Paris climate conference: U-Michigan team to attend

November 24, 2015


Note: Follow the team’s updates on Twitter at @ClimateBlue and #UofMCOP21, and on the Climate Blue Facebook page.

Ten students and faculty members from the University of Michigan will attend the United Nations’ 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris, where nearly 200 world leaders will work to negotiate a binding agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The meeting is also known as COP21 because this is the 21st year of the event. It runs Nov. 30-Dec. 11.

Members of the U-M team are available to discuss the conference and climate change, in addition to why they haven’t changed plans to attend despite the recent Paris attacks that killed 130.

Paul Edwards, professor in the School of Information and the Department of History, is author of the book “A Vast Machine: Computer Models, Climate Data and the Politics of Global Warming.” He can discuss how society might shift away from carbon-based energy, as well as the structure of the conference and its significance.

“We have $10 trillion in fossil fuel infrastructure that is deeply rooted, but we have to find another way to power our stuff,” he said. “The stakes are enormous. They’ve always been enormous but as time goes on, they get bigger and bigger.”

Edwards says the recent attacks underscore the importance of the meeting.

“ISIS terrorism has complex roots, but among them are real links to climate change. Virtually everything about Middle Eastern politics connects back to oil,” he said. “To the extent that success at COP21 contributes to curing the world of its addiction to fossil fuels and reducing the extent of climate change, it will also contribute to reducing these causes of conflict.”

Edwards will attend the first half of the conference. Read his Conversation article about how fast society can transition to a low-carbon energy system at


Avik Basu, researcher in environmental psychology at the School of Natural Resources and Environment, is co-editor of the 2015 book “Fostering Reasonableness: Supportive Environments for Bringing Out Our Best.” His interest in the Paris climate conference is to better understand the current United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process and how it will evolve as ambitions to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions will be ratcheted up to prevent catastrophic levels of climate change.

“Even though some type of agreement is likely to come out of this meeting, the climate change issue is not going to go away after Paris,” he said. “So this generation of students will have an important role to play in the years ahead, and they need to understand the process that the United Nations has put in place. That way, in their future careers, they’ll know which levers they can push to continue the global effort to limit climate change.”

Basu says it didn’t occur to him to cancel his Paris plans after hearing about the recent attacks.

“The government of France has put a lot of time and effort into hosting this event, so we feel solidarity with them and want to support their efforts, as well as the larger effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions through this global enterprise,” he said. “Hearing about what happened in Paris just motivated us to continue in the face of adversity.”

Contact: Basu will be in Paris Nov. 27-Dec. 12 and can be reached during that time at Before the meeting, he can also be reached at 734-262-5800.

Mayank Vikas is a graduate student at the School of Natural Resources and Environment. His current academic area of focus is environmental policy and planning. He is a lawyer and has worked in India with both corporate law firms and not-for-profit organizations. Vikas is a recipient of the Fulbright-Nehru Master’s Fellowship.

“It is critical that developed countries shoulder the historic responsibility of global warming and agree to sharp emission cuts,” Vikas said. “Through favorable financial support and technology transfer, developed countries should also help developing countries generate both clean energy and economic growth.

“There is an urgent need for agreement on both binding emissions cuts and adaptation measures, and the tragic events in Paris should not be allowed to derail this critical process. I have witnessed the adverse impacts of climate change in my life in India. If countries do not collectively act to face this global problem, I fear temperatures will rise to an extent that the implications will be catastrophic and irreversible. Giving the world a just climate agreement is a critical component of global peace and prosperity.”

Contact: 202-830-8232, Vikas will be in Paris Nov. 29-Dec. 5.

Elizabeth Ultee is a doctoral student in climate and space sciences and engineering. She studies glacier dynamics. At the meeting, she will be following the role of science in the negotiating process, and the social justice implications of the conference’s process and outcomes. Ultee could her discuss perspectives in those areas, in addition to glacier flow and sea level rise. She is steadfast in her conviction that the meeting should go forward despite the recent attacks.

“It is important to me to explicitly reject, both in word and deed, the notion that any campaign of hatred can control our future,” she said. “To me, cancelling my participation in COP21 would represent allowing hatred and violence to take precedence over global cooperation, and that would give me very little hope for the future.

“If the most severe aspects of climate change come to pass, humankind will struggle. We will need the commitment to global cooperation that we showcase by carrying on with COP21 even in the wake of distressing events.”

Contact: Ultee will be in Paris Nov. 28-Dec. 5.

Benjamin Morse is a dual-degree graduate student at the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. His current academic area of focus is behavior, education and communication within the context of natural resources, as well as environmental and energy policy. He was a Peace Corps volunteer in Ethiopia 2011-13.

“The stage is set for a monumental climate agreement that will have broad-reaching implications for generations to come. As a returned Peace Corps volunteer who worked in the environment sector in northern Ethiopia for two years, I am extremely interested in how least-developed countries like Ethiopia will balance economic development with carbon dioxide mitigation and climate change adaptation strategies.

“I am also interested in the role that indigenous populations and minorities will play in relation to environmental and social justice discussions at the conference and what way these discussions may find their way into the agreement.”

Contact: 313-588-0787, Morse will be in Paris Dec. 7-11.


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