As the Paris climate talks enter the homestretch this week, with leaders of more than 150 countries and delegates from 195 countries striving to reach a legally binding and universal agreement on slowing global warming, many members of the Dartmouth community participated—in official and nonofficial capacities.
Prominent among the Dartmouth attendees is Todd Stern ’73, who is leading the U.S. delegation at the conference, known as COP21. He is the U.S. State Department’s Special Envoy for Climate Change and the lead negotiator for the U.S. delegation.
“Among the super-bureaucrats in Washington, there is no shortage of alpha-plus types who try to roll over their opponents, and then there are a few who are unfailingly thoughtful, courteous, ready to engage with their critics, and determined to find compromise where possible without sacrificing principle,” says Daniel Benjamin, the Norman E. McCulloch Jr. Director of the John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding. “Todd is a great exemplar of the latter group. He stands out as someone who has great responsibility and yet is widely respected and well liked.”
Among the other Dartmouth alumni, faculty, staff, and students involved in the conference:
Morgan Curtis ’14
After bicycling for five months and three days, covering more than 3,000 miles, Morgan Curtis ’14 and a companion arrived at COP21. She is attending the conference as a youth delegate, representing SustainUS (US Youth for Sustainable Development).
“Along our journey we gathered stories of people mobilizing for climate action from the grassroots,” she says. “Among those we visited were people resisting fossil fuel infrastructure in New Brunswick and others organizing community renewable energy co-operatives in England.
“The transition from the travel to being inside the meeting is quite dramatic. This place is frantic, bureaucratic, and, frankly, disconnected from the people of the climate movement outside these hallowed halls.”
Anne Kapuscinski, the Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Professor in Sustainability Science and professor of environmental studies, became chair of the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) board of directors on Oct. 28, and is attending COP21 as a member of the UCS delegation. (UCS is there in an observer status.)
“UCS has become widely respected internationally and it is viewed as an honest broker. Delegates from many different countries will come up to us and ask for information or interpretation of things that are being debated, to understand the science behind it,” Kapuscinski says. “UCS paid my way, so that is going to be my main role, but I am not going to ignore the fact that I am also a Dartmouth professor and I will definitely connect with the Dartmouth students attending.”
Business students have a vested interest in climate change, says Anant Sundaram, a visiting professor of business administration at the Tuck School of Business. He has attended prior COP meetings with his students. Sundaram pioneered the course “Business and Climate Change,” the first of its kind in a U.S. business school.
“There is a remarkable degree of interest in the business school on this issue,” he says. “The students will grow up in a world in which there could be a significant price on carbon and, if that is the case, the implications are enormous. And the fact that they want to understand this and be a part of the solution is to me quite impressive.
“For the students who have attended past conferences, it has been an absolute eye-opener. In the business world we are far removed from the world of global negotiations over mega-issues. To actually be in the middle of it, to see how it works, really gives them a feeling on the ground for the challenges and to some extent the opportunities involved in getting a solution.”
Merritt Patridge, Tuck ’13, the interim director of the Center for Business and Society at the Tuck School of Business, says Kelsey MacEachern, Tuck ’16; Patrick Turevon, Tuck ’16; Nell Achtmeyer, Tuck ’16; and Christine Hou, Tuck ’15, are attending the climate conference.
“Climate change is an issue of major global concern that current and future business leaders will have to confront. Being involved in a meeting like COP enhances what our students can learn in the Tuck curriculum about business opportunities, challenges, and risks,” says Patridge.
“We are planning a series of conversations and speakers on climate change at Tuck during the winter and spring terms to bring the learnings and insights from Paris back to the broader Tuck community,” she says.
Leehi Yona ’16
Canadian Leehi Yona ’16, a Dartmouth Senior Fellow, is a global climate activist, having attended nine conferences, including COP21. She is also part of the SustainUs youth delegation, and is optimistic about the conference.
“We have heard these incredibly powerful words from President Obama—a lot of talk but very little walk,” she says. “Such a powerful speech made me hopeful that that there could be action. A lot of people were very inspired by his speech but are now holding him to his words.
“Of course I am hopeful that something good will come out of this. As a young person I have no choice but to be hopeful. Not being hopeful about climate change would be acknowledging that my future isn’t one worth pursuing.
"I think the College’s decision to join the Act on Climate pledge indicates good intentions to act on climate change," she says. "I do, however, feel very strongly that this pledge (as reaffirmed by the White House itself) is purely symbolic, and without real, tangible, serious, concrete action from Dartmouth administration, it is quite toothless. I see some parallels between the pledge and this summit, in that if we pat ourselves on the back and consider what we sign on to as enough to fight climate change, we are part of the problem and not the solution. I strongly believe that the College must divest itself from the top 200 fossil fuel companies if it wants to back its talk on climate change with a strong walk."
Rosalie Kerr ’97, Dartmouth’s director of sustainability, is not attending the conference, but, like many others, is following it closely from Hanover.
“On Nov. 19, even before the start of the conference, the White House announced that more than 200 university and college campuses had signed the American Campuses Act on Climate Pledge, in support of anticipated initiatives at COP21,” Kerr says. “Dartmouth was among them.”
Consistent with the pledge, Kerr says, the College has taken a leading role in several research areas related to climate change, including Arctic and Antarctic research, ice research, climate and soils research, and energy research.
“President Obama is making climate change a major legacy issue in what remains of his presidency,” she says. “He attended the climate talks yesterday and this emphasizes the importance of this year in particular. Todd Stern will be carrying the torch.”