by Garth Denton-Borhaug
In 2009, Moravian College became one of a handful of small liberal arts colleges accredited to participate in the annual United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conference as civil society observers. The convention is a treaty that emerged from the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, with the goal of implementing international policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and mitigate the impacts of global climate change.
“There is something truly remarkable about people from nearly every corner of the world uniting under one cause. We may not share a similar culture, ethnicity, religion, or political ideologies, but we do share the Earth.”
As members of civil society participating in the negotiations meetings, known as the Conference of the Parties (COP), our principal goal is to observe and communicate our findings and experiences to the college and to the surrounding community as well. Representing an institution of higher learning, we believe it to be our duty to remain informed of the most current progress in the science and policy of climate change. Attending the COP undoubtedly moves us towards the forefront of this knowledge. The most difficult aspect of our role as COP attendees, however, is not obtaining this knowledge, but rather getting people to take notice and recognize that ultimately, climate change concerns us all.
Participating at the COP 16 in Mexico two years ago was nothing short of a life-changing experience for me. It was only a mere 3 months before the COP that I was registering for classes at Moravian for the first time and had decided to begin my studies majoring in environmental science. On the advice of the Dean of Academic Affairs, and admittedly the promise of a trip to Mexico, I registered for the course Environmental Justice on the International Stage. This was the greatest decision I’ve made at Moravian during my career as an undergrad. Through experiencing the COP firsthand, the realities of climate change and environmental injustices really began to resonate within me. There is something truly remarkable about connecting with people who hail from nearly every corner of the world and uniting under one cause. We may not share a similar culture, ethnicity, religion, or political ideologies, but we do share the Earth.
Negotiations continue to fail at the UNFCCC for a number of reasons: lack of political will, economic disincentives, and on the part of the general public, failure to recognize the urgency of the climate crisis and act responsibly. As a result, an ambitious and meaningful legally binding treaty to reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide still escapes us. We cannot depend on the negotiations to solve all our problems alone. The pressing question we face now is: What can we take away from the COP that can help us make obtainable progress?
At Moravian College, we believe that educating others is the most important thing we can do. All delegation members contribute to a blog (Moravian College at the UNFCCC) where we report our findings and experiences. It is still hard to get the knowledge to stick, however, and figure out how to get people to even care for that matter. Obviously, not everyone has the opportunity to attend a COP like myself, where impacts of climate change have a face. It’s one thing to read about increasing global temperatures and melting glaciers in the newspaper. But when you witness firsthand accounts from people living in low-lying island nations like the Maldives and Kiribati, where homes, farms, and entire islands are disappearing beneath the rising ocean in front of their eyes, and hear them plead for a response to climate change with literally their own survival at stake – well, that’s another thing entirely. As a dominant world power and a nation responsible for over 25% of the world’s fossil fuel consumption, the rest of the world is looking to the U.S. for leadership. The sad reality is that we are failing to rise as leaders.
The approach we take at Moravian resembles methods of nearly all nongovernmental observers attending the UNFCCC: educating others and implementing sustainable practices appropriate for our surrounding environment. As an institution of higher learning, Moravian has significant potential to be an influential actor in our region’s growing interest in sustainability with our resourcefulness and voice in the local community. Corollary to the college’s UNFCCC accreditation, students in recent years have participated in undergraduate research and honors projects, internships, independent studies, and courses dedicated to making the college and surrounding community more sustainable.
Could we dedicate more effort towards achieving sustainability? Absolutely. But we know that being persistent in educating and engaging our students, and encouraging the participation of members in the surrounding community in activities dedicated to sustainability, is meaningful and produces something tangible. We can contribute to a greater sense of stewardship and induce solidarity among those who live in the environment we all share. One thing is certain: Moravian’s participation at the UNFCCC alone can forever influence young minds and inspire us with the grand purpose of perpetuating equity and a healthy Earth.
Garth comes from Baltimore and is a senior at Moravian College majoring in environmental science and working with the Alliance as a campus sustainability intern.
(Published in the 2013 edition of Sustainable Lehigh Valley)
(Essays express the ideas of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Alliance.)