THIMBY Goes to Paris: Taking Part in COP21 Climate Solutions

 Outside of Paris to the west, at the Center for International Pedagogy Studies (CIEP), over 25 teams of university students (plus one high school student) gathered on Saturday, December 5 to present an array of campus sustainability initiatives designed to help their home institutions act locally while thinking globally about climate change. Meanwhile, to the northeast of Paris, negotiators worked on hammering out a draft international climate agreement that would represent the first time all UNFCCC member institutions might agree to take meaningful action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions.

The International Association of Research Universities (IARU) hosted the Global University Climate Forum during COP21 to bring together students in order to learn from each other and engage in conversation about climate solutions. Thousands of others from civil society have converged on Paris over the last couple of weeks to take part in these broader conversations and send a concerted message to negotiators that diverse actors, from students to indigenous groups to nonprofits and businesses, are behind a strong agreement. The event at CIEP was an opportunity for climate education and inspiration drawn from all corners of the globe: student groups represented many countries including Mexico, France, Finland, Denmark, Tanzania, China, Singapore, Germany, Australia and the US.

Beginning with an opening plenary from climatologist Hervé Le Treut on the science imperative for action, and following with a talk from UMass Boston Professor David Cash on policy challenges and opportunities, a common theme developed. We must pursue solutions from many angles, from the technical to the social to the political, in order to keep the planet healthy for future generations and to stay below a 2C warming threshold. During the three poster sessions, students presented and gave feedback to each other on campus solutions such as a mandatory climate change curriculum, ecotourism development, green rooftops in Paris, personalized climate change museum experiences, and divestment + reinvestment strategies. In our session, the THIMBY poster was crowded with people interested in affordable, sustainable living solutions and tiny houses in particular. It was an exciting hour of energetic conversation, with great discussions around various elements of the greywater treatment system, carbon accounting for the house, building materials, passive solar design, and further scalable applications of tiny houses. Beyond the use cases we are considering of urban infill housing for the Richmond community and student housing at the Berkeley Global Campus, others brought up applications such as refugee or disaster relief housing.

Professor Daniel Kammen commented at the end of the day, along with Professor Maria Ivanova and Zena Harrison, on the need to support other groups within the student network through continued conversation and collaboration. It was an important reminder of channeling inspiration and ideas into action, something that will be facilitated by the creation of an online platform to blog and stay in contact with the other IARU student groups over the next year. President Jobert of the Paris-Sorbonne University concluded on a note of optimism and friendship taking over after the horror of the recent terrorist attacks, reminding the audience how an international agreement can send a powerful message in favor of peace and cooperation. We left the CIEP as evening fell, and travelled by bus to a barge along the Seine for dinner and drinks, passing iconic Paris landmarks illuminated with both festive Christmas lights and, in the case of the Eiffel Tower, a reinforcement of the climate message beaming out across the city. It was a great end to a day of positive signs from the next generation of climate leaders, educators, negotiators, and scientists that both action and collaboration are happening. While we remain optimistic for the arrival of a meaningful global agreement by the end of the week, it was inspiring to see that whatever may happen in the next few days, the rising generation of climate scientists, activists, businesspeople, and politicians will continue to fight for the health of our planet and all of its inhabitants.