Students from the B.A. and Ph.D. Sociology programs are traveling to Poland, alongside sociology professor John Foran and other UCSB alumni and affiliates, for the 19th annual United Nations’ Conference of the Parties to discuss issues surrounding international climate change.

The conference will invite the research team, the Climate Justice Project of the International Institute of Climate Action & Theory, to observe and participate in U.N. climate change. The travelling scholars plan to interview activists and other individuals directly involved with the U.N. decision-making process so they can compile this information for a film, an e-book and presentations about climate change.

According to Foran, the global community must forge a scientifically viable and legally-binding climate treaty by the year 2015. But while the goal of the conference is to bring many countries together in order to reach such an agreement, the process is difficult due to the varying circumstances of each attending country.

Specifically, China and other big fossil fuel-users will need to play an important role in the discussion so the U.N. can reach desirable but realistic negotiations regarding environmental regulations, Foran said.

“The inequalities and different circumstances of the countries have to get on board. The biggest fossil fuel country, China, has to have a say,” Foran said.

Furthermore, he said attending the conference will help the research team learn about the processes of negotiation and how to deal with the varying positions of official U.N. participants.

“We go there because we actually are not just studying the process, but we want to be part of the process,” Foran said.

Foran also said the whole experience is an “epic encounter,” as young activists from all around the world attend the conference and try to influence U.N. negotiations, even amidst the heavy influence of large national governments. The research team wants to record the role of these activists and learn from their experiences in order to better grasp how to better study climate change, Foran said.

“They try to influence the outcomes in all ways — by holding panel discussion, interacting individually with negotiators and by protest of various kinds,” Foran said. “It’s a very interesting process. They are these young activists who have science on their side against the big governments that influence the negotiations.”

According to Corrie Ellis, third-year sociology graduate student on the research team, the trip is focused on spreading knowledge about climate change to other youth so they can educate their peers and create a stronger voice for climate justice abroad.

“This trip is really focused around providing a space for the voices of the youth, who are involved in the Global Environment Justice Movement,” Ellis said. “We’re making films that will be free and available so others can learn about ideas and strategies on how to confront climate change and preserve a future for us all.”

Ellis said her personal goal for the conference is to understand the direction the planet is going, in regard to climate change, and to focus on how women activists see climate change as opposed to men.

“[My] goal is to learn … about the United Nations and their negotiations [and] capture their perspectives on the future of our planets, and the strategy they use to engage with our local communities and what’s happening at the global level,” Ellis said.

According to Foran, climate change is a pressing problem for younger generations, so it is essential that the youth spearhead global action against worsening climate and environmental issues.

“Climate change is a defining issue of the 21st century,” Foran said. “The problem of climate change and how we deal with it is going to define how humanity is going to live in the next several generations.”



A version of this article appeared on page 1 of the Monday, November 4, 2013 print edition of the Daily Nexus.