Among the dozens of presidents and prime ministers from around the world who are attending the United Nations’ annual climate summit in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, is a delegation of Indiana University Bloomington faculty and students. They’re getting a rare opportunity to be in the room as world leaders and renowned experts discuss the urgent need to address climate change at the 27th Conference of Parties, or COP27.
IU is one of few universities worldwide to send a student delegation to observe the COP.
“I really believe in the transformative nature of students and early career people participating in these meetings,” said Jessica O’Reilly, an associate professor of international studies in the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies and leader of IU’s delegation.
The students are attending the summit as part of O’Reilly’s international climate government course. Undergraduate and graduate students can apply to be in the class, and selection is highly competitive due to the limited number of COP27 credentials available. This year’s delegation includes students from the Hamilton Lugar School, the College of Arts and Sciences, the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs and the Kelley School of Business.
In preparation for observing at COP27, the students learned about the Paris Agreement and focused on a research topic they are tracking during the summit. Once they return, students write a report that they present to the rest of the class.
Hamilton Lugar student Marria Peduto is a senior at IU Bloomington and attended the first week of the summit. One of the issues she was following was the preservation and adaption of coral reef fisheries in Southeast Asia to support local livelihoods. She talked to founders of various food startups, as well as the mayor of the Municipality of Libertad in the province of Antique, Philippines, about possible solutions.
“While some moments at COP27 made me feel increasingly frustrated with the state of affairs regarding climate change and related global policies, I can confidently say that I am more hopeful for our future after interacting with incredible leaders in the climate space and seeing the forces of good who are working to protect our planet to ensure a greener, more equitable world,” Peduto said.
Kara Lehner, a senior in the Kelley School of Business, had the opportunity to meet and talk with the CEO of ERM, the largest sustainability consulting company in the world. She also got to see U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, Al Gore and Michael Bloomberg speak.
Lehner said that being part of the IU delegation has inspired her to figure out how she can take action.
“Over 40,000 people were at COP27 during the first week, and so many of these people are committed to solving climate issues,” she said. “While I’m not sure that anything substantial will come out of this COP, it does give me hope to see how many people really care and are committed to combating climate change.”
The experience is also enriching for faculty who attend. Kelly Eskew is a clinical professor in the Kelley School and audited O’Reilly’s class last year. This is her second year traveling to the summit as a delegate, and she’s keeping students in her climate law and policy class updated by sharing her experiences through an online discussion board.
Eskew said she values the cross-campus connections that traveling to COP27 creates.
“Anytime I get outside my department and interact with faculty and students from other schools and disciplines, it makes my life and my teaching more interesting,” she said.
She’s also seen firsthand the impact it can have on students’ futures to be part of the IU delegation at COP27.
“It’s absolutely lifechanging,” she said. “This sets some students on a path that is going to be the work of their life, because of the contacts they make and experiences they have.”
O’Reilly said that attending an event like COP27 is an experience few people have until they’re in an advanced stage of their careers, so it gives students an edge as they pursue further study or employment.
“That’s probably the most rewarding thing I do in my career: to see what they take from this opportunity and use it moving forward,” O’Reilly said.
The COP27 trip is funded by the Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development in the Hamilton Lugar School and the Kelley School’s Center for International Business Education and Research, or CIBER.
“The Tobias Center for Innovation in International Development is pleased to help train the next generation of development practitioners by funding this student experience,” said Sarah Bauerle-Danzman, faculty director of the Tobias Center. “Previous IU delegates have gone on to important careers at the intersection of climate and sustainable development, and we are confident this year’s delegates will have similar positive impact on the world.”