The value added by Yale FES students at COP

Ever since arriving at F&ES over a year ago, I heard in more than one occasion that the participation of Yale F&ES students at COP meetings was a joke and that our contributions were minimal. The money should be put to better use some would say. Stay home and prevent a large number of GHG emissions from student travel was another argument. I must admit I largely agreed with these statements–until now.

Having prepared myself for the COP by interning at the Papua New Guinea UN Mission this Fall, and now almost two weeks into COP17, my views have changed. There are ~15 of us supporting the delegation of the Maldives and that of Afghanistan. In this capacity, I see very clearly how our presence adds value to the delegations and how our contributions do make a difference.

Let me paint the scenario for you: the (non-Yale) Maldivian delegation is composed of 4-5 persons, essentially the Minister of the Environment and his aides. On the other hand, at any moment in time at the COP there are dozens of concurrent meetings (or maybe even hundreds if you count informal bilateral conversations). These meetings serve to negotiate positions and draft text on many issues, including mitigation, adaptation, REDD+, finance, technology transfer, shared vision, the review, emissions from aviation and maritime shipping, etc.

Without the presence of Yale students to assist the Maldivian and Afghani delegations, these delegations clearly confront a shortage of human capacity to follow negotiations across all these topics. Technology transfer alone–which I am following–is being discussed under four different settings/groups: SBI/SBSTA, COP, LCA and a contact group! Without additional human capacity, the only option for the Maldives and Afghani national delegates would be to pick and choose which topics are most important to their countries and hope everything goes favorably in all other negotiations — hardly a favorable position to be in.

This is where Yale students come in to improve the circumstances. While we do not have the authority to express opinions or positions on behalf of the Maldivian and Afghani delegations, we have the manpower to cover numerous meetings across topics and report back to the national delegates. There are two Yale students assigned to every major topic: 2 for technology transfer, 2 for finance, 2 for adaptation, 2 for mitigation, etc. Now the playing field is a bit more leveled. Our role is to take notes during the numerous meetings we attend throughout the day, noting important country positions, statements, draft text, etc. At the end of the day our fearless Maldivian coordinator Leah Butler synthesizes all notes into a daily brief which is submitted to the Minister and his aides. Now they can stay on top of issues and take prompt action if at any point they feel excluded or they note something that critically deviates from their interests.

In the end, the presence of Yale students at COP does not convert the Maldivian or Afghani delegations into negotiating powerhouses. Hardly. But the value added by our ability to track multiple negotiating topics and keep the delegation nationals informed does justify our presence here at the COP.

Yale F&ES students meet with Maldivian national delegation

Yale F&ES students meet with Maldivian national delegation

Maldivian Minister of the Environment addresses Yale F&ES students

Maldivian Minister of the Environment addresses Yale F&ES students