Warriors for climate change

An interview with some of Waterloo's very own game-changers

In Waterloo's Faculty of Environment, there are many ways in which a student can bring a positive change to their community.

COP24, the 24th Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), is a way to bring a positive change on global scale while you’re a student.

Basak Topcu, one of the delegates from Faculty of Environment, explains it best, “COP24 is the most important global climate change conference where various groups, from all around the world, come together to discuss and find solutions for the world’s most urgent issue: climate change."

Another delegate, Ashoke Mohanraj, adds, “It is an opportunity to inspire the world with ideas that allow the environment, the economy and societies to thrive simultaneously and sustainably.”

Fortunately, I was able to interview the five student delegates from Faculty of Environment before they travelled to Poland to attend COP24 in December. This article will show you what these students planned to do at the event and what do they hoped to learn from it. It will also give you a bit of insight into how they think this conference will bring forth positive change in the world.


Undergraduate, School of Environment, Resources & Sustainability

Student photo.“I genuinely believe that COP24 is going to be one of the most significant events that shape the future of climate change for two reasons. One, this year’s conference will complete the Paris rule-book that governs the agreement; and two, being held in the European coal capital, it shows the willingness and capability of major industrial cities to make the shift towards clean and sustainable growth” said Ashoke.

He believes that, whether it's today or tomorrow, climate change will impact everyone in some shape or form and it’s our responsibility to do everything we can to minimize negative impact.

At COP24, Ashoke hoped to discuss the impact of climate change on an international scale with other delegates at various seminars, workshops, and forums.

I'm really looking forward to witnessing how global governance and diplomacy unfold in real time to create concrete solutions that reflect the needs and capabilities of every individual nation involved.

He also hoped to speak with individuals from island nations who are facing displacement, due to rising sea levels and increased frequency of natural disasters, and to understand its effect on their communities and culture.


PhD Candidate, Sustainability Management

Student photo.Basak planned to attend sessions related to her research – sustainable and healthy food systems, plant-based diets, reducing food waste, climate resilience, and low-emission food systems and climate actions in the private sector of agriculture. During networking events, she hoped to facilitate longer-term collaborations between organizations/institutes and the University of Waterloo (e.g., research opportunities, an invitation to give a talk, or attending a summer course).

"I hope to learn about the work of many international researchers studying food systems and how they position their work within global and their own national settings (e.g., last year’s speakers included faculty from North America, Australia, Europe, and Asia)” said Basak.
Basak hoped to speak to UN Climate Change Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa. In Espinosa’s interview with Politico, she recognized both agriculture-related emissions and zero hunger as central topics to the COP24 meeting.


Final term, Master of Climate Change (MCC)

According to Blaine, COP is the UNFCCC’s annual report card on our climate change progress. The international setting allows us to connect why it requires global action.

Whether attending in person or remotely, it’s an opportunity for all of us to engage in discussions that are shaping our future.

“I hope to learn about lived experiences in the Arctic and other areas where climate change is already being felt. And how conversations of vulnerability and adaptation are evolving in these regions. I’m interested in speaking to NGOs and representatives from developing countries who are connecting climate change to human rights like gender equity” said Blaine.


First term, Master of Climate Change

Student photo.“I’m hoping to learn about different perspectives on the many complex issues we face due to climate change. What we can do at the community and individual level when the political will isn't there? How do we ensure marginalized voices are adequately represented?” says Korey.

She was also excited to meet people from all around the world who share a similar passion. She hoped to speak to people from the least developed countries and small island developing states to see what they think constitutes fairness in the allocation of funding. And to speak to people from more innovative and progressive countries to learn more about effective mitigation strategies. 

“Although we need to act faster on climate change than we are now, setting out nationally determined contributions in line with the Paris Agreement is a big step for countries to become more ambitious towards emission reduction. This includes holding the largest emitters accountable for helping those who have done nothing to contribute to this problem, yet are experiencing the worst effects.”


PhD Candidate, School of Environment, Resources & Sustainability

Student photo.Sajida attended this conference to learn from others’ experiences and to share her research contributions before the international community.  She planned to attend dialogue sessions, participate in side events, and exchange experiences and knowledge with global stakeholders working on Climate Smart Agriculture.

“I’m interested in the topic of climate smart agriculture for food security, which is also my PhD research topic. I’m interested in learning about the different climate smart agriculture practices and policy issues around this topic from the international community to mitigate climate change. I believe that COP24, based on its theme of “Changing together,” would be a great platform for me to create strategic links between my PhD research on vulnerable communities and the global debate on Climate Smart Agriculture.”

Sajida planned to meet delegates from different international organizations, PhD researchers, and scholars from other institutions. In addition to that, she’ll be closely interacting with delegates from Environment and Climate Change Canada.

The Agriculture sector is highly affected by climate change leaving a number of impacts on global food security. Therefore, I believe attending COP24 climate summit is an excellent platform where delegates from different international government/non-government organizations, business communities, students, researchers, and scholars can participate and talk about several issues including climate smart agriculture.

If you want to participate in COP24, Sajida suggests you apply for a scholarship. COP24 is just one ways Environment students can get involved. There’s also the Jack Rosen Memorial Award for Environmental Innovation and National Geomatics competition, that allow students to bring forth their ideas and work on things that will bring forth change.