MITIGATING CLIMATE CHANGE IMPACT ON MOUNTAIN LIVELIHOODS THROUGH STUDENTS EFFORTS

On December 11, 2015 representatives of 195 nations reached a landmark accord on climate change in Paris that will, for the first time, commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. It was important that during the COP21, also known as the 2015 Paris United Nations Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP21), that mountain regions were highlighted. The Mountain Partnership Secretariat (MPS) under the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO-UN) spearheaded efforts to bring mountainous communities and the effects climate change has on them to the forefront of the discussion. MPS asked all interested institutions and individuals around the world to sign a petition requesting that during the UNFCCC COP21 new climate deal the impact climate change has on mountain peoples and ecosystems is fully discussed.

Members of Utah International Mountain Forum (UIMF), a coalition of student clubs at Utah Valley University (UVU), including myself, were able to be part of those initiatives, due to the relationship formed between UVU and MPS in 2006 when our university became a member of the Mountain Partnership. It was an excellent opportunity for many of us to get acquainted and contribute to the activities of the MPS, which coordinates the sustainable mountain development (SMD) agenda of the United Nations globally. Students were also able to gain professional skills, and experiences on an international level.

Climate change has a serious impact in mountainous regions for a number of reasons. For example, the fact sheet, released by the White House1 states that issues relevant to Utah due to the climate change would be: agriculture, water, health, ecosystems, and tribes. The Southwest region of the United States produces more than fifty percent of the nation’s high value specialty crops; these crops will be damaged if snowpack and stream flow amounts decrease. With a decline in water sources may increase competition between farmers attempting to irrigate their crops. Dry climates becoming drier will increase the likelihood of fires destroying ecosystems and impacting the people who live in the Southwest region. Decreased snowpack will decrease the amount of water that is available to use, this can pose health risks if temperatures rise and there is a limited amount of water available.

Since June 2015, we were involved in gathering signatures for the petition. It became part of the curriculum for my International Relations class, when our teacher, Dr. Baktybek Abdrisaev introduced it to us. Additionally, he asked me if I was interested in gathering signatures among other political science classes at UVU. I agreed to coordinate those efforts and I am very glad that it allowed me to discover a whole new world of global politics closely intertwined with destinies of people who live in the mountainous state of Utah.

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Our team gathering signatures at Utah Valley University

Many students not only signed the petition, but also approached others to obtain 5-10 additional signatures. Our team included Rex Linder, Jon Thorderson, Danny Davis, Aaron Smith, and Trevor Williams among others. Petition signing was included in the agenda of the Fourth International Women of the Mountains Conference which UVU students, myself included, successfully held at UVU on October 7-9, 2015, as a gathering to promote gender and the SMD agendas of the U.N. in North America. Here we worked together with Yanko Dzhukev, who led a campaign to gather signatures through social media (for information, see his piece at: http://utahimf.org/engaging-mountain-communities-through-the-international-women-of-the-mountains-conference/) Many dignitaries, and scholars from 20 mountain nations, who attended the conference, signed the petition. Student members of the organizing committee led efforts in gathering signatures: http://www.womenofthemountains.org/images/2015/15-10-18-ORG.pdf

The more the issues of climate change were discussed, the more we were able to learn for ourselves about the significant impact of climate change in mountainous regions and why it is important to be involved in those activities. Dr. Russell Williams from Memorial University of Newfoundland, in Canada came to speak at UVU on “Canada’s Role in Global Climate Change Negotiations” on October 28, 2015 and I asked our Canadian guest to sign the petition. His signature is one of many that I am proud of.

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I am standing with Dr. Russell Williams from Memorial

University of Newfoundland, in Canada, when he signed the petition

In addition, we set up a booth in the hall at UVU. We were sure that there were many other students that were also passionate about this issue. We were confronted with questions and several arguments. Data from the Yale project on climate change communication shows that in 2014 60% of the people in the State of Utah, and 57% in Utah County thought that global warming is happening. However, I was surprised to see the number of people among my peers at UVU who didn’t accept climate change.

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Signatures are gathered by students at Osh Technological University, Kyrgyzstan Under the advice of Dr. Almaz Atabekov (standing)

Students at UVU gathered signatures and were able to get support from many partners around the global mountain communities, including former Soviet Union nations. For example, students and faculty at International University of Kyrgyzstan, Osh Technological University, and Kyrgyz Technical University actively contributed to the campaign by signing the petition. Scholars from the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences (RANS) have supported our efforts as well; this group is an NGO with Consultative Status under the ECOSOC. RANS cooperates with UVU in joint advocacy of sustainable mountain development activities since 2010. Together we were able to contribute to the efforts of MPS to gather 6,283 signatures far exceeding the required 5,000.

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Members of the Russian Academy of Natural Sciences.

The COP21 discussion was filled with voluntary climate plans from many countries all around the world. Major global corporations from around the world made their pledges by providing substantial funds in support of research and development of new technologies based on renewable, wind and other sources. This is a large step forward, but there is still a long way to go. Students and youth from around the world can and have to make their own contribution through raising both an awareness of the importance of climate change and additional funds to mitigate challenges caused by it. Making sure that the effects of climate change are addressed in all regions, but making sure that mountainous regions are not overlooked is still a goal for them as well and for students at UVU in particular.

Darian Hackney, UVU student and member of UIMF

 

References

The White house Office of the Press Secretary, a FACT SHEET: What Climate Change Means for Utah and the Southwest, May 6, 2014