Morrill Scholars head to Dubai for global climate summit at COP 28

Doing OH - IO in sands near Dubai

Morrill Scholars head to Dubai for global climate summit at COP 28

By Paige Galperin

For many students, winter break means heading home. But for a trio of Morrill Scholars enrolled in ‘The Politics of Climate,' their break meant jetting to Dubai, where they attended the United Nations' 28th Conference of Parties (COP 28), a global climate summit.

Although the conference was focused on climate change and environmental policy, the cohort from Ohio State included students from a wide range of majors. A fourth-year Morrill Scholar and member of Ohio Youth for Climate Justice, Isabella Guinigundo believes this varied background allowed students to approach the conference's climate issues more holistically, something she has done through her own studies: She is majoring in women's, gender, and sexuality studies; minoring in geography, and pursuing a certificate in science and environmental communication.

“The ten of us that went were from such different disciplines across the university. Sometimes when we think about climate, we only think about a few different majors, like people who are doing earth sciences or public policy,” Guinigundo said. “But the climate crisis is such a huge issue that we need people from every discipline thinking about it, working on it, and engaging in it.”

Students attended conference seminars that focused on specialized topics like human rights and ocean carbon sequestration, which they had researched during an autumn semester preparatory class taught by history professors Bart Elmore and Nick Breyfogle.

At the conference, students had the freedom to attend the events and activities that grabbed their interest. COP 28 was divided into two sections: the Blue Zone, where negotiations took place, and Green Zone, which featured informational panels and business presentations.

The conference brought together government officials, activists, students, and business leaders from around the world to craft environmental policy, and students rubbed elbows in networking sessions, meeting others from around the globe.

As a leader in Columbus's Palestinian Liberation Movement, fourth-year Morrill Scholar Dalal Shalash attended COP 28 with the war in Gaza foremost in her mind. The political science, history, and Spanish triple major was especially excited to meet with other Palestinian advocates.

“It was really cool, especially as a Palestinian American student, to experience COP this year because the centralized theme, especially by the activists and organizers on the scene, was ‘Climate justice is not achievable without human rights,'” Shalash said.

Students also had the opportunity to meet with Abby Finkenauer, the State Department's Special Envoy for Global Youth Issues, as well as Mayor Andrew Ginther. In both meetings, the students shared ideas and concerns related to climate policy, and they plan to continue meeting with Ginther in Columbus.

Although eight of the trip's ten days were spent at COP 28, students spent their free time exploring the city of Dubai, where they visited the Palm Islands, Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, and took a crack at sandboarding and camel riding in the Red Dune Desert.

Despite the progress and connections made, COP 28's resulting agreement—the subject of a lengthy negotiation among attending nations—was disappointing to some.

“Hearing government officials and representatives mostly agree that this is an issue that they are passionate and care about was optimistic and inspiring. I think that was a great thing that came out of the conference; however, the wording on the final documents that came out of the conference was not very ambitious,” noted second-year Morill Scholar Kiara Dixon, who is majoring in industrial and systems engineering. “It was ‘encouraged' to phase out of fossil fuels rather than actually ‘phase out.' It was things along the lines of ‘encourage,' ‘drive,' ‘strive to,' rather than actually make action.”

Some advocates were pleased with the establishment of a loss and damage fund, which requires richer countries to pay for pollution they cause in poorer countries; however, students say the dollar amounts pledged were too small to be effective.

The watered-down final agreement aside, the scholars sincerely enjoyed the trip, and they encourage students of all majors to apply to attend next year's COP 29 in Azerbaijan.

“Everyone should really consider applying to this because every industry and every discipline is going to need to think deeply and critically about the climate crisis,” Guinigundo said. “We speak very different languages academically, but when we can come together and talk about, ‘What are we going to do about the climate?'—that's when really cool and important work gets done.”

Students standing in front of unusual white building in Dubai
MSP scholars in airport waiting to fly to Dubai
Students holding conference name badges