It all happened at Copenhagen - 30,000 member delegates, over 200 nationalities, countless media representatives and activist groups, and one of the most controversial debates since the Kyoto Protocol. In December, Christa Owens ‘12 and S.S. Rishad ’12 witnessed the action at the United Nations Climate Change Conference which aimed to find possible solutions for combating the effects of climate change across the world.
“I grew up in a laboratory of climate change,” Rishad said. Hailing from Bangladesh, a country constantly affected by damaging floods due to rising sea waters, Rishad was strongly motivated to participate in the conference as a youth delegate from Carleton. He was accompanied by Christa Owens, who was selected by the Sierra Student Coalition to serve as a delegate. She was motivated by the consequences of environmental problems in her hometown of Pittsburgh.
Both students were involved in a rigorous process of fund-raising and networking before they eventually headed for Denmark.
In Copenhagen, both delegates were involved in environmental discussions with other youth delegates from the US and various parts of the world.
“We focused on being a moral voice,” Owens said describing their role in these discussions. She also participated in the briefings made by the heads of the United States delegation on each day of the conference, and observed where US policy was heading with regards to certain environmental issues.
Rishad led discussions with other colleges across the country about how to make campuses more environmentally friendly and participated in the negotiations along with the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, an organization based in Minneapolis that emphasizes the role of agriculture in environmental discussions.
Besides being involved in the actual conference itself, both delegates also supported protests by activists who propagated on behalf of the small Pacific island nations slowly being submerged due to global warming.
Both Owens and Rishad believe that the Copenhagen conference was more of a success than a failure. Having observed and experienced the difficulty in making mutually beneficial negotiations, they feel that the role of the US has been positive in every way and there is definite scope for improvement in such dealings. Though the conference ended with no binding agreement, Owens believes it is a huge turnaround from previous conferences like Kyoto and Bali.
“The US is doing a lot for promoting sustainability with regards to the environment. That is empowering for students,” she said.