COP22 As A Unique Educational Opportunity

Last week many Minnesotans took a somber moment to remember the anniversary of Senator Paul Wellstone’s death in a plane crash in northern Minnesota 14 years ago. A man of conviction and a principled representative, he was known for his oft-used adage, “ We all do better when we all do better.”

This axiom has been on my mind a lot the past few days as our delegation of students from the School of Environment Students (SES) prepares to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP22 conference in Marrakesh, Morocco. Since 2009, the School of Environmental Studies, under the auspices of its Education Foundation, has sent a delegation of students to participate in the annual COP conference as official observers representing Civil Society.

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A COP conference is an amazing event to experience. To witness representatives from virtually every country in the world coming together in one place to focus on the most critical environmental challenge of our time is an incredible, often life-changing opportunity. I can’t imagine the planning and forethought that must go into planning an event of this magnitude, but with each COP I attend I have a growing awareness and appreciation for the role that this process plays in bringing the global community together effectively to address the climate change challenge.

craigjohnson2009withwillI have come to believe that the UNFCCC aspires to Senator Wellstone’s adage – we all do better when we all do better – in the opportunities it affords those who participate in its work. Of course a COP conference allows for formal negotiations by representatives of the nations of the world, but it also create contexts for an unparalleled array of alliances, constituencies, non-profits, corporations, individuals, and government agencies to work, debate, learn, and grow together – returning home better equipped to implement climate change solutions, and to make a bigger contribution to the collective work of emissions reductions that must be done. Just as atmospheric carbon knows only a global atmosphere with no borders, the increased capacity of the global citizenry to address climate change creates momentum toward solutions that benefit us all.

In the case of SES, the value of partnership in helping us “do better” is exemplified in our organizational relationship with Climate Generation. Climate change is a “perfect problem” for students to examine. It can only be understood and addressed in an integrated way and it fits well with the SES mission to create contexts for students to engage the world in authentic ways.  Eight years ago, under the guidance and support of Climate Generation, the SES Education Foundation gained UNFCCC accreditation, and, after COP22, 42 SES students will have participated as official observer delegates at 7 COP conferences. Youth add a powerful, unique perspective to the conversations around climate change and its solutions. They are unfettered by “the way we’ve done things before” and provide a strong moral voice to the issues of intergenerational equity, as it is their generation that will deal with many of the impacts of climate change in the future.

Now a new group of SESers is poised to attend COP22 and actively engage in learning about and addressing the challenges of climate change.  We are excited to partner with Climate Generation in sharing our experiences, and to use this educational opportunity to make a contribution to this important work.

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