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IU delegation in Dubai for COP28 global climate change conference

Students, faculty and administrators are among the delegates

Nov 30, 2023

As world leaders gather in Dubai to assess where their collective progress toward the goals of the Paris Climate Change Agreement stands, a delegation of Indiana University students, faculty and staff will participate in the critical conversations addressing the urgent issue of climate change. These Hoosiers will be attending the United Nations’ 28th Conference of the Parties, or COP28, held Nov. 30 to Dec. 12 in the United Arab Emirates.

Students in Jessica O'Reilly's international climate government course prepare to head to COP28 in Dubai. Photo courtes... Students in Jessica O'Reilly's international climate government course prepare to head to COP28 in Dubai. Photo courtesy of the Hamilton Lugar School

IU’s participation in the global climate change conference is formalized by Jessica O’Reilly, associate professor in the Hamilton Lugar School of Global and International Studies. This will be the sixth time that O’Reilly has led her international climate government course to the summit. IU is one of the only universities in the world to send students as delegates and to focus heavily on undergraduate participation.

O’Reilly is an environmental anthropologist and studies how scientists and policymakers participate in environmental management. For the past 15 years, her work has focused on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and how its assessors make decisions and write their reports, which ultimately serve as the guiding scientific advice for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.

While O’Reilly will attend several policy meetings to see how scientific advice is received, her primary focus at the summit will be to facilitate the students’ experiences.

Her class of 16 is made up of students from the Hamilton Lugar School as well as the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the College of Arts and Sciences, the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing and Engineering, and the School of Public Health-Bloomington. They are a diverse group that includes a mix of undergraduate and graduate students and domestic and international students. The delegation also includes students who are part of IU’s Arabic Flagship, whose language translation skills will be instrumental while the group is in Dubai.

Students must apply to take the class, and selection is highly competitive due to the limited number of COP28 credentials available. This year, O’Reilly said she had more than 100 applications for just 16 spots.

“I try to build a delegation that is as representative as possible,” O’Reilly said. “I want the students to be able to go back to their small farm towns in Indiana or Pakistan or their medical practice in India and share their expertise. Climate action is needed in every domain that it can be, because the intensity of the problem requires an intense response.”

Nuzrath Jahan S A is a Ph.D. candidate in the School of Public Health-Bloomington who researches whether framing climate change as a public health emergency can spur climate action. Jahan S A is a medical doctor from India, where she worked for the public health directorate of her state, Tamil Nadu. Her work with diverse communities led her to pursue a master’s in epidemiology, where she realized the profound role research plays in shaping public health policies and practices. Her interest in safe water, sanitation and health lead her to a Ph.D. program in environmental health at IU.

Jahan S A came across O’Reilly’s course while visiting a booth at a First Thursdays festival. She immediately knew she wanted to apply, because she had always been fascinated with the Conference of the Parties.

“The opportunity to engage with and understand the inner workings of international climate governance was something I couldn’t pass up,” she said. “While some may find the process more disheartening than hopeful, the insights from this class have provided a different outlook. Although I wouldn’t describe myself as an optimist, I am a realist who believes that inaction is tantamount to defeat in the face of climate change. We must continue to act; the stakes are simply too high to do otherwise.”

Hilary Kahn, interim vice president for international affairs, will be among IU's delegates at COP28. Photo courtesy of IU ... Hilary Kahn, interim vice president for international affairs, will be among IU's delegates at COP28. Photo courtesy of IU Global

O’Reilly said the summit can be a transformative experience for students like Jahan S A, shaping their subsequent academic and career paths. Many of O’Reilly’s former students return to summits in a graduate research or professional capacity.

One of those alumni, Alexa Blanton, attended COP23 as an IU student and went on to lead fundraising at Climate Clock. She also started an internship program exclusively for IU delegates upon their return from the summit.

Beyond O’Reilly’s class, IU delegates include Interim Vice President for International Affairs Hilary Kahn, O’Neill School Dean Siân Mooney, Kelley School of Business clinical professor Kelly Eskew and Kelley School of Business senior director of international advancement Fred Perry. IU will be joined by members of the Indiana Economic Development Corp., which is a co-sponsor of the Bloomberg Green summit at COP28. Delegates received a cultural orientation from IU’s United Arab Emirates Student Club to prepare them for the trip.

Mooney has long had a passion surrounding the issue of climate change. She first worked on this topic in the late 1980s as a graduate student, and it helped spark her research career working on climate change and related topics for over 30 years. She will be attending and observing many of the negotiations that will take place, specifically when it comes to nature-based climate solutions and climate finance, including how countries can make energy transitions that leave no one behind.

“This is an incredible opportunity to be at the center of important policy negotiations,” Mooney said. “The O’Neill School can also provide great expertise that will give us the opportunity to influence policies being developed around the globe. The chance to represent Indiana University and the O’Neill School at COP28 is an honor, and I look forward to meeting and collaborating with attendees who will help make a difference in the future.”

For Kahn, COP28 is a part of a broader visit building on the economic and academic success of Indiana University internationally, around the theme of climate change and sustainable development, and its contribution to Indiana. Alongside colleagues from the Indiana Economic Development Corp., she said she looks forward to being a part of the solutions-oriented conversation, meeting with alumni and other educators, and promoting IU’s many innovative sustainability programs.

“As a leader in business and international affairs, Indiana University is uniquely positioned to navigate the challenges discussed at this year’s summit and contribute to actionable solutions,” Kahn said. “I hope to connect our unparalleled undergraduate expertise with the real-world economic influences represented by IEDC to ensure that Indiana is a key player on the global stage when it comes to innovative, effective climate solutions. This is a global issue and one that will require cooperation across industries and disciplines, making IU an ideal voice in the conversation.”

This year’s COP28 trip was made possible through generous funding from the Hamilton Lugar School, the O’Neill School, the School of Public Health-Bloomington, IU’s Environmental Resilience Institute, the Integrated Program in the Environment, the Center for International Business Education and Research, and the Hutton Honors College.

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