Climate Perspectives from COP23

Climate change is the major issue of our time. Read faculty viewpoints and student multimedia about major issues and viewpoints. These projects were produced by faculty and students in the Climate Change and Society course and those who attended COP 23 as delegates.

Dr. Eri Saikawa speaking at a COP23 panel on the importance of university involvement at the climate talks. 

Universities Step Up on Climate Change

Universities need to broaden global cooperation with communities ranging from farmers to city residents to cope with climate change, Eri Saikawa, an assistant professor of environmental sciences at Emory University urged during the 2017 United Nations climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

She was a speaker on several panels at the annual climate negotiations and promoted the role of universities in helping developing countries mitigate and adapt to the worldwide climate crisis. Saikawa and Sheila Tefft, a senior lecturer in the English Department Writing Program, led an Emory delegation of 14 faculty and students to the annual UN Conference of the Parties or COP23 Nov. 4-18, 2017.

In recent years, universities in the United States and other countries launched a global partnership to build a network of long-term relationships, academic exchanges among researchers, and interactions among students. The goal is to share ways campuses can pool resources and advance implementation of the 2015 Paris accord, a voluntary agreement of 197 countries and interest groups to hold global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

Saikawa outlined a number of Emory initiatives. The Department of Environmental Sciences is teamed with the University of Georgia to cut greenhouse gas emissions through reduced use of fertilizer and pesticides. The university has launched efforts to broaden cooperation with Nanjing University in China and universities in Brazil and Ethiopia.

"After all, at the end of the day, it's going to be the farmers doing the work and we have to understand what they think," Saikawa said.

She also highlighted Emory collaboration on public health with the city of Atlanta and on indoor air pollution in Tibet and other developing countries. She urged a more interdisciplinary approach involving scholars from religion, anthropology and history to make climate change understandable in the context of local cultures.

"When I go to Tibet, people are burning yak dung for religious reasons and we don't really understand how to change that," the environmental scientist said. "We academics have to improve ourselves to communicate and share our research with the locals."

For students, Saikawa said digital communication offers channels for campuses across the world to connect. The Emory student delegates are posting videos, podcasts and blogs on a website about the COP23 conference,

"Now that we have this technology we don't need to be physically meeting," she said about students cooperating internationally.


COP23 Student Experience

-By Dillon Wu, '19C, Environmental Science and International Studies

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Attending the 23rd Conference of Parties in Bonn, Germany in November 2017 was one of my most fulfilling experiences at Emory University. The journey helped me understand environmental stewardship in a global context and gave me the opportunity to meet inspiring leaders from all around the world. Political and business leaders such as Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and Michael Bloomberg, a businessman, philanthropist and former mayor of New York City, attended the conference and spoke about the urgency of greenhouse gas reductions, global cooperation and green innovation.

The conference was especially important in light of the United States’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement in 2017. COP23 was not only a way for other nations to stand firm to their promises, it opened up room for civil society and businesses to adopt a greater level of responsibility. The conference also made progress in outlining clear implementation guidelines for the Paris Agreement, in fostering greater participation of women in climate policy-making, and in giving a greater voice to indigenous peoples in climate negotiations. I had the special opportunity to document my journey in this video.

The Climate Tipping Point

-By Katelyn Boisvert, '20C, Environmental Sciences, and Zola Berger-Schmitz, '19C, Political Science and Music
 Recent polls reflect increasing belief that climate change is a problem, yet it still seems few are doing anything about it. This observation results from a phenomenon we have termed the “Climate Tipping Point,” that is the point where climate awareness leads to human initiated action.
Increasing climate change awareness is an important first step but needs more motivation to tip a person to action. There is a gap in the percentage of people who view climate change as a problem and those that believe human action is necessary to combat it. We call this the climate action gap. We can’t make progress to mitigate climate change and adapt our behavior without spanning this gap.

Less Meat for a Better Climate

-By Lauren Balotin, '19C, Environmental Sciences and  Media Studies and Meggie Stewart, '18C, Environmental Sciences with an Arabic minor

When most people think about greenhouse gases, they usually imagine cars and factories burning fossil fuels for energy. And this makes sense; after all, fossil fuels contribute to 14.5 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports.  

However, this picture is limited. Why have efforts to reduce it been so limited if meat production causes such a large portion of greenhouse gas emissions? Why aren’t we, as a planet, recognizing the ways in which we can change our diets to control our climate? Past research has focused primarily on the science behind meat and climate, but has paid little attention to how we can fix the problem.

EU Renewable Energy Policy

-By Zola Berger-Schmitz, ‘18C, Music and Environmental Sciences, and Cassidy Schwartz, ‘18C, Environmental Sciences and International Studies 

The European Union is in an advantageous position to spread climate policy options throughout its member states. Influential countries like Germany that have pioneered renewable energy support mechanisms have a vested interest in helping other member states adopt similar renewable energy policies. This greatly accelerates the diffusion of renewable energy policy from one EU member state to another and allows policies to be tested at the national level before they are adopted by supranational EU institutions.


Language Choice Shapes Public Opinion

-By Emme Luck, ‘18C, Environmental  Sciences, and Leotie Hakkila, ‘19C, Environmental Sciences

The public discourse on climate change is everywhere – blogs, newspapers, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, magazines, online journals. It’s impossible to avoid, which is a good thing, because it is a time-sensitive issue that threatens the livelihood of the global population. But we don’t usually notice the language used when we read these headlines, hear classmates arguing about it, or see Tweets on our feeds is the language.  that people are using. The way that people express themselves can be almost as powerful as their meaning. 

Geothermal Energy at Emory University

-By Ken Wakabayashi, ‘18C, Chemistry and Environmental Sciences, Dillon Wu, '19C , Environmental Sciences and International Studies and Yezi Lyu, ‘18C, Environmental Sciences  

The topic of solar energy may dominate the current conversation on renewable energies, geothermal energy makes a claim as an abundant, reliable source for both energy production and heating and cooling. Geothermal heat pumps are the most popular option, accounting for about half of the global geothermal energy. They are the most feasible choice because heat pumps take advantage of the earth’s low potential thermal energy.  

The potential of geothermal energy is evident, but universities are just beginning to implement it into campus energy systems. Emory University is making its first attempt to incorporate geothermal energy into the heating and cooling infrastructure for the new Campus Life Center.  

EU Renewable Energy Policy

-By Zola Berger-Schmitz, ‘19C, Music and Environmental Sciences, and Cassidy Schwartz, ‘18C, Environmental Sciences and International Studies 

The European Union and Canada are in the forefront of efforts to find policy solutions to rising temperatures and to counter climate change. They are at center stage in demonstrating how innovative policies can be tested and implemented among countries struggling to meet energy and greenhouse gas emissions targets.  

These infographics illustrate 1) the EU cap and trade system that is designed to link carbon markets across member states; 2) how EU members, Canada and other countries are putting a price on carbon emissions; and 3) how countries are measuring progress towards emissions targets and implementation of the Paris Agreement.