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See how our current work and research is bringing new thinking and new solutions to some of today's biggest challenges.

  • Cornell Botanic Gardens
  • Environment
  • Climate Change
Alice Soewito '21, an intern with Cornell Botanic Gardens, finds nature-based solutions to address climate change.

While global climate change is an abstract, larger-than-life concept to many, it is deeply personal to me. Nature is universal to all humans, offering no labels, and encompassing everything and everyone as a whole system. Having lived in three different countries in my life, USA, Singapore and Indonesia, I see myself belonging to the world as a whole, rather than identifying with a specific country. 

Climate change is an urgent threat and an all-encompassing thread that ties our societies together. I think it will drive countries to find universal similarities that build greater connections across humans and nature.

With this perspective, I was compelled to apply to Global Climate Change and Policy, an interdisciplinary course that teaches students about international frameworks to combat climate change. The course also selects a subset of the admitted students to attend the annual United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP), and I attended COP25 in December 2019, located in Madrid, Spain.

Cornell University’s role at COP25 was to assist organizations and nations with negotiations, and to educate others on the climate work our school does, such as Earth Source Heat.  The Cornell delegation assisted the Ministry of Agriculture in Zambia and its climate smart agriculture policies, and consulted with the Kingdom of Tonga and the World Bank.

At COP25, I got a close-up view of how high-level negotiations function to fight climate change. I witnessed international negotiations, attended press conferences, spoke to countries’ delegations and participated in a number of official side events hosted by countries and the UN. I met with high-level officials, which allowed me to voice the concerns of youth in the communities in which I have lived. These often center around the need for greater climate ambition and action.

I talked with officials such as Nancy Pelosi, the U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, and Cheah Sin Liang, Lead Coordinator for Climate Negotiations and the Deputy Director of International Policy for Singapore.

Interestingly, the most inspiring discussions I had were not with politicians, who often had their own economic or political agendas, but with grassroots organizations. For example, I met Anggalia Putri who works for the Sustainable Madani Foundation, a non-governmental organization (NGO) that focuses on forest and land management in Indonesia. Her organization is among a growing number of NGOs that are pioneering work to detangle systemic issues of coal mining, deforestation and corruption.

While technological fixes are vital to saving the earth, I am passionate about also finding nature-based ways to conserve and restore our natural environment. At COP25, I learned about industries, governments and NGOs working toward these nature-based solutions.

A side-event held by the World Bank showed how we can decrease the human labor usually required to plant trees by taking advantage of natural systems. Planting a significant number of trees to sequester carbon is extremely costly, as it requires human labor and maintenance. One alternative to conventional tree planting is to strategically plant in places where natural seed dispersal processes, such as wind, water or animals, can disperse seeds and propagate them without human labor.

In 2020, COP26 takes place in Glasgow, Scotland. I hope that the next Cornell delegation is able to both witness and join this political movement churning and brimming with new opportunities to fight for our common home.

Alice Soewito ’21 is an Environment and Sustainability major and an intern with Cornell Botanic Gardens.

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