Five student delegates have been selected to represent the University of Toronto at the Paris Conference of Parties 21 (COP21), which runs from November 30 to December 11. The delegates, Alice (Xia) Zhu, Alissa Saieva, Christelle Broux, Sophie Guilbault, and Larissa Parker will focus on different subtopics surrounding climate change including renewable energy, emission reduction targets, and the science-policy gap.

Implemented in 1992 at the Rio Earth Summit, the annual COP objective is to review the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). After hearing about previous COPs, Zhu, a third-year environmental chemistry specialist and the University of Toronto Students’ Union’s sustainability commissioner, approached the undergraduate student advisor for the School of the Environment, David Powell, about sending a delegation.

“For me, the main reason I wanted to form a delegation from University of Toronto is because I want students to understand and be informed about climate change,” Zhu said. “COP21 is a major negotiation for the world, but most students have not heard of it before,” she said.

Powell himself will not attend the conference, but political science professor Matthew Hoffman and professor Stephen Scharper, of the Department of Anthropology and the School of the Environment, will be available to students for advice and support.

“I am confident that attending COP21 will be a great learning experience for the student delegates with respect to understanding the complexity and nature of international environmental agreements,” Powell said. “These agreements take a long time to be implemented, to evolve, and to achieve meaningful change, which is frustrating for everyone who is concerned about climate change, particularly young people, so coming to terms with that is an important experience,” said Powell.

COP21 could be crucial in negotiating a successive agreement for the Kyoto Protocol, which set greenhouse gas emission reduction targets in 1992 for the years 2008-2012. A UNFCCC study shows a good plan could prevent a global warming above 2°C by 2100, as opposed to a 3°C — or the worst-case scenario 6°C — rise.  Over 60 energy and environment ministers around the world went to the pre-COP, which the COP21 website cited as one of the largest and most productive in
UNFCCC history.

“I am interested to see what the new [Canadian] Government will commit to and its proposed implementation strategies,” said Saieva, a second-year law student. “However, I understand the complexities of international environmental agreements and that Canada has not had an ‘impressive’ environmental track record to date. As such, I am cautiously optimistic about the experience.”

“For myself personally, I am thankful for this opportunity and hope to gain a better understanding of the complexity of UN negotiations,” said Broux, who is completing a B.Sc. in environmental science and geography. “My experience will be valuable I’m sure, and I hope to share as much information as I can with the student community, both during and after conference.”

The delegates have organized campus events leading up to COP21 and will manage a blog, Facebook page, and Twitter account throughout their time at the conference.

“By going to Paris, I hope to be a key liaison between students at U of T and the events that are happening in Paris,” said Zhu.

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