Nine U-M students, faculty member attending U.N. climate summit


Nine University of Michigan students and a faculty member are attending this month’s COP 24 summit in Katowice, Poland, where envoys from nearly 200 countries have gathered to discuss and coordinate the fight against climate change.

Although the U-M group is officially designated an “observer delegation,” its role in the two-week conference is far more active than that label might suggest.

For example, graduate student Emily Yang presented her research, which uses satellite observations and computer models to study urban carbon dioxide emissions in the Middle East. Another U-M graduate student, Jacob Rumschlag, will participate in a meeting about the impact of sea-level rise on critical infrastructure in the Seychelles.

The U-M student delegation is also helping to facilitate sessions on economic diversification at the meeting, which is formally known as the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

“While observer delegations do not have direct negotiating power, they are valuable participants to the COP, as they lend guidance, transparency and urgency to the negotiation process,” said Avik Basu, a lecturer at the School for Environment and Sustainability and leader of the U-M delegation to the annual climate conference since 2015. He teaches a half-semester course that prepares the student delegates.

“My hope is that through the course and through the immersive COP experience, students will better understand the levers of power that can influence the global effort to curb climate change,” Basu wrote in an email from Katowice. “With their COP experience, U-M delegates will be more effective as future leaders tackling climate change and other global environmental challenges.”

Basu’s course is titled “Seminar on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.” It introduces students to the science and politics that underpin the international climate negotiations conducted at the COP each year.

Photo of students from U-M who are attending the COP 24 meeting
Those from U-M attending the COP 24 meeting are, from left, Maanya Umashaanker, Emily Yang, Timothy Arvan, Marlotte DeJong, Tae Hwan Lim, Alexa White, Hira Mumtaz, Calli VanderWilde, Jacob Rumschlag and Avik Basu. (Photo by Dave Brenner of the School for Environment and Sustainability)

“This is a very hectic experience with hundreds of official and side events, so having an initial understanding of how this process works has been very useful in orienting myself,” SEAS second-year master’s student Lotte de Jong wrote in an email.

De Jong, who is studying environmental violence and conflict, is one of four U-M students who attended the first week of the conference. Five other students are attending the second week. The meeting ends Friday.

Timothy Arvan, the only undergraduate in this year’s U-M delegation, interviewed representatives of non-governmental organizations during the first week. The interviews will inform his thesis on the role of NGOs and their strategies and influence over negotiations surrounding market-based mitigation policies such as carbon taxes.

“It has been most inspiring to see how many people from all over the world are working on these issues, and how climate change problem-solving can transcend language, culture and, to a certain extent, politics,” said Arvan, a senior in the Program in the Environment and in the Program in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.

The main goal of COP 24 is to finalize details of how the 2015 Paris Agreement would work. At the top of the agenda is the so-called Paris rulebook, which will determine how governments record and report their greenhouse-gas emissions and efforts to cut them.

The landmark Paris deal set a goal of keeping global warming below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) and, if possible, to limit the increase to 1.5 C (2.7 F).

Although President Donald Trump has vowed to pull the United States out of the Paris accord, many state and local governments in the U.S. remain enthusiastic supporters of the deal, said Alexa White, a second-year doctoral student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, who attended the conference’s first week.

“We should keep in mind that the United States government is also comprised of state and local governments, some of which have stated their unwavering commitment to the Agreement,” White said in an email.

“One of the most notable movements has been We Are Still In, which is full of representatives who have promised to remain committed — over 3,500 mayors, governors and business leaders from all 50 states.

“Our presence at this meeting is critical to show other nations that while our commitments may not be traditional, they are earnest.”

U-M began sending student delegations to COP meetings in 2009. The conference was held in Copenhagen that year, and the U-M team was led by Richard Rood, professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, and of environment and sustainability.

That year, U-M student delegates launched the Climate Blue blog to chronicle their experiences. This year’s COP delegates will post blog entries on the Climate Blue website and will tweet with the handle @ClimateBlue.

Climate Blue also organizes an annual symposium to discuss the results of the most recent COP. The 2019 symposium will be April 8 at Palmer Commons.

Yang is in the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, and Rumschlag is at SEAS. The other U-M students in this year’s delegation, in addition to Arvan, de Jong and White, are Tae Hwan Lim of the College of Engineering, Hira Mumtaz of the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, Maanya Umashaanker of SEAS and Calli VanderWilde of SEAS.

Funding for the COP24 trip was provided by SEAS, the Department of Climate and Space Sciences and Engineering, and the College of Engineering.


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