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Freshman Attends Climate Talks

News Editor

Published: Monday, January 24, 2011

Updated: Wednesday, January 9, 2013 18:01

American students from across the country were selected by the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC) to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Cancun, Mexico, over the winter break. Among these students was Boston College freshman Joseph Manning, A&S '14. Manning, who lived in Oviedo, Fla., prior to attending BC, was the only student from either Florida or Massachusetts to represent the Sierra Club at the United Nations in December.

Manning is a veteran of the UNFCCC, having attended the climate conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, last December. "I have been involved since 2009," Manning said. "I got involved in the summer when I attended an environmental conference about community organizing. I was looking for a way to become involved with climate change and energy politics. In October 2009, I was asked to apply for the major climate conference in Copenhagen. I was accepted as a representative for the SSC to Copenhagen. [After,] I stayed involved. I came back and ran a student organization in Florida called Show Me Democracy (SMD), where students are brought into district offices to talk to their senators about energy legislation."

SMD is a student-run organization committed to achieving the passage of comprehensive climate change legislation. As state coordinator, Manning formed a coalition of businesses, religious groups, and student and veteran organizations that represented 5,000 Florida voters. In July 2010, Manning was elected to the executive committee of the SSC, where he serves as the campaign representative.

Manning said that what originally sparked his interest in climate was Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth. "I had first became aware of climate change in the eighth grade, which was 2006, when Al Gore produced An Inconvenient Truth," Manning said. "I saw the movie and I said, ‘What is this? How can we solve it?' I came to the realization that this is an issue that is really our generations. It's our issue. We will be alive when the effects of climate change hit. We'll really begin to feel the effects in 2050, and most of us in our generation feel the same way. It's an issue that's really ours – ours to solve, ours to get involved, ours to make an impact. It's an issue that needs to be dealt with soon. Many people in our generation are still young. I wanted to make an impact and be a voice for our generation – a voice that isn't necessarily being heard by politicians."

The SSC, the student-run branch of the national environmental organization, the Sierra Club, sent a delegation of 14 members from across the country to attend the convention. There, they joined more than 2,000 international youth in an effort to pressure global political leadership to adopt a fair, ambitious, and legally binding climate treaty. "[The SSC] focuses on climate change and energy policy," Manning said. "As far as the conference, our goals were to help guide the U.S.'s position so they take a leadership approach to dealing with climate change."

While in Mexico, Manning said he was determined to fully understand the issue. "What I spent my time doing was trying to learn as much as I could about where we [are] politically, what [are] the roadblocks, and how we can move forward in a productive manner to tackle this issue," he said. "We discussed the climate financial fund, which is a fund from developed nations to help underdeveloped nations transition in a sustainable way so they won't make the same mistakes as us in developing."

"The SSC also worked extensively building relations with Chinese youth," Manning said. "China and the U.S. are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases, and without our nations taking actions on these issues, we cannot solve climate change.

"A lot of the rhetoric we hear in the political spectrum is not productive," Manning said. "We wanted to prove to our leaders that U.S. youth and Chinese youth can work together. It is possible. As young people, this showed we were willing to take action and work together."

The Kyoto Protocol, born out of the negotiations at the UNFCCC in Kyoto, Japan, in December 1997, is meant to control and reduce greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere from human activities in developed and developing countries. But the Protocol's first phase will expire in 2012, so world leaders came together from Nov. 29 to Dec. 10 at the UNFCCC to try to draft a new treaty that will replace the Kyoto Protocol and prevent further development of the climate change.

"We have the option of extending the Kyoto Protocol (which is currently the only international treaty dealing with climate change), or making a new treaty," Manning said. "The document that was drawn up in Cancun is not nearly aggressive enough to deal with the issues. Prior to Cancun, we did not have a document that had the right stated goals. Now we do. Now we need the commitment to actually match those goals."

Throughout the two weeks, the SSC delegates attended plenary sessions, planned creative actions, engaged both new and old media outlets, and directly connected with top political leadership through question and answer briefings and bilateral meetings.

The delegates came from all across the country, but they had prepared themselves for these negotiations since the summer, when they attended training sessions at Shindig. There, the delegates defined their mission, goals, and a plan of action for the convention. Since then, they went through months full of conference calls and meetings to discuss and organize their strategies and the progress of their tactics to accomplish their objectives.

The focus of the delegation was based on five strategic themes. Members worked to push for U.S. and China leadership in the green economy, demanded that President Barack Obama divert dirty and dangerous fossil fuel subsidies toward clean energy development, asked the U.S. and EU to support developing and vulnerable countries by sharing technology and providing fast-start and long-term clean tech and adaptation funding, developed strong connections with youth leaders from around the world to improve collaboration, and created a rapid response to report back to the U.S. on major occurrences at Cancun.

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