MTU delegation works with the world at climate change conference
Delegations from 199 countries and over 100,000 people gathered Nov. 30 to Dec. 12, 2023 in Dubai for the UN climate change conference, known as the 28th Conference of the Parties or COP28.
At this annual gathering, the delegates from around the world gathers to create global climate action measures to achieve.
Would you believe that our own students at Michigan Tech attend COP28 to take part in this global conversation?
Every year since 2019, Michigan Tech has sent students to the conference to observe negotiations and present their research to the other attendees, adding their insight on energy infrastructure, policy, and renewable technology to the global conversation around the energy transition that proceeds with haste today.
Undergraduate students, graduate students, faculty and alumni all attend for various reasons, but advocating for solutions to the problems we see around energy in the Keweenaw and at Michigan Tech is a common thread.
This advocacy joins a chorus of the others facing challenges in their own communities across the world.
Three climate activists from a local climate action group Keweenaw Youth for Climate Action, hosted a panel on university divestment as a strategy for combating climate change that included four other University delegates from around the world in conversation about how fossil fuel divestment is an effective tool for slowing emissions and an economically favorable one.
It is thanks to chemistry professor emerita Sarah Green that Michigan Tech has this observer status at the COP, and Social Sciences professor Mark Rouleau teaches a university wide graduate and undergraduate level course on the policy and proceedings of the COP to ready students for their observer role.
Observers watch the negotiations to help ensure their legitimacy and also take part in side events and panels that discuss issues like the policy proceedings of the day or the different strategies, tech, or research other non-governmental entities are doing to observe and combat climate change.
These researches and experts can act as resources to help assist negotiators with technical advice during meetings, should they need it, and are tasked with carrying the information they learned at the COP back to their organization to help them build capacity for their role in fighting climate change.
COP this year is extra significant because of the quinquennial global stocktake, where the parties report on the progress they made on their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC’s) to cutting emissions to the level necessary to keep global climate change to just 1.5 degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels.
On top of that, every single indicator for climate change (global temperature, global CO2 level, shrinking of Arctic/Antarctic sea ice extent, etc.) has broken record highs this year in 2023, and with fossil fuel production currently being twice what it needs to be to keep emissions below 1.5 degrees celsius, the world is anxiously awaiting substantive movement on this front.
A key takeaway we had from attending our first COP this year is that it is a minor miracle that anything gets done at all at the proceedings.
The process by which the articles are drafted is slow.
All countries that are represented either by their own delegates or as part of a larger negotiating group need to consent to the draft articles, and deliberations over use of punctuation or use of a single word are common.
Still, the fact that in spite of this there are international legal agreements drafted to create a framework for every nation to donate to a green climate fund or a mechanism for having developed countries pay for the damages incurred on less developed countries due to climate change, is a miracle of communication, cooperation, and logistical ability.
For Michigan tech students, the COP is an important opportunity to learn about what the world as a whole needs, and what the world’s peoples are asking from scientists, engineers, and academics. Listening carefully at the COP, one can better align their career path with global needs, in a way that truly serves the future of the planet.
Elise Rosky, an earth scientist said of her experience, “I learned that scientists are being asked to provide better data about the oceans, mountain ecosystems, and severe weather forecasting. But it is made clear that this needs to be done in an interdisciplinary way, that gives communities ownership of the information, is inclusive of indigenous world views, and builds scientific capacity within each country. Because addressing a crisis is complex and involves social aspects as well as logical and technological aspects, without the aforementioned characteristics, the science is unable to create the intended impact on communities that it aims for.”
The transition away from fossil fuels to less pollutive forms of energy is paramount to stopping climate change, and the transition needs to happen at small scale, local levels before it can be fully realized on a national or even international scale.
One of the presentations given at Michigan Tech’s venue for COP was a feasibility study done on the Houghton-Hancock area for transitioning to 100% renewable energy by Dr. Adewale Adesanya (an MTU alum). Even though we have a particularly dark and snowy clime, the study found that it is definitely possible, with the right technology, proper installation of solar and wind, and enough community buy-in, to transition to a 100% renewable energy based system for the area. This study coupled with other new and developing technologies at Tech like Pumped Underground Storage Hydropower (PUSH), which utilizes sections of abandoned mine shafts as huge hydropower generators, paints a greener, brighter future that starts with us.