Tufts responds to UN climate change conference

UN Climate Change Conference 2015 is pictured in Bonn World Conference Center, where this year's conference is held. (Courtesy UNclimatechange / Flickr)

In tandem with the 23rd annual Conference of Parties (COP23), hosted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Bonn, Germany, from Nov. 6–17, Tufts students have recently organized many initiatives to raise awareness about environmental concerns. 

Tufts was present at COP23 this year, undergraduate representative and sophomore Paul Henjes said. Representatives and several undergraduates interested in social justice and environmentalism attended. Also selected to represent Tufts were sophomore Madeline Bondy and senior Josie Watson.

According to Henjes, Tufts hoped to promote its sustainability and environmental programs while at the conference. Bondy also noted that in her opinion, Tufts was a leader among universities in sustainability.

“The students [at Tufts] have a very strong interest in environmental science,” Bondy said. “The primary thing that sets Tufts apart would be at the very least the passion of the students.”

Henjes said that a theme of the conference was urgency in action and deliberate plans enacting change.

“We talked a lot about how our goals, even now, are not good enough. Even countries that we think are really progressive are not doing enough for climate change,” Henjes said. “There was a lot of accountability but not a lot of action.”

Tufts Climate Action (TCA) recently held a National Day of Action event on Nov. 15 on the Tufts Academic Quad in response to COP23 and the lack of formal U.S. leadership at the conference, according to Celia Bottger, a sophomore and co-leader of TCA. Bottger said the event was intended to raise student awareness about the environmental and political issues highlighted at the conference.

In particular, TCA aims to educate Tufts community members on climate change and the importance of divesting from fossil fuels, in addition to empowering students to take action.

“We [TCA] were urging Tufts, in this type of political climate where we don’t have American leadership on climate change, to take on a role as a leader in climate policy,” Bottger said. “We wanted students to know that they have a voice, and they can urge our university and our leaders to take action on climate change and uphold the values that we want Tufts to uphold.”

In April 2016, University President Anthony Monaco signed the Second Nature Climate Commitment, an initiative pledging Tufts to creating a Climate Action Plan and submitting an annual evaluation of its progress. Though this pledge was intended to promote environmentalism at Tufts, in concurrence with the university’s sustainability programs, Bottger said that the university could be doing more to enact environmental change.

“Tufts is very committed to sustainability initiatives, which is great, but I think that’s kind of where it stops,” Bottger said. “They’re happy to help Tufts compost more, but they’re not really keen on taking more political steps.”

Bottger stated that compliance with all the stipulations highlighted in the Second Nature Climate Commitment is still in its early stages, and there seems to be a lack of momentum to make significant progress, in her opinion.

According to Bondy, Tufts’ support for environmental issues does not always fully align with the environmental passions of the students.

“The University is doing a good job, more or less to the best of its ability, but I think students want more than they’re getting,” Bondy said. “It’s not an open pathway, but there are channels if you put in the effort to get the initiatives that you want.”

Both Bondy and Henjes identified their many concerns for the environment, focusing especially on  the all-encompassing effects of climate changes.

“The more time [that] passes, the harder it’s going to be to solve the problems we’ve created,” Bondy said.

Bottger echoed Bondy’s fears about these potential environmental threats, pointing to the U.S. government as a barrier to progressive change.

“I’m worried equally as much for future natural disasters that will happen as I am worried about the state of American politics,” Bottger said.

Henjes said if the government does not take an active role in combating climate change, activists, like those at Tufts, will have to pick up the slack. 

“Tufts students recognize that [climate change] is a problem, and they also recognize that their government is not doing enough to combat climate change,” Henjes explained. “Students are even more aware and more mobilized — they feel that they have to do more because the government’s doing less.”

Henjes urged all students to get involved in Tufts’ various sustainability groups, become aware of the problems facing our environment today and in the future and take action to create change.

“You have a voice as a student…. You have a role in telling your university what you want it to be. And if you really want to, you can make change at the university level,” Bottger said. “Especially in this political climate, if you’re feeling frustrated, don’t do nothing about it. Try to join social justice groups to create change.”