Expanding civil society
By Diane Husic, chair and professor, department of biological sciences and co-director of the IN FOCUS Sustainability Center of Investigation.
The UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) is a treaty resulting from the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to work toward international policy aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions and minimizing the impacts of global climate change. Negotiations occur at annual meetings known as Conference of the Parties (COP) where parties refer to those nations that are signatories to the treaty or convention.
Civil society is an important part of all U.N. processes, but has become very active in the UNFCCC process through attendance of the annual COP meetings and carrying out regionally the work related to mitigation of greenhouse gases and adaptation to change and calling attention to issues of climate justice. The U.N. considers members of nongovernmental organizations as “system partners, who play a key role at major United Nations Conferences and are indispensable partners for U.N. efforts at the country level.” NGOs are consulted on U.N. policy and program matters. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon noted in 2008 that “Our times demand a new definition of leadership—global leadership. They demand a new constellation of international cooperation—governments, civil society and the private sector, working together for a collective global good.
According to the World Bank, “there has been a dramatic expansion in the size, scope and capacity of civil society around the globe over the past decade, aided by the process of globalization and the expansion of democratic governance, telecommunications and economic integration.”
Moravian College is accredited to attend the COP meetings, and through this accreditation, we have been able to have close to 30 students, faculty, alumni and friends of the college attend since 2009 to learn about the process of developing climate policy and network with scientists, policy makers and activists at the international level. A major goal is for our delegation members to also educate others about the negotiations process and details, the environmental science and policy related to climate change, and the ethical dilemmas raised by this environmental, economic and political challenge through our blog (http://moraviancollegeatunfccc.blogspot.com/), formal presentations, published articles and discussions shared with those back home.
We believe that it is our role as an institution of higher learning to stay on top of the science and policy issues (at the local, national and international levels), and to subsequently share this information with the campus and larger community in a factual and understandable manner. (It should be noted that faculty participation in the COP meetings has been supported by the Margaret A. Cargill Foundation endowment for the Environmental Studies and Sciences program at Moravian College, the Faculty Development and Research Committee and the Office of Academic Affairs.)
Since climate change has been identified as one of the grand global challenges of the 21st century and is closely linked to issues of sustainable development, clean energy technologies, food and water security and environmental justice, it is an important topic under the college’s IN FOCUS theme of sustainability. Only a handful of small colleges have UNFCCC accreditation status and even fewer of these institutions remain active in the process (Moravian has attended the last three COP meetings). Given that a part of the college mission is to provide education that prepares men and women for advanced study and continuous learning, individual achievement and leadership and service for the common good, and that the college has, as objectives, increased civic engagement and integrated learning, our participation in civil society seems to be well aligned with these goals.
Within the UNFCCC process, civil society is organized into focal points or constituencies. Thus, Moravian College is also a member of the RINGOs (Research and Independent nongovernmental organization) focal group. I was recently invited to serve on the steering committee for RINGOs, and I am the only member from a small college and the only ecology-focused scientist on the steering committee.
The RINGOs group is comprised of organizations engaged in independent research and analysis aimed at developing sound strategies to address both the causes and consequences of global climate change. They form a constituency in their own right to contribute to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in a parallel way to ENGOs (environment), BINGOs (business and industry), LGMAs (local governments and municipal authorities) and the IPOs (indigenous peoples organizations). During the COP and SB meetings of the UNFCCC, the RINGOs organize meetings to discuss the developments of the negotiations. Distinguishing criteria of the RINGO constituency are: all organizations are not-for-profit; it is committed to addressing climate change in a constructive manner; members are independent to the extent that it is not expected that all organizations would ascribe to the same view on any one particular issue; and the group works to play a bridging role between science and policy; business and environmental organizations; the global North and South, etc.
Moravian College will again be attending the COP meeting in 2012 in Duha, Qatar. Drs. Binford and Husic and Marla Bianca, a senior majoring in chemistry and environmental science, are planning on attending. Ms. Bianca will also be representing the American Chemical Society in a student-based project started three years ago by colleagues at York College and the ACS designed to increase climate literacy among college and university students by employing students’ social networking skills as a tool and the United Nations as a platform for discourse. If you have interest in joining the delegation, or simply have questions, please contact me or Dr. Binford.