As students wrap up their final assignments and head home for the holidays, thousands of people across the globe will be preparing for the major United Nations conference known as the Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The UNFCCC is an annual, two-week-long convention focusing on how best to support our global environment. The event is held in a different city every year and hosts government representatives, nonprofit organizers, and members of the press for presentations, panels, and performances that generate conversation and incentivize action toward a more sustainable future. This is important because it is a space created solely to enable major world leaders to negotiate and enact real changes. Imagine thousands of like-minded people wandering the same halls, meeting one another, sharing ideas, and exchanging information. For all of its flaws – and there are many – the UNFCCC is the only existing structure we have to deal with this major, global issue.
Last year, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend this conference. I was studying abroad in Europe near where the conference was hosted, which made the cost of my attendance significantly lower. I was able to apply for — and, thankfully, to receive — the Dr. Keshishoglou Center for Global Communications Travel Grant.
This year I maintained my lucky streak — the conference is taking place near relatives of mine who offered to house me. This, once again, decreased the cost of my attendance and made it more convenient for the school to send me. With funding from the Roy H. Park School of Communications, the Office of Energy Management and Sustainability and the Office of the Provost, I will be attending the conference in Madrid in December, and I am so incredibly grateful. I am looking forward to applying my knowledge of last year’s conference to this year’s experience and absorbing as much information as I possibly can.
While I am very fortunate to have this exciting opportunity, I am also aware of the paradox this presents: Young people’s inclusion in conversations about their own futures should not be contingent on their financial situations. Higher education — including but not limited to Ithaca College — should prioritize investing in students like myself to continue attending UNFCCC and actively looking for climate solutions.
Institutions of higher education have heightened roles and responsibilities in combating these major issues, and their students are the future that will enact those changes. Right now, young people have to work twice as hard just to be given a seat at the table, only to be included as a symbol of inclusivity for policymakers. This is a narrative that needs to change.
As I mentioned, my attendance at this conference was only possible by the generosity of several departments on campus, as well as the thoughtful guidance of my mentors and professors. This is not a gift that I take for granted. But I do ask that higher education institutions recognize the gravity of the situation before us: We have a small window of opportunity to mitigate the catastrophic effects of climate change. Investing in students is investing in our collective future.