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Release: Dec. 4, 2000

UI student Nicole Kirkwood plays role at UN climate conference

IOWA CITY -- University of Iowa senior Nicole Kirkwood, who returned this week from the United Nations Climate Change Conference at The Hague, says she and 228 American, Gambian, and Senegalese college students were praised by conference delegates for helping to shape talks about how to clean up the global environment.

Kirkwood, a global studies and economics major from Dubuque, Iowa, participated at the conference as a student delegate through sponsorship by the environmental group Greenpeace. Many of the meetings were closed to students, but plenary sessions and other forums provided Kirkwood and other students opportunities to weigh in with comments and to propose solutions on how to curb emissions of greenhouse gases believed to be causing global climate change.

"We made history. For the first time the European Union took a stand against the U.S. on ways to clean up atmospheric emissions. As a result, the discussions were even more intensive and stretched for two days longer than the Nov. 23 end date. Although no agreement to reduce global warming was reached, the delegates have a stronger belief that they have a mandate to clean up the environment," Kirkwood said.

Students, while there, arranged meetings with legislators from the U.S. and their aids. The students received mixed reception to their ideas and opposition to the U.S. using nuclear power as a way to clean up pollution emitted by some industries. Fuel cells and wind power are the methods that were supported by students, Kirkwood said.

"We students disagreed with U.S. delegates that nuclear energy does in fact have harmful effects and wasn't a clean alternative form of energy. Because of our participation, the U.S. delegates changed their position on using nuclear energy as a form of development to offset pollution," Kirkwood said.

Three other nations, Japan, Australia, and Canada, support the U.S. and its use of nuclear energy as a pollution curbing solution, Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood says the student delegation was wary of the proposed use of "sinks" or the creation of forests for the specific use of soaking up carbon gases. Some countries, including the U.S., wanted to count the carbon absorbed by their forests to count as measures to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, she said.

"The idea of sinks is fine and probably would be good for the environment, but wouldn't go far enough in taking care of pollution created by industries. We have a number of current technologies that we can use more cheaply," Kirkwood says.

"A major point of contention between the EU and the U.S. centered around the types of energy sources that contributed to cleaner air. In the U.S. there isn't a comprehensive transportation system like there is across Europe. The U.S. emits more than 24 percent of carbon emissions but only makes up 4 percent of the total global population, she said.

Kirkwood said the summit was an important turning point for countries in their unified efforts to clean up the global environment, although the expected pact on ways to do so failed to materialize before conference's end.

"For the past three years, the European Union has bowed to the U.S. position in ways to clean up the environment. The U.S. and the EU disagree over ways to clean up the atmosphere.

"In talking with reps from the EU, they made it clear that the presence of students from the U.S. made a big difference and that they were much more willing to hold their position on ways to clean up the environment," Kirkwood said.

Kirkwood, who expects to earn an International Business Certificate upon graduation in May, says the students sensed they accomplished a great deal by being at The Hague and noticed other delegations have forged relationships which should carry over when the delegates meet again in May to continue talks.

Kirkwood's role at the conference marks another in a long list of accomplishments for the senior. In October "Glamour" magazine included her in its Top Ten Women of the Year issue. Kirkwood is an undergraduate activities senate executive with the UI Student Government and has received more than 12 UI, state, and national awards.