Student goes to UN conference

From Nov. 29 to Dec. 10, Puget Sound sophomore Annie Bigalke will be one of five students from the Pacific Northwest in attendance at the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun.

The conference unites international delegates from the UNFCCC to review their respective climate policies and potentially agree upon new policies to more effectively combat worldwide climate change.

UNFCCC is an international environmental treaty produced by a branch of the United Nations. The treaty’s objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere in order to prevent dangerous human-induced interference with the world climate.

Bigalke will be attending the conference as a member of the Cascade Climate Network, an association of students from various universities in the Pacific Northwest who work to influence public policy related to ending human influenced climate change. She is president of Puget Sound’s Students for a Sustainable Campus club (SSC), and is member of the Sustainability Action Committee (SAC).

Week one of the conference will consist of open forums for discussion between national representatives and conference observers on the subject of worldwide climate change. It will also be an opportunity for networking and training workshops for student attendees.

Official public policy discussions and conference proceedings will take place during week two. Participants will include delegates from the parties of the UNFCCC, international officials, media representatives and activists from organized civil society.

COP16 is a follow-up to an identical conference held in 2009 in Copenhagen, known as COP15. The goal of COP15 was to establish an ambitious, politically-binding climate agreement, but the conference’s efforts were met with disappointment when such an agreement was not made. Critics believed world leaders had pushed the most pressing environmental issues into the future.

“I was a little disappointed that there were no clear resolutions that came out of COP15, although one positive aspect is that the United States became a key player in making significant changes and becoming a leader in combating climate change,” Bigalke said.

Conference officials are more optimistic about this year’s efforts. After a series of preliminary meetings of international delegates, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, said that they seem “closer to a structured set of decisions that can be agreed in Cancun.”

Bigalke and the other students from the Cascade Climate Network will be producing an independent documentary throughout their time in Mexico, allowing them to spread the word about the conference as well as reflect on the experiences of conference attendees.

The film will be a compilation of statements from various conference participants cataloguing their personal inspirations for environmental work. Its purpose is to highlight the connections between these environmentalists and strengthen the youth voice behind climate change activism.

They hope that the film will counter some of the negative connotations of environmental activism as well. “I want the documentary to show people the softer side of environmentalists because I feel like they can be cast in a negative light sometimes,” Bigalke said.

Upon completion, the students plan to post the film on YouTube and spread it through their various networks of environmental interest groups.

Bigalke will also be contributing to a blog during the conference. The blog will be a narrative-style compilation of interviews from people at conference who would like to share their thoughts about uniting around such an influential topic as climate change.

“I want to try to capture the way each person sees themselves and the work they do as a part of a bigger picture in relation to the climate change issues that will be discussed at the conference,” Bigalke said.

To read the blog, go to http://www.cascadeclimate.org/cop16