Jenna Farineau ’18 (right) outside the UN Headquarters in New York.Jenna Farineau ’18 (right) outside the UN Headquarters in New York.Jenna Farineau ’18 recently found herself sitting amongst such influential people as President Barack Obama, the King of The Netherlands, and Mark Zuckerburg at a UN sustainability conference in New York. From September 26 - 27, she took part in a variety of interactive dialogues, including “Delivering on a Revitalized Global Partnership,” “Protecting Our Planet and Combatting Climate Change,” and “Fostering Sustainable Economic Growth, Transformation, and Promoting Sustainable Consumption and Production.” After her time in the Big Apple, Jenna sat down with me to discuss her experiences there.

How involved were you in the negotiations?

Thanks to our friend Ashish, an Organizing Partner for the Major Group for Children and Youth (MGCY), I was able to receive accreditation to get into the negotiating space. While being part of the delegation that went in March, I worked with him by giving an intervention on water issues and since then, I have kept in touch. While inside the space, I took on the role of scribing notes for the MGCY and shared them with Earth in Brackets students and the class that is going to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP) in Paris.

This experience isn’t new for you. How different was this negotiation compared to the previous one in March?

The energy of this conference had a lot more urgency and focus than in March. Since the GA officially adopted the sustainable development goals (SDGs) on Friday, the rest of the conference dialogue was centric to the idea of, “How will we actually implement these, what works, what won’t work, what is important?” Instead of representatives and ambassadors, there were actually heads of states and prime ministers on the floor, giving interventions - which was awesome! I was in the same room as the presidents of Ireland, France, South Africa, Bulgaria, and the United States; the Prime Minister of Pakistan, Italy etc., and even the King and Queen of the Netherlands! Mark Zuckerberg also gave an intervention.

This summit had much higher security than in March, which made it more complicated and time consuming to get from room to room, and even to go the bathroom! There were also more shared agreements and thoughts coming from the heads of state. Everyone seemed to really recognize the urgency to address climate change for any of the goals to even be tackled, which was much stronger this time than in March.

Do you think this energy will be carried on to Paris? Although the negotiations are separate, they do relate and many of the same negotiators attend.

“It was an absolute privilege to share a space with such important global leaders.” - Jenna Farineau ’18

I am skeptical, but somewhat hopeful. The President of France, Francois Hollande, was at the Interactive Dialogue on Climate Change, and he seemed very inspired by the energy in the room. However, he spoke of the importance of translating the dialogue and commitments made through the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions into deeds and said he was slightly worried about the state they are in right now. He said it doesn’t seem like we’ll meet our global goal of keeping the planet’s temperature rise below 2°.

Still, the change I saw within these interventions as opposed to what was being said in March was so much more focused on the urgency of tackling climate change and on helping the developing countries. If the same prime ministers and presidents attend the COP, I am confident that we’ll get somewhere. The biggest issue right now is a great need for funding, especially to help the developing countries and move forward without fossil fuels.

What was your most memorable experience?

It is hard to pick just one moment from the conference. It was of course amazing to see Obama and I really enjoyed seeing and hearing interventions from the presidents of Ireland and France and Mark Zuckerberg. It was an absolute privilege to share a space with such important global leaders. Malala Yousafzai was there, and I felt so fortunate and inspired to be in the room next to her. I also met some people who will be going to the COP, so it was nice to make those random connections and to look forward to that conference.

What was your take home message from the SDGs?

That there is finally an urgency to care for and nurture the planet. A lot of heads of state, especially those from Bangladesh and India, used such compassionate language when referring to the planet, and that was very refreshing to hear. The representative for the IUCN said, “We need nature; nature does not need us,” and that was especially powerful to hear.

The SDGs are an important step towards achieving a sustainable future, but the King of the Netherlands made another great point. He said that we all recognize that the SDGs are very logical - but if they are so logical and evident, then why were we not able to realize them already? We have the rationale, the technology and the possibility to change these things that are so evident, but we don’t have the willingness or courage to do so. He said that we need to do something much stronger and go home and see how we can create a real sense of commitment to realizing these goals. It was a real mic drop.

Would you attend more conferences like this?

Absolutely. Going to the conference in March totally changed my life, because I did Model UN for 7 years before college, so actually being in a real UN space and being part of an actual conference made everything click and feel very worthwhile. And because we were able to get accreditation for the March negotiations, that helped me get accreditation for this summit and all of that has, in turn, put me into the UN network pool, which has been a dream for me.

This is definitely only the beginning of what I hope will be a long road of greater and even more permanent involvement in international affairs. Being involved in these conferences has made me feel very connected to important issues affecting our global community, and has helped me understand my role as a student in the path towards a sustainable future.

We’ll hear more from Farineau and other students as their journey to the COP21 in Paris nears. Current preparations for the trip include weekly Skype calls, MOOC sessions, and hours of intensive research. - Kim.