As Stanford students and faculty flood back onto campus after break, a particular group of about 50 students and faculty are cooling off from the 15th United Nations Climate Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark.
While representatives from participating countries attempted to devise guidelines for future climate change mitigation, the Stanford group, led by interdisciplinary environmental studies Prof. Stephen Schneider, received “observer” status. They participated in side events, spoke with delegates and networked with policymakers and scientists.
“We said nobody was going to be an accidental tourist,” Schneider said. “Everybody there had an obligation, and their obligation was that they needed to be an intern or a helper or something at one of the nongovernment organizations, at one of the start-up energy companies.
“We were thrilled at how deeply engaged the Stanford students were,” he added.
Both undergraduate and graduate students attended the conference. They came from various departments and usually had a special interest in the debate on climate change mitigation. Many, like Ansu Sahoo, a second-year Ph.D. student in management science and engineering, came away with their interests furthered.
Sahoo was interested in how the U.S. government should time and budget its investments in energy technologies, especially carbon capture and sequestration technology.
“What I came away with was a number of contacts that would actually help me take my research a step forward, so that was really exciting,” Sahoo said. “One of the things I’m looking at is to what degree we learn from our investments. It turns out that they had begun researching this exact question and that’s something I should be able to access shortly.”
Meanwhile, faculty members — such as Schneider; Robert Dunbar, a professor in earth sciences; and Terry Root, a senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment — held panels, talks and press conferences that addressed issues surrounding climate change mitigation and carbon emissions.
Schneider also held a press conference introducing his newest book, “Science as a Contact Sport,” where he was criticized by filmmaker Phelim McAleer, who produced the documentary Not Evil Just Wrong to challenge Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth. McAleer stood up and asked Schneider a question about climatologist Phillip Jones’s alleged deletion of “inconvenient” scientific data.
After a verbal altercation, police escorted McAleer out of the room for disrupting the press conference.
The agreement reached by the delegates at the conference, the Copenhagen Accord, was drafted by the U.S., China, India, Brazil and South Africa, but was not unanimously agreed upon by all represented nations.
While the document recognized that climate change was a pressing challenge and that actions should be taken to prevent the climate from increasing by more than two degrees Celsius, it was not legally binding for any of the signatories, a result that some smaller countries found dissatisfying. The document also did not set any specific actions that should be taken by signatories to accomplish this goal.
There were some positive developments, said Stanford participants, like Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s pledge to help raise $100 billion to assist developing nations in coping with climate change problems.
“It was much less than I wanted and much more than I expected,” Schneider said.
The specifics of the framework for future mitigation remain to be resolved in the anticipated 2010 climate conference in Mexico City, set for late November.
“I have to say, from the perspective of 35 years, this is progress in the right direction,” Schneider said. “From the perspective of what we need, we’re only 25 years too late.”