The Yale School of the Environment and Yale University are prepared to make an impact at the upcoming COP26, the annual “conference of the parties” hosted by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, with dozens of Yale students, faculty, and staff taking part in critical decision-making and discussions centered on reducing global greenhouse gas emissions.
COP26, taking place in Glasgow, Scotland, is being considered one of the most important in the conference’s history, as experts believe countries must begin making drastic shifts away from fossil fuels to reduce increasing global warming and avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change. Organizers expect about 20,000 attendees at the conference, made up of activists, diplomats and heads of state, including U.S. President Joe Biden.
More than 20 students from YSE and Yale will be supporting a variety of non-governmental organizations and country delegations, many of which are in need of critical support due to restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic and the urgency of risks associated with climate change. These groups include the Government of Indonesia, the Alliance of Small Island States, the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests, the Environmental Defense Fund, the United Nations Development Programme, and The Nature Conservancy.
To support attending the conference, students from across campus take part in a YSE course, “International Organizations and Conferences,” which focuses on the history, present, and future roles of international environmental conferences. Students also assess the potential for improved equity, justice, and inclusion in international conferences and organizations, as well as develop work plans for attending conferences during the academic year, including COP26. Guest speakers for the course include Julia Marton-Lefèvre, former director general of IUCN; Sue Biniaz, former lead climate lawyer for the U.S. State Department and a lecturer at YSE; and several Yale World Fellows including James Irungu Mwangi, co-founder of the Dalberg Group.
Students, faculty, and staff will also take part in several events during the two-week conference, highlighted by a panel discussion with Paul Anastas, the Teresa and H. John Heinz III Professor in the Practice of Chemistry for the Environment at Yale; Volvo CEO Martin Lundstedt; and several YSE students. There will also be events featuring Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy; Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication; Gerald Torres, professor of environmental justice; Paul Simons of the Yale Jackson Institute for Global Affairs; and representatives from the Center for Business and the Environment at Yale and The Forests Dialogue.
Before leaving for Glasgow, several YSE students shared their plans for COP26 and what they hope to take away from the conference.
Taina Perez ’22 MEM
“I will be providing support to the Alianza Mesoamericana de Pueblos y Bosques (AMPB - Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests). AMPB works directly with indigenous governments and community forestry organizations to strengthen their own dialogue; improve community management of their natural resources; and influence governments and international cooperation so that biodiversity conservation strategies appropriately integrate the rights and benefits of indigenous peoples and forest communities. I am most excited about assisting the delegation in broadening the climate finance conversation in order to provide greater funds directly to indigenous groups.
“At COP26, I will primarily be translating documents for communication efforts, creating briefs, and providing research support. The scope of the research will focus on climate change and territorial governance — Mexico and Central America in the global context. It will be interesting to gauge current efforts that country delegations are making to fill the financing gap in light of COVID-19 and other impacts. Ultimately, I hope to apply the takeaways from this experience to inform ways to create inclusive development policies that engage indigenous knowledge and practices.”
Kyle Lemle ’22 MF
“I am honored to be attending the COP26 UN Climate Talks to support the UN Environment Program and The Nature Conservancy, and help raise ambition on natural climate solutions within the international climate policy framework. For UNEP, I will support a high-level event on forest investments, bringing together high-level decisionmakers from forest countries to discuss catalytic opportunities to scale up finance for forest action necessary to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius. For TNC, I will be tracking progress on the ocean-climate nexus across the formal negotiations and informal civil society events. While REDD+ and forests have gained increased prominence within UNFCCC policy circles over the past ten years, “blue carbon” is a relatively new area receiving increased international prominence as seagrass, mangroves and salt marshes are being recognized as critical climate sinks. My research will serve to brief the TNC executive team on the progress being made on natural climate solutions and contribute to organizational strategy and communications.
“My focus within my master’s studies program at YSE is to learn how to protect and restore forests for the dual benefits of climate mitigation and biodiversity conservation. While I have attended two other COPs in the past, this will be my first time entirely focusing on forests and oceans policy. I am grateful for the opportunity to meet the world’s leading experts working on nature-based solutions, and to contribute my energy and skills towards building increased momentum for bold climate action at this critical moment in Earth’s history.”
Cameron Ramey ’22 MEM
“At COP26, I’ll be supporting the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), a coalition of 39 small island and low-lying coastal developing states amplifying the voices of vulnerable groups in international climate change negotiations. AOSIS’s priority for COP26 is to continue the momentum gained in Paris that is crucial for reaching a 1.5-degree target. I’ll be supporting AOSIS specifically on markets and Article 6 by preparing talking points and tracking negotiations.
“I’m very excited to be participating in COP26 at this critical time, when the impacts of climate change feel more visible and more personal than ever before. By working with AOSIS on markets, I am building on my work in adaptation and resilience — from understanding disproportionate vulnerabilities to climate change, to accelerating solutions for an equitable and sustainable future.”
Arunima Sircar ’22 MESc
“I worked with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions (C2ES) over the summer and I am completing an independent project with them this semester; I will be continuing my work with them at COP26 in Glasgow this year. C2ES, a thought-leader and trusted convener within international climate policy, works closely with negotiators and business leaders throughout the year hosting workshops and dialogues to create a platform to push forth the climate agenda. I’m most excited about seeing this take place in full swing, in-person. Given that the climate crisis is an existential one for many small-island states, I’m particularly looking forward to tracking negotiations and events on Loss and Damage and Adaptation, and related issues surrounding small-island states, where my primary interests of climate impacts, resilience and climate justice intersect.
“I aim to support C2ES with their planned informal and side events in Glasgow, and to meet negotiators and engage with them regarding climate discourse critically. My hope is for this work at COP to inform my future within international climate policy frameworks for small-island states by better understanding the barriers for progress and success in this arena.”
Rong Bao ’22 MEM
“At COP26, I will be representing my own startup organization 2030CLIMATE+, which is a non-profit organization based in China that focuses on climate communication and youth empowerment in climate actions. We produce a podcast series in Mandarin Chinese, Let’s TalC, that delivers climate change knowledge, discusses sustainability in business and everyday life, and introduces green job opportunities to youth who are at their early-career stage. At COP26, we are hosting roundtable discussions and assisting side events at the China Pavilion, as well as interviewing delegates from all over the world. We expect to report on the conference by bringing frontline news from Glasgow to our listeners in China, while delivering domestic voices to the international stage.”
Jamie Lee ’22 MEM
“At COP26, I will be working with the Environmental Defense Fund to track all the Article 6 negotiations on carbon markets. I align with EDF’s broad goal to ensure high-integrity carbon market cooperation and I am looking forward to assisting the EDF delegation as they engage in discussions with key stakeholders.
“Since I am in the Business and the Environment specialization, I see the value in businesses having a larger role to play in global emissions reductions. It is imperative that this final piece of the Paris Rulebook is successfully designed to promote greater private sector investment. My Article 6 work at COP26 will also tie in closely with my research on reforming global trade at the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy. Ultimately, I recognize the immense privilege of attending COP26 as an observer amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic. I owe it to my peers at Yale and back home in Singapore to share the knowledge and experiences from the week ahead.”