Beaudoin discusses his pending trip to Paris on campus in the days leading up to the COP21 conference.
Political leaders representing 195 countries gathered in Paris in December to craft a global agreement on climate change. In the middle of it all was Fredonia senior Zachary Beaudoin, receiving an experience most couldn’t imagine.
Mr. Beaudoin participated in “COP21,” the United Nations (U.N.) 21st annual “Conference of Parties” Climate Change Conference, which culminated with a pledge by all the represented countries to keep global warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels by limiting greenhouse emissions.
Beaudoin was chosen by the SUNY Student Assembly to develop Sustainable Development Goals, leading him to a supportive role at the 12-day event.
Though it did not achieve everything some environmentalists wanted, the conference, also known as the Paris Climate Conference, has been hailed as the most significant environmental advancement ever to reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.
As a member of the Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network launch, Beaudoin served as a reporter and worked with the Citizens’ Climate Lobby and Citizens’ Voice to relay information back to thousands of followers. Working alongside him throughout the conference was SUNY Student Assembly colleague Morgan Wood, a SUNY Binghamton student.
It was far from a routine task, Beaudoin explains, as the language that he and other “reporters” used was critical for the successful dissemination of information to the public.
“We would teach and explain to people the process and the importance of small changes in text such as ‘should’ versus ‘shall,’” he explained.
Beaudoin had access to updates and conversations to the point that he was able to strategically approach certain officials and provide them with text that he and his colleagues prepared, or discuss certain changes or events with them.
Major achievement for a Fredonian
“Having Zach involved in COP21 is an incredible opportunity for Zach and a huge honor for our campus,” remarked Science Education Professor Michael Jabot, who serves on Fredonia’s Sustainability Committee with Beaudoin.
“This meeting had delegates from around the world — ours was President [Barack]Obama and his staff — as well as invited guests who were given credentials. These credentials were coordinated by the U.N. and were highly limited, so having Zach receive these was really very special,” Dr. Jabot noted.
Sarah Laurie, Fredonia’s director of Environmental Health, Safety and Sustainability, echoed her amazement that a Fredonia student could play a role at such a high-profile global event — which included an historic meeting between President Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping.
“This is an extremely high honor and something Zach and Fredonia should be proud of,” Ms. Laurie remarked.
Beaudoin has a long-standing interest in the U.N., but it wasn’t until the English/International Studies major became chair of Sustainability at the SUNY Student Assembly that he became so invested in the U.N. Beginning in July, Beaudoin says Sustainable Development Goals have consumed his life and “become the reason to get up early and go to bed late.”
After he was able to get Sustainable Development Goals adopted at Fredonia, passed through SUNYSA, and ultimately forwarded to the SUNY Board of Trustees, a Student Assembly colleague was able to make arrangements for him to attend the 2015 U.N. Foundation’s Social Good Summit in New York City. The Fredonian undoubtedly made a good impression, as just a few days after forwarding his résumé, Beaudoin was asked to join the Citizens’ Climate Campaign at COP21.
Experience on a global scale
World travel is not unique to Beaudoin; the 22-year-old has already visited Italy, Spain, Germany, Denmark, Austria, Holland, Belgium, Sweden, Mexico, Belize, Canada and Turkey. But this experience went beyond any prior trip.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Executive Director of the U.N. Children’s Fund Anthony Lake, U.N. President/CEO Kathy Calvin, environmentalist Bill McKibben and actor/activist Alec Baldwin were among dignitaries Beaudoin heard. And he and Ms. Wood had backstage passes to meet some of them.
Beaudoin also attended the Tribunal on the Rights of Nature, heard talks on oceans and women’s rights, and witnessed the launch of the Citizens’ Climate Engagement Network (CCEN), a global framework to support and expand direct citizen engagement in the intergovernmental climate negotiating process. He also saw the projection of the climate sign onto the Eiffel Tower.
“With the launch of CCEN, we will be a force to be reckoned with as citizens and we will have a lot of work to do if we are to reach our legally binding goals,” Beaudoin said.
Climate pact delivers momentum
Beaudoin says the conference, which drew more than 40,000 delegates, was definitely a success in many aspects, although it’s still a work in progress. “We need to be vigilantly working to strengthen and develop the agreement to the point that we can reach the agreed-upon, 1.5 Celsius limit and get the oceans and climate healthy again,” Beaudoin explained.
Timothy Wirth, vice chair of the U.N. Foundation and the Better World Fund, said what is truly significant is the momentum that the conference generated. Technical issues were not as crucial as setting the direction, Beaudoin remembers the former U.S. Senator saying, as these will be discussed in the coming year.
The agreement is legally binding and has some teeth, Beaudoin noted, though, “It doesn’t have all the teeth it needs for us to survive, but it’s about momentum. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and we can’t save the world in two weeks.”
Beaudoin, who will graduate in May, hopes to apply his COP21 experience at a climate summit in Washington, D.C., and again at COP22.
“I feel like my skills from my English degree and my experience in public policy and government would be of benefit to the negotiations, and if I can continue to work with the people that I met [at COP21], I think we will be better prepared for next year’s climate talks.”
Science and sustainability have always been Beaudoin’s passion.
“My philosophy has always been, if I become a scientist I can do great things, but if I become a policy maker I can facilitate great things,” he explained. “In the current political climate that we are in, science is often overlooked and I want to be the person that actually listens.”