Students attend UN climate talks in Peru; I-CARES helps fund trip

“It’s an amazing practicum learning experience. You get to see this process up close, in person, and it was everything that interests me,” said senior Jessica Rudnick who is studying environmental earth science.

Delegation from Washington University attended the COP20 negotiations in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. Pictured (from left) Engineering PhD candidate Akshay Gopan, Arts & Sciences undergraduate Jessic Redneck, law school student Tamara Slater and University College instructor Anu Hittle.

Delegation from Washington University attended the COP20 negotiations in Lima, Peru, in December 2014. Pictured (from left) Engineering PhD candidate Akshay Gopan, Arts & Sciences undergraduate Jessic Redneck, law school student Tamara Slater and University College instructor Anu Hittle.

Among the throngs of thousands who attended the United Nations climate change conference in Lima, Peru, in December 2015 was a student delegation from Washington University in St. Louis, which included Rudnick.

In Lima, delegates from nearly 200 countries worked on drafts for a global climate deal that is supposed to be adopted this year in Paris.

Rudnick was one of four undergraduates and two graduate students from the university who made the trek with lecturer in law Beth Martin and University College instructor Anu Hittle as part of courses they separately teach. Martin accompanied three students the first week and Hittle, with three different students, attended the second week of negotiations.

Hittle said it was an ideal way to introduce students to the complexity of getting different countries to work toward the common goal of addressing the issue of climate change.

“The negotiations themselves, painful as they may seem, are eye-opening for students from all disciplines,” Hittle explained. “They learn firsthand that international negotiations are slow, that change is hard to come by and why that is so.”

Prior to their trip, the students met weekly in their separate groups to work on research projects and prepare for the conference. They focused on different research areas including rivers and adaptations, how local governments deal with climate change and carbon capture and storage.

At the conference, students had the choice of observing negotiation sessions or open sessions, taking part in small group discussions with think tank leaders and government officials and attending side events. Their understanding of the process was enhanced by the University College course where students learned about the negotiations in context of other international agreements and global governance.

“Manning the booth was really cool”

Junior Teddy Sims, an international and area studies major, did more than just observe during his time at the conference, he actually helped man a booth about rivers and delta system adaptations. The booth showcased the I-CARES funded research of John Hoal, PhD, associate professor and director of the Master of Urban Design program in the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, and Derek Hoeferlin, assistant professor of architecture.

Students man the MISI-ZIIBI project booth, showcasing the work of Professors Hoal and Hoeferlin on climate adaptation strategies for the great rivers.

Students man the MISI-ZIIBI project booth, showcasing the work of Professors Hoal and Hoeferlin on climate adaptation strategies for the great rivers.

“Manning the booth was really cool,” Sims said. “Having a physical space where the university was represented and where people could come up and talk to us was an invaluable experience. Of the more than 150 booths only five or six universities were represented so ours really stood out in that way.”

Sims is interested in sustainable development and climate change and was excited about witnessing the negotiations firsthand. He relished the opportunity to speak with stakeholders from such countries as Tanzania and Indonesia.

“To have researchers, diplomats or ministers come and talk to us about what we’re doing in St. Louis was really cool,” he said. “Being able to field questions and listen to them and what they’re doing on the ground and compare and contrast was very interesting.”

For Akshay Gopan the climate conference was unlike anything he’d ever experienced.

“It’s not something that you will be able to understand very well until you go there,” said the PhD-candidate in the Department of Energy, Environmental & Chemical Engineering. “When you’re there, you understand the enormity and difficulty in getting any part of the climate deal going, considering there are 196 parties and it is to everyone’s economic advantage [in the short term].”

Gopan’s focus area was carbon capture and storage. The subject matter was ideal for him as he works on climate change issues from a chemical engineering point of view, serving as a graduate student in the Laboratory for Advanced Combustion & Energy Research (LACER). The laboratory is directed by Richard Axelbaum, PhD, the Stifel & Quinette Jens Professor of Environmental Engineering Science and director of the Consortium for Clean Coal Utilization (CCCU).

I-CARES supports the program

Funding to help offset airfare and lodging for the students and instructors was provided through the International Center for Advanced Renewable Energy and Sustainability (I-CARES). In addition to the funding, I-CARES also provided videoconferencing support for the groups in St. Louis to meet with the delegates in Lima and administrative support for a public event to be held spring 2015 to share the experience with the broader community.

During the spring semester the students will also deliver a lecture for the new interdisciplinary freshman climate change course.

“This was a wonderful opportunity for the students, one that I-CARES was thrilled to support” said Himadri Pakrasi, PhD, the Myron and Sonya Glassberg/Albert and Blanche Greensfelder Distinguished University Professor and director of I-CARES. “The program’s mission falls in perfect alignment with the key I-CARES objectives of fostering research on energy, environment and sustainability. Opportunities such as this that bring together both the technical issues of climate change and the social processes of international collaboration are critical to developing effective leaders to address such immense global challenges in the future.”


I-CARES Media Contact: Myra Lopez, myralopez@wustl.edu