Two American professors, who attended the 2009 United Nations Climate Conference, returned home with optimistic views of the future.The conference, often referred to as COP15, is the 15th discussion on climate change hosted by the United Nations.
Held in Copenhagen, Denmark, from Dec. 7 – 18, the conference was the first time the United States had taken a lead role in the discussion about climate change. No binding agreement was reached.
Netra Chhetri, an Arizona State University professor, attended the conference as an observer.
“I went there with the expectation that it is too big an expectation to meet in one event like that,” Chhetri said. “In fact, I would like to be optimistic. Never in history have such a large number of political leaders come together to talk about one issue. That is an achievement,” Chhetri said.
Thousands of people went to be a part of the conference discussions about climate change.
“There were nearly 50,000 participants. (Of them) 45,000 were non-governmental actors representing NGOs, universities and civil societies,” Chhetri said.
These non-governmental actors participated in different forums, or side event discussions.
“In the side events that the people keep their voice, hoping that their voice will be translated to the government and delegates talking,” Chhetri said.
At the conference, Chhetri saw an environment where people came together to have a global discussion about a global issue.
“I saw farmers, indigenous people in their costumes, and young women. From the US alone, there were more than 700 youths, even some in high school. So, if you look at it from that perspective, it’s a great thing,” Chhetri said.
Richard Worthington, professor from Pomona University, also attended the conference as an observer. Both he and Chhetri said that the global voice had little impact on the policy makers that attended the conference.
“By the time the conference takes place, not much is going to happen besides what the various countries have already decided on,” said Worthington.
Though, Worthington did admit that, “it creates awareness for decision makers that they are truly in a public place.”
The next step for Worthington was bringing back what he saw in Copenhagen and applying it on a local level.
“The best thing people can do is go home, regroup, take action locally and connect as best as possible,” Worthington said.
For Chhetri, the focus was on the deliberative process and education.
“If we believe in democratic policy then we should let the people make their own choices whatever that may be.
“If we educate them enough, hopefully that choice will be rational and prudent and in favor of sustainable development,” Chhetri said.