UConn Office of Environmental Policy

Promoting sustainability at UConn


Leave a comment

2020 Vision Student Summit Reflections

On Wednesday February 22nd, the Office of Environmental Policy (OEP) hosted the 2020 Vision Student Summit, with the goal of obtaining student opinions on the UConn administration’s new plans to increase campus sustainability. Approximately 25 to 30 students attended and deliberated over how we can meet the Vision’s goals, as well as even more ambitious goals we can set for the future. In groups of 3-4, students discussed initiatives for topics ranging from transportation and purchasing to energy to food and waste management. During each group session, OEP interns recorded ideas for achieving our goals and setting new ones. Students then voted on which ideas seemed most plausible and impactful. Here are some pertinent reflections on the event written by student attendees:

IMG_1818

Students gather to discuss 2020 Vision goals

 

“The specific goals of the 2020 Vision Plan appeared ambitious at first glance, and I was somewhat skeptical going into the meeting. Attending the summit and hearing that some of the goals set have already essentially been reached, however, such as the plan to reduce potable water consumption by 30% (UConn is currently at 29% if I recall correctly), altered that feeling dramatically. I’m far more optimistic about the eventual achievement of these goals, and excited for them to come to fruition.” – Sophie Macdonald

“From transportation to purchasing, dining to water, the school has people working in every possible way. Not only that, even though considerable strides have already been made towards a more sustainable campus, the dedication to the cause never waivers and there are always new objectives in sight.” – Emma Belliveau

“My favorite part was when I was in a small group with 2 other people and 2 interns and we were posed with the challenge of figuring out how to maintain the HEEP on campus. I felt very passionate about this because of all my personal experiences maintaining outdoor areas like parks and wooded fields, and doing trail work.” – Kelly Finn

2020 vision for campus sustainability and climate leadership

Overview of the plan’s components

“The… section that stood out to me was the outreach and engagement section. One of the goals under this section is to formalize UCONN@COP as “a co-curricular, experiential learning and leadership development program…” I personally love this initiative because after attending the Climate Café, I realized what a great opportunity this trip would be. There is no better way for students to learn about climate change than to attend the global conference dedicated to the issue, and UCONN should recognize the program for the opportunity that it is.” – Matthew McKenna

“At the UConn 2020 Vision Plan Student Summit, it became clear to me that at UConn, sustainability is not just a buzzword or a label the university uses to pat itself on the back. Rather, sustainability is a mode of operation and a system of values that governs policymaking and is upheld by an interdisciplinary team of passionate students and professional leaders.” – Weston Henry

“What the 2020 Summit did for me was to give me a more comprehensive understanding of the efforts that UConn undertakes, past, present, and future. It helped me to understand why UConn undertakes certain efforts, why it doesn’t take up others, and how the work of the OEP and its staff is able to shape UConn every single day.” – Colin Mortimer

“I was absolutely blown away by the sense of creativity and motivation that I felt while we were all discussing the different ideas for UConn’s 2020 Vision. I deeply enjoyed the presentation by Director Richard Miller because he gave many fascinating details that I was not aware of beforehand. I am certainly proud of our university for ranking in the top ten on two separate sustainability indexes.” – Joshua Tellier


Leave a comment

UConn@COP23 – Bonn Climate Change Conference

Trip Description

COP 23 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and will be hosted this year by the small Pacific island state, Fiji, and held in Bonn, Germany from November 6 th to November 17th, 2017. The event will bring together diplomats, business executives, heads of government and other delegates to discuss action on climate change. COP 23 will highlight the voices of countries most vulnerable to climate change, and will focus on action.

In the words of Fiji Prime Minister and Chair of COP 23, Frank Bainimarama, he will be “guiding the deliberations of almost 200 countries as [they] gather in Bonn, Germany, in November to continue to seek a more decisive response on the part of the industrial nations….And to set aside funds to enable developing countries such as Fiji to adapt to the changes to their way of life that have been caused through no fault of [their] own.”1

The University of Connecticut will be providing full funding, excluding meals other than breakfast, for a select group of undergraduate students to travel to Bonn from November 12th – November 18th to attend events associated with the conference. Airfare, housing, and city transportation will be provided. In addition, students will have the opportunity to experience the beautiful city of Bonn, Germany.

Application

The application must be completed and submitted to sarah.munro@uconn.edu by 11:59pm EST on Monday, April 3rd in order to be considered by the Selection Committee for the trip. Only complete applications will be considered. Applicants will be notified of the Committee’s decision via e-mail on Monday, August 18th. Decisions will not be released prior to then.

For more information on past UConn@COPs, click here.

1 http://www.fiji.gov.fj/Media-Center/Speeches/HON-PRIME-MINISTER-BAINIMARAMA-2017-NEW-YEAR-S-MES.aspx


Leave a comment

UConn Talks Climate at the Climate Change Cafe

IMG_1808

Margaux Verlaque-Amara talking to an attendee about her experiences at COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco.

In early February, the UConn contingent to COP22 in Marrakech, Morocco, hosted its Climate Change Café, an opportunity for the UConn community to learn about their experiences at the UN Climate Change Conference. Through conversations and a series of posters made by the students, those in attendance were able to learn more about climate change, global politics, and human rights, and how they are all connected. A number of attendees wrote thoughtful reflections describing their experiences at the Café. Below are some highlights from the reflections:

The idea that every country can get together to talk about the future of sustainability shows that this is bigger than a political issue. It is a human issue. –Joshua Tellier

Attending a conference like COP would help me get a better grasp on the impact of climate change both in America and in other countries, and this would help me in my studies and my career. –Matthew McKenna

Poster.JPG

One of the posters on display at the Climate Change Cafe. Written and designed by Kristen Burnham.

The best aspect of the Café…was the students who were there to explain their posters and talk firsthand about the issues surrounding climate change. –Weston Henry

“36 of the 50 countries most affected by climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa”. This fact was posted on one of the 15+ informational posters in the room. Although a region with mostly developing nations, of which only contribute “4% of global carbon emissions”, this area of Africa experiences some of the most severe effects of environmental degradation. –Kelly Finn

Attending this event was deeply inspiring, and gave me hope for the future. –Sophie MacDonald

UConnatCOP22.png

The UConn contingent to COP22 outside the Green Zone.

It was awesome to learn that such an opportunity exists to travel somewhere completely different, so far away and with such a unique culture, to interact with fellow students and activists who have the same mission. –Emma Belliveau

The continuation of the COP22 event and the positivity and hope exhibited from delegates and world citizens alike, prove that resistance, even in the direst situations, is both possible and relevant. –Wawa Gatheru

The future is truly bright green, and the continuing support of UConn to give students the resources and experience to be future pioneers of this change reaffirms this. –Colin Mortimer


Leave a comment

First Ever Carbon-Free UConn Basketball Games!

carbon-free-certificateEvery spring, volunteers from the EcoHusky student group and EcoHouse learning community come together to raise environmental awareness at Basketball Green Game Days. By teaching fans how to recycle, and collecting bottles at the end of the game, volunteers always play an integral role in making these events “green.” This year’s Green Game Days were special because, for the very first time, the Office of Environmental Policy purchased carbon offsets to make the games carbon-free!

Carbon offsets are credits purchased that represent the reduction of an amount of carbon dioxide emissions. In cases such as powering a basketball game, where it is difficult or impossible to reduce associated emissions, a carbon offset can be purchased to fund the reduction of greenhouse gases elsewhere. This is a great tool for organizations that would like to mitigate their carbon impacts, but when it is not feasible for them to do so directly.

twitter-postWe would like to thank all of our volunteers for their time and enthusiasm. With their help, we were able to collect enough bottles to donate $40 to the Campus Sustainability Fund to support more programs and initiatives to raise environmental awareness. We would also like to thank UConn Athletics for their time and effort to promote sustainability. We greatly appreciate the P.A. announcements, video board slides, and social media posts throughout the events. We look forward to working with you at future Green Game Days!


Leave a comment

2020 Vision: Grounds, Open Space, and Conservation Areas

As part of UConn’s 2020 Vision for Campus Sustainability and Climate Leadership, the university is devoted to creating more naturally-landscaped open spaces through the expansion of the Hillside Environmental Education Park (HEEP), the implementation of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), and increasing passive and active open spaces.

heep

HEEP Trail Map (UConn MediaShare)

The HEEP is the result of the Landfill Project, an environmental remediation project the university undertook from the 1990s to the 2000s, and included the construction of C-Lot, which caps the old landfill. The park is a preservation of about 33 acres of wetlands and 31 acres of uplands, and an additional 101 acres have been added following the construction of the new entrance, Discovery Drive, resulting in 165 acres of vernal pools, wetlands, riparian zones, and uplands. The construction of the new road involved extensive planning to preserve the surrounding area, including implementing wildlife tunnels under the road large enough for deer, Cape Cod curbs that make it easier for amphibians to climb out of the road, curved barriers to deter migrating wildlife from going across the road, and is a reduced-salt zone. The 101 acres surrounding the area provide a natural barrier to protect both the wetland and woodland networks. Recreational trails, management of invasive species and educational signage throughout the area have been implemented and will be improved upon within the next few years.

Additionally, UConn is committed to using the Sustainable Sites Initiative, either independently or in conjunction with LEED, on capital projects to develop landscapes in as beneficial and measurable ways as buildings. This program is based on the premise that land is a critical part of the built environment and can be “planned, designed, developed, and maintained to protect and enhance the benefits derived from healthy, functioning landscapes” (SITES).

existing-conditions-and-proposed-conditions

UConn Campus Master Plan Executive Summary

The preservation of natural systems and resources while creating open spaces is another way UConn is achieving its 2020 vision. The UConn Campus Master plan includes the creation of woodland corridors for both north and south campuses to connect wildlife populations separated by human activities. These pedestrian-oriented spaces will provide a natural landscape, facilitating stormwater runoff re-absorption. Additionally, 35-acres of farm land will be added to Spring Manor farm as a result of the agricultural land that was lost during the construction of Charter Oak Apartments and Discovery Drive. Wooded acres will transition back to agricultural production and will provide more land for crop rotation, an important factor for soil conservation management practices. Returning the land to agricultural production is also an important step in maintaining the University’s land-grant heritage.

 


Leave a comment

UConn@COP22 Green Zone

The UConn contingent attended a number of panels at the COP22 Green Zone, each of which discussed unique, current topics associated with climate change action. As detailed below, the students noticed a few recurring themes throughout the panels, such as economics, human rights, culture, as well as voice and representation:

“We are only trustees for those that come after us.” Wyatt Million

The American Approach Stephanie Hubli

Collaboration Among Nations Eddie McInerney

The World Won’t Wait Ben Breslau

The Privilege of Prevention and Necessity of Mitigation Kristin Burnham

The French Influence Hannah Casey

Climate Change Policy and Human Rights Discussion Klara Reisch

When Climate Action Conflicts With Human Rights Usra Qureshi

Trade Unions: The Champions of Renewable Energy Kristin Burnham

 

“We are only trustees for those that come after us.”

Wyatt Million, Student, Biological Sciences

The conference theme for our group’s first full day in the Green Zone at COP22 was Financing, featuring numerous concurrent sessions about topics like funding alternative energy projects and the price of carbon. While such topics are not the first thing I think about as an environmental scientist, I realize that money is the driving force behind most things, and that financial considerations are critical factors for combatting climate change and achieving sustainability goals. However, I found myself wandering away from the economic jargon at these meetings and exploring what the rest of COP22 had to offer.

EEB COP 22 Marrakech.JPG

Representatives from the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Marrakech’s Atlas Mountains

Turning a corner, I heard a presentation about the effects of sea level rise on cultural identity. The International National Trust Organization (INTO) out of Great Britain was hosting an event highlighting the heritage loss that is associated with climate change. The fate of island nations such as Kiribati, whose elevation is less than three meters on most islands, are most at risk from increasing sea levels. In addition to losing the land and homes these indigenous people need to survive, the culture that is tied to their homes will be drowned out. The presenters showed INTO’s research on the importance of cultural identity to a person’s health and wellbeing and the significant sociological impacts of cultural loss.

This aspect of climate change is often overshadowed by the scientific and economic topics, but I found it compelling to more holistically consider the services supplied by the environment. The presenter went on to quote English novelist and poet from the 1800s, William Morris, stating, “They are not in any sense our own property to do with as we like with them. We are only trustees for those that come after us.” He said this concerning historical buildings and artifacts passed down from one generation to the next, but when I heard this, I immediately applied it to the environment. Our current society should be the guardians of the environment for the future, not the destroyers of it. As Morris says, it was passed on to us but it does not belong to us to do with as we please. The environment will forever belong to future generations.

 

The American Approach

Stephanie Hubli, Student, Environmental Engineering

IMG_1864.JPG

United States representative from the White House discussing how the federal government is leading by example by transforming its own vehicle fleet to ZEVs and LEVs. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

At first, I will admit I was initially disappointed at the lack of representation I saw from the United States at COP22.  It seemed as though my discontent with America’s next choice President elect and my reservations about the next four years were traveling to Morocco with me.  As the week progressed, I became a little more open minded and inspired.  At COP-related events, I met students from the University of Minnesota, Columbia University, and University of Central Arkansas, and I attended panel discussions featuring U.S. representatives.

There was one panel in particular that was of interest to me. It consisted of delegates from countries that have agreed to cut back on their carbon emissions through transportation initiatives.  French and American panelists identified similar objectives with differing policy strategies.  Both countries stressed the role of reducing vehicle emissions in reaching the 2030 carbon reduction targets.  The French delegate described an approach that required change: for example, rental car companies are mandated to incorporate low emission and electric vehicles into their fleets.  On the other hand, the U.S. delegate advocated for an approach focused not on directives but on leading by example in order to transform the transportation sector.  The U.S. representative explained the American methodology is to use the government’s own federal fleet vehicle purchases as a catalyst for companies and the public to follow suit.  In a country that was built upon the principles of liberty, such a method should prove more effective. Obtaining an understanding of these government policies, I am encouraged and hopeful for the future of the United States’ climate control intervention.

 

Collaboration Among Nations

Eddie McInerney, Student, Political Science

Before applying to attend COP22 in Marrakech, I had done some preliminary research with an advisor on the previous COP, studying the equity implications of emissions reductions goals by different countries. In particular, we focused on members of the G20, and did a case study of the Nationally Determined Contributions by Mexico, the United States, and Japan. At the time, I lamented that even with the President’s progressive take on climate change, the plan for reductions submitted to the UNFCCC by the U.S., was scarce in both quantitative and qualitative detail. Then Donald Trump was elected and, unbelievably, things became more uncertain.

IMG_0966.JPG

Artwork created using plastic bags, seen at the Green Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

So, when I arrived in Marrakech with the rest of the UConn group for COP22, my main expectation was that those attending the conference would speak almost exclusively in the context of America’s new role in efforts to adapt and mitigate for climate change. However, I was surprised to learn that, even with the major political shift in the U.S., these countries attending, especially the developing ones, were more focused on regional methods.  This was highlighted nowhere more expertly than during the panel discussion on Climate Change Adaption and Resilience in Africa.

Throughout the panel, COP22 was consistently highlighted as an African COP, one that was more accessible to developing African countries, with smaller economies. The hope was that this COP could help unite them in efforts to prepare for climate change. The panelists also discussed the role of academics in innovation and research, and the importance of scientific academies across the continent. Even those African delegates who disagreed with some of the logistics of implementing the Paris Agreement, were not arguing about America’s role, but rather about the Francophone relationship, and how it has affected development in French-speaking African countries.

Holistically, this panel, among others, opened my eyes to the insular view that (some) Americans have on the climate change issue. It also reinforced the notion that collaboration among nations was a key to resiliency against the more pressing consequences of climate change. The panel showed that although the U.S.’s own adaptation and mitigation strategies are undoubtedly important, our country must also work closely with developing nations so that they can learn from our experiences – good and bad – then can grow responsibly, without the same environmental consequences as countries in Western Europe, North America, and East Asia.

 

The World Won’t Wait

Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Even as things look temporarily bleak for America’s federal government, the rest of the planet is still working hard to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Each day, we attended several panels, discussions, and displays throughout the COP22 Green Zone. Several companies demonstrated how they’ve taken advantage of landscapes such as Morocco’s to create and market renewables. MASAN, for example, is one of many solar companies who seek to increase Morocco’s renewable energy usage to 50% by 2025! Other companies, such as Bombardier, have invested in making trains throughout Europe and the Mediterranean that are more energy efficient, faster, and made of materials that can easily be recycled when the trains are outmoded. Even Royal Air Maroc, the airline we flew to Morocco from NYC, had a display that discussed fuel economy innovations that reduce the carbon footprints of its planes and the use of dry cleaning methods that reduce water and energy consumption.

IMG_0940(1).JPG

COP22 Green Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

Transportation was also discussed a great deal in one panel series that I attended on E-Mobility.  Among the speakers was a Minister from Quebec, who proudly explained that his province has capitalized enormously on the opportunities provided by an expanding market for hybrid and electric cars. Quebec, alongside Holland and California, is a founding member of the Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) Alliance. As a member of this group, Quebec has become part of North America’s largest cap-and-trade entity. Using legislation from California and nine other US States as a guide, the province has passed Canada’s first legal ZEV standard. Furthermore, Quebec works with the private sector to promote the spread of hybrid and electric car sales. The provincial government offers an $8,000 rebate to those who purchase ZEVs, and Nissan has agreed to provide credits to drivers who trade in and purchase used ZEVs. Nissan is also developing more efficient batteries for their cars to comply with COP21’s emissions recommendations. These deals have allowed Quebec to export its eco-friendly cars, and to expand its network into U.S. states like Vermont and Maine. A representative from California expanded on this. He explained that the state has an emissions goal of 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Another panelist discussed the similarly progressive actions taken by the French Government. France currently requires more than half of public fleets to consist of ZEVs, and will mandate 100% by 2025. Private fleets will also be required to have aty least 10% LEVs by 2020.

Another intriguing panel discussed the advances in modeling climate solutions. Scientists working for the U.N.’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) have created a system for advising countries around the world on bringing electricity to all people. These scientists use the Climate, Land use, Energy, and Water Strategies (CLEWS) system to determine how best to improve the lives of civilians around the world.

rich-oksan-message

The UConn contingent outside of the Green Zone. Photo taken by Mark Urban.

From all of the sessions that I attended, and all of the displays and exhibits I visited, I understood one thing very clearly about how the rest of the world is working on climate issues. There is no question about whether or not the climate is changing. There are no debates between scientists, journalists or celebrities as to whether or not humans are the cause. Every scientist, policy maker, student, businessperson, and teacher attending the COP has accepted that the effects of man-made climate change are already harming their countries and communities. The focus at this conference was on how to adapt as quickly and sustainably as possible to droughts, floods, storms, wildlife loss, and agricultural shifts. There was a sense of urgency in the Green Zone. Where COP21 was concerned with forging a lasting international climate mitigation deal, the theme of COP22 was implementation and action. Across the planet, people are tired of simply discussing the issues, and they’re tired of trivial changes. The global body is starting to act.

The world is moving forward, with or without the United States government. Progressive companies and innovative green entrepreneurs throughout North America, Europe, Asia, and Africa are capitalizing on the ever-expanding demand for renewable energy and clean technologies in the global market. Many nations’ governments, as well as U.S. state and local governments, and colleges and universities, continue to create and enforce policies and best practices that alleviate the harms of pollution and environmental degradation to civilians. The United Nations and NGOs continue to seek out sustainable uses of natural resources using the newest and most accurate available science. And our millennial generation, more connected than ever before, need only break out of our online echo chambers to build the largest, strongest, and most actively coordinated global community in human history.

The next few years, even the next few decades, may be very difficult. But we, the people of Earth, have the power to make the world better for ourselves. It will take unprecedented communication and organization, but in the end I believe that we will make this world better for the next generation.

 

The Privilege of Prevention and Necessity of Mitigation

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

At UConn, I spend a lot of time working with my incredible team of undergraduate engineers on the Ethiopia Project from Engineers without Borders. Like many countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, Ethiopia as a country is particularly vulnerable to climate change. With highly variable seasonal rainfalls and a disproportionately high dependence on sustenance agriculture, increasingly extreme droughts, attributed to climate change, have had devastating effects on food security.

IMG_2558.JPG

Kristin Burnham at one of the seven waterfalls encountered during the contingent’s hike up the Atlas Mountains. Photo taken by Mark Urban.

The first full COP 22 session I attended was presented by members of the Network of African Science Academies.  Despite Africa only contributing 4% of the global carbon emissions, 36 of the 50 countries most affected by climate change are in Sub-Saharan Africa.  Africa lacks the infrastructure that North America, Asia and Europe have to deal with climate change.

When I think of fighting climate change I think of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  I think of solar panels and alternative fuels.  I think prevention.  In this panel, fighting climate change had an entirely different tone. Fighting climate change meant research and modeling to predict where climate change was going to cause the most damage, who it was going to affect the most, and how to most efficiently limit the destruction.

This is not to say that Africa isn’t making great strides in sustainable, renewable energy resources. This is the harsh reality that no matter what progress we make, no matter what we do, climate change is happening. The effects are real, they are destructive and they are, to a degree, inevitable.  Faced with limited infrastructural and human resources, focusing discourse solely on prevention is a luxury that Africa, and many other developing countries, can’t afford.

 

The French Influence

Hannah Casey, Student, Environmental Studies, Public Policy

IMG_0959(1).JPG

A view of the COP22 Innovation Zone. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci.

A COP22 panel discussion I attended, titled the ‘African Coalition,’ included several French businessmen discussing renewable energy expansion into rural areas of Africa. They described electrification of the African continent not as a business opportunity but as a business responsibility, almost a moral imperative to provide people in these developing nations with the product they are selling. They stressed the importance of creating markets to deal with the issues related to deploying renewable energy at local levels in the developing world. Another panelist, Abdoulaye Sene, who was President of an NGO, Global Local Forum, explained that energy dispersion across African nations faces bureaucratic and administrative challenges. He also opined that technical training, on electrical engineering and installation skills, is extremely important.  He thought it should be the renewable energy businesses’ duty to extend these resources.

As a result of Morocco’s long history as a French colony, France has a large influence on many aspects of Moroccan government, resources, and society. However, as a questioner pointed out at the end of the roundtable discussion, many Moroccans believe that France has reneged on deals and promises, to the detriment of sustainable economic growth in Morocco. It will be interesting to see whether a more market-based, but socially-responsible, business approach, like the one described by the panelists, succeeds better than the approach used by politicians and government officials. The business approach may provide a more stable path to electrification throughout Morocco than ever before because of the business imperative to succeed or lose capital investment. Since electrification, especially with solar power and other renewable resources, is a critical issue throughout the developing world, it would have been an even more effective discussion had there been additional representatives of African nations, and their specific interests and concerns, on the panel.

 

Climate Change Policy and Human Rights Discussion

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

There are the typical buzzwords around climate change policy that were echoed in almost every sector at COP22: sustainability, clean energy, conservation, and the list continues, but never did I hear a mention of human rights until I attended a particular panel discussion. The Paris Agreement was the first international declaration on climate change to address human rights. It states in the preamble of the agreement, “Parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights.” So the COP22 panel entitled “Human rights and climate change: what’s next after Paris?” sounded promising. As I listened to each of the panelists, I was inspired, even a bit overwhelmed, by the level of concern and consideration expressed for human rights issues in the climate policy discourse.

Klara Human Rights 2.png

“Human rights and climate change: what’s next after Paris?” panel at the COP22 Green Zone. Photo taken by Klara Reisch.

Kimaren Ole Riamit from the IIPFCC spoke about indigenous people and how climate change policy has affected and will affect their livelihood. “Indigenous people represent a world we are trying to achieve,” he remarked. They are the ones who contribute the least but suffer the worst. An example of such exploitation is through the unjust acquisition of land. Land grabs have targeted millions of hectares, and have displaced indigenous people in attempts to build industries and further agricultural investments.

These land grabs are not exclusive to the oil, coal, and agricultural industry, but have been a result of biofuel and bioenergy efforts as well. Governments are signing away land to build sugar cane plantations for ethanol production or jatropha for biodiesel. This forces neighboring communities to bear the effects. In the United States, specifically, there has been an outcry about the development of a pipeline through indigenous land, but what if this program was not a pipeline but a wind farm or carbon storage area? Regardless of whether we are drilling for oil or developing the newest technologies for environmental sustainability, the effects on the native communities are not to be forgotten.

Kelly Stone, a panelist from Action Aid at the event explained, “It’s not just a loss of property, it is a loss of livelihood and identity.” If we are implementing new climate change policies, we have to consider what the human rights risks are and who will bear those risks. It is easy to over-idealize climate change policy because the distant effects on the general population overshadow the effects of those in our backyards, but we should not stand for it.

 

When Climate Action Conflicts With Human Rights

Usra Qureshi, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology, Human Rights

Conflict doesn’t always need to involve a “good” and an “evil.” We do not question nor vilify the need for sustainable practices in our world in order to combat the effects of climate change. But sometimes these efforts have negated another core axiom upon which this world is built: human rights.

I attended a session at COP22 featuring a panel of human rights activists, who were present during the Paris Agreement negotiations at COP21. Last year, when the language of the Paris Agreement was still in the works, these activists fought hard to protect the rights of all. Yes, indeed – they found clauses upon clauses, which despite their potential to infringe on the rights of communities (particularly the indigenous), remained unchanged in the Agreement, as if justified by the salience and nobility of the climate change cause.

p1020057

Outside COP22. Photo taken by Klara Reisch.

Even now, certain provisions in the Paris Agreement leave it very possible for land to be stolen, livelihoods lost, and ecosystems destroyed in the name of large renewable energy or biofuel projects. In particular, there is a failure to address the needs of indigenous populations. This is especially true for the administration of the Green Climate Fund, which is the UNFCC’s primary financing mechanism for climate mitigation and adaptation projects in developing nations, projected to cost about $100 billion a year by 2020.

The participation of indigenous people is not considered in the Green Climate Fund. Access to the fund occurs either through accredited identity or a formal letter. This process combined with the lack of representation of the indigenous within the language of the Paris Agreement (showing up three times, in only the preamble and declarative clauses) seems to guarantee that their voices will neither be heard nor considered. The Paris Agreement also fails to consider the engagement of such populations, or the potential benefits that non-western knowledge systems can provide in combating climate change.

P1020041.JPG

Usra outside COP22. Photo taken by Klara Reisch.

With irresponsible attempts to introduce clean energy to societies, food prices tend to soar, the quality of water declines, and land grabs occur. Residents of the developing world are left to suffer the most. Human rights advocates estimate that 17 million hectares of their land was grabbed for projects that benefitted primarily western countries and corporate interests. Land is a limited resource. Equipped with such honorable intentions as renewable energy development, it suddenly becomes easy to just…steal it. For example, the Aguan Biogas Project, Barro Blanco Gravity Dam, and JK Papermill Afforestation were all incredibly noble attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions or create renewable energies. However, each was noted for its failure to consult with and consider the needs of community members and civil society, and each was responsible for the brutal displacement of indigenous populations and the depletion of resources necessary for their survival.

We need to do better. It is by no means impossible to shift to renewable practices while keeping the rights of all in mind. Consulting with communities and amendments to the Paris Agreement with more inclusive language are the first steps. The path to sustainability might not be as clear as we had hoped for, but it is, without doubt, there.

Trade Unions: The Champions of Renewable Energy

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

A diverse group of trade and labor union representatives, from Philippian electricians to Canadian oil sands workers to New York nurses, presented the concept that through ‘just transitions,’ the people who stand to lose the most from transitioning away from oil and coal can become the people who have the most to gain from investment in renewable recourses.

P1020132.jpg

Kristin (right) and Klara at COP22.

We were all thinking it – How possibly could a labor union representing oil workers benefit from less oil production and more use of renewable energy? The answer for Kim Conway of Unifor, a Canadian trade union, was simple: the goal of trade unions is ultimately to ensure protection of workers’ pay and jobs. If the government, NGOs and local leaders are willing to open the policy discourse to include trade unions, if the tone shifts from leaving the coal industry behind to moving coal workers forward with new jobs in the emerging renewable energy market, if there is a ‘just transition,’ unions will fight with them.

It is undeniable that unions have formidable political power. We saw their political prowess in shaping labor policy in the 1960’s and we saw it again in the election of Trump. So rather than villainizing coal workers for denying climate change, for fighting to keep their industry and livelihoods, let’s fight for the government to specifically include energy labor unions in all plans to transition to renewable energy. Let’s not forget the coal workers whose hard work powered our nation, often at the cost of their own personal health and safety. Let’s make sure the transition to clean energy is a just transition not only because time is short and we need everyone’s support, but because it is the right thing to do.


Leave a comment

Reflections on COP22

The following blogs are reflections on the group’s experiences in Marrakech and at COP22:

Message from COP22: KEEP CALM and Keep Fighting the Good Fight! Oksan Bayulgen and Rich Miller

Signs of Hope Throughout Marrakech Brooke Siegel

A Remarkable Learning and Cultural Experience Genevieve Nuttall

There is Hope in the Human Spirit Margaux Verlaque-Amara

Back to Nature, Where it All Started Wyatt Million

 

Message from COP22: KEEP CALM and Keep Fighting the Good Fight!

Oksan Bayulgen, Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty Director of UConn’s Global House

Rich Miller, Director, UConn Office of Environmental Policy & Sustainability

Only a few days after the historical elections in the United States, we set out to North Africa to attend the U.N.’s international conference on climate change. COP22 was supposed to be a relatively straightforward, low-key conference a year after the monumental Paris Agreement had emerged from COP21. The goal was to take stock of the progress each country has made so far and flesh out the remaining challenges in the implementation of the national pledges.

Instead, this goal was overshadowed by the unexpected turn of events in the U.S., with the improbable election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. Given his climate change denialism and explicit rejection of the Paris Agreement (in addition to many other statements in favor of the fossil fuel industry), there were genuine concerns that the hard fought achievements of the previous year would be reversed with a possible withdrawal of the U.S. from the historical agreement. When we landed in Marrakesh, Morocco, we found ourselves right in the middle of that pervasive sense of doom and gloom.

To be honest, on our first day in Marrakesh, we were very pessimistic as well.  Based on our combined years of experience, whether it’s conducting research and teaching various classes on the politics of energy, or working to develop environmental and sustainability programs at UConn or in the corporate world, we have come to appreciate the critical importance of leadership and an institutional balance of power in designing and implementing environmentally friendly policies. Even in a democracy like that of the U.S., where there are strong checks and balances, a president singlehandedly has a lot of power to affect and change the course of policy in the years to come. It would be naïve and uninformed to assume that the path of progress that was set by an outgoing president could not be reversed by a new president.

rich-oksan-message

The UConn@COP22 team of 12 students, four faculty members, and two sustainability staff, at the Green Zone in Marrakech, Morocco

Yet, as the week went by, seeing and interacting with some of the passionate and committed “foot soldiers” of this environmental movement, we started to relax and see the glass half full. There are three main reasons why we are more hopeful now.

 

First of all, even though anti-globalization forces have gained ground and popularity in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world in recent years, it is clear to us that COPs in many ways represent the best of globalization. They prove that there are no national boundaries, no walls, and no cultural differences when it comes to the aspiration to find solutions to a truly global challenge such as climate change. These conferences are the best and most hopeful responses to the isolationist and xenophobic calls that we have come to see in many countries around the world. They reinforce the belief that we are not alone in this world in our fight against dark forces that want to reverse progress.

[COPs] prove that there are no national boundaries, no walls, and no cultural differences when it comes to the aspiration to find solutions to a truly global challenge such as climate change.

Secondly, the fact that COP22 took place in Morocco, a developing country with many economic challenges of its own, in and of itself, sends a hopeful message. One of the themes of this meeting was the synergy between sustainable development goals and climate action. The clear message was that policies to fight climate change could be successful only if they also provide economic and social benefits to communities and respect the rights of vulnerable, marginalized groups. Or put differently, countries do not need to choose between economic development and the environment. It is not a zero sum game. Concerns about economic insecurity need not trump anxieties about environmental insecurity. Sustainability requires us to think of these two as complementary and as reinforcing each other. To us, the location of this COP and the excitement and commitment of so many delegations from developing countries, especially in Africa, proved unequivocally that the momentum of Paris cannot be reversed. With or without the U.S., the Paris accord will live on.

Rich and Oksan.jpg

UConn and Marrakech’s Universite Cadi Ayyad (enrollment 85,000) co-hosted a higher education networking event, co-sponsored by AASHE and Second Nature. Colleges United for Climate Action attracted 50 students, faculty, and staff, mostly from the U.S. and Morocco.

Finally, in the course of a week, we witnessed among our students (as well as millions more in the U.S. and around the world) the transformation of the post-election blues into a fresh determination and commitment to keep fighting.  We think (and hope) that this setback will motivate and empower younger generations to participate in the decision-making processes at local and national levels, in the plethora of ways that our democracy offers.  And, as demonstrated by dozens of students, from Morocco’s Cadi Ayyad University, UConn and several other American universities, who spoke at the higher education networking event, Colleges United For Climate Action, there are more that unite than divide the younger generations around the world. Climate change is the defining and unifying challenge of our times and the millennials are all in!

 

Overall, this was an amazing trip! Beautiful Marrakesh was the backdrop to the great new friendships we formed and the new networks we established. This trip also proved, once again, the importance of experiential learning. Outside the traditional classroom setting, we were able to see, breathe, feel climate change and learn about the innovations, and policy solutions that real bureaucrats, corporations, and civil society organizations bring to the table. Last year in Paris and again this year in Marrakesh, history was made and we were there to witness it!

UConn needs to continue this participation in future COPs, and other colleges and universities should engage as well. Now more than ever, higher education needs to lead by example on the myriad science, policy and human rights issues surrounding climate change. We are all better for having attended this conference.

And now… we need to keep calm and keep fighting the good fight!

Signs of Hope Throughout Marrakech

Brooke Siegel, Student, Environmental Studies, Urban and Community Studies

The second that we boarded our Royal Air Maroc flight to Morocco, the COP22 logo was plastered everywhere we looked: painted on the fuselage of the airplane and printed on every seat cover. When we got off of the flight in the Marrakesh airport we could not walk more than 10 feet without seeing a COP22 sign, logo, or environmental message. Many people stopped us in the airport to ask if we were attending the conference as well. In the city itself, COP22 was carved into the landscaped gardens and a sign was hanging from every streetlight, including a call for climate action in multiple languages.

To me, this was both exciting and refreshing to see that the importance of the environment was being advertised and publicly displayed for all to see. Even with these signs everywhere, I found myself skeptical that the local people of Marrakesh actually understood the significance of COP22, apart from bringing big-spending tourists into this very entrepreneurial city.  Maybe they were aware that it was an environmental conference and that we were talking about the importance of mitigating climate change. But what does that really mean to them? Did they understand the implications of a warming climate on their daily lives?

IMG_0990.JPG

A lantern shop in the market. Photo taken by Christen Bellucci

On the second day of the trip, my questions were partially answered at the Green Zone and later, after visiting the market. After lots of searching and negotiating, I picked out a lantern to purchase from a local vendor. The man I purchased it from saw that I had a bag already hanging from my arms and said in broken English something like, “Put the lantern in the bag you already have. We must recycle to help the environment.” For me, this was a very eye opening and refreshing experience. It made me extremely hopeful that COP 22’s message is spreading beyond the walls of the conference. Maybe this was just an isolated experience and the vast majority do not fully understand climate change, but it is a vision of hope for our future and the future of our planet. I am optimistic that it is not just the formally educated individuals attending this conference who understand the importance of saving the planet for future generations.

 

 

A Remarkable Learning and Cultural Experience

Genevieve Nuttall, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Conservation Biology and Biodiversity

The COP22 experience was remarkable. Even though we were in Marrakech for only five days, we met many interesting people, saw many wonderful sights, and listened to many inspiring and informed presentations on climate change issues from international delegates.

At the COP conference, I had the opportunity to learn about a variety of topics, such as sustainable agriculture, electric vehicles, and women’s rights, and how climate change impacts these subjects. It was interesting to interact and learn from people who came to COP22 from distant continents, like nations as far apart as Costa Rica and Kenya or the US and Senegal. Despite the differences in backgrounds and perspectives, it was reassuring to know that so many people around the world are united in the search for common solutions to climate related problems, and passionate about preserving a sustainable future.

gen-1COP22 was held in Marrakech, a bustling and exciting city in the North African country of Morocco. We explored the city on the first night and had the chance to watch painters create a mural portraying climate change and a group performing traditional Moroccan dances. I enjoyed the cultural experience of our tour through the city, especially the food, which included some incredible vegetable dishes, olives, and tea.

I loved learning about and discussing the problems and solutions related to climate change, and I’m optimistic about the future of our Earth after listening to all of the great ideas posed by delegates at the COP. Although combatting climate change will be difficult, I left Marrakech knowing we have the commitment and tools to make it possible.

The COP22 conference was spectacular, and I am so happy that I was able to have this experience. In the second half of the week, I attended panel sessions on biodiversity, sustainable agriculture, and food security. I really enjoyed all of the talks on agriculture and this topic inspired me to continue studying conservation biology and its integration into agriculture. I found that the delegates speaking about farming were the most passionate and made the audience excited and hopeful. I was a little disappointed by the biodiversity speakers because they seemed disinterested when they spoke and didn’t emphasize the importance of biodiversity and how it goes hand in hand with climate change. But the conference as a whole was incredible. I spread the word about the conference using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, and people seemed excited to learn about what was happening in Marrakech.

Gen 3.jpgI loved meeting the students from the University of Cadi Ayyad in Marrakech, during the networking event that UConn helped plan and co-sponsored with our Moroccan hosts. It was inspiring to listen to their ideas and see their innovations to promote the sustainability of their University community. We were able to exchange contact information to keep in touch in the future, which was exciting.

My favorite activity other than the COP itself was visiting the Atlas Mountains. From our hotel, we were able to see the silhouette of the mountains, and I am so glad we were able to drive to them and hike up to a waterfall that fed a river that ran through the communities in the mountains. At the top of the mountain, we had mint tea at a little café right next to the waterfall. This experience was a great way to end such an amazing trip to Morocco.

 

There is Hope in the Human Spirit

Margaux Verlaque-Amara, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

It started with the security guard patrolling the TSA line. He slowly walked down the line, smiling and greeting those as he went. When he stopped at us, we exchanged greetings. We got to talking, and I asked him if he had ever been to Morocco. He said no, but mentioned he would love to someday. I told him that our group was attending the UN Climate Conference, and his face instantly lit up. He said to me, “I can’t believe that some people can deny that climate change exists, young people like you have to go out there and make some change, for us, our kids, our grandkids.” In the first leg of our long trip to COP22, I had already encountered this profound idea that the safety of our Earth knows no borders, but still, some are not compelled to believe or pay attention to the rapidly changing world around them. Why is that? That’s a complex idea, one wrapped up in politics and social circles and privilege. But what is even more interesting to me is that one of the first interactions outside of the sphere of my fellow classmates and professors was with a security guard, and he had a felt the same gravity and urgency we all felt as we were embarking on this journey.

The topic of climate change is not just for liberal ideological spheres, it is for everyone simply because it affects everyone in some capacity. Everyone should engage in these conversations whenever they are able to. Especially in the current political climate that is divided between the advocates and the skeptics, engagement in thoughtful and evidence based conversation is crucial. I responded to the guard by saying, “Well you can be a change too, ya know?” By just urging others to pay attention to your environment, I said, you are already doing more than a lot of other people. He agreed with a smile on his face, and told us good luck as we continued on down the line.

Speaking of political climate, we are definitely in the depths of a drastic shift in political influence in the United States. And, for most of my fellow classmates and professors, we don’t see the change as a positive one. We can argue about how to best improve healthcare insurance, or how to reform the tax system, but we cannot get around the fact that our Earth is changing very rapidly, and we cannot dispute the overwhelming evidence that shows humans are contributing to this. But the topic of climate change has been devalued and rejected throughout the entirety of our recent presidential election in favor of possible economic prosperity and job security (although sustainability-related industries can easily support a prosperous economy, but that’s a different discussion).

Margaux market.jpg

A market at Marrakech

I met a man deep in the famous Marrakech markets who spoke to me about the election. A small group of us were wandering the tightly packed stalls filled to the brim with the best of Moroccan goods when we met. As we browsed along a wall of leather bags, the man and I got to talking and he asked what we thought of our newly elected president, Donald Trump. Trump is an open climate change skeptic, so, along with his other disagreeable rhetoric and behavior, the COP22 group definitely has reason to be concerned for the future of our climate policies. However, the man in the market, who is a Brazilian living in Canada, had his own opinion about our new leader. He said, “Well, I know he is racist and not the best qualified, but I have a strong feeling he will do good things for the middle class which is so bad right now.” I was absolutely intrigued because it seemed that his stance had nothing to do with the facts or policy of Trump’s campaign, but it had everything to do with this idea of personal financial gain. I changed the topic and said, “What about the fact that he doesn’t believe in climate change?” This did not seem to dissuade the man in the market at all, as he waved his hand in the air and said that kind of thing does not matter. HUH?! I responded with a few one liners that I’ve perfected since the election but, to my dismay, the man was not budging. Now I don’t know this man’s whole back story, but what I got from him was this: many people will go to any length to see change in personal status, no matter what other baggage their vote has. And this makes sense if you think about it – we are all trying to survive out here. But what is surviving if you are stepping over other types of survival in the process?

This man didn’t even vote in the U.S. election, but in the midst of growing global populism, he gets lost in the jibber-jabber of false promises and exploited ideas, a problem many Americans had at the polling station this past election. Unfortunately, climate change policy got lost somewhere along the line because a personal connection was not made for most people. What will it take to make that personal connection with the threat of climate change? How is it too abstract for some folks like the Brazilian-Canadian, yet an imminent threat to a random TSA security guard? Maybe exposure, maybe privilege, maybe a different set of values.

IMG_2290.JPG

Students Usra, Margaux, and Ben outside Cadi Ayyad University. Photo taken by Mark Urban

So here we are, a bunch of American students in Morocco, trying to make sense of how our values and hopes collide with the rest of the world’s. But at our cores, we humans are not all that different from one another no matter where we are from; and if this trip taught me anything, it is that exactly. We try our best to make the right choices for ourselves and the people we love. For instance, Muhammad, the man who served us delicious tagine and warm bread on the cramped city street, lives his life day to day and makes enough to sustain what he already has. He talked about Morocco’s corrupt health system where if you can’t pay, you die, and how important it is to just keep working no matter what. And Salema, the belly dancer we met in the desert restaurant, who left an abusive marriage and lives to support herself in a world where it is difficult for a woman to make it on her own. These are the people of the world, they are trying to do their best with the tools they are given, and it leaves little room for the nuance that we American college students have the luxury of contemplating. Where does climate change advocacy fit into the life of the average human who has to worry about a multitude of other things just in order to survive?

I still have so many questions floating around my mind after this trip. But if there is one thing I know now, it is that I believe in the power of the human spirit. I believe there is strength in knowledge and urgency, and if the right voices were talking, humans would come together to change our world. Of course it is complicated, and there are powerful and corrupt leaders who put personal gain over the lives of others. Every structure that is built into our daily lives need to see a change, the table needs to be restructured so the common person’s voice is heard. Yet, there is strength in numbers, and if you give people the right political and industry support, the right knowledge, and the right incentive, the threat of climate change can be at the forefront of their lives, and we can all move towards a better world together.

 

Back to Nature, Where it All Started

Wyatt Million, Student, Biological Sciences

Wyatt nature.JPG

A view of the Atlas Mountains during the excursion

The last UConn@COP22 activity of our trip to Morocco brought me back to where my passion for the environment all began. The final afternoon and evening in Marrakesh were spent on an excursion to the snow-capped Atlas Mountains, which rise out of the desert terrain about an hour south of the city limits. After the driver parked our shuttle bus cliff side, rather precariously for some in our group, we met Mohamed, our enthusiastic mountain guide. He expertly led us on a walk that turned into a hike, that eventually turned into a climb, with several stops along the way to rest, admire the beautiful vistas, and purchase various local items.

We started by crossing a river and then weaved our way through shops and homes to follow a small stream up the side of a mountain. The small stream started to become more powerful but, as the elevation increased, so did the difficulty of the terrain, causing the group to hop across rocks and scamper up boulders. Nearing the top, we encountered the first waterfall, an impressive rush of crystal clear water down a 20-foot boulder, but it was relatively small compared to what was above.

After more hiking and climbing, we arrived at the highest waterfall, at least 50-feet tall, pouring glacial water down into a shallow, clear pool. I caught myself hypnotized by the power and sound of the falling water, and as I turned to look at the mountain range behind us, a type of euphoria sent me back to my childhood. As I waded into the cold water and stood beneath the falls for a few seconds, it literally took my breath away.

Wyatt nature 2.JPG

Wyatt standing underneath one of the seven waterfalls

For me, the outdoors has been more than a place for hiking or fresh air or taking cool pictures, it is more of a home. The environment has been a vital part of my life growing up, so being in such a beautiful place took me back to when I first realized that I would do anything to protect it. Because I was so affected by the outdoors as a child, my enthusiasm has been growing nearly 15 years and has been focused now on protecting ecosystems and conserving natural resources. COP22 provided me with more direction for my future but the Atlas Mountains reignited my most basic connection with the environment.

My access to the outdoors as a child led to my love of nature and, later, to my involvement in environmental issues and decision to pursue a degree in the Biological Sciences at UConn. And I believe this experiential learning could reign true for future generations. Providing children with the opportunity to experience first-hand the effects of climate change will do more than just explaining the science to them. It is one thing to understand climate change and another to care enough to do something about it. Being in those mountains reminded me of exploring in my backyard and family vacations to the Adirondack Mountains. It reminded me of what is at stake in the fight against climate change.