Earlier this month, a group of Cornellians travelled nearly 4,000 miles to Madrid to attend the United Nations’ Framework Convention on Climate Change — a two-week climate summit that allowed students to brush shoulders with some of the international stage’s biggest names.
Featuring government leaders from around the world, students who went during the second week had the opportunity to meet with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a Democrat who has made aggressive climate change action key to her political pitch.
“We were really lucky. She was making an effort to stop by the universities, and she stopped by our booth,” said Pamela Wildstein ’20, one of the conference attendees. “Speaker Pelosi was very nice. She thanked us for our work in climate action and for dedicating our education to that.”
For the past few years, Cornell has obtained passes for students taking EAS4442: Global Climate Change Science and Policy to attend COP and experience the convention firsthand, Wilstein told The Sun.
But beyond hob-knobbing with some of the world’s top climate policymakers, attending COP25 exposed Wildstein to energy policy on an international scale, which she said informed the work that she plans to do in the future.
“For me, it’s huge because this is the work that I want to do,” Wildstein said. “To see how that process happens and how all of the different parties interact at a global level was really important for me. You hear about COP all the time in my field, but to see COP and be a part of COP is an entirely different story.”
While the United Nations has long garnered a reputation for its bureaucracy and ineffectiveness, one of the main takeaways students had, despite popular perceptions, is that there is plenty of progress and work being made at an international level.
“The interactions that are being made behind the scenes and the networking that happens is so valuable,” Wildstein said. “It’s not all politics. There is a lot of important sharing of information and data from an academic perspective.”
According to Christopher Galantino M.Eng.’19, although the climate-related challenges discussed at COP are part of larger, more complex systems, the conference motivated him to consider how he might incorporate solutions into life back at Cornell.
“Some of the challenges outlined in the conference are extremely systemic,” Galantino said. ”I think you have to push yourself to make a difference in whatever way you think you would be most effective towards sustainable development goals and helping climate change.”
Facing knowledge that five of the warmest years on record have taken place since 2010, the threat of global warming feels more imminent than ever but, according to Galantino, but the conference nevertheless found ways to encourage and inspire.
“It is so hard not to be negative about what is going on, but it’s encouraging when you learn about all of the really cool ways that people are applying technology and policy in very elegant ways,” Galantino said. “The fact that Cornell was able to give us the opportunity to present in an international context is truly an honor.”
At the conference, Cornellians were only with a handful of other universities, and for the most part, were surrounded by delegates and legal policy representatives from around the globe.
Invigorated by the chance to see the workings of climate policy up close, in trying to explain the complexity of climate change policy through a simple metaphor, Galantino encouraged individuals to “act like a bee.”
“Bees are very task-oriented and, [individually], they are not necessarily going to make a big difference with respect to the hive,” Galantino said. “When everyone is working together toward a common goal, the impact that a group can make is substantial.”