Published February 13, 2019
The 2018 United Nations Climate Change Conference was the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, also known as the Katowice Climate Change Conference. A delegation of 10 students (and 1 professor) from UB School of Law observed the climate change negotiations at COP 24 in Katowice, Poland. They represented the State University of New York and worked with Islands First.
Two participants, Jordan Hawkins and Colin M. Knoer, talk about their experience below.
I heard about the climate change trip through Professor Owley. I had been in her natural resources class, and done research for her. When I heard about the opportunity I thought it was too good to pass up. It also was not difficult to finance because you are able to use your financial aid for this trip. Thus, finances were not an issue, and surprisingly everything here in Poland is very cheap! I thought I would leave here with a lot less money, but that has turned out not to be true.
The COP was held in Katowice, Poland and we stayed in the town of Gliwice. Since being here we have eaten at many different polish restaurants. We also chose to walk around the city of krakow on our day off, which was a really fun experience. I actually have chosen to stay a few extra days in Krakow. My friend from work is coming to explore with me and we are going to check out Auschwitz and the salt mines.
This experience has enriched my law experience because I get to see firsthand how countries negotiate with one another, in the field of environmental law. I am really interested in doing environmental work, and realize that change can only happen if we all come together. Thus, I have really enjoyed listening to what other countries are doing to combat this huge issue.
The most surprising thing to me was how polluted Poland is. Coal is still a huge part of their economy, and you can really feel the effects on the air when walking through the cities. There seems to be a perpetual cloud over the sky, I haven’t seen the sun once!! I also was surprised to learn that leftovers are not really a thing here. The meals are huge and I have a small appetite, but I love taking meals home to eat later. However, that is not really a thing here and people seem more offended when you don’t finish your meal than they do in the States.
The trip is the culmination of our Climate Change class taught by Professor Owley. I heard about the opportunity from her when I took her natural resources class last semester. Initially I wasn’t going to take the class, but after I found out a few of my classmates in the Environmental Advocacy Clinic and the Pace University environmental moot court competition were going, I took another look and I’m very glad I did. We spent the semester blogging about the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and some of the associated parts, people, and concepts, and had several lectures on climate change and climate change law during the semester.
The class required an extra tuition payment of around $1,000. This covered the hotel and access to the conference. We also had to pay our own way for flights to Poland (anywhere from $500-$900 depending on deals) and a small fee for international health insurance coverage. Costs while in Katowice have been low due to the exchange rate between the USD and the Polish Zloty.
We are staying in a smaller town, Gilwice, which is about a 45 minute commute from the conference. During the conference, all attendees can use public transportation for free. We have taken a mix of cabs/Uber and the train to get to the conference. Most nights we get dinner in Katowice before heading back to Gilwice. There was also a Christmas market near the venue that we explored. Depending on whether talks continue into the weekend, we may take a trip to sightsee in Krakow. Personally, I took the opportunity to visit London for a few days on my way to Poland. This is my first time in Europe, and I would not have come if not for the class.
The trip has given us an opportunity to see policy in action. Although much of the real negotiation was done over the past year, or here behind closed doors, we did get to attend some of the drafting negotiations. Half the class attended the first week of the conference and likely saw a lot more policy debate; this week, the focus has been on exact wordings and what language will or will not be included. Interestingly, the document is often taken out of the hands of the negotiating parties and the presidency (the host country, Poland) takes executive action to prepare a near-final draft. That document came out last night, and we are hoping to see some of the discussion on it today. We had a chance to meet with a negotiator from Norway, and an advisor to a coalition of small island nations, both of whom gave us insights into the process. Much of my time has been spent at the country pavilions, listening to presentations on climate change and environmental action by experts and political leaders from around the world. I’ve learned a lot that I will bring home and use in preparing my seminar paper. We also got to meet some law students from Hawaii and learn a bit about Hawaiian law and policy, and see Al Gore give a version of his Inconvenient Truth presentation. In addition to the class blog, I have been posting updates to my Twitter account (@ColinKnoer) and have gotten some new followers, likes, and retweets by major environmental organizations and even UN program directors.
Its been a great experience overall. We are right up in the action, walking the halls with the ministers and negotiators and even the president of the COP. We get to sit in on the plenary meetings of the parties, wearing the UN translation headsets and seeing all the party representatives lined up across the room. You can’t get into this event without connections, and we were lucky enough to take advantage of the opportunity SUNY provided.