The University of Pennsylvania announced that it has sent a delegation of University researchers—led by the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy and Perry World House—to COP28, the annual climate conference of the United Nations. The Penn delegation also includes representatives from Penn Global, the Penn Institute for Urban Research (PennIUR), and others across campus—providing expertise on a wide array of issues to be discussed at COP28, including loss and damage, extreme heat, green finance, food waste, the role of cities and municipalities in addressing the challenges of climate change, and the need to transition energy sources from fossil fuels to clean and sustainable technologies.
Since Penn’s first official COP presence in 2019, the delegation and its impact have grown exponentially. This year marks 24 delegates traveling on Penn badges and additional Penn-affiliated individuals attending on other badges—such as Michael Weisberg, interim director of Perry World House, who this year joins the Palau delegation in support of their negotiations on loss and damages, a topic that dominated the conversation at CO27 and is a crucial topic again this year.
“Perry World House and our campus partners are quite literally bringing ‘Penn to the World’ at COP,” said Weisberg. “In previous years, ideas developed on Penn’s campus alongside global leaders and UN officials have led to concrete breakthroughs on the negotiations for loss and damage as well as adaptation. We are confident that this year will bring equally successful results and will showcase why Penn is a leader on the global ideas stage.”
Genie Birch of Penn IUR has teamed with Penn IUR Fellow Mauricio Rodas and Bill Burke-White of Penn Carey Law on a cities and subnational government initiative. A key part of their work includes helping cities access green finance to pay for climate adaptation projects.
“While COP negotiations involve national governments, cities are where the rubber hits the road when it comes to making sustainable decisions,” said Birch, who explained that many of the world’s city leaders are gathering at COP for the Local Action Climate Summit and the Ministerial Meeting on Urbanization and Climate Change, the landmark meetings focusing on subnational climate policy.
Birch, Rodas, and Burke-White will also be convening the Commission on Urban SDG Finance, within the UN’s Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). The commission is co-chaired by Anne Hidalgo, mayor of Paris, Eduardo Paes, mayor of Rio de Janeiro, and Jeff Sachs, SDSN president, and is securing additional funding for urban-focused climate resilient infrastructure.
The University’s Zeke Emmanuel, vice provost for global initiatives, is leading a joint event with the World Health Organization. His event, titled “Answering an Urgent Call: The Role of Higher Education in Tackling Climate Change,” looks at how universities can play their part in addressing the climate crisis. He will be joined by NGO and higher education representatives who can provide insight into this critical issue.
In a similar vein, Cory Colijn, executive director of the Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, joins other energy center leaders in a panel that asks “What Role Do Academic Institutions Play in a Low-Carbon Transition?”
This meta question is perhaps the one that guided Colijn five years ago, when she initiated the process to secure observer status for the University of Pennsylvania, earning the first round of COP badges and opening the door for the university’s participation.
“Over the years, we’ve seen more and more universities like Penn launch research centers and institutes around the topic of climate, sustainability, and energy,” said Colijn. “As faculty and student concern for the planet grows, so does our collective body of research. Sharing this timely research, we hope, can help world leaders design the most effective policies to sustainably transition our energy systems and limit global warming.”
This year marks the first time that Penn—and a host of other universities—will have a more pronounced presence on the ground at COP via a jointly-hosted Higher Education Pavilion. This pavilion will allow Penn and its university colleagues to host panel events during the conference and bring their research and knowledge to the COP audience. Penn is hosting dozens of events over the two-week conference, including two alumni events in Dubai, bringing together regionally-based alumni as well as those attending COP.
While Penn will have a laudable delegation in Dubai, not all contributions to the climate discussion will be happening on the ground. In a recent piece, Pete Psarras of the Clean Energy Conversions Lab, an affiliated lab of the Kleinman Center, explains common misconceptions about the cost of direct air capture (DAC) technology. These insights and others are aggregated on Penn’s first COP-related research page—reaching global leaders from a distance.
Psarras’s DAC research became a hot topic when UN leaders chose the location for this year’s climate conference: the United Arab Emirates (UAE), an oil-rich country that continues to champion the production of fossil fuels. This resurfaced a debate over whether the existence of DAC creates a moral hazard. Will DAC help us reach our climate goals or simply convince polluters to keep polluting? A few weeks ago, the technology again made headlines, as the United States welcomed its first commercial direct air capture facility in California.
Psarras and his lab support a broad portfolio of carbon management tools—including DAC, a technology they research and develop. But he does stress the need for principled guard rails.
“This is a threshold moment,” said Psarras. “We must take stock of the values we seek through carbon management and amplify these values in an inclusive discussion that leads to a broad commitment toward net zero.”
As world leaders gather in the UAE to debate how to best move the planet toward a more sustainable future, Penn scholars are adding to the complex discussion with research-based insights across many disciplines, including law, business, design, political science, medicine, and more.