Author: Anji Seth

View from COP22 in Marrakech: An Uncertain Future

By Ben Breslau, Student, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology


The UConn contingent arriving at Marrakech

As we flew into Morocco, my mind raced. Like many of my environmentally conscious peers in the United States and beyond, I was still in shock from the previous week’s presidential election. Among his many campaign promises, President-elect Trump has spoken of promoting policies that would be disastrous to the national and global environment. He has discussed reinvigorating the coal industry, which will translate into massive health hazards for the people of Appalachia. He has also proposed to dismantle the Environmental Protection Agency. This agency has improved countless lives by directly reducing the amount of pollutants in our nation’s rivers, air and soil. He has also suggested opening up our National Parks to private industries for exploitation. This would not only severely damage America’s tourism industry, but it would also destroy unique and irreplaceable ecosystems. And most dangerous of all, he is seriously considered abandoning the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement. Since the United States is Earth’s second largest greenhouse gas emitter (and may again become the largest as China seeks more renewable energy), this could mean that our country, which stands as a beacon for freedom around the world, may irreparably contribute to the largest global crisis in our generation.

Needless to say, I was less than optimistic before we touched down in Africa. I felt something that others less privileged than myself have felt for years or even decades: a strong sense of disillusionment and betrayal towards the officials that are supposed to represent the interests of ALL Americans.

View from COP22 in Marrakech: The Trump Opener

Kristin Burnham, Student, Pathobiology and Molecular and Cell Biology

The Trump Opener: A cultural phenomenon observed at COP22 in which, once the nationality of a U.S. citizen is established, the opening remark of the conversation is about President-Elect Donald Trump.

“You know I’ve never met a Trump supporter,” Mostafa, a well-spoken, twenty something journalist from Cairo tells us as we wait for the bus from the Green Zone back to the hotel.

We comment that people who voted for Trump don’t come to climate change conferences, or to developing countries for that matter. The statement is laced with condescension, the implicit message clear: they don’t know better because they haven’t seen the things we have, they don’t know the things we know.  It’s how we explain their seemingly inexplicable choice.

Rich Miller, from the UConn cohort comments that it’s interesting how close the rest of the world followed the U.S. election. Mostafa replies, “We’re all stakeholders – your elections affect us as much as they affect you, maybe even more.” And, to some degree, he is right. For better or worse, the U.S. is a global superpower. Our foreign policy brings not only humanitarian aid and other resources to developing nations, but also, all too often, our soldiers, our missiles, and our carbon emissions, which travel far beyond our borders.

Mostafa explains that he sympathizes, comparing many Egyptians’ dislike for their President of the past two and-a-half years, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, to many Americans’ dislike of Trump. “I was a part of the Arab Spring,” he tells us. With pride and eloquence he says that our generation is more connected than ever before: How incredible it is that we can know the story and thoughts of a 16 year old girl in Palestine, a 41 year old man in Iraq… or a 20 year old girl from Connecticut.

kristin-mitigation-2There is a lull in the conversation. Ben Breslau, a fellow student from the UConn group, asks “So what do we do?” Mostafa emphatically replies, “You wait. Please wait.  You do nothing. You have patience,” almost pleading for the new US administration to stand behind the Paris Agreement, reached just last year at the historic COP21.  He cares what we do. He cares because it affects him too.

It’s not just what the president does that has a global impact. It’s what we all do. It’s the votes we cast, the revolutions we start, the passion of our convictions, and the causes we choose to champion.

A few minutes later we meet a delegate from Turkey, “You’re from America? I was here [at the conference] as the election results were coming in.” He says people cried and scheduled talks were abandoned to discuss instead the potential devastation Trump’s environmental policies could have on the world.

I hope that no matter what Trump does, no matter how drastic or inflammatory, we, as a country, can be more than his actions.

Let’s use the overwhelming feelings of frustration and helplessness to create a better United States. Let’s treat each other with more kindness. Let’s use the outrage and fear that surround Trump’s election to be a catalyst for change. Let’s join together to reduce our contribution to greenhouse gasses.

If we can’t take pride in our President, let us instead create a culture, country and carbon footprint we can be proud of.

View from COP22 in Marrakech: Hoping for a Better Donald

What the 2016 Election Means for Climate Change Policy

Klara Reisch, Student, Molecular and Cell Biology

klara-human-rightsI shuffled in and out of shops trying to find a souvenir in Marrakech when one merchant turned to me, chuckled and asked “you voted for Trump?” I was confused and slightly embarrassed that this election was following me deep into the Souks of the Medina, but I was not surprised. In fact, before that encounter, most panel discussions I attended at COP22 mentioned the election results back home, which named Donald Trump as our president-elect. Throughout the campaign, Trump argued that climate change is merely a hoax spurred by the Chinese and criticized the United States for spending money on environmental initiatives to minimize its effects. He had threatened to dismantle last year’s landmark Paris Agreement, and Trump and revoke the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan, which calls for a decrease in carbon emissions from power plants.

klara-human-rights-2Either way, this election left many delegates and panelists concerned and unsure about the future of our world. I spoke with a panelist from GIZ, Klaus Wenzel, about the U.S.’s resistance of climate change policy. He talked about how workers are concerned about how they will be affected by this transition to things like clean energy. “People are afraid,” he said. “People are afraid of what this means for their jobs.” One of Trump’s main issues with renewable energy is that it is too expensive. Wenzel argued that although the return on investment takes time, renewable energy decreases the amount of air pollution and green house gas emissions, both of which have major effects on the environment and human health. “What is the worth of a premature death?”

Of course, no one knows for sure what this election means for the United States and the rest of the world, but I heard opinions expressed by both sides in various panel discussions at COP22. Some said that the United States would not back out because of the geopolitical and trade implications, while others believe that the U.S. may step out of the game and perhaps force other countries to step up.

Hopefully, enough people will speak out against Trump’s environmental policies. If our president will not fight on our behalf, we will have to.

View from COP22 in Marrakech: US Election Results

20161109_132624By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography

A surreal mix of stoicism and denial pervaded the COP plenary meetings this morning. Delegates were introduced; formal addresses were read. Before long, discussion turned to the wonky language of the UNFCCC: carbon pricing, transparency frameworks, climate financing, and so on. In short, it was business-as-usual at COP22. Addressing the elephant in the room – the outcome of the US election – was not on the agenda.

Not to suggest that those participating in this morning’s session were unaware or even impartial with respect to said elephant. Donald Trump has claimed that climate change is a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, and promised to scrap the landmark Clean Power Plan, repeal federal spending on clean energy, and pull the US out of the Paris Agreement. No amount of dutiful attendance to the agenda at hand would change the fact that the world has entered a very uncertain time for global climate governance. While reneging on the Paris Agreement would take four years to materialize, the US’ exit from the most significant environmental treaty in history would send shock waves throughout international negotiating mechanisms and likely hamper efforts to achieve good-faith agreements by the incoming US administration. Of course the delegates at COP22 know this, though you wouldn’t have known it from their workmanlike approach to the task at hand.

I, for one, found greater solace at a gathering of young activists outside the plenary hall, who had planned to present a “Presidential To-Do List” this morning in anticipation of a Clinton victory. The electoral reality prompted a change in plans: what would have been a call to Presidential action instead became a sort of support group for those in attendance – a welcome opportunity to let emotions rule, if briefly, an otherwise staid and dispassionate policy meeting.

20161109_130400Several activists made impassioned speeches, vocalizing the grief, frustration, and fear that must surely have been on the minds of many in attendance. Their words projected courage and compassion: “Rather than judge Trump’s supporters,” they said, “try to understand why they voted for him.” For those like myself who were seeking a space to mourn the electoral loss, the gathering was a powerful reminder of the stakes underpinning these negotiations, and the fragile global order on which they depend. 

COP22 in Marrakech: Africa in Action

By Scott Stephenson, Assistant Professor, Geography

20161107_175310With the Paris Agreement entering into force ahead of schedule on November 4, the rhetoric at the COP22 opening plenary in Marrakech was decidedly optimistic, with ambitious appeals to meet the goals set in Paris one year ago. While there were the usual calls to global collective action, a focus on regional climate justice issues surfaced as an early theme. Morocco’s Foreign Minister and COP22 President, Salaheddine Mezouar, set the tone by highlighting the significance of holding the meeting on African soil at a time when “climate change in Africa is the most cruel and unfair.” Pointing out that 15 of the 36 most climate-impacted countries are in Africa, and that it would take three Earths to meet the consumption needs of the world’s wealthiest citizens, he issued a challenge to those in attendance to bring about “justice for Africa” here and throughout the years of negotiations ahead:


“The world wants more transparency…we have a huge responsibility to address the needs of the most vulnerable populations. We must provide them with the resources to adapt to the most disastrous consequences of climate change.”


At the same time, Mezouar took time to highlight the agency and responsibility of African nations in initiating and pursuing climate action. Hosting the conference in Marrakech “emphasizes Africa’s desire to take its destiny in hand, to reduce its vulnerability and strengthen its resilience,” through action plans such as the African Renewable Energy Initiative. 20161107_103956The point came as a welcome reminder that LDCs – 33 of which are in Africa – have been active in shaping climate negotiations since the establishment of the UNFCCC in 1992. In the days to come, COP22 will go about the business of implementing the commitments made in Paris, such as setting the rules for emissions accounting, advancing consensus on a framework for loss and damage, and facilitating integration of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in national policies and investment plans. The hope, as stated by IPCC Chair Hoesung Lee in his plenary address, is that COP22 will be a “COP of action.” While the agenda here appears to be focused squarely on the work ahead, I expect that tomorrow’s long-awaited U.S. Presidential election will be on the minds of more than one of the negotiators, given the promise of one candidate to cancel the Paris Agreement if he wins.

UConn@COP22 Applications due Oct 10


UConn COP 22 Marrakech Climate Change Conference

Trip Description

COP 22 is the United Nations Climate Change Conference, and will be held this year in Marrakech, Morocco from November 7th to November 18th, 2016. The event will bring together diplomats, business executives, heads of government and other delegates to discuss action on climate change. The objective of COP 22 is to make the voices of vulnerable countries to climate change heard and will be one of action.

The University of Connecticut will be providing full funding, excluding meals other than breakfast, for a select group of undergraduate students to travel to Marrakech from November 13th – November 18th to attend events centered on the conference. In addition, students will have the opportunity to experience the beautiful city of Marrakech, Morocco. Events and cultural destinations that the students will be able to experience are laid out in a rough itinerary below.

This application must be completed and submitted to <> by 11:59pm EST on Monday, October 10th in order to be considered by the Selection Committee for the trip. Only complete applications will be considered. Airfare, housing, and city transportation will be provided.


1. Do you have a passport that is valid through April of 2017?

2. What is your cumulative GPA? (3.0 minimum requirement)

3. What is your major and minor (if applicable)?

4. What is your expected date of graduation?

5. How many credits have you completed?

6. Please list any relevant student leadership activities (e.g., service hours, officer position in clubs, etc.)

7. How did you hear about this program?


1. Write one 600-word essay on the following topic:

  • Describe what you hope to share with the UConn community from your COP 22 trip. Examples include participating and presenting in a conference, presenting what you learned to a class, etc. These goals should be attainable and reasonable. Essay should also include how this trip will be beneficial to your future career.

2. List the contact information for three academic or employer references (at least one must be an academic reference).

3. Attach a one-page copy of your current resume to this application.

4. During AND after your trip, you must develop a series of blogs and social media posts pertaining to COP22.

This page originated at the UConn OEP site <>

Myanna Lahsen Seminar, 21 September

photo-9Where is the Beef?  

Climate Change knowledge and communication in Brazil


Myanna Lahsen

Center for Earth System Science

The Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE)

Wednesday 21 September 2016

2:30 – 3:30 pm

AUST 163

Abstract: Skepticism about climate science is often identified as a key obstacle to effective decision making in the U.S. and other countries. Brazil has come to be celebrated as an enlightened counter-example because climate science is largely uncontested, as reflected in analyses of climate coverage in national newspapers and in a series of international surveys performed by the Pew Center and others. However, drawing on extensive analysis of Brazilian climate politics and newspaper coverage of climate change, I reveal a deep disconnect between Brazil’s emissions profile and how climate change and related solutions are defined, a disconnect that obstructs awareness of Brazil’s single most important source of emissions: cattle-raising. During the talk, I will also discuss broader environmental risks generated by agricultural expansion in Brazil’s biodiversity hotspot, the “Cerrado” savanna biome, highlighting how Brazil’s research agendas and mass communications structures bear on the challenge of responding to the threats of resource depletion and global environmental change.

Bio:  Myanna Lahsen is Senior Researcher II in the Earth System Science Center at the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE). A Cultural Anthropologist and STS scholar by training, she studies knowledge politics and other socio-cultural dynamics related to global environmental change, environmental sustainability and development. She is the recipient of numerous prestigious awards and fellowship in the United States, including the Jacob K. Javits and EPA ”STAR” fellowships, and two postdoctoral Fellowships, in the Advanced Study Program at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and in the J.F. Kennedy school of Government, respectively. Before assuming her current position in Brazil, she held positions as Science Officer with the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, as Research Scientist in CIRES at the University of Colorado and as Lecturer on Environmental Science and Public Policy at Harvard University. She has served on review panels at the U.S. National Science Foundation and been called to participate in Expert Groups advising the United Nations on the dynamics of the science-policy interface and the formation of a global sustainability report. She currently serves as advisor to Nature Climate Change and as Executive Editor of WIREs Climate Change, responsible for the subdomain on The Social Status of Climate Change Knowledge.

This event is hosted by the University of Connecticut Atmospheric Sciences Group (ASG) and the Department of Geography.

Post-Paris: On Pricing Carbon

Alex Mayer

Coal emits around six times more CO2 per dollar than natural gas, and twelve times more than oil. The most effective way to cut carbon emissions is to cut coal, yet it is still a wildly popular source of energy around the world. This is because coal is the least expensive fossil fuel. The price of coal is externalized, meaning people do not pay the full social for it. In fact, carbon is actually priced at zero dollars, despite its dangerous side effects. Nordhaus tackles these issues in his book, The Climate Casino.

Let me back up.

CO2 is a prevalent greenhouse gas that acts as a blanket to warm the earth. Greenhouse gases do not interact with sunlight, also known as visible radiation. So, sunlight is able to pass through greenhouse gases from space on the way to earth. Then, the earth absorbs the visible radiation, and by heating the surface converts the sunlight into infrared radiation, also known as heat. Next, the earth emits said infrared radiation. Here’s where we get into trouble. Greenhouse gases love to absorb infrared radiation and emit it in all different direction. This means that some heat is pushed back down to earth. This heat, in turn raises earth’s temperature even more.

If you’re from a place with long, dreary winters like me, you might, at first, welcome the idea of a warmer climate. However increases in temperature have serious consequences. A 1°C increase in the world’s average temperature is predicted to cause water shortages, coral bleaching, coastal flooding, and amphibian extinction. A 2°C increase is on track to do all of the above, as well as lead to the spread of diseases. It will also put 20-30% of species at high risk of extinction. At 3°C higher, in addition to the above, we expect to see a decrease in food production, sea level rise, and a “substantial burden on health systems.” A change of 5°C is catastrophic, causing mass extinctions, an enormous drop in food productivity, a 30% decrease in coastal wetlands, fatal floods, a change in coastlines, and huge changes in ocean circulation. Each prediction listed above is likely to spur a chain of destructive occurrences.

The scientific community has stated that we should not let the world’s temperature rise above 2°C. However, Nordhaus argues that we should let the earth warm 2.5°C. He comes to this conclusion through his own cost benefit analysis, in which he measures the cost of decreasing carbon emissions against the cost of adaptation to a new climate, arguing that if we spend too much now to reduce carbon emissions, we would put the health and safety of all humans at risk.

Okay, so now that you’re all caught up, the question is… what policies can incentivise the reduction of carbon emissions? Nordhaus has the answer: Climate pricing. He writes, “governments must ensure that people do pay the full costs of their emissions. Everyone, everywhere, and for the indefinite future must face prices that reflect the social costs of their activities.” There are two approaches to setting a price for carbon. You can either calculate the social cost of carbon by evaluating the risks of climate change, or you can base your price off of a temperature ceiling goal. According to a US Governmental approach, the social cost of carbon is $25 per metric ton of CO2. Nordhaus insists that if one were to follow the second approach of pricing carbon and limit the average global temperature increase to 2.5°C, carbon would start at $25 per metric ton of CO2 and increase about 5% annually due to estimated CO2 emission swells in the future.

Pricing carbon would greatly influence the costs of electric power generation. The cost of creating electricity from coal, for example would rocket. Natural gas production would also see a steep increase in cost, though it would be less dramatic. Nuclear power and renewable resources would be the cheapest energy sources.  This would encourage refineries to shift away from emitting carbon in mass and in turn would inspire researchers, inventors, and investors to put time and money into innovating more sustainable and efficient ways to extract and use low carbon energy sources. Furthermore, a carbon price would ensure that carbon rich products and activities would be more expensive for the consumer. This, of course, would encourage people to buy carbon-low materials.

There are two common approaches for pricing carbon: the carbon tax and cap and trade. A carbon tax would have companies, individuals, or the source pay a tax on their emissions. Cap and trade at the national level is a system in which the government allocates or sells carbon emissions permits to corporations. In this approach, all of the country’s businesses, firms, refineries, etc. cannot exceed a total quantity of carbon emissions. However, they are able to trade their carbon permits. Say a business is looking to go green due to public pressure. This company can sell it’s carbon permits to a refinery that wants to release more carbon than it has permits. The intersection of interests between the two companies sets the price for said permits. The corporation, of course would be looking for the highest payer, while the refinery would seek the lowest bid.

Hypothetically, these two approaches have the same effects, but in real life, each carbon pricing scheme has specific benefits and downfalls. Let’s take a closer look. Quickly, you may be wondering who actually pays for CO2 in a carbon tax scheme.  The consumer could pay, as could the refinery or gas station. Economically, it makes no difference. The consumer, will pay the price of carbon no matter what. However if say, the refinery is taxed directly, the consumer may not see the price surge as their own burden. Thus, many advocate for taxing away from the consumer. Nordhaus argues that “a carbon tax would yield $168 billion of revenues in 2020, equal to about 1 percent of GDP. Because the tax rate would soon shoot up, the revenues would also increase substantially over time.”

One benefit of the carbon tax is that taxes are universal. While every country has some sort of tax system, many have limited exposure to cap and trade systems. Thus, the carbon tax may be easier to implement on a larger scale. Furthermore, a carbon tax would not be vulnerable to price volatility. The cap and trade system on the other hand, lends itself to intense fluctuations in cost, which we see when looking at the EU model. An added bonus of the carbon tax is that it can produce money for the government, which can then spend said revenue on environmental initiatives. In a cap and trade system, permits are usually given for free (though there has been some recent resistance to this). This decreases revenue for government, but would keep the American public on board. This is because special interest groups have flooded America with the idea that taxation, especially of corporations, is heinous, anti-capitalistic, and oppositional to free trade.

The carbon tax does have it’s weaknesses, however. In countries like the US, tax plans are difficult to pass and easy to repeal. A changing partisan tide can reverse these environmental initiatives in a heartbeat. Here, cap and trade comes into play. In the US, environmental regulation seem to have staying power. For this reason, cap and trade can be more beneficial in the long run. Also troubling is that a set carbon tax does not in itself curb carbon use. In the cap and trade system, there is a set quantity of carbon releasable. No matter how much money mega-corporations have, they are unable to burn more carbon than they can buy, and they can only buy carbon permits allocated to firms by the government. Here’s a silly analogy to help comprehension:

Say there is a mega-wealthy supervillain who wants to destroy the world by releasing all the carbon he can excavate. Under the carbon tax system, with enough money, he could burn all the carbon in the world. Under the cap and trade system, he could only buy everyone’s permits. This latter plot, would not allow him to destroy the world via climate change because the government would allocate carbon permits based on how much carbon is emittable for a safe world.

Unfortunately, this is oversimplified. Carbon “offsets,” actions that supposedly reduce atmospheric carbon dioxide, are often used to game the cap-and-trade system. When a company offsets carbon pollution, they get an offset permit, which they can sell or trade. Though sensical in theory, offsets are not always carefully monitored and can actually result in extra greenhouse gas emissions. For example, in Indonesia, Sinar Mas Corporation, a palm oil producer, chopped down indigenous forest. In the barren space, the company planted palm oil trees. This, of course, harmed the environment and released carbon emissions. Yet, the corporation still applied for and received offset permits, which they were then able to sell for more profit.

Hypothetically, there is no way of ensuring that a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade can curb carbon emissions enough. Still, it’s all about incentive. Of course, a country could opt to do a carbon tax/cap and trade hybrid. Because each nation has a unique set of political and economic challenges, no one policy will work for every country.

Of course, climate change does not discriminate based on nationality. It will hurt everyone and everything. Therefore, mitigating climate change must be a global effort. This seems rather challenging, as without a unifying treaty or discussion, countries are apt to price carbon in different ways and perhaps at different costs. If the difference in the pricing of carbon is vast, complications will arise at borders over how to translate one country’s carbon pricing to another’s. Nordhaus outlines two ways to harmonize global carbon costs. First, there could be an international cap and trade scheme. Second, all countries could hypothetically agree on a minimum carbon cost instead of an emissions ceiling. In this scenario, countries could legislate higher carbon prices than the agreed upon minimum if they wanted. These ideas are great concepts, but a major question remains: How do we get all countries to stick to their deals without international enforcement authorities and systems?

Nordhaus skeptically advocates for tariffs.Yet, it would be too difficult (and ineffective) to tariff only the carbon rich products. It is near impossible to trace supply chain, and therefore near impossible to know how much carbon is emitted in the production processes of a good. If a Furthermore, many carbon heavy products are used domestically, which renders tariffs irrelevant. It seems more sensical to tariff a specific percentage of all products coming from a noncompliant country. In this way, those countries who shoulder the costs of climate change mitigation get to participate in free trade. Noncompliance countries do not. Ideally, countries would tax carbon at the source to avoid the above mess. Counties that do not, would be tarrifed.

This is a lofty goal, that many will reject ideologically due to the historic struggle against protectionism. Although this simple regulation is radically different from protectionism, the lines could be blurred by a self interested country. The fact that a conservative economist such as Nordhaus even entertains tariffs, much less pushes for them, proves how costly climate change will be if we continue business as usual.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary, UNFCCC livestream at Dodd Center

image002A Future Free from Fear: Why We Must Act on Climate Change Today
Christiana Figueres
Executive Secretary, UNFCCC
Christiana Figueres has served as Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and has piloted the UN Climate negotiations since 2010, culminating in the Paris Climate Conference (COP21) last December. Christiana worked tirelessly to convince nearly 200 countries to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and has called the  Paris climate accord a “historical achievement.” But she also knows that the hard work has just begun. Her talk will focus on the critical next steps after Paris.
 Monday 25 April 2016
 12:00 – 1:30pm
Konover Auditorium  [Storrs, Dodd Center]
Avery Point Auditorium [Avery Point Campus]
RM 132  [Stamford Campus]
This event is hosted by the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and will be live streamed to UConn with support from the Atmospheric Sciences Group (ASG) and the Center for Environmental Sciences and Engineering (CESE).
Questions may be submitted in advance via the web (scroll to bottom) at

April 22 Earth Day Celebration: James Porter

image001The UConn Environmental Working Group has orchestrated an engaging Celebration of Earth Day on 22 April 2016, that includes three events: 

  • A seminar by Dr. James Porter (Solving Environmental Problems in the 21stCentury:  Who Will Lead the Way?”);
  • A Discussion Forum and Reception for Graduate Students; and
  • A Discussion Forum and Reception for Undergraduate Students.

see flyer for details.