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From left, Cornell student Zeyu Hu; Rajendra Shende, of the TERRE Policy Center, India; Frederick Dubee, of the Beijing Genomics Institute; Vinita Apte of TERRE, unveil sustainability toolkits for institutions of higher education.

Students, faculty shape global effort to cool a warming world

In a whirlwind of seminars, speeches, plenary sessions and corridor conversations, 17 Cornell students and six faculty sought to cool a warming planet.

The 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change – better known as COP24 – was held Dec. 3-17 in Katowice, Poland, as the Cornell students and educators spoke at press conferences, organized side events, spoke to climate change professionals from hundreds of countries and absorbed volumes of scientific detail.

From right, Cornell students Emma Birch, Maeve Anderson and Charlotte Levy take notes at a COP24 event.

Caroline Dodd ’19 met Fekitamoeloa Katoa ‘Utoikamanu from Tonga, the United Nations’ High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States. Dodd and other Cornell students Skye Hart ’18, MRP ’19, Zeyu Hu ’19, Carly Shonbrun-Siege ’18 and Venus Dulani ’19, worked remotely with ‘Utoikamanu and other Tongan officials during the fall semester in Cornell’s Global Climate Science and Policy class taught by Allison Chatrchyan, director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions and a COP24 Cornell trip organizer; Natalie Mahowald, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences and a faculty director at the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future; Linda Shi, assistant professor of city and regional planning; and Sharon Sassler, professor of policy analysis and management.

Tonga is a Pacific island nation facing sea-level rise; the students helped officials develop a report on loss and damages for the island’s negotiations for international climate action. “Working with the Tonga delegates, we applied our research and knowledge to a critical problem,” Dodd said.

Emma Birch ’20, Tyler Brewer ’19, Keelin Kelly ’20, Emily Boedo ’19 and Laura Kee ’19 similarly helped the government of Armenia prepare for the COP by developing a report on climate impacts to agriculture through the Koronivia work program, a landmark agreement from COP23 in 2017 to review the role of agriculture and food security under the 2015 Paris Agreement.

Youth inclusion was a COP24 theme, Dodd said. An entire day was devoted to climate education, which included performances and speeches from youth representatives.

“The message from youth was a call to break the barrier of inclusion as merely tokens in negotiations and decision-making,” she said, “and instead aim to achieve direct youth representation, because the future is at stake.”

Emma Hoarty ’19 attended a panel on harnessing carbon markets, which is a means of climate-change mitigation under the 2015 Paris Agreement. When the floor opened for questions. Hoarty raised her hand. “I introduced myself as a Cornell undergraduate, and I asked the panel if a national carbon market would be possible in the U.S., or if they thought our regional carbon markets would grow to eventually encompass most of the country,” she said.

To Hoarty’s surprise, panelist Steve Rose, Ph.D. ’00, a senior research economist at the Electric Power Research Institute, identified himself as a Cornellian, too. The two spoke after the panel. “He was impressed that Cornell sent students to COP24,” Hoarty said. “This experience reminded me where a Cornell degree can take you, and just how many Cornellians there are all around the world.”

From left, Skye Hart, Khyati Rathore, Allison Chatrchyan, Laura Kee, Caroline Dodd, Julie Kapuvari, Martha Torres and Emma Hoarty, front, get into a tropical spirit by celebrating Talanoa Dialogues at COP24.

Zeyu Hu ’19 spoke at a press conference organized by the TERRE Policy Center, an Indian think tank that launched a new toolkit for environmentally friendly universities. He explained Cornell's Climate Action Plan, which employs innovative technology to decrease campus carbon emissions and reduce electricity consumption.

“It is important to note,” Hu told to the delegates, “that this climate neutrality movement [on Cornell’s campus] was primarily started and driven by students who lobbied the university’s administration [decades ago] for Cornell to become a carbon-neutral campus.”

Four Cornell students including Maeve Anderson ’19 and Martha Torres ’19 provided strong support to help the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture in Rome to organize a workshop at COP24.

The students and faculty lodged in Krakow, about an hour by bus from the Katowice venue. Rhea Lopes, MRP ’19, said she spent the bus trips engaging with delegates from Ghana, Australia, Denmark and Great Britain, among others. “This was a fantastic educational opportunity to meet and interact with several other delegates and negotiators from different countries,” she said.

Cornell students also organized a Talanoa Dialogue with the Ithaca community and submitted the report to the UN for consideration at COP24. Originating from the government of Fiji, the Talanoa process is meant to share stories of current impacts of climate change all over the world, build empathy and push world leaders to take stronger action on climate change.

Zeyu Hu, right, with Xie Zhenghua, China’s chief climate negotiator at COP24.

Chatrchyan, along with Hu and Lopes, met with Ben Simonds, of 2017’s COP23 Presidency Secretariat. They discussed the impacts of the Talanoa Dialogue, which Simonds suggested that Cornell continue to help foster and analyze its effectiveness.

Later, Chatrchyan and Lopes were joined by Gerald Torres, the Jane M.G. Foster Professor of Law, and Carly Shonbrun-Siege ’18 in a panel discussion, “Conducting Talanoa Dialogues at the Local Level.” Following the panel, several delegates requested advice from the Cornell delegation on how to shape these dialogues for their own communities and organizations. Simonds said that conducting a Talanoa Dialogue in a small community like Ithaca was novel, and it could be emulated by other institutions.

With a pair of nongovernmental organizations – the International Food Policy Research Institute, and the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program – Chatrchyan served as a panelist and helped to organize a side event, “Science and Policy Coming Together to Successfully Implement Countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions.”

She also spoke in two high-level events for the “We Are Still In” initiative with executives from Coca-Cola, Mars Inc. and other leading groups. 

Commenting on the volume of service completed by Cornell students at this conference, Chatrchyan said: “There was no other university doing this level of work at this year’s climate change negotiations.”

Other COP24 events featuring Cornellians included:

  • Johannes Lehmann, professor of soil and crop sciences, spoke on land-grant universities and climate-smart agriculture research, at the GACSA workshop, attended by the World Bank, FAO and other leading NGOs.
  • Gerald Torres on “Science and Policy Coming Together,” at a press conference
  • Charlotte Levy, Ph.D. ’19 spoke on “What to Factor In: Real Climate Impacts Aren’t Just About Carbon” at a press conference
  • Rebecca Brenner, lecturer in the Cornell Institute on Public Affairs, and Danielle Eiseman, postdoctoral fellow in earth and atmospheric sciences, talked on “Building Community Resiliency and Climate Action Through Trained Volunteers.”
  • Erika Styger, associate director for Climate-Resilient Farming Systems, in International Programs, spoke on “Feeding West Africa with Climate-Smart Rice Farming,” at the Nigeria Pavilion and “Achieving Rice Self-Sufficiency with Climate Smart Farming,” at the Senegal Pavilion.

The COP24 Delegation was organized with leadership from the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, which provided faculty and event support. The “Global Climate Science and Policy” class and student travel were funded by Cornell’s Office of Engagement Initiatives.

Media Contact

Gillian Smith