While some students battled prelim round two on campus, seven Cornell students spent their week mingling with key figures at this year’s United Nations Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany.
At the conference, students were able to interact with global leaders as they drafted strategies to reach the ambitious goals to deal with climate change in the second round of talks after the Paris Agreement in 2013.
As some of the few delegates from U.S. universities, the students participated in events focused on various climate-related topics such as the dynamics of renewable energy.
During negotiations, leaders made some progress refining rules that will help verify whether countries are actually reducing emissions as promised in the Paris Agreement, The New York Times reported Saturday. But overall, countries still have to finalize the rules for another climate discussion next year.
Students at the talks regretted that, while important foundations for future climate progress was established, little substantial progress was made overall at COP23.
“I can’t help but feel that many of the proposed initiatives were far too moderate,” Elizabeth Chi ’18 said. The negotiations, she said, failed to address some of the “fundamental drivers of climate change,” such as the materialism and consumerism in the developed world.
Nevertheless, Chi said, the tone of the discourse was hopeful at the event and students were encouraged by the events at the conference.
“I have learned an incredible amount from my experiences,” Daniel Holod ’18 said. “[The] insight I gained from the experiences will be very strong stepping stones for my career and academic goals in sustainability.”
Holod said, reflecting on the conference in retrospect, he is hopeful that he can continue participating in the movement toward a sustainable and safe world for future generations.
Specifically, he said that he could now apply much of what he learned in Germany to the topics being researched in his thesis on climate-smart agriculture.
Christina Yin ’18, who has a background in environmental governance and sustainable development, wanted to learn firsthand how these topics play out on an international scale.
“I came into the conference very interested in how a nation currently experiencing some of the very tangible effects of climate change would steer the discussions,” Yin said. “Moving forward, I am curious to learn about how local American leaders and representatives of U.S. climate action will not only promote sustainability from the bottom up, but also play a role in the global scene and collaborate with all other countries.”
Besides watching the American leaders, Marc Alessi ’18 was amazed by just how many world leaders he was surrounded by throughout the conference including the leader of the Inuit tribe and the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.
He said that representatives from some countries joked about the United States’ role in the conference because the Trump administration’s opposing interests.
However, the Cornell students present attempted to shift the mindset concerning the United States’ perceived lack of commitment to reversing climate change.
“We were representing Cornell, but we were also representing America while we were there,” Alessi said. “At the end, I felt more confident on America’s position as a leader in strategizing for climate science. I definitely think that the world saw that.”
Alessi said that despite the controversy about the current administration’s stance on sustainability, he felt more optimistic after seeing American companies push for climate change in collaboration with countries around the world.
He said that Trump’s election reinforced the push for global unity and interdependence.
“The extent of unity that I saw was all of these people from different countries and businesses interacting with each other,” Alessi said. “They were literally shaping the world [right] in front of me.”