Office of the Vice President for Global Communications

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Thirty from U-M at U.N. climate conference in Cancun

A group of 30 U-M students, alumni, faculty and friends are attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference, which began Monday in Cancun, Mexico.


U-M at the climate conference

To follow the activities of U-M's contingent at the United Nations Climate Change Conference, go to


Representatives from the countries that signed the 1994 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC), a treaty that addresses climate change and adaptation to rising temperatures, are participating.

Of the 10 students in the U-M group, six are from the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), two are from the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, one is from the Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Space Sciences, and one is from the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise, the dual-degree program of SNRE and the Ross School of Business.

"Rather than only learning in the classroom about the most complex and contentious environmental negotiations that we have ever faced, the students will get a first-hand look at how such an international treaty is worked out," says Andrew Hoffman, Holcim (US) Professor of Sustainable Enterprise at SNRE and the Ross School, and associate director of the Erb Institute. "It will be a fantastic learning experience."

This year's conference is the third for Gabriel Thoumi, project manager at Forest Carbon Offsets and a 2008 Erb graduate.

"It is the only place where the true richness of the global dialog can be understood in all of its color, commentary and diversity, allowing the complex nature of many issues surrounding climate change to become apparent," he says.

First-year SNRE environmental policy and planning student Michelle Hung Wai Lee is prepared to do more than observe.

"We hope to participate actively while in Cancun, as well as share our experiences with our community upon return," she says.

The U-M attendees provided reasons for attending that reflect their diverse interests.

"This experience is a way for us to be responsible for our actions — particularly as Americans, who have been the largest contributors to global change," says Sarah Katherine Pethan, who is pursuing degrees at SNRE in landscape architecture and sustainable systems.

Pethan's master's project focuses on climate-change adaptation in U.S. cities, and she plans to work on climate change issues in the Great Lakes region after graduating.

"I am hoping to learn more about how to translate global predictions to micro scenarios, and learn how this information will manifest in regional and city adaptation planning," she says.

First-year Erb student Miguel Sossa has another reason for attending.

"I want to both continue to increase the University of Michigan brand globally, and to serve as a conduit for further educational and postgraduate employment discussions for my class," he says.

Last year's conference in Copenhagen resulted in the nonbinding Copenhagen Accord, a document that supported extending the Kyoto Protocol climate agreement and included pledges from member countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.