UC San Diego to Send Delegation to COP21


University of California, San Diego scientists and students will be traveling to international climate negotiations in Paris next week to inform the talks with climate science findings and to spur the momentum toward effective international climate action that UC San Diego scientists have been instrumental in creating.

The contingent of 16 researchers, students, and staff is part of the UC Revelle Program for Climate Science and Policy, a non-governmental organization that represents the University of California system at United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) conferences held annually.

“Participation in COP21 and associated climate negotiations advance our understanding and protection of our planet, which is one of our grand research themes at UC San Diego,” said UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla. “We are committed to conducting cutting-edge research and disseminating our knowledge to improve our world.”

The 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) will be held from Nov. 30 to Dec. 11 and negotiators are hopeful that the accord will yield a binding agreement among countries to meet targets for reducing their emissions of greenhouse gases.

“Our role in these climate conferences is to bring science into the conversation as much as possible so that the strategies that may become national policies have the best chance to be effective in mitigating the changes in nature that human activities have precipitated,” said Margaret Leinen, the director of Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego and the head of the UC Revelle delegation.

At COP21, the UC San Diego contingent will co-host with the government of Chile a side event on Dec. 5 focusing on the state of climate change impacts on the oceans, which range from the deoxygenation of large regions of ocean depths to the gradual lowering of its pH as oceans take up a portion of the carbon dioxide that activities such as fossil fuel burning add to the atmosphere. Representatives from Chile will focus on recent efforts in protecting marine regions and mitigation measures that could serve as a model for other countries.

The side event is one of hundreds of UNFCCC-sanctioned events that take place at the COP21 venue, Le Bourget. Side events are intended to be platforms for NGOs to brief negotiators on myriad aspects of the climate change issue.

David Victor, a professor of international relations at UC San Diego’s School of Global Policy and Strategy (GPS) and director of the Laboratory on International Law and Regulation, will also attend the Paris talks. Victor said that his observations of early COP meetings led him to believe they would lead inevitably to inaction, a process he described in his 2011 book Global Warming Gridlock: Creating More Effective Strategies for Protecting the Planet.

“That’s what we’ve seen all the way through the Copenhagen conference (COP15) in 2009,” said Victor. “When that conference ended in failure, it also opened a space for countries to try new strategies and ideas. That included a larger role for “bottom up” approaches in which countries would set their own policies – giving them flexibility to tailor their contributions to what they were willing and able to do at home. For years I have thought that kind of approach would be more effective, and in Paris, we will see it ondisplay. So that’s why I am going – to see how countries grapple with this new system and because I think, finally, it will have an impact.”

In all, more than 30 researchers and students from throughout the University of California system are expected to attend COP21.

Additionally Scripps Oceanography climate and atmospheric scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan will take part in several events at COP21 related to a June 2015 encyclical from Pope Francis, Laudato Si, that calls on Catholics to understand the importance of environmental protection as an social justice objective.  Ramanathan, a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences since 2004, played a pivotal role in the creation of the encyclical and will attend COP21 as an advisor to the Holy See. In May 2014, he organized a historic joint workshop of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Pontifical Academy of Social Sciences at the Vatican and made a personal appeal to the pope to raise awareness about the effects of climate change on society, especially on the world’s poor.

“My primary goal at COP21, including my role as science advisor to the Holy See, is to make sure the interests of the poorest three billion people who had very little role in carbon pollution receive global attention.”

Ramanathan will also participate in panel discussions hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a union of 46 countries, the European Union, and UNEP formed in 2012 largely to address pollutants that pose a dual problem of accelerating global warming and posing a hazard to public health.

“It is important that COP21 produces a binding agreement for mitigating climate change pollution signed by all countries,” said Ramanathan. “In my view, the details of the agreement are not too critical. The agreement must recognize the role of humans in climate change and the possibility of catastrophic changes in the near future without prompt mitigation actions now. Such an agreement should include a provision to provide energy access to the poorest three billion people so that they can cope with and adapt to climate changes.”

For students attending COP21, the event is an opportunity to observe how their science is translated to diplomacy and public policy arenas. Scripps Oceanography will co-host exhibits at which students and researchers can directly engage with other conference participants.

“You could not find a better target audience,” said Yassir Eddebbar, a fifth-year PhD candidate in oceanography at Scripps. “While working at the Scripps booth, you can interact with delegates from dozens of countries within a couple hours. The gap in awareness of ocean topics in these meetings is concerning, and highlights the importance of the presence of ocean scientists in these conferences."

“I’m also excited for the opportunity to interact with people from all around the world and get to learn more about the wide variety of issues that are being faced in connection to climate change, many of which may not be as obvious,” said Mariela Brooks, another PhD candidate in oceanography at Scripps.

“My personal focus will be on the interplay of science, policy and politics, particularly on the role of short-lived climate pollutants in facilitating a bottom-up approach to treaty formation,” said Shayla Ragimov, a master’s candidate at GPS. “I anticipate that COP21 will not only be the coming together of national delegates but also of the latest science and technology, a spirit of hope and a showcase of best practices.”

The UC San Diego delegation will be presenting news throughout COP21 via its website and several social media channels.  Researchers will be live-Tweeting from the event through the feeds @scripps_ocean and @ucrevelle. 

Related Image Gallery: Scripps at COP21 Photo Gallery

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