UCSB’s Environmental Affairs Board returned from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen, Denmark with new insights into the international political process.
Of the 23 UCSB students who attended the December conference, one dozen received full funding for the trip, courtesy of the Associated Students Finance Board, the executive vice president for local affairs and the chancellor and vice chancellors’ offices. The remaining students financed their own expenses through private fundraising.
To his dismay and surprise, EAB’s co-chair Nick Allen said he found young people were given much less legitimacy in the conference deliberations than the same policy makers who failed to reach a legally binding climate agreement at the conference.
“It’s ironic because the youth has historically had the smallest voice in these negotiation, while we will be the ones that are the most adversely effected by the inaction of today’s policy makers,” Allen, a fourth-year environmental studies and business economics major, said. “Copenhagen [was] a chance [for youth] to demonstrate solidarity and directly involve ourselves in the negotiations over international climate issues.”
Andrew Dunn, EAB publicity co-chair, said the trip opened his eyes to the power corporate interests hold over environmental concerns.
“There wasn’t much hope of a binding treaty, but what we found out is that most of the progress is dominated by politics and corporate interests and money,” Dunn, a fourth-year Spanish major said. “There are real solutions to climate change, but the solutions being discussed in the United Nations forum are false. It’s basically focusing on making people rich and making money off of climate change.”
Dunn said another climate gathering simultaneously underway in Copenhagen — one without any real political weight — featured more serious discussion.
“There was an alternative summit called The People’s Summit across the street and it was sort of the space where more was being said about what wasn’t going into the treaty,” Dunn said. “It was really interesting to see how angry people were about the progress of the topics.”
According to Allen, the UCSB EAB delegation met with people from many of the nations represented at the conference.
“We worked with people from areas like the Solomon Islands, the Maldives and African coastal countries that are perhaps the most at risk,” said Allen. “These countries don’t have the financial or economic backing to properly adapt to the changing climate, so they stand to be very adversely effected in the not too distant future.”
Although the event showed the potential for international cooperation on climate and other issues, Allen said, many warned that the conclusions of the conference were not significant enough.
“The Copenhagen Accord is not a binding agreement, but more a set of general guidelines and goals,” Allen said. “Many people were discouraged, but we saw a lot of progress at least ideologically, so I’d like to remain cautiously optimistic.”
EAB plans to spend much of this quarter preparing a campus conference on the successes and failures of the Copenhagen summit. The conference, set for early spring, will feature speakers from all sides of the climate debate.
— Sara-Fay Katz contributed to this article.