf, after which it was approved by the United Nations.
Bolton and Tier have witnessed Swarthmore’s commitment to COP evolve since the beginning. Yet, for both of them, COP24 is particularly special, as it is their first opportunity to actually attend the negotiations.
“After years of reading about the UNFCCC,” says Bolton, “I’m intensely curious to see how the negotiations appear in real time.”
COP24 is expected to be especially important, as it will address whether countries are on target to uphold commitments made in the 2015 Paris Agreement—an international pledge formed during COP21 to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius. Not only will it address the efficacy of the Paris Agreement, but it will also be the first conference since an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report was released in October about the unprecedented changes that could occur as a result of global warming.
Lotter-Jones is excited about COP24 because of the critical issues it is forced to address.
“I am really intrigued to actually see representatives from every country coming together and how they navigate other political issues when faced with climate change that threatens us all,” she says. “How much will our world leaders recognize the call for immediate action?”
At the conference, students and faculty will have the opportunity to observe the negotiations between global leaders and to attend events happening alongside COP24. The side events are run by activists and NGOs as an opportunity to boost climate action and gain momentum surrounding climate change issues.
“I am looking forward to forming new relationships with people that I meet there, and to observing which topics and actions Swarthmore students and other youth delegates find themselves most passionate about,” says Tier.
In preparation for the conference, each student participated in a half-credit course led by Graves and Bolton.
“The goal of our class was to lay out the structure of the COP and to prepare students the best we could to navigate the many different arenas of the conference,” says Graves. “In this way we hoped to lower the learning curve for the students and let them get as much out of the experience as possible.”
Through the course, each student developed their own research question to provide a focus for the many conversations taking place at the conference. While the research topic will provide personal direction and growth throughout COP24, for some students like Shrestha, it also provides another opportunity for global scholarship and engagement.
“My topic is climate migration, something of increasing significance as island-nations and low-lying nations sink with rising sea levels,” says Shrestha. “I will be helping the Ministry of Forestry and Environment of Nepal. … They’ve faced budget cuts and cannot afford to send many representatives” to COP24.
Starting Dec. 3, when the negotiations officially launch, delegates will be keeping a blog in which community members can write in questions and comments to which delegates will respond at the negotiations. Community members are also encouraged to follow the delegation on social media using #SwatCOP24. A video call with the delegates at the negotiations will be held at 2 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 6, in the McCabe Popular Reading Room.
“Swarthmore’s mission includes ‘education for the common good,’” says Tier. “I hope that engagement with global climate negotiations helps provide the Swarthmore community with the context and ambition to push forward here at home.”