U.N. climate conference draws USC experts and students to grapple with solutions

United Nations climate change conference draws USC experts
COP26 summit brings the world together to discuss sustainability, and Trojans aim to contribute. (Illustration/iStock)

World leaders, scientists and climate activists have descended on Glasgow, Scotland, in a last-ditch effort to address runaway climate change. And USC researchers are among them.

They’re participating in the United Nations Climate Change Conference, dubbed COP26 for short. It’s the 26th “Conference of the Parties,” a summit of nations conducted every few years over the last three decades to address global warming.

Sustainability and confronting climate change are major priorities of USC, so university faculty, students and leaders are participating in the event in a variety of ways. Here are a few.

USC climate change experts speaking at or observing COP26

Wändi Bruine de Bruin

Bruine de Bruin is discussing misunderstandings and missed opportunities common to communication about climate change. She’ll share findings from a USC Dornsife Public Exchange-U.N. Foundation study that found that non-scientists struggle to understand climate change because reports and researchers often use complicated terms.

As one study participant said, “It sounds like you’re talking over people.” Experts need to talk about climate science in everyday language instead, said Bruine de Bruin, Provost Professor of Public Policy, Psychology and Behavioral Science with appointments at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and the USC Price School of Public Policy.

(Want to learn some tips on understanding the words that will come up at COP26? Bruine de Bruin came up with this handy guide.)

Watch Bruine de Bruin’s presentation live from 7:30 to 9 a.m. PDT on Friday, Nov. 5, or later through the Intergovernmental Channel on Climate Change’s YouTube channel.

Joe Árvai

Árvai travels to COP26 as part of the delegation from the Global Council for Science and the Environment. He directs the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, headquartered at USC Dornsife, and will provide input to policymakers at briefings. Árvai, Dana and David Dornsife Chair and professor of psychology, studies how people assess risk and make decisions related to the environment and sustainability.

“This is an important milestone for the Wrigley Institute because on the one hand, it will give international visibility to the insights and science we generate,” Árvai said. “On the other hand, the sessions and exhibitions will provide a great opportunity to bring insights back to inform the institute’s educational programs and research enterprise.”

Shannon Gibson

Gibson, associate professor (teaching) of international relations and environmental studies, and her undergraduate students are attending COP26 virtually. Gibson and Nicholas Guzman, Murad Jah, Kirian Mischke-Reeds and Kimia Mohebi will watch from a retreat hosted by the USC Wrigley Institute on Santa Catalina Island.

The students are investigating how protests and grassroots activities impact language and communication about climate change at formal conferences like COP26. They’re also researching how the COVID-19 pandemic has presented both challenges and opportunities for organizations fighting for climate justice.

Climate science virtual discussions and panels

USC President Carol L. Folt and alumna Tianna Shaw-Wakeman

Folt and Shaw-Wakeman talked with Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti — who is in Glasgow at COP26 — in a Nov. 3 Facebook Live session organized by the Los Angeles Business Council. Shaw-Wakeman, USC’s 2021 valedictorian, is a youth climate activist. Other participants included Lauren Faber — L.A.’s chief sustainability officer — and Los Angeles Business Council President and USC alumna Mary Leslie.

USC President Carol L. Folt participates in the Nov. 3 Facebook Live session
USC President Carol L. Folt participates in the Nov. 3 Facebook Live session. (Photo/Facebook Live)

The group discussed challenges and progress in sustainability issues in California and the world. Check out the recording here.

Arnold Schwarzenegger on climate action

Schwarzenegger, namesake of the USC Schwarzenegger Institute on State and Global Policy, speaks with LinkedIn co-founder Allen Blue on creating green jobs and a booming economy based on sustainable practices in California.

Click here to watch the virtual discussion scheduled from 9 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. PDT on Thursday, Nov. 4.

How are countries doing 5 years after the Paris Climate Agreement?

The USC Dornsife Center for the Political Future organized a Nov. 3 panel with updates from COP26 to assess the success of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement and the outlook for future actions against climate change. To watch the recorded event, visit the center’s Past Events page.

Moderated by USC Dornsife’s Bob Shrum and Mark Murphy, the event included these faculty members:

  • Monalisa Chatterjee — assistant professor of environmental studies, USC Dornsife
  • Shannon Gibson — associate professor of international relations and environmental studies, USC Dornsife
  • Robert O’Brien — incoming Fulbright Research Chair of Public Diplomacy, USC Center on Public Diplomacy

Alumni with a stake in climate action at COP26

Sultan Al Jaber

Al Jaber earned his bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He has gone on to become the minister of industry and advanced technology in the United Arab Emirates and is the nation’s special envoy for climate change. At COP26, he has met with figures from Bill Gates to John Kerry to discuss inclusive and sustainable green energy initiatives.

Elizabeth Shakhnazaryan

Shakhnazaryan, who graduated from USC Dornsife in 2020, helped the Center for American Progress in Washington, D.C., prepare to participate in COP26. An intern for international climate policy, she has conducted research and planned events for the independent, nonpartisan policy institute.

BY Alicia Di Rado