For two weeks in early December, the United Nations held its 24th annual Conference of the Parties (COP) in Katowice, Poland to discuss the framework for addressing climate change. The event featured diplomatic leaders, government officials and environmental experts from around the world, along with nine students from the School of Environmental Studies (SES).
This is the ninth year juniors and seniors from SES have attended the conference, during which officials discussed the current state of the world’s climate and how countries can take steps toward greener practices. Principal Lauren Trainer said SES is the only American school to have official observer status with the U.N., allowing students to attend the conference. Students had to go through an interview process with SES teachers and pass a climate change and policy course to be considered for the trip.
The students selected to attend were Isabel Gustafson, Kira Buck, Jozie Burns, Abby Helke, McKenna Krey, Mikayla Samlaska, Maddy Lavan, Lily Trainer and Carly Zielinski. They split into two groups so each could have a week to attend the conference and a week to explore the area.
“It was really interesting to see how everything we do affects our climate,” said Zielinski, a senior. “We often think of how we as humans can impact our climate, but it was eye-opening to see how animals and sports and even how people make their livelihood can affect our world.”
Sessions throughout the week offered a variety of topics related to weather, climate and national and global policies. Students were able to tailor their experience to match their interests. Lavan, a senior who aspires to work in human rights and advocacy, said she attended many seminars focused on how climate affects culture and sustainability.
“In a lot of cultures, the climate can impact peoples’ financial well-being,”she said. “For some, gathering water is critical to their operation and critical to their survival. But with rising temperatures, water in those regions is evaporating and creating inconsistent weather patterns.”
Zielinski, who wants to explore a career in climatology, took part in sessions that looked at how sports can have an impact on the globe. “I was surprised to see just how much the Olympics takes a toll on our climate,” she said. “A lot of land experiences harsh change as a result of building the venues.”
Students also attended a press conference facilitated by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, who talked about new climate data and shared how nations can work together to create bipartisan policies.
Throughout the two weeks, students said the participants reached the same conclusion that addressing the long-term stability of the world has to be a collaborative effort.
“I am very proud of these young women,” Principal Trainer said. “Not only did they ask to be part of the conversation, they also took personal responsibility to be change-makers. Our curriculum at SES really lends itself to them attending an event like this. And they’ve really stepped up into a leadership position where they can make a difference.”