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In Sandy’s Wake, NJ Town Environmental Coordinator Journeys To UN Climate Summit Looking For Answers.

amandaWhen Amanda Nesheiwat stood before the Secaucus, New Jersey Town Council last week the Assemblymen had two questions for their enthusiastic 23-year-old environmental coordinator.  First, could she help them understand the relationship between climate change and the horrific storm that had just devastated much of their town? And second, what could she tell them about her upcoming trip to the Middle East?


Several months earlier, Amanda had been chosen to join a delegation of fifteen young environmental leaders travelling to Doha, Qatar late next week for the latest round of United Nations climate change negotiations.    

She had been preparing for the trip for weeks, intending to lobby US negotiators on behalf of her generation as well as her meadowlands community, both of which are made disproportionately vulnerable by a disrupted climate system.  Now, in the wake of a storm supercharged by a warmed and rising ocean, she is even more determined.

When Sandy hit, Amanda’s responsibilities as the town’s green authority were put on hold.  Flood waters from The Hackensack River had forced hundreds of residents, including the mayor himself, out of their homes.  Town employees were needed for an all-hands-on-deck emergency management effort.  For Amanda, this meant covering the phones, reaching out to residents and connecting them to vital services.  The hours were long and stressful but Amanda says they were worth it, “ People were out there all day every day helping each other.  I’ve never been so proud to be from New Jersey.”

As grateful as she is for the generosity and dedication of her community, Amanda knows that without meaningful and urgent changes to the way the world produces and consumes energy, storms like Sandy (as well as droughts, heat waves, and other dangerous ecological disruptions) will become increasingly deadly and increasingly common.  That’s why she’s done so much work to make Secaucus a leader in sustainability, heading the charge to ban natural gas drilling, installing new solar power capacity, and greatly increasing the fuel efficiency of municipal vehicles.  It’s also why she’s so determined to take part in the UN Summit.

The conference in Qatar is the 18th annual meeting on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a process that brings together 194 countries to negotiate reductions in greenhouse gas emissions in the hopes of keeping global temperature rises within two degrees celsius above pre-industrial levels, a threshold that scientists see as critical for containing damage to communities and ecosystems.  

Unfortunately, there has been little progress towards an international deal since negotiations began two decades ago.  In 1997, the UNFCCC brokered an agreement called the Kyoto Protocol which has suffered for credibility without ratification by the US Congress. In 2009, many had high hopes that world leaders would come to a new agreement in Copenhagen, Denmark, but talks ultimately collapsed in the face of tensions between the US, China, and India.  This year’s conference is expected to build groundwork for a binding deal in 2015, a date that many scientists argue is the absolute last chance to prevent irreversible disaster.

Amanda recognizes the enormous challenges but remains hopeful that Hurricane Sandy will act as a wake-up call for the United States.  She cites President Obama’s re-election victory speech in which he declared “We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”  She says “I’m hoping President Obama will keep his word about taking climate seriously.  The US has a moral obligation to be a leader on climate.  When we do that, other countries will follow.”

 When asked if she realistically thinks the Obama administration will be willing or able to champion climate action, Amanda points to what she’s seen in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, the power of people coming together in solidarity and enlightened self-interest.  “If we really want them to do something, we have to organize and make them do it.”

About the UN conference: The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change was created in 1992 to solve the problem of rising greenhouse gas emissions and its effects on development. Negotiators from 194 countries will meet in Doha, Qatar, this year to continue negotiations and attempt to repair an 18-year-old international system fraught with inequities and gaps in accountability. Negotiations begin on November 26 and runs through December 7.

About SustainUS: SustainUS is a national volunteer-based youth organization that empowers young people to create a more sustainable world through involvement in international summits and grassroots activities. Through its Agents of Change program, U.S. youth have the opportunity to participate in several UN conferences, including the Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Commission on Sustainable Development, The Commission on the Status of Women, and the Commission on Social Development. Learn more or apply for one of our delegations at http://www.sustainus.org/.



Mike Sandmel, SustainUS Media Relations Coordinator, 617-710-7000,
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