Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
On Tuesday, students Laura Rigell ’15 and Alex Ahn ’15, and Professor Carol Nackenoff, chair of the Environmental Studies Program, departed Philadelphia for Warsaw, Poland, where they will attend a conference on climate change hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is the 19th such conference (COP19). Nearly 200 nations send delegations to the conference, and this is the first time members of the Swarthmore community will join them as a delegation. Swarthmore was recently granted NGO observer status by the United Nations.
The plans of Swarthmore’s delegation are described in detail in a post on the College’s website, excerpted here:
Outside of observing the official negotiations, “one of the central objectives of our trip, and a key goal of many NGO organizations who will be represented at the conference, will be to network and form collaborative relationships with as many groups rom around the world as possible,” Ahn says. The delegation will also have the unique opportunity to meet with Executive Secretary Figueres ’79 and Anne Kolker ’08, an international climate change negotiator for the U.S. State Department.
Starting yesterday, the delegation has begun blogging about their experiences and observations. They are submitting select posts from their blog to The Daily Gazette. Below is the first post, written by Rigell. The blog can be read in its entirety here.
As the reality of this trip has sunk in, I have been on the verge of feeling excited. Such anticipation seems warranted, since this trip is an enormous privilege. After all, Swarthmore is funding my travel to Warsaw, Poland to join the negotiators of the world and many mobilized constituencies at an international gathering to address climate change.
Honestly though, I depart for this conference with a deep sadness. Usually, I consider myself an optimist, and I am excited by the grassroots climate justice work happening across the world. I still believe that it is physically possible to avert catastrophic climate change. But the timeline currently being pursued by the United Nations is simply unacceptable.
Typhoon Haiyan struck the Philippines as the COP 19 began on Monday. 10,000 people are estimated to have died. Haiyan is an example of the increased hurricane intensity in warmer climate. Human lives are being sacrificed while negotiations stall. This is simply unacceptable.
As COP19 takes place, Poland is constructing new coal-fired power plants. Also alongside the COP, the World Coal Association will be convening in Warsaw. Christiana Figueres, the executive secretary of the UNFCCC and a Swarthmore alumnus, will be participating in this Coal conference. It is unacceptable for Poland or Figueres to endorse the fossil fuel industry while discussing climate change. Climate change is already happening, yet global carbon emissions are still on the rise.
As a result, I am departing for the conference in agreement with Arundhati Roy, Indian author and activist, who stated: “If there is any hope for the world at all, it does not live in climate change conference rooms or in cities with tall buildings. It lives low down on the ground, with its arms around the people…”
I realize that I am launching this blog from a heavy place. I firmly believe that runaway climate change can still be averted, and that the negotiators who I will be encountering in Poland have the obligation to do all in their power for climate justice. I will communicate this urgency to the negotiators who I meet. I do look forward to meeting the conference attendees who share my desperation for bold international action on climate change, for we are powerful together.
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