School of Arts and Sciences

Brandeis Students Attend UNFCCC 28th Conference of the Parties

three people walk along a path lined with flags from countries around the world

Maya Haubrich ‘24, Rebecca Leon ‘24, and Clay Napurano ’24 at COP-28 in December 2023.

Photo Credit: Charles Chester

By Kathleen McMahan

January 11, 2024

For undergraduates Maya Haubrich ‘24, Rebecca Leon ‘24, and Clay Napurano ’24, attending part of the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP-28) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates was not only deeply impactful but left them more determined than ever to continue their work in environmental studies.

From December 7-13, the Brandeis seniors joined assistant professor Charles Chester and an estimated 90,000 attendees from around the world at COP-28 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Brandeis delegation participated as part of the Youth Environmental Alliance for Higher Education (YEAH), an NSF-supported initiative. Earlier in the semester, YEAH sponsored travel for twelve Brandeis undergraduates to attend a national student conference at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History in Washington, DC.

For the Brandeis delegation at COP-28, attendance was the culmination of all their hard work in a 90-hour practicum in environmental studies, the first of its kind in the program. Funded through a faculty grant by the Henry David Thoreau Foundation, ENVS 60 (Advanced Practicum in Environmental Studies) creates opportunities for undergraduates at Brandeis to receive hands-on experience applying concepts learned in the course, such as policy implementation and negotiation. 

For Rebecca Leon '24, the summit in Dubai reinforced her passion and advocacy for environmental justice. “One of my major takeaways from this experience was witnessing the urgency and collaborative efforts required to address the climate crisis. Engaging in panels and forums with international leaders and experts in the field expanded my understanding of the complexities surrounding climate issues, making me more aware of the interconnected nature of environmental challenges.”

Clay Napurano '24 was especially impacted by the testimony of one speaker who became so impassioned in defending their island’s climate, that they were moved to tears at the podium. “I am deeply touched, inspired, and seriously moved by just how much weight these COPs can carry,” Clay recalled. “Getting the opportunity to enter a dialogue with students, faculty, and experts from around the world on climate and the environment was a mind-blowing experience. Seeing the whole world come together to fight climate change and understanding the technical details of the discourse is an opportunity that cannot be matched.”

In the Blue Zone, an area of the summit focused on policy discussions, Maya Haubrich '24 found particular value in the perspectives and climate change solutions offered by Indigenous speakers. “There are thousands of policymakers, scientists and specialists, and activists in the world who are working to create solutions to the climate crisis,” she shared. “Overall, COP-28 was an impressive event that successfully managed to bring together world leaders, organizations, activists, and citizens who are dedicated to learning about and working toward solutions to climate change; COP-28’s sheer length (two weeks) highlighted the dedication that is required by many to combat the all-encompassing issue of climate change, and the need for more individuals to make climate their careers.”

Held each year since 1995, the annual "Conference of the Parties" under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) strives to enhance international cooperation to address the threat of climate change. This year, COP-28 was tasked with reviewing progress made under the 2015 Paris Accord in a process known as the Global Stocktake. It was not without controversy, having notoriously been hosted in a petrostate by the head of the UAE’s national oil company. Despite some achievements (including substantial contributions to the relatively new Loss & Damage Fund), in the eyes of many observers COP-28 failed to make sufficient progress toward reducing the use of fossil fuels.

Professor Chester shared that he and the students recognized the inherent irony of the event. “Here we are, strategizing about limiting carbon emissions, when we’ve all just flown into a petrostate that has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo,” he said. Regardless, he felt that the conference was "an invaluable networking and learning opportunity." It's the hope of Professor Chester - and undoubtedly the Brandeis seniors, along with many others in the environmental studies field - that summits such as COP-28 will aide in the world's transition away from reliance on fossil fuels.

four people smile in front of a skyscraper in Dubai

Left to Right: Clay Napurano, Maya Haubrich, Rebecca Leon, and Charles Chester in front of the Burj Khalifa, the world's tallest building.

Photo Credit: Maya Haubrich

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