Climate Conference attracts Farm

Dec. 2, 2009, 11:39 p.m.

Stanford students, faculty and staff will be among an estimated 15,000 participants from 192 countries attending the 15th United Nations Climate Conference (COP15) in Copenhagen, Denmark, this month.

The Conference will work toward the goal set by over 180 nations in the Bali Road Map of 2007, which called for the international community to agree by 2009 on a binding framework for future climate change mitigation.

Among those attending the event, which takes place Dec. 7 to 18, will be at least 33 students as well as 13 University faculty and staff. While delegates from participating countries are at the negotiating table ironing out the specifics of the accord, these faculty, staff and students from a variety of departments at the University will be involved in other aspects of the conference.

As part of a non-governmental organization (NGO), members from the University have observer status at the conference. This gives representatives the opportunity to speak with delegates, network with other policymakers and scientists, and discuss problems and possible solutions with like-minded individuals.

“It’s a huge opportunity for faculty and students to network with people in the community they are interested in continuing research with, and also it’s a great education opportunity for all those involved,” said Sarah Jo Chadwick, a staff member in the department of biological sciences who helped organize the trip to Copenhagen.

Side events such as panels and talks will be held by many NGOs, including Stanford’s representation, for those interested.

“There will be many side events… on human health, on economic risk, agricultural risk and human disease risk associated with different elements of climate change,” said Robert Dunbar, professor in the School of Earth Sciences and senior fellow at the Woods Institute for the Environment.

Dunbar, who is also part of the management committee at the Center for Ocean Solutions, will present at a panel entitled “Ocean Acidification: The Other CO2 Problem,” in which he hopes to raise awareness of a lesser-known problem stemming from carbon emissions.

“Because of ocean acidification, we have a very good reason to think oceans will be impacted [by carbon emissions], and it’s going to be a completely separate impact from global warming,” Dunbar said. “I’m hoping that thinking about the oceanic involvement will help convince people that this is an urgent issue that needs to be dealt with now.”

Stephen Schneider, professor of interdisciplinary environmental studies and a well-known expert in the field of climate change, will also give talks about his latest book, “Science as a Contact Sport,” which covers the four decades he spent in the “climate change battle.”

Schneider, who is currently teaching a course called “Copenhagen Climate Protocol: Interpreting the Chaos,” is also responsible for bringing many students to Denmark by offering those enrolled in his class the opportunity to go with him to the conference. The opportunity to attend the conference was not limited to students who took Schneider’s class, however. In early September, both undergraduate and graduate students had the opportunity to apply for COP15.

In general, students heading to Denmark have a special interest in some aspect of climate change. Ansu Sahoo, a Ph.D. student in management science and engineering, for example, hopes to learn more about energy technology research and development at the conference.

“I’m interested in talking to delegates in both the United States and China to understand what their perspectives are on the potential for research and development that can accelerate the development and deployment of carbon capture and sequestration technology,” Sahoo said.

Students interested in public policy also look forward to gaining something from the experience.

“I’ll be volunteering with a couple of different organizations,” said law student Bruce Ho. “There will be a delegation representing the interests of the California government, so I’ll be working with them, and I’m also likely to work with a couple of nonprofits involved with the state.”

Regardless of the outcome of the negotiations, both students and faculty seem to believe they will benefit from the networking and learning experience offered by the conference. At the same time, delegates and other attendees will benefit from the research and ideas that these members of the Stanford community will bring.

“This attempt at making binding international commitments is pretty tough and fascinating to watch,” Dunbar said. “I’m excited to go see the process.”

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