Dr. Eri Saikawa’s Panel at COP23

-Article by Sheila Tefft

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, http://climatetalks.emorydomains.org.

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