by Cori Hilsgen
A delegation of students and faculty members from the College of St. Benedict and St. John’s University is planning a trip to Paris in December. The group has been given non-governmental observer status to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
The UNFCCC organization, which meets annually, was established in 1992 and is responsible for international climate-change policy.
Assistant professor of anthropology Jessica O’Reilly is the lead author of the schools’ application.
O’Reilly said she studies climate change from a cultural perspective and felt it would be good to observe the proceedings. She also thinks it could be meaningful for students and so she focused her efforts on creating a CSB/SJU experience for both students and faculty.
The application process lasted more than a year and included a lot of paperwork, document-finding and signatures.
The application highlighted CSB/SJU’s longstanding commitment to global education and sustainability. The presidents’ offices from both schools emphasized how the liberal-arts tradition could help promote climate-issue experience for students in the areas of education, scientific communication, policy advocacy and political science.
The application also highlighted the interdisciplinary faculty experience on climate change and faculties’ interest in developing international environmental policy capacity and skills among students.
CSB/SJU were among a select few liberal-arts schools chosen to receive this status.
“Most universities that have observer status are large research institutions,” O’Reilly said. “There are only a handful of liberal-arts colleges who have this status. In our application, I focused on CSB/SJU’s longstanding commitment to sustainability, our institutions’ commitments to become neutral and our Benedictine values.”
Delegates attending the convention will be able to observe the diplomatic proceedings, offer comments and bring back new ideas.
O’Reilly considers this to be a unique and prestigious designation. She said the observer status will take the schools to a new level of research and teaching, and with new insights into international climate policy negotiations, the schools can conduct student-centered research and projects on international climate policy.
While waiting to hear if they had been approved to attend the convention, O’Reilly met with a group of students, faculty and administrators.
Members of this UNFCCC steering committee helped organize participation in the convention and includes SJU senior Daniel Phipps; CSB first-year student Danielle DeBlieck; Derek Larson, professor and chair of environmental studies; Troy Knight, assistant professor of environmental studies; Matt Lindstrom, professor of political science and director of the McCarthy Center for Public Policy and Civic Engagement; Jeffrey Anderson, associate professor of peace studies; Jean Lavign, associate professor of environmental studies; Sheila Hellermann, department coordinator for political science, sociology and peace studies; and Judy Purman, director of sustainability at CSB.
Phipps and DeBlieck will be part of the student delegation attending the conference. Other members will be selected through a competitive application process this semester.
“Students across all areas of study are encouraged to apply for the trip because the aspects of climate change are very interdisciplinary,” DeBlieck said. “We are really looking forward to this opportunity.”
The meetings and the observation status have encouraged students, faculty and administrators to plan studies in climate change. A climate studies track has been incorporated in the environmental studies minor.
DeBlieck said she and Phipps have been working on organizing an on-campus Climate Action Club to increase awareness of climate change on the two campuses.
“Being able to attend the UNFCCC is a unique opportunity to learn about international policy, and it will help us bring new ideas of taking action towards combating climate change back to the CSB/SJU community,” DeBlieck said.
Delegates attending the convention will be required to take a new climate studies course in fall, taught by O’Reilly. She said the course will help them better understand the scientific, policy, ethical and cultural dimension of climate change.
“We will be coordinating events with UNFCCC delegations from Macalester College and the University of Minnesota,” O’Reilly said. “When we return, we expect to give presentations and share what we’ve learned with our community, and prepare to go again in 2016.”
Organizers recently reviewed the application process and celebrated the accomplishment of earning the observation status at a reception at the SJU Great Hall.