Four CSU professors attend COP21 this week in Paris

Julia Rentsch

As negotiators from 195 countries gather for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s 21st Conference of the Parties this week, four Colorado State University experts are also flying to Paris as members of official observer organizations at the conference. The conference aims to craft an agreement on how to curb global carbon emissions and slow climate change.

The CSU attendees are Julia Klein of the Department of Ecosystem Science and Sustainability, Gillian Bowser of the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory, Dale Lockwood of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability and the Department of Biology and Peter Backlund, the associate director of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability.


Dr. Dale Lockwood of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability will be joining five other CSU professors at the United Nations Global Climate Change Summit in Paris on Friday. Photo by Ryan Arb
Dale Lockwood of the School of Global Environmental Sustainability will be joining three other CSU professors at the United Nations Global Climate Change Summit in Paris Friday. (Photo credit: Ryan Arb.)

CSU’s admission as an observer organization occurred in 2009. The UNFCCC has nine operating bodies that sit underneath it, called constituency groups, which provide a voice into the UN structure for non-governmental organizations admitted as observers to sessions of the convention bodies.

“CSU is formally a member of the RINGO (observer constituency group), which is  Research and Independence NGO,” Bowser said. “We’re also formally a member of the women’s major group.”

This will be Backlund’s 11th career COP, and he said progress towards the goal of being able to achieve a legally-binding and universal agreement on keeping global warming below 2°C will likely occur in Paris.

“I expect some good stuff,” Backlund said. “I mean, I expect that there will be a deal at this COP, and the reason I expect that is because it’s very new to have developing countries like China and India announce before the meeting that they’re going to take actions. This has never happened in this process before, and … it just really enhances the chances of an overall deal. “

Lockwood, however, is only tentatively optimistic.

“We will have gained more momentum and moved the ball further down the field — that’s the goal and I think that’s doable,” he said. “I don’t think that changing the world is necessarily going to happen for climate from a top-down sort of system anymore — I think it has to be bottom-up. I think it has to be individuals collectively making decisions to change their lives and to put pressure on the political elite to change policy.”

Bowser noted that the UN’s consensus rule on agreement language should be kept in mind when formulating expectations for an agreement.

“In the UN, every word matters,” she said. “It gets translated into 21 languages, so if that word tweaks itself slightly in one language or the other. … A good example is under the women’s major group, the term equity versus equality is probably the biggest argument … it gives small nations power they wouldn’t otherwise have.”

While the conference promises to be at least a notable event in climate action history, each delegate has his or her unique reasons for attending.

Lockwood said his prime objective is to bring what he learns about global climate negotiations back to the classroom.


“This will give me a chance to see policy-making at the international level,” Lockwood said. “Kind of a better understanding of where policy and science interact, and how they interact.”

Bowser is attending in part to conduct research for a Global Women Scholars Network grant funded by the National Science Foundation, with the aim being to increase the number of women scholars working toward sustainable development goals in leadership positions.

“The idea of that grant was that we were going in to interview women leaders in development, so that’s one reason we’ve gone (to COP) every year since,” Bowser said. “We do interviews, and we participate, etcetera and so forth.”

According to Backlund, CSU’s primary objective for sending the delegation is to show the University’s climate expertise to the world.

“I think that all of the people from CSU that are going are first trying to show that CSU does work that is relevant to climate,” Backlund said. “This is not just the biggest negotiating meeting, it’s one of the biggest meetings where people discuss climate change at all.”

Backlund’s primary personal reason for attending is to participate in the release of a report on climate change, global food security and the U.S. food system, which he said he has been collaborating on for three years.

According to the report, climate change will make it harder to feed the global population, especially those currently struggling with food insecurity, in the years ahead.

“We’re going to release this document at the COP in an official U.S. government site event because the U.S. government was the sponsor of the work,” Backlund said. “In addition to the negotiations, there’s this incredible program of events that happens throughout the two weeks. There’ll be hundreds of talks at this.”

The conference was originally expected to attract close to 50,000 participants, but attendance may be dampened by the recent terrorist attacks in Paris.

The Parisian government has banned many major marches planned to coincide with the climate talks for security reasons, which according to Lockwood will cut into the spectacle of the event needed for media attention.

“I thought the COP was going to highlight that (bottom-up approach) in a great way, we were going to see a lot more of press on it, so people would be more educated and discover more things, and I thought that alone would be very useful,” Lockwood said. “That allows people … to hold their government’s feet to the fire, and they actually will come through with their pledges and they actually will make these changes.”

Collegian Reporter Julia Rentsch can be reached at or on Twitter at @julia_rentsch.