News, On Campus, Academics

BC Students and Faculty to Attend UN Climate Conference for Third Consecutive Year

A delegation of Boston College students and faculty will travel to Dubai on Nov. 30 for COP28. This is the third consecutive year BC will attend the United Nations (UN) summit on climate change. 

“Climate is, like other issues, an ongoing issue where the science is changing, where policy is changing, so there’s a need for periodic reconnection among the parties to the convention, which there are now 193,” BC Law professor David Wirth said.  

Wirth, who attended the conference last year as one of the faculty heads of delegation, said the conference aims to encourage countries to slash carbon emissions by 2030, as suggested by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

“The more use now, the more urgent it becomes to make reductions during whatever period the budget covers,” Wirth said. “And that is a shrinking period. I mean it’s 2023 to 2030—we don’t have much time.”

Dunwei Wang, a BC chemistry professor, said the University’s attendance at the conference opens up possibilities for students to increase their involvement with issues pertaining to climate justice.

“There was an application process, and the fact that there were multiple panel discussions after really increased awareness,” Wang said. “As students indeed started paying attention to this, I think that was a win already.” 

Philip Landrigan, director of the global health program and the Global Observatory on Public Health, was the chair of the selection process this year. He said there were two to three times more applicants than open spots in BC’s 18-person delegation.

“As we did the selection, we knew we wanted to have at least 2 or 3 faculty each week and a proper balance of graduate students and undergraduates, across all majors and across schools,” Landrigan said. 

He also spoke about the scope of the COP28 conference, describing how thousands come together to participate in the discussions and negotiations. 

“I think this is an extraordinary opportunity to open our students’ eyes to several things,” Landrigan said. “First of all, to see how many people, literally thousands of people from around the world, come together for these negotiations. I think just seeing the magnitude of this thing underscores the seriousness with which the nations of the world are taking climate change.” 

Wirth explained that much of his job at last year’s conference was to translate the discussions of the official delegations into digestible material for the students, who were not allowed into the meeting rooms.

“You kind of need to be there because a lot of the people who do this sort of work know each other, so a lot of the work is being done informally, “ Wirth said. “So, I took my job to provide as much information and real-world exposure for students to what was going on.”

Student attendee Gabriella D’Angelo, MCAS ’25, described BC’s COP28 delegation as a group of approximately 20 students, including undergraduate, graduate, and law students, as well as faculty members, who all have a passion for research centered around climate change. 

“I think everyone has a really distinct perspective or background on climate-related issues,” D’Angelo said. “Everyone has a different subset or background that would cause them to have different interests in the conference. And so each of us have decided upon the topic that we find really interesting.” 

D’Angelo said part of the conference’s impact comes from attendees who come back to campus and share their experiences and knowledge with their peers.

“I think that it’s like a ripple effect where the people who go back share it with their friends … then they may be interested in applying as well, and that kind of jumpstarts that interest in being involved in climate-related conversations, even if we can’t make an actual, tangible change immediately,” D’Angelo said. 

Wirth said he believes that Pope Francis is the headliner of this year’s event, and he looks forward to hearing what the pope has to say about climate change—given that he has spoken in favor of the Paris Agreement, a legally binding international treaty on climate change signed by 196 parties at COP21 in 2015.

The pope has been involved in the negotiation of the Paris Agreement and now we are at the implementing stage,” Wirth said. “So my hope is that he can stress the urgency of emissions reductions.”

Wang, who attended COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, said the conference was unlike any other scientific conference he had previously attended. 

“It’s impactful because you really get to see the diversity in every sense … and it is a reminder of how big the globe is and how complex the problem is, and how important it is for everyone to be involved,” Wang said. 

Wirth said the COP28 conference will be a tremendous opportunity for BC students, and it tackles the most important environmental issue in the near future. 

I think it’s terrific that Boston College has made this sort of commitment on behalf of the students,” Wirth said. “Not every institution has done so. [Climate change] is the preeminent environmental issue of our time, your time, your grandchildren’s time.”

November 12, 2023