Cornell students in front of Willard Straight Hall participate in a worldwide Climate Strike on Sept. 20.

Students have ‘eye-opening’ experiences at Climate Week NYC

Cornell students met with officials from the Kingdom of Tonga at Climate Week NYC in late September. Lily Bermel ’21, Read Barbee ’20, master’s student Louis Chua, Kevin Li ’20 and Katherine Ratner ’20 will spend October and November creating a report for Tonga and other Pacific nations that can be used at the forthcoming 2019 United Nations’ Conference of the Parties, or COP25, meetings in December in Santiago, Chile.

In New York City, the students – participating in Cornell’s Global Climate Change Science and Policy class – met with Tonga’s Mahe Tupouniua, secretary of foreign affairs; T. Suka Mangisi, deputy chief of mission; Rose Kautoke, assistant crown council; and Siosiua Utoi’kamanu, Tonga’s representative for the U.N.’s Law of the Sea convention.

The Global Climate Change Science and Policy class is taught by Natalie Mahowald, the Irving Porter Church Professor in Engineering; Allison Chatrchyan, senior research associate and director of the Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions; and Jerry Finin, M.R.P. ’86, Ph.D. ’91, visiting lecturer in city and regional planning.

Bermel said she and her colleagues look forward to creating the report in order to help them address problems associated with climate change.

“This is a life-changing opportunity to be able to work directly with another government of another nation,” she said. “This class provides opportunities that are mind-boggling. As students, we literally can make a very real impact.”

In addition to the Tonga, students in the climate change class – which is funded by the Office of Engagement Initiatives and the Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability – will work for other partners this fall: the governments of Armenia and Zambia; and nongovernmental organizations Carbon180, the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture and the World Bank.

Hannah Contreras ’21 and her student colleagues – Kalena Bonnier-Cirone ’21, Rae Brigham ’19, M.Eng. ’19; Zach Koser MBA ‘20; Sachi Rai ’21; and Noah Schulman ’20 – met Giana Amador, Carbon 180’s managing partner, at a Cornell-sponsored carbon dioxide reduction panel. Together, the students will work with Carbon180 to prepare for their COP25 meetings in Chile.

“This introduction was significant for our collaboration,” Contreras said. “[It] added to an already eye-opening experience of direct interactions with alumni and industry professionals shaping carbon dioxide reduction technology and policy at the national level.”

More than 25 students from the class attended the International Conference on Sustainable Development (ICSD), held at Columbia University. The students heard presentations by the World Bank, the U.N. World Food Program and other groups on the need to develop climate services to help farmers manage climate change risks and shared some of Cornell’s work on climate smart agriculture.

At the ICSD, Sean McCarthy ’20 attended the annual Columbia International Investment Conference. “In essence, it seems the first move is to create the legal environment explicitly in favor of sustainability, but once that is done by the government, businesses and investors must take the helm and coordinate with the government to ensure ethical and sustainable investing and business practices,” he said.

Claire Song ’21 said that the ICSD showcased real-world impacts of sustainability adaptation and mitigation students discussed in class. Song was impressed with the Indonesian delegation that unveiled major progress in plastic reduction. Said Song: “The overarching takeaways: exposure to a great number of resources for sustainable development education and opportunities.”

The weeklong kaleidoscope of climate change-awareness activity kicked off when hundreds of Cornell students gathered at Ho Plaza Sept. 20 to march down to the Ithaca Commons, joining students from Ithaca College and Ithaca High School in the worldwide Global Climate Strike.

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Gillian Smith