Boston College has received accreditation to send a delegation of faculty and students to observe the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP26, to be held in Glasgow, Scotland, in early November.

The granting of observer status offers a unique opportunity to the delegation to attend events organized around the negotiations among parties to the United Nations Framework Convention of Climate Change, but also reflects BC’s academic and research strengths on the issue of climate science and policy, according to faculty at the center of the initiative.

David Wirth

David Wirth

“This is an opportunity for our students, the professionals of the future, to observe this process in action,” said Boston College Law School Professor David Wirth, an expert on international environmental law and policy. “It is an opportunity for our faculty to showcase their research to their peers, policy-makers, decision-makers, all collected in one place.”

COP26—technically the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to international climate accords dating back to 1992—brings together nation states to negotiate and coordinate efforts at the highest levels of government to combat climate change, said Wirth, who attended COP24, which was held in 2018 in Poland. The 26th eeting was postponed last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

A number of faculty have been coordinating through BC's Schiller Institute for Integrated Science and Society to select a group of faculty, graduate students, and undergraduates. At this time, the size of the group has not been determined.

David Deese

David Deese

“It is substantial recognition when you look collectively at what is going on at the university among faculty and students,” said Professor of Political Science David Deese, who has worked on the project with Wirth. “There are a limited number of slots for universities for formal status and limits on the overall number of people accredited to attend. It is a nice feather in the cap for BC and representative of our status as a leading nationally ranked research university in the U.S.”

In addition to Deese, the delegation includes Professor of Philosophy Patrick Byrne, School of Theology and Ministry Professor Mary Jo Iozzio, School of Social Work Assistant Professor Praveen Kumar, Environmental Studies Program Director Tara Pisani Gareau, Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy staff member Cindy Nguyen, International Studies Program Director Erik Owens, Associate Professor of the Practice of Philosophy David Storey, Schiller Institute Visiting Professor Kurt Straif, and Visiting Associate Professor of Computer Science Rafael Ubal Tena.

Students slated to attend include Lynch School senior Virginia Alex, Connell School senior Nicola Roux, and, from the Morrissey College, seniors Diana Bunge and Mingyue Ma and junior Julia Horchos.

Professor of Biology Philip Landrigan, director of BC's Global Public Health and the Common Good program, will be a featured panelist on November 1 at “Climate Change, Human and Ocean Health,” a COP26 event hosted by organizations that include the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the World Meteorological Organization.

Landrigan will appear remotely from Chestnut Hill on the panel, which takes place within the massive convention center complex hosting COP26. He will discuss findings from a report on ocean pollution that he co-authored as part of a research partnership with the Prince Albert II of Monaco Foundation and the Centre Scientifique de Monaco, two additional co-hosts of the Glasgow program.

In 2015, in response to Pope Francis’s environmental encyclical, Laudato Si’,  the University hosted a four-day conference “Our Common Home: An Ethical Summons to Tackle Climate Change,” which examined the global impact of the encyclical on faith, environmental policy and social justice. Faculty expertise in those areas, as well as public health, could be featured in a panel presentation, if selected, Wirth said.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the U.N. scientific body advising the negotiations, says that there is a need for global 45 percent reduction in emissions by 2030 to avert the worst effects of a warming planet.

It is substantial recognition . . . There are a limited number of slots for universities for formal status and limits on the overall number of people accredited to attend. It is a nice feather in the cap for BC and representative of our status as a leading nationally ranked research university in the U.S.
Professor of Political Science David Deese

Earlier this year, President Joseph Biden set a goal to reduce U.S. carbon emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030, based on a 2005 benchmark. On his first day in office, Biden reversed the position of former President Donald Trump and announced the U.S. would rejoin the Paris climate accord.

In 2015, former president Barack Obama pledged a 26-28 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2025.

How nations negotiate and work together to make such pledges a reality is at the center of the meetings, said Wirth. The official intergovernmental meetings, which are closed to the public, embrace a wide range of issues, such as social and economic justice, gender equity, the effects of climate change on indigenous peoples, and the disparate impact of climate change on the Global South, he said.

“It is invigorating to be at the center of the action,” said Wirth. “Time is running short. The U.S. has stepped up with renewed goals. So have other states. But we are still falling short. Students can be there, faculty can be there, and see the changes and proposals as they are being made and see them come out in real time.”

Philip Landrigan, M.D.

Philip Landrigan, M.D.

Landrigan, also director of BC's Global Observatory on Pollution and Health, said the opportunity to witness the proceedings can help meet the challenges of communicating not only climate science and policy, but the impact on citizens around the world.

“One of the things I’ve been very concerned about is that all of us working in this area need to do a much better job of educating people on the planet that climate change will influence their lives and their children’s lives now and in to the future.

“One of the things we’ve been try to do in our work at BC is really spell out the links between climate change and health,” Landrigan added. “Recent events have made that task much easier. Anyone who was on campus 2-3 weeks ago saw smoke from forest fires on west coast blanketing us in Boston. As far as I’m concerned, a day like that is a preview of coming attractions. It is going to become more prevalent and more severe as climate change worsens.”

Ed Hayward | University Communications | October 2021