Emory students promote youth power at UN climate conference


Emory students helped raise the profile of young activists at this year’s United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, better known as the COP, in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

A delegation of five undergraduate students and four graduate students from Emory, led by Eri Saikawa, associate professor of environmental science, attended the first week of the COP as official UN observers . They participated in the negotiations and co-hosted a side event with the Climate Justice Program called “Youth: From Resistance to Power”. The event included a panel discussion by four young activists – from Pakistan, Kenya, Mexico and the Philippines – followed by an interactive networking event led by Emory students.

“It’s inspiring and energizing to see so many young people raising their voices and pushing for climate action,” says Saikawa.

Saikawa began leading students in his climate change and society class to the annual Global Climate Talks in 2015, when the COP was held in Paris. That year, nearly 200 member countries crafted the Paris Agreement, aimed at keeping the global average temperature increase to no more than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Student delegates shared what they learned during this year’s COP at an on-campus event titled “Climate Conversations: Moving Towards Global Justice.” They will also produce podcasts on different aspects of COP for the Emory Climate Talks AmpliFIRE series.

Here are brief summaries of the experiences and perspectives of four of Emory’s undergraduate students who traveled to Egypt for COP.

“Right after landing in Sharm el-Sheikh, we took our badges and headed to the conference,” says Gabriela Rucker, an environmental science graduate in social science and policy. “It was exciting to be immersed among 45,000 people working to find solutions to the climate crisis.”

Her interest in sustainable agriculture brought her to the Food Systems Pavilion. She learned about farmer compensation programs for the preservation of ecosystems and the increasing use of algae as a nutrient. “It was cool, right off the bat, to hear about these food solutions.”

Rucker is a member of the Plastic-Free Emory working group and enjoyed insights from Eric Njuguna, an activist from Kenya, at the “Youth: From Resistance to Power” event. “The United States exports a significant amount of plastics and other recycling products overseas, where they end up in landfills and become another country’s problem,” she says. “Eric Njuguna spoke about his experiences with US waste. It’s important for people in the United States to understand where our trash goes when we throw it away. »

The relationships she made during COP were a highlight for Rucker. “I met a lot of passionate and motivated young people,” she says. “We have our careers ahead of us, so connecting with other young people to find out where they want to go and what they want to work on has been invaluable.”

Rucker is currently an intern at a solar energy development company. “My dream job would be to build solar power plants to provide clean electricity to the United States,” she says. “Over the next 20 years, we need to build a significant amount of renewable energy infrastructure.”

In the end, COP further fueled his optimism. “I generally have great hopes for the progress of mankind,” Rucker says. “I have witnessed throughout my life people working towards a cleaner and fairer society. My hope comes from the people who do the work to make this vision a reality.

“For me, the best part of COP was attending events hosted by civic groups advocating for energy justice, which is the kind of work I want to do,” says Jack Miklaucic, a graduate in environmental sciences and philosophy, politics and law. . “They were run by some really cool people who aren’t afraid to call out the fossil fuel companies and speak truth to power. I hope their examples will make me a more effective activist in the future.

Miklaucic plans to attend law school and hopes to make a career out of ensuring that utility companies and other energy providers are better regulated. “I want my work to have a direct and positive impact on society,” he says.

“Improving fuel efficiency is a big win for everyone,” Miklaucic adds. “It will improve people’s lives economically, climate-wise and health-wise. We are already seeing a move towards more energy efficiency, which inspires us to keep working towards more.

He is optimistic about climate solutions. “We are looking at a 3 to 4 degree Celsius increase in global average temperature a few years ago and that’s no longer likely,” he said. “It’s important to stay focused on what kind of impact we can have, because every tenth of a degree counts for the kind of world we’re going to live in.”

Miklaucic appreciated the international perspective he gained through COP. “It was interesting to learn how climate activism is different around the world,” he says. “In some places they are persecuted and outright killed for what they do. It made me realize that while it can sometimes be frustrating to work for energy justice in the United States, it’s also a much safer place to do it.

Clare McCarthy has a degree in environmental science in the area of ​​community development and social change. She is also pursuing the 4+1 BS/MPH in Environmental Health at the Rollins School of Public Health. She started learning how the climate crisis is a social justice issue while in high school. It made him feel guilty realizing how people in the Global South tend to suffer disproportionately from the greatest impacts of climate change as opposed to more privileged people in his hometown, where climate change felt distant.

“That guilt paralyzed me,” she recalls, “until I came to Emory, when I decided to act.” McCarthy is involved in efforts to hold the Emory administration accountable for stronger climate action through the Emory Climate Coalition and the Emory Climate Reality Project.

The COP has helped to strengthen its interest in loss and damage, or the adverse effects of climate change, as well as the adaptation efforts of local communities. She learned more about these issues by talking with leaders of non-governmental organizations, such as the Bangladesh-based International Center for Climate Change and Development.

“Loss and damage and how to address it became a topical issue for the first time at this year’s COP,” McCarthy said. “Although it’s great to see this, it can’t be celebrated as a final victory because he’s way behind schedule and there’s still a lot of work to do.”

The countries of the South ask the countries of the North to put in place a mechanism for financing the recovery after the economic and health impacts due to climatic events. “They want the money to be payments and not loans because then they’ll be in debt,” McCarthy said.

She envisions a career internationally or in the United States to help communities build their capacity to respond to climate change.

“It gives me hope to meet so many awesome people working on solutions,” McCarthy says. “The passion and dedication of my fellow activists, here at Emory and in communities around the world, keep me going.”

“A lot of people associate environmental science with government policy, but I’ve always been interested in business as a way to create social change,” says Jackson Pentz, an economics and science graduate. environment in social science and policy. Pentz is also a member of the Environmental Management Program at Goizueta Business School.

At COP, he was impressed to learn that companies competing for market share are actually collaborating on sustainability. “Many companies are finding that to address sustainability issues, they need to pool research and development funding and share knowledge,” he says. “The private sector takes sustainability seriously and can come together faster and more effectively than governments.”

Pentz already has a job planned after graduating in May. He will work as a business consultant at McKinsey and Company, specializing in sustainability and natural resources.

Thinking about the climate crisis on a global, or even national, level can make you feel powerless, he says. “But if you zoom in on individuals or organizations on a smaller scale, you start to see a lot of positive actions that can be replicated to have a bigger impact,” he adds.

At the “Youth: Resistance to Power” event, Pentz was encouraged by remarks from Ayisha Saddiqa, a young climate justice activist who grew up in Pakistan as a member of an indigenous community.

“She told us that young people should not feel responsible for saving the world. It’s obviously too big of a burden,” says Pentz. “But she feels personally responsible for working to help her community. If everyone does something manageable to help those around them, that’s how you start a social movement and collective action to make things better on a global scale.


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