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The University of Alabama

UA Chemistry Student to Attend U.N. Climate-Change Conference in South Africa

John Canada

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The American Chemical Society selected five students nationwide, including a University of Alabama sophomore, as representatives to attend the upcoming United Nations climate-change conference in Durban, South Africa.

Representatives from more than 190 nations will gather in South Africa Nov. 29 to Dec. 9 to develop an international climate change agreement. John Canada, a UA chemistry student from New Orleans, will be in their midst. His role will include interviewing world leaders in the climate change field and attempting to get his peers back in the United States to think more about climate change.

“It will be a challenge to get people to care about it, but it’s definitely doable,” said Canada of his upcoming efforts to get his college-aged peers to focus more on the issue. “These are smart people. I think if you engage them on an intellectual level and present a valid argument, and then show them what’s actually going on, I think people will care.”

Canada was encouraged to apply for the American Chemical Society slot by Dr. Robin Rogers, the Robert Ramsay Chair of Chemistry at UA and director of UA’s Center for Green Manufacturing.

“John’s ability to communicate is perhaps one of his biggest strengths,” Rogers said. “Even as a sophomore, he already has broad experiences and broad interests combined with technical ability that will allow him to understand and assess the complex issues to be discussed.”

As representatives of the world’s governments and international organizations negotiate policy during the conference, officially known as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 17th Conference of Parties, a parallel conversation will take place among college students, according to a news release from the society, known as the ACS.

In addition to UA’s Canada, the society selected two students from York College of Pennsylvania and one from both Penn State University and Carnegie Mellon University as the five representatives.

During the two-week conference, the students will attend talks, take part in special events, discuss special interests with other Non-Government Organization representatives and interview world leaders, according to the ACS. They will employ social networking, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Blogs to reach to their peers and educators in the U.S.

The purpose is to engage other students and educators in climate-change discourse and to increase climate literacy, the ACS stated. The five students will be joined by four faculty mentors.

To learn more about the students’ roles in the project click here.

Two students staff the conference’s first week while the other three staff its second week, limiting the class time they miss on their respective campuses. Canada will attend the first week.

Following his return, Canada said he will also give presentations on climate change and the conference within Tuscaloosa-area high-schools as well as schools in his native New Orleans.

Then, in March, Canada will travel to San Diego to an ACS meeting where he will give a report on his climate-change outreach efforts to the organization.

Through his research in Rogers’ Center for Green Manufacturing, Canada has already made presentations at two international scientific conferences. Presently, he’s on a team researching ways herbicides can be adapted to more selectively target specific plants while leaving others unharmed.

The Kyoto Protocol was adopted in 1997 at the 3rd Conference of Parties in Kyoto, Japan. This set binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European community for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. It was not ratified by the U.S.  The first commitment period to the agreement is set to expire in 2012, bringing added interest to the upcoming conference, according to the ACS release.

The department of chemistry is part of UA’s College of Arts and Sciences, the University’s largest division and the largest liberal arts college in the state. Students from the College have won numerous national awards including Rhodes Scholarships, Goldwater Scholarships and memberships on the USA Today Academic All American Team.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.