Students attend climate change convention in Warsaw

The college recently sent three representatives, Alex Ahn ’15, Laura Rigell ’15 and Environmental Studies Program Chair Carol Nackenoff, to Warsaw, Poland to participate in the 19th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Following a visit from Christiana Figueres ’79, executive secretary of UNFCCC, in September 2012, a group of students were inspired to pursue the possibility of attending the UNFCCC. The application was approved in August and was fully funded by the Lang Center for Civic and Social Responsibility.

The representatives arrived in Warsaw on November 11 and returned last Sunday. While at the conference, the Swarthmore delegates were able to attend official United Nations sessions.

According to the UNFCCC’s website, “The ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic (human induced) interference with the climate system.”

While at the conference, the group attended a number of events, such as an Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) hearing on the fifth Assessment Report on climate change–which discussed the levels at which global warming is occurring and the amount of carbon being produced into the environment–and a discussion about the potential of divestment as a political strategy.

While the group has been able to sit in on many meetings, some were unexpectedly closed to visitors.

“Some of the major meetings observers … expected to attend [were] unexpectedly closed to us, including the meetings on mitigation/adaptation loss and damage mechanisms to be established for parties suffering irreversible impacts of climate change,” said Nackenoff in an e-mail.

The representatives were also able to meet individually with a number of activists and government workers such as Marielle Remillard of SustainUs, a youth-run advocacy group in the U.S., and Anne Kolker ’08, who works as a negotiator for the State Department.

“Her perspective on the state of negotiations and the role of the U.S. in the international context was surprising and fascinating,” wrote Ahn on the blog the group maintained while in Warsaw.

In addition to attending official United Nations meetings, Ahn and Rigell were also able to discuss issues with other young people from around the world.

“Alex and I were so excited to be connecting with youth leaders from across the ocean,” wrote Rigell. “We hope that we can connect with them going forward as we push our countries to set really ambitious emissions reduction targets for the 2015 agreement.”