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Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger pauses for cameras during the signing ceremony CSUF students witnessed at the Governors’ Global Summit 2 conference. Photo by Keyur Ajmera

Countdown to Copenhagen

Students Attend Global Climate Summit 2

December 1, 2009

By Paula Selleck

A group of CSUF students will be paying special attention to the Dec. 7-18 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, having gotten an early preview of the proceedings, by way of Century City.

It was there, from Sept. 29-Oct. 2, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger hosted the largest gathering of regional leaders focused on climate solutions: “Governors’ Global Climate Summit 2 — On the Road to Copenhagen.”

Among the CSUF students attending the summit were, back row, from left: Freddy Ugarte, Richard Sitan and Simon Lange. Front row, from left: Audrey Perry, Ellyssa Boyd, Nicole Tocchini, Jon Haider, Keyur Ajmera and Beena Ajmera.

Among the 1,200 attendees were students of John Bock, professor of anthropology and coordinator of environmental studies; Prasada Rao, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering; and William J. Hoese, associate professor of biological science.

The students joined global experts from government, business, nonprofit and other global organizations to learn how various states and nations are combating climate change.

“It was amazing,” said Elizabeth Hessom, a senior biological science major. “There were leaders from all around the world there, and I was able to see how they make policy. I got to see how international affairs works on a meeting level; it was really cool.”

Among the panel discussions Hessom attended was “Agriculture: Feeding the World and Fighting Climate Change,” which included Arizona’s director of environmental quality, California’s secretary of food and agriculture, the World Bank’s manager of agriculture and rural development, and Austria’s minister of agriculture, forestry, environment and water management.

Biological science major Elizabeth Hessom snaps her own photo as a summit attendee.

“It is very encouraging to see that these leaders are doing more than just talking about it,” she said. “All of them were providing specific examples on how they’re using greener options.”

Mikaila Rimbenieks, a graduate student majoring in environmental studies, found the examples offered during a session on sustainable forestry to be eye-opening. 

“You could feel this vibe of energy in the room,” she said, hearing about the “proactive approach being taken by these model countries.” 

Ticking off the list of regions and “incredible speakers” represented, she said: “It was really a sharing session for how these leaders are achieving sustainability in countries with unstable economic conditions . . . You can see how communities are turning from disaster to becoming completely sustainable.”

Rimbenieks is optimistic that the success of ”grass roots organizations making changes on a small scale” can show the way for nations. 

“It’s a wonderful preview of what’s going to come in Copenhagen,” she said. “I’m eager to see what will be accomplished there.” 

Added Richard Sitan, a senior majoring in civil engineering: “We experienced firsthand how much effort actually goes into planning a course of action for controlling our current situation on global climate.”

Sitan cited as his favorite the session on zero carbon emissions. “The fact that we are currently working on better methods of reducing carbon emissions because of the usage of cars and using hydrogen-fueled celled cars in the future was very fascinating.”

He also called attention to “the point that Gov. Schwarzenegger made on how people have to take charge now … otherwise, it will be too late for the future generations.”

Sitan said “the best and most exciting time of the day came at the very end when Gov. Schwarzenegger, along with other leaders, signed a declaration of cooperation to continue working forward to finding a resolution for this climate change.”

Senior Keyur Ajmera displays the embossed pen Gov. Schwarzenegger used at the summit signing ceremony, then gave to him. Photo by Kelly Lacefield

Keyur Ajmera, a senior majoring in both civil engineering and mathematics, shared in that excitement. When he snagged one of the tickets set aside by the Governor’s Office for students to attend the summit at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza Hotel, he had no idea he would walk away with a special souvenir from the event.

“We had the opportunity to be two feet away from the governor,” he recalled. “Since we were so close, I took the opportunity to ask the governor for his pen after he had signed the [declaration] … and he gave it to me.”

Ajmera’s own photo of the signing is part of his visual record of the occasion — a matter of being in the right place at the right time. On the final day of the summit, a smaller-than-expected number of attendees turned out for that day’s lunch, so the group of students of which Ajmera was a part were invited to sit among the banquet tables in the Los Angeles Ballroom for the meal and program moderated by Ann Thompson, chief environmental affairs correspondent for NBC News. The topic was “Breaking the Climate Deadlock.”

The students watched actor Rob Lowe introduce those who walked on stage: Schwarzenegger, Britain’s former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Rajendra Pachauri, chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Their conversation on what Lowe characterized as “the greatest issue of our time” was followed by a plenary session on “Building Upon Subnational Leadership on the Road to Copenhagen,” which led to the closing ceremony.

Tony Blair, Britain's former prime minister, strategizes with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger at the summit. Photo by Elizabeth Hessom

“Slowly after the luncheon progressed, we crept our way upfront, since there were empty tables, and finally we ended up being at the front of the stage,” Ajmera recounted,“ as they said it was a memorable event and people could gather at the stage.” Schwarzenegger told attendees the declaration the leaders signed would be carried to Copenhagen.

Later on, Ajmera posted an album of his conference photos on Facebook.

“I’m so grateful that our university gave us this opportunity,” offered Rimbenieks, who said she could not have afforded to attend the conference on her own.

This year’s summit was spurred by the success of the 2008 event, which prompted the United Nations to ask California to host another summit focused on the work of cities, states and regions that have surged ahead of nations in developing solutions to the challenges of climate change. Other governors who joined Schwarzenegger in hosting this year’s event hail from the states of Connecticut, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Washington and Wisconsin.

At the upcoming United Nations climate conference in Copenhagen, a new treaty on climate change could be forged to move beyond the Kyoto Protocol.

Related Link:

Webcast of the Governor’s Global Summit 2

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