Ania Wright ’20, left, and Katrine Østerby ’21.Ania Wright ’20, left, and Katrine Østerby ’21. Credit: Sara Löwgren ’20

The two-week trip to Katowice, Poland inspired students like Ania Wright ’20  to accelerate their work on climate change at the local level.

“The place we can have the most impact, right now,  is on the local and regional level,” Wright says. “This international space isn’t enough; we need to work. Time is running out.”

Wright, Katrine Østerby ’21, Ulrikke Engeltoft Larsen ’21,  Leelou Gordon-Fox ’21, and COA professor of global environmental politics Doreen Stabinsky formed a delegation to join 10,000 other people at the Conference of the Parties (COP) negotiations. For the students the event represented an extraordinary hands-on learning experience that fit right in with their interest in environmental politics and policy, Østerby says.

“It was eye-opening,” Østerby says. “When we told people we were from COA and Earth in Brackets they recognized that. It was so cool.”

COA professor of global environmental politics Doreen Stabinsky, second from left, spends time with COA students and alumni at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 24th Conference of the Parties in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. With her are, from left, Hajja Naseem '10, Trudi Zundel '13, Katrine Osterby '21, Ania Wright '20, and Nathan Thanki '14.COA professor of global environmental politics Doreen Stabinsky, second from left, spends time with COA students and alumni at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 24th Conference of the Parties in Katowice, Poland, in December 2018. With her are, from left, Hajja Naseem '10, Trudi Zundel '13, Katrine Osterby '21, Ania Wright '20, and Nathan Thanki '14.College of the Atlantic has a long history of sending students to the climate negotiations. Earth in Brackets, a student-led climate activist group, has staffed a small delegation and taken part in many conference activities over the years.  

Taking part in COP offers students unique opportunities to network and learn from people from around the world,” Østerby says.

“You see all the negotiators and you see how hard it is to make a difference, but you also see the momentum. There is a push. There are so many people who really want to create change,” Østerby says. “They are people who are like emotionally invested in the climate crisis—who mean it! They’re working on it out of love for everyone.”

“It was a very inspiring place to be in, around like-minded activists who want to create change and a just transition,” Wright says.

COA professor of global environmental politics Doreen Stabinsky provides opportunities for students to get involved in climate conferences around the world.COA professor of global environmental politics Doreen Stabinsky provides opportunities for students to get involved in climate conferences around the world. Credit: Sara Lӧwgren ’20Wright says that she was particularly impressed by meeting and working with 15-year Swedish activist Greta Thunberg. Wright was able to help Thunberg with social media as Thunberg was writing her speech to the General Assembly, a speech which received significant international media attention.

Staying in a shared apartment, the students attended both formal negotiations between countries and side events organized by governments, nongovernmental organizations, and research institutions. They were at first a bit overwhelmed navigating the large, international space, but after a few days they started finding their way around and became more comfortable, students say.

The students’ participation in the UNFCCC meeting was partially supported by COA’s Thoreau Environmental Leaders Initiative, which is funded by a grant from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation.

Wright and Østerby came away from the conference resolute with the idea that there needs to be as much work on the local level as on the global. The pair subsequently created a group independent study to curate an online collection of resources for professionals and students of all disciplines to better understand what the path towards a world without fossil fuels might look like.

The students attending the conference prepared by enrolling in Stabinsky’s course Practicing International Diplomacy. Stabinsky has been bringing students to climate negotiations for many years and helps with everything from gaining accreditation to connecting the students to interesting groups while at the conference.

“Part of my goal with teaching at COA is making sure the students learn things they can’t find online. I want them to have experience, be creative, and think critically,” Stabinsky says.

The two weeks at the COP were an incredible chance to network and put theoretical knowledge into practice, Wright says.

“I am grateful to go to an institution that has these opportunities and these professors who really care,” she says.