UW COP21 Students

University of Waterloo COP21 student delegates from left to right: Siva Kumar Kuppuswamy, Dominique Souris, Rahul Mehta, Alexandra Graham, Michelle Gordon, Bianca Salive

Climate change is an international, inter-generational and interdisciplinary issue. To help on the inter-generational side, the University of Waterloo is sending a team of six student delegates from diverse academic backgrounds to represent the university at COP21 in Paris, France. Four other UW Students will be attending the negotiations with the Kiribati delegation.

According to Sarah Brown, one of the advisors accompanying the students, UW saw COP21 as an opportunity to “put together larger researcher proposals that would involve working across institutions and different research entities, private sectors and governments” as well as “unlock meaningful and experiential opportunities for the students.” In 2013, nearly 20 Environment undergraduate and master’s students from the university attended COP19 in Warsaw, Poland.

Each delegate has a very unique perspective and reason for attending the conference. Siva Kumar Kuppuswamy, who has over 20 years of professional work experience in disciplines of engineering, real-estate and renewables says “[It will] be an honor to be representing the university in a global forum.” Through his experience at COP21, Kuppuswamy hopes to learn more about developing sustainability and environment standards for large corporations as part of a process to deal with climate change.

Student delegate Dominique Souris will use this opportunity to interview negotiators for her undergraduate thesis on political barriers to the meaningful advancement of the issue of loss and damage. Souris, who also attended COP19, said that this is a chance to truly understand that “a lot of these issues, the impacts are not being felt now or at least not in Canada as much as in some other countries.”

Souris also received accreditation from the small Island state of Seychelles and will therefore actively participate and provide support to their delegation by providing a young person’s perspective. She is also part of the NGO Youth Arctic Coalition and is looking to identify ways to increase youth engagement in the decision making process at COP21. She plans to attend COY, Conferences for Youth held by YOUNGO (the official youth constituency of the UNFCCC). The four other students attending with the Kiribati delegation “will provide capacity for the small island state … and will be their eyes and ears and help them in their negotiations process,” says Brown.

In every field there are certain things that cannot be taught in classrooms. Rahul Mehta, one of the student delegates says this is UW’s efforts “to challenge the students to bridge the gap between what they learn in classrooms and what they will have to work on.”

This is a chance for students to learn to respond to people of disciplines they may never have had a chance to interact with within the school of environment before,” says Mehta.

Catherine McKenna, Minister of Environment and Climate Change of Canada is one of the people the student delegates are hoping to connect with at COP21. “Due to her human rights background, I would like to get her perspective on the equity of climate change issues,” said Souris.

UW is trying to get as many students as they can involved and interested in COP21. Their main objective is to start a discussion about climate change with people within and outside the faculty of environment.

When Souris took a class outside of the environment faculty she met people who were completely unaware of the affects of climate change and did not believe the issue impacts them.

Apart from the delegation that will go to Paris, there will be a home team, comprised of students that will be responsible to communicate and connect the team in Paris to as many other students at the university. Social media will play a key role in their efforts. There will be regular posts to the Waterloo's Faculty of Environment Facebook page and faculty of environment Twitter as well as Instagram.  They will also use the Climate Students Facebook page and their Twitter handle. They are even looking for ways to communicate through Snapchat (envwaterloo).

Michelle Gordon, another student delegate said they will record and post interviews delegates have with negotiators on social media channels to share with other students and are aiming for live Skype Q&As as well.

“We need to get people to start talking about climate change and COP,” says Gordon. The home team is tasked with trying to find effective ways to communicate the significance of COP and the students’ efforts across UW faculties.

COP21 is about negotiating climate change mitigation efforts, but the work of politicians and negotiators wont be the only climate change action in Paris. There will be many side events and conferences taking place, which is where all other non-governmental organizations, media and student delegations come in.

“Our role might be to remind them that there are issues that are on the fence but cannot be neglected,” Mehta said. The UW students will reinforce the message that “while they are making high-level decisions, they are ultimately affecting us, decisions that will be implemented and evaluated by policy makers at a much smaller and lower scale.”

The student delegation is determined to stay positive. Mehta admits that they cannot know the outcome of each of their experiences but this will be the time where they will “test themselves.” Because climate change is not a solitary issue and according to Bianca Salive, another student delegate, “it is the biggest issue facing Generation Y today.” If we are going to combat this issue, “we need to band together and start working to mitigate those effects now.” She simply reinforces the message by adding “if not us, then who?”

Below is the list of UW Student delegation attending COP21:

Bianca Salive, 4th year Environment and Business
Siva Kumar Kuppuswamy, Master of Climate Change
Rahul Mehta, Master of Planning
Alexandra Graham, Master of Planning
Michelle Gordon, 3rd year Environment and Resource Studies
Dominique Souris, 4th year Environment and Resource Studies
Ian Rowlands, Professor, Environment and Resource Studies
Sarah Brown, Associate Director, Interdisciplinary Centre on Climate Change

Below is a list of UW Students attending with the Kiribati delegation:

Laura Maxwell, Master of Development Practice
Vidya Nair, Master of Development Practice
Rija Rasul, Master of Development Practice
Kadra Rayale, Master of Development Practice

For more information, visit their official website and be part of the climate conversation by using the hashtag #UWCOP21.

Keep up with UW's Student Delegation. Read their blog, follow their Twitter, view their Instagram photos, attend their events and check their Facebook page for updates. 

Naomi Roy is an artist and a fourth year Planning student at the University of Waterloo. 

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