COP24 in Katowice is a remarkably important gathering in the global effort to combat climate change.
The devil is indeed in the details, and Parties (countries) at this year’s conference face the daunting challenge of creating a rule book that outlines the specifics for how the Paris Agreement will be put into practice. The resulting rule book will need to provide transparency in reporting action and progress, hold countries accountable for their commitments, and encourage increased ambition on the part of the countries to go beyond what they have already promised. The Parties face a formidable task over the two weeks of the COP, and there is palpable collective apprehension here about whether or not the process will succeed.
It is a critical issue at a critical crossroads.
Since 2009 the School of Environmental Studies, under the auspices and accreditation of the School of Environmental Studies Education Foundation, has been sending a student and faculty delegation to the COP. To their knowledge, they are the first and one of the few high schools in the world to do this. This year’s delegation consists of nine young women in their senior year.
While organizing and bringing a delegation of high school students to an international United Nations conference is a challenging process, climate change represents a tremendous, life changing educational opportunity for students to study an urgent, complex issue — an issue that is rooted in a host of integrated social and scientific contexts. A youth presence at COP serves to remind the world of whose future they are deciding.
Students can clearly study and engage in the climate change issue in other ways, and I am often asked if the amount of work necessary to bring a group of high school students to a COP is worth it. The answer is a resounding yes. As it turns out, the blueprint for a successful Paris Agreement is a blueprint for powerful learning experiences at a COP as well.
When students attend a COP, the necessary but oft times burdensome layers of the school setting that can obscure learning fall away.
The essence of learning is made transparent as the students engage with the climate change issue in a vivid, authentic setting and encounter an entire conference of people passionate about learning from and sharing with each other. At the COP, students are seen as “fellow learners”, expected to work at growing their understanding of climate change and sharing their unique perspectives as youth.
As official observer delegates, students begin to develop a growing awareness of their personal responsibility to climate change. The significance and magnitude of the challenge is obvious here, but so too is the overt recognition that everyone has an accountability in their own lives and circumstances to contribute to its solutions. Students come to recognize that their role as a citizen of the world comes with the autonomy of individual choice, as well as the obligations inherent in membership in the global community.
One of the most gratifying aspects of leading a group of students to the COP is to watch them find their own voice in exploring the issue.
Interacting with academic and climate professionals of all types and from all over the world, they begin to see not only the challenges of the issue but also new and exciting potential for their own personal and professional lives. The COP experience stretches them to consider new and novel possibilities, fans their interest and ambition to pursue those possibilities, and connects them with networks that could help make new goals a reality.