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More than 30 Harvard Students and Faculty Attended COP28, Expressing Optimism on Climate Initiatives

A delegation of Harvard students and faculty received funding from the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability to attend COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, last month.
A delegation of Harvard students and faculty received funding from the Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability to attend COP28, the United Nations Climate Change Conference, last month. By Frank S. Zhou
By Christie E. Beckley and Xinni (Sunshine) Chen, Crimson Staff Writers

More than 30 Harvard students and faculty traveled to Dubai to attend COP28, the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference, last month.

Fifteen students and 16 faculty members from across the University participated in panels and events during the two-week conference, with some faculty also presenting their research. The Harvard Salata Institute for Climate and Sustainability funded the students in attendance.

In interviews with The Crimson, some of the 15 students at the conference expressed optimism toward ongoing climate initiatives and encouraged the University to support more students to attend.

Cara X. Yu ’25, one of the only two undergraduates in the student delegation, described the conference as “overwhelming in a good way,” adding that the programming inspired her to take action.

“It was really amazing not only to hear about these varied experiences but also learn about the different ways I, in the future, can contribute to climate from these different perspectives and viewpoints and backgrounds,” Yu said.

Though Yu acknowledged that there were “quite a lot of opportunities” for students to participate in the conference — including an entire day dedicated to youth activists — it was “hard to actually dive into deeper, more thorough conversations.”

Angela Y. Zhong ’25, who also attended the past two COP conferences, said she felt more comfortable participating this time around.

“I feel like I’ve begun to recognize more familiar faces,” Zhong said, “or get pulled into different events that I can help out with.”

Zhong said some highlights of the conference included delivering the opening remarks for a United Arab Emirates princess and interviewing former U.S. Vice President Al Gore ’69.

Zhong said her biggest takeaway from all these events was the diverse range of mechanisms for change.

“There’s a lot of people who are very vocal about what the right way to act on climate is, but I feel like if you just look at the types of people who go to COP, you really recognize that there’s a ton of different theories of change,” she said. “I don’t think that one of them is on its own going to be sufficient.”

Though she’s grateful for the Salata Institute’s support, Zhong said that more Harvard students should have the opportunity to attend COP.

“I think there should definitely be a strong push for a cohort of University students to attend COP,” Zhong said.

Zhong pointed to Washington University in St. Louis and Indiana University, which sponsor larger student groups to attend COP.

“If other universities can do it, why can’t we?” she said.

Currently, the UN offers less than ten badges for Harvard affiliates to attend the conference, and most faculty members and students have to obtain credentials through outside nongovernmental organizations before applying for Salata funding to attend.

Vice Provost of Climate and Sustainability and Salata Institute Director James Stock — who also attended the conference — said accreditation badges are the biggest obstacle in sending more students to COP.

“There’s a large unmet demand at Harvard for badges, and I think trying to figure out that situation to the best that we can is going to be really important,” Stock said.

“I don’t think it’s realistic that Harvard itself would be getting more badges,” he added. “But I think that doesn’t mean that we can’t work with other entities to try to get those badges.”

Some Harvard attendees noted that despite their optimism about ongoing initiatives, the conference is only one step towards change.

“One thing that I’ve been reflecting on is how this conference will actually result in meaningful change,” Yu said. “I’m wondering how that language will actually translate into concrete actions beyond these agreements.”

Stock said he was “pleased with how Harvard presented itself there,” but that there are still “opportunities for expanding our footprint and conveying more of the stuff that we’ve been doing.”

“A lot of what COP is about is making promises,” he said. “The real work is, ‘Well, how do we keep those promises?’”

—Staff writer Christie E. Beckley can be reached at christie.beckley@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @cbeckley22.

—Staff writer Xinni (Sunshine) Chen can be reached at sunshine.chen@thecrimson.com. Follow her on X @sunshine_cxn.

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