From late November to early December, a bit of United Nations alphabet soup hit the sweltering heat of Doha, Qatar. As part of the course “U.N. Climate Change Negotiations Practicum,” ten select master of environmental management candidates from the Nicholas School of the Environment attended the eighteenth session of the Conference of the Parties (COP18) to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). At COP18, the students were able to apply classroom lessons directly to the annual convention that sets environmental policy for the 192 member countries and countless NGOs.
The student-initiated and student-led course was piloted last year under the direction of earth and ocean sciences professor Paul Baker. Designed to give students experience with environmental policy, the class worked on the 2011 conference in Durban, South Africa. The Duke contingent engaged with nonprofit organizations in Durban, including Islands First, a group dedicated to serving small island countries. At COP18, the delegation from Palau, an island nation in the Pacific, specifically requested assistance from the Duke team.
While large countries such as the U.S. and China send large negotiating teams, developing countries often do not have enough resources to represent their interests at concurrent meetings. The imbalance is further underscored by the fact that developed countries usually create the bulk of carbon emissions, but small countries— particularly islands—face the brunt of rising sea levels, catastrophic storms, and the other hazards of climate change. “Logistically, the deck is stacked against island states and less-developed nations,” says Christa Owens ’14, a delegate to Doha and coordinator for next year’s class trip to COP19 in Warsaw.