Students observe at U.N. Climate Change Conf.

Sixteen students and two Minnesota lawmakers will stay in Cancun, Mexico until Dec. 10.

Ashley Bray

Kendra Tillberry wants to be involved in talks about global climate change now because, at 19, she knows sheâÄôll be around when its effects become more visible.

The political science junior travelled to Cancun last week to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference. SheâÄôs part of a group of 16 students who accompanied two Minnesota lawmakers to participate as official observers at the conference.

TheyâÄôll stay in Mexico until Dec. 10 and during that time will watch the formal negotiations between countries through a live video feed.

Peter Schmidt, a German and environmental policy management fifth year, said the U.N. representatives peppered their opening speeches with phrases that indicated they would “search for an agreement that is cooperative, ambitious, legally binding and, most importantly, transparent.”

In addition to viewing the formal negotiations, the students attend side events offered by various organizations, Schmidt said.

“The side events end up being a very well-balanced discussion,” he said. Panels addressed issues specific to a certain country and students can ask questions and contribute to the conversation.

Tillberry said itâÄôs hard for her to see the rest of the world focusing on climate change solutions while America still debates the existence of the problem.

“Everyone here believes [climate change] is a problem,” she said of those
attending the conference.

The events at the conference focused on questions regarding funding solutions, choosing what data to use and choosing what standards should be set âÄî for example, how many parts per million of carbon is acceptable.

Because of the ongoing debate, Tillberry said she doesnâÄôt think the U.S. will be of much influence during the conference.

“IâÄôm hopeful that something great will happen here, but because the U.S. is lax on federal policy and its leadership, itâÄôs going to be a really tough battle,” she said.

The students are a mix of graduate and undergraduates, many of whom learned of the trip through a class co-taught by state Rep. Kate Knuth, D-New Brighton, and Sen. Ellen Anderson, D-St. Paul.

Students had to go through an application process and will receive study abroad credit for attending the conference.

Knuth said she has three goals she hopes the students will achieve by attending the conference: Understand the process, understand what happens well enough to communicate their experiences to others and learn from as many people from other countries as possible.

Schmidt and Tillberry both said they have their own personal goals as well.

“On a basic level, this is definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but on a more selfish level, I think this is a great opportunity to network with both domestic and international partners,” Schmidt said.

TillberryâÄôs goals are more idealistic.

“I really want [them] to realize that even though IâÄôm 19, IâÄôm a member of the youth voice at this conference that can bring a lot of knowledge to the table,” she said. “By 2050, all these effects [of climate change] are going to happen and IâÄôm still going to be alive âĦ Our voices are important because itâÄôs our world and these policymakers are making decisions we have to live with.”