University group plans Paris trip to observe climate talks

Monday, November 23, 2015 - 7:47pm

A team of eight University students and two faculty members will travel to Paris for two weeks at the beginning of December to observe the process of negotiating a new treaty to address climate change.

The team will attend the United Nations' Conference of Parties, with representatives from more than 190 countries and nongovernmental organizations, including other universities.

The COP will focus on creating a treaty to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2020. The Kyoto Protocol is an international agreement that was adopted in 1997 at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to create binding emission reduction standards. The conference in Paris will also focus on reducing emissions.

“The Conference of Parties happens every single year, and broadly its role is to help nations around the world to work to figure out how to reduce or manage our impact on the environment,” said Engineering sophomore Allison Hogikyan, a member of the team. “This particular COP we need to rewrite the international agreement.”

Hogikyan said the main reason the UN allows observing parties to attend the COP is to increase the transparency of the event.

“The UN wants this content not to happen in a black box,” Hogikyan said. “They want people around the world to know what’s happening, so they invite these people to come as observers.”

Engineering senior Matthew Irish, who will also be attending the COP, said it will be one of the most important negotiations looking into the future of climate change.

The team of University students and faculty will attend as observers, meaning they will get to sit in on all of the negotiations over the course of the two-week conference. Though the team members will be able to voice their opinions, they will ultimately not be considered when the countries come to an agreement.  

The team will update a website and social media outlets throughout their time at the conference. Irish said they hope to raise awareness for what is happening by bringing their first-hand observations back to campus.

“We are trying to actually bring back some information that will help our whole University community to have a really good ear for what’s going on,” he said. “A big part of us coming back home is letting people know what we think of the agreement.”

Additionally, the University was recently one of 218 universities to sign the American Campus Act on Climate Pledge, which maintains the campuses’ commitment to sustainability in light of the upcoming COP.

Discussing how the COP will affect the University’s environmental policies, Irish said the policies cannot directly influence the University, but would make for an interesting comparison.

“This international agreement wouldn’t directly tell the University you have to do anything,” he said. “We have all these goals and it would be interesting to compare them to the goals that are set by different countries coming out of this agreement.”

Irish added that he wishes they were more progressive.

“My personal opinion is we are not doing quite enough,” he said. “We are just going with the flow. We are just kind of doing what will now be required for all utilities in the U.S., but I think that is going to change.”

Overall, Irish said he looks forward to the opportunity to see such an important deal negotiated.

“I’m just really excited to be there and see it all happen firsthand,” Irish said. “I’m really apprehensive. If you judge by the past, things don’t look good, but I think people realize the gravity of the situation. I’m nervous to see what happens but I’m really, really excited."