Environment + Climate

UCLA faculty, students in Paris for historic UN climate talks

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Start of UN climate talks in Paris
Thibault Camus/AP

More than 100 heads of state began gathering today in Paris for the 2015 United Nations Climate Conference. A group of UCLA faculty and students are joining in on the talks.

All eyes are on Paris as the nations of the world come together beginning today to negotiate the future of the planet at the 2015 UN Climate Conference (COP-21), and California is at the bargaining table, with many from the state participating, including five UCLA faculty and seven students.

California has set aggressive goals for curbing emissions and transitioning to a carbon-neutral future, and UC has been at the forefront of the research and development of the cutting-edge approaches that will make this possible.

The university, which has pledged to achieve complete carbon neutrality systemwide by 2025, hopes to lead by example.

“Our narrative is a summary of our university’s bold and ambitious efforts to bring our community of half a million citizens — spanning 10 campuses, three national laboratories, and a division of agricultural and natural resources — to carbon neutrality within 10 years,” UC climate researchers stated in a letter to Laurent Fabius, president of the COP-21 conference and the French minister of foreign affairs and international development.

“We believe that these efforts and their outcomes to date constitute an inspiring and effective learning model for the state of California, now the world’s seventh largest economy, and the world at large,” the UC researchers emphasized in their letter.

Five UCLA climate and law experts are among the more than 30 UC faculty members attending the 12-day event, along with seven UCLA law students. UCLA is one of only a handful of universities nationwide to send students to these high-level meetings, where Bruins will attend negotiation sessions and provide legal analyses to small-island nations, which are being threatened by rising sea levels.

Gov. Jerry Brown, U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, California Senate President Pro Tem Kevin De Léon and six other California elected officials will also be participating in the talks and highlighting the progress California has made on curbing climate pollution while maintaining a growing economy.

The role of UCLA, UC

At COP-21, UC faculty will be in the thick of the negotiations, helping to translate the latest research into scalable action.

UCLA law school faculty and climate-change researchers Cara Horowitz and Ted Parson are at the talks to assist the UCLA law school students. Horowitz, Parson and four of the students are part of an official delegation assisting small-island developing nations, a role Horowitz’s students have taken at previous U.N. climate conferences, including last year’s talks in Lima, Peru.

The UCLA students are working on behalf of the nonprofit Islands First, which assists small, developing island nations with international negotiations.

“These islands are … under-resourced,” said Horowitz, “so they often come into these international conferences without the legal resources, manpower or expertise to be on an even footing with some larger parties. Some of them are entirely within 2-3 meters of sea level, so they have a tremendous amount at stake in these talks.”

Also attending the Paris talks are UCLA law school faculty members Ann Carlson, Alex Wang and Jim Salzman.

Noted climate scientist Veerabhadran Ramanathan of the UC San Diego-based Scripps Institution of Oceanography, who chaired the UC Carbon and Climate Neutrality Summit last month, plans to present the UC report “Bending the Curve,” which highlights 10 scalable solutions for carbon neutrality and climate stability as a practical roadmap for others to follow. UCLA environmental professor Jon Christensen served as senior editor of the report. Other UCLA contributors were environmental economist Magali Delmas; political ecologist Susanna Hecht; Stephanie Pincetl, director of the California Center for Sustainable Communities at UCLA; and Horowitz, a climate-change legislation scholar.

As a member of the Vatican’s Pontifical Academy of Sciences, Ramanathan will also be acting as science adviser to the Holy See’s delegation at the climate negotiations.

“The stakes are very high as we have wasted so many good years — and decades — when we could have been more aggressive building understanding and making the change in the energy, food, water, forestry, urban and other systems that we need to restructure,” said UC Berkeley professor Dan Kammen, who will be chairing an event around Pope Francis’ encyclical on climate change and environmental stewardship, “Laudato Sí.”

During COP-21, Nov. 30–Dec. 11, follow @UC_Newsroom on Twitter for updates on UC’s and California’s involvement in the climate talks. For media: UCLA has climate experts on dozens of aspects related to the climate talks. This story was adapted from one posted in UC Newsroom.

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