Dozens of University students, professors and alumni are among the thousands of people heading to Copenhagen, Denmark today to participate in the United Nation’s COP15 Climate Change Conference.

Nearly 100 world leaders are expected to descend upon the Danish capital for what is being billed as one of the most important climate talks of the last few years. While the conference isn’t expected to yield any major binding treaties, many of the world’s worst polluters — including the United States, India and China — are expected to make major concessions on emissions. The University’s delegation, and others like it, will serve as a watchdog on this process, providing — United Nations officials believe — more transparency for the talks.

The conference, which runs today through Dec. 18, will bring together representatives from 192 countries to discuss policies that would limit carbon emissions around the world.

The University delegation, which has more than 40 members, including students and faculty from Alma College — a small school in the center of Michigan — will be one of over 985 non-governmental organizations attending the conference. The delegation has been granted observer status, which means members will be permitted to sit in on all of the official deliberations.

Ricky Rood, a professor of Atmosphere, Oceanic and Space Sciences, is leading the University delegation. Rood said the University is just one of the many to be granted observer status.

Rood said these observer groups are in place because the United Nations wants to protect the conference’s credibility.

“If you go and look at the all of the observers you would find a range of universities. You would find some NGO advocacy groups, you might find some trade groups, some trade associations,” Rood said. “But, essentially, it’s a mechanism to ensure transparency to the process.”

When the members of the University delegation are not at the conference’s official events, they said they would be at various side events in Copenhagen that will focus on different aspects of the climate change debate.

Each University participant will be attending and volunteering at side events that pertain to his or her studies and interests.

Engineering senior Aubrey Ann Parker said she would be going to events that focus on global warming’s effect on the world’s water supply. She said that while she’s there she will also be blogging for the Detroit Free Press.

“I will be covering the intersections of how water and climate change are related — (things like) agriculture and irrigation and torrential storms and El Niño and recent storms like Hurricane Katrina. Things like that that are attributed in great part to global climate change,” she said.

Rackham graduate student Nicholas Parker, meanwhile, said he is going to Copenhagen because he’s interested in international development and how developing countries handle abiding by climate change policies.

“My research is geared towards the adaptation side of things — how developing nations are going to adapt and they’re going to fund adaptation activities. And not just developing nations, but here at home,” he said. “So, where the money is going to be coming from and how it’s going to be spent. Those are some serious questions that are unresolved right now.”

Originally, organizers of the conference had hoped to produce a binding resolution that would limit carbon emissions to curb climate change and stop rising sea levels. It’s expected, however, that world leaders will not sign a final agreement this year, but rather an interim one, with the plan to convene again in 2010 to sign a binding treaty.

Despite this, leaders are optimistic as the United States, China and India — three of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases — have each made commitments to substantially lower their emissions.

Rood said, however, that he isn’t sure the emissions reductions goals are the best options in the fight against climate change.

“It would be a wonderful thing, if we did in fact make some real progress on reducing emissions,” Rood said. “My biggest concern is that those goals — while they would be admirable almost to show we can do it in and of themselves — they don’t reduce the emissions enough to have large consequences on the climate.”

Instead, Rood said he hopes the leaders focus on short-term goals in terms of carbon emissions reduction that are more attainable, instead of long-term goals that many scientists say are unreachable.

“What I would like to see is strong solid commitments to the things that we know that would work, which for the most part would also save money, which is efficiency,” Rood said. “We have to develop technology to make alternative energy sources viable.”

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