At this year’s United Nations Climate Change Conference, COP 25, now in its second week in Madrid, Penn has its largest presence ever, with representatives from the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, Perry World House (PWH), Penn Law, the Weitzman School of Design, and the Penn Institute for Urban Research (Penn IUR). For the first time, the University also secured observer status, an initiative driven by Kleinman’s executive director, Cornelia Colijn.
Having this status gave Penn the opportunity to nominate and support faculty, staff, and students to attend COP on official credentials, Colijn says. “It meant the University was able to join the governments, international organizations and nonprofits, businesses, and members of civil society who are working on a range of climate change issues today.”
“This is all part of Penn building a collaborative relationship with UN Climate Change and the affiliate organizations and their policymakers,” adds Jocelyn Perry, the global shifts program manager for Perry World House.
COP stands for Conference of the Parties, and specifically it means member states who signed onto the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) created in 1992. The Paris Agreement came out of COP 21 in 2015. At the meeting happening now, treaty signatories are negotiating the rules of the Paris accord, such as how countries will track progress and what financing mechanisms will be put in place. COP 25 is the final gathering before 2020, the point at which many participating nations must submit new climate plans to UNFCCC.
Beyond the member countries, observer-status participants like Penn join UN staff and other organizations to hold conversations around pertinent climate-related issues. “Everyone who works on these at the international policy level will be at this conference,” says Michael Weisberg, a Penn philosophy professor and the inaugural PWH faculty fellow, who has several roles at this year’s gathering.
Last Friday, he facilitated portions of an UNFCCC forum centered on oceans. His section focused on technology and innovation, funding, and education related to resilience and adaptation around sea-level rise.
“In many parts of the world, not only are they going to be the hardest hit from climate change and will have to do the most about resilience planning, but they also struggle with capacity and access to information,” he says. “In Philadelphia, we worry that sea-level rise will mean moving the airport. But in some places, it will mean moving whole towns.”
Weisberg, Perry, and several other Penn representatives also participated in the Resilience Lab. “This is a forward-looking UNFCCC initiative addressing future sustainability concerns,” Perry says. “It asks, What do we want to achieve by 2030, and how do we get there? It’s focused on eight pathways for engagement, including equitable and just use of resources and building on indigenous expertise.”
Her panel—which also included William Burke-White of Penn Law, Dina Ionesco of the UN Migration Agency, and Shyla Raghav, vice president of climate change for Conservation International—covered climate displacement. The World Bank estimates that by 2050, the effects of climate change may displace more than 140 million people within their own countries; projections of climate-induced international displacement vary widely but could be immense.
The Penn-led session touched on some challenging topics. “With climate change and increasing climate-induced migration, especially forced displacement, how do we make that fair, equitable, and just for everyone affected? How do we build the legal structures at the highest levels of international and climate law and make them speak to one another?” Perry says. “How do you foresee conflicts over resources, as water or food become scarcer, and how do you proactively build the structures you need before the crisis hits rather than after?”
Penn also hosted a moderated discussion on climate-resilient urban infrastructure with the UNFCCC’s Nairobi Work Program and other partners, and the Kleinman Center’s Mark Alan Hughes introduced former Quito mayor Mauricio Rodas, a Penn alum and current visiting fellow with PWH and Penn IUR, for a talk he gave on climate financing for cities.
This year, four Penn schools sent delegates, and Colijn says she’s certain that in climate conferences to follow, the number interested will grow. “It really shows just how interdisciplinary climate change is,” she says, “and the diversity of researchers and backgrounds needed to find solutions.”
Representatives from the Stuart Weitzman School of Design include the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy executive director, Cornelia Colijn, and founding faculty director, Mark Alan Hughes, as well as Allison Lassiter, an assistant professor in the Department of City and Regional Planning.
Representatives from Perry World House include Michael Weisberg, a professor in the Department of Philosophy in the School of Arts and Sciences and the inaugural PWH faculty fellow; Jocelyn Perry, global shifts program manager; William Burke-White, inaugural director and a professor in the University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School; and Koko Warner, a PWH visiting fellow and manager of the Climate Impacts, Vulnerability, and Risks Subprogram at UNFCCC.