The online UF climate conference will convene on Sunday as students ramp up their response to climate change.
World leaders will gather at the United Nations Climate Change Conference while UF students hold their own virtual conference from 11 a.m.-3 p.m. on Oct. 31. Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried and Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani will be among the presenters.
The UF conference is meant to introduce to students the logistics and purpose of the annual U.N. summit. The summit hosts 25,000 attendees from 200 nations to discuss solutions and set standards to manage the climate crisis, UF master’s student Rock Aboujaoude, Jr. said.
Aboujaoude, a delegate to the U.N. conference, will provide hour-long daily briefs at 7 p.m. from Oct. 31 until Nov. 12.
Participants will hear from and speak to U.N. delegates, who will be hosted remotely from the Glasgow, Scotland conference. Topics will cover negotiations, energy, finance and more, according to the Campus Climate Corps Conference Draft Program.
Aboujaoude hopes the event speakers will incite grandeur and a sense of importance about the climate emergency among students. He anticipates more than 300 attendees with 120 people already signed up.
Aboujaoude, a UF interdisciplinary ecology master’s student, will be connected live through Zoom from Glasgow, Scotland where the U.N. Climate Change Conferences convenes. After the Halloween conference, he will provide live updates each night until the U.N. conferences wrap up Nov. 12.
Aboujaoude will be on the ground tracking down delegates to interview and invite to speak at the daily briefings. In the past, he has tracked down Al Gore, Harrison Ford, John Kerry and the U.N. Secretariat.
Shannon Sawtell, a 20-year-old marketing and sustainability junior, plans to attend the conference. She is proud to see UF pave the way to speak with people advocating for climate change on a global scale.
“The University of Florida is allowing students to be involved in such important decisions for the wellbeing of themselves and as well as for their children in the future,” Sawtell said.
Sustainability is about more than just climate change, Sawtell said. The core essence includes equality and inclusion for all people in decisions that will inevitably affect everyone — not only now, but in the future.
“It’s very easy to stay focused on what we should do now and not having a long-term plan,” Sawtell said. “Think about your kids’ kids.”
Few nations are on track to reach the target goals set by the Paris Climate Accords if innovation and change aren’t demanded immediately, Aboujaoude said. Failure to achieve the goals will likely result in more than the suggested global warming limit of well below 2 degrees Celsius.
“Pressuring world leaders is the best way to get this done,” Aboujaoude said. “There’s no better time to get the world leaders to pay attention than at an actual climate summit.”
Aboujaoude believes the university will pioneer student involvement with U.N. climate conference delegates.
“UF students will be able to participate in a much grander scale than any year previously with the negotiations,” Aboujaoude said. “We can encourage student participation in the largest climate conference that the world has.”
The Paris Agreement works on a 5-year cycle. With the last adoption in 2015, Aboujaoude decided to propose this special event. He also wants to boost involvement now that the U.S. has officially rejoined after former President Donald Trump’s withdrawal in 2017.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried will talk for about 20 minutes on her Florida Energy and Climate Plan released in 2020. The plan includes focuses on sea-level rise concerns and Florida infrastructure protection, Aboujaoude said.
Orlando Rep. Anna Eskamani will talk about the bill she’s presenting in the Florida House of Representatives, which focuses on statewide renewable energy goals and bans drilling or production of oil and gas in the state, Boujaoude said.
Elaine Turner, dean of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, has been invited to speak at the event. UF professors, including Director of Sustainability Studies and political theory professor Leslie Paul Thiele as well as environmental scientist and sustainability lecturer Stephen Mulkey, will also be presenting.
This is a huge step forward and gives the younger generation a voice at the U.N. conference, said Amanda Feijo, a 22-year-old sustainability and economics senior.
“Everyone should have a voice,” Feijo said. “If we don’t make changes now, it’s going to be too late.”
Feijo said climate change plans shouldn’t focus on just one country.
“We have to have a better understanding of all around the world,” Feijo said. “We’re all going through this together.”
Aboujaoude said he hopes to have similar conferences at UF and other U.S. universities in the future.
“It’s young people who stand to lose the most at this stage in our life if the climate crisis isn’t solved,” Aboujaoude said. “This is our moment to shine.”
Students, as well as non-students, can register for the conference and receive a meeting link from the Campus Climate Corps website.
Contact Alexandra Harris at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @harris_alex_m.
Alexandra is a senior journalism major reporting on Science/Environment for The Alligator. Her work has appeared in The Gainesville Sun, and she filed public records requests for the Why Don't We Know investigative podcast. She has a passion for the environment.