World leaders convened this week for the COP21 climate change summit, which aims to create a universal, binding agreement among the constituent nations to address global warming. Attendees included U.S. President Barack Obama, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping — and USC alumna Harleen Marwah.
From Nov. 30 to Dec. 9, Marwah is set to lead a series of discussions titled “Desserts for the Decades” at COP21, the United Nation’s 21st Conference of Parties. COP21, which is taking place in Paris this year, aims to build a “Paris Climate Alliance” designed to keep the average global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius.
“[Desserts for the Decades] aims to be a space where we can foster the collaborative spirit needed to reach a successful agreement out of these meetings,” she said. “The conversation structure offers an opportunity for people across generations, cultures and interests to come together and realize their common ground.”
Marwah, a Washington D.C. native who graduated from USC in 2015, is the youth liaison for the Sea Trust Institute at COP21. Marwah’s work focuses on engaging younger generations in issues such as agriculture and food safety, indigenous people, climate change and intergenerational equity.
For Marwah, climate change is more than a changing scientific environment — it’s a far-reaching issue that will permeate all aspects of life.
“The impact of climate change will extend into issues of political stability, growing poverty, access to clean water, food safety and more,” she said.
From Marwah’s perspective, any significant change must come from a local effort. Due to a lack of physical boundaries when it comes to climate change, she believes that any resolution must be dynamic and accessible across cultures and communities.
Marwah’s journey at COP began when she was still an undergraduate student working toward attaining both a bachelor of science in health promotion and disease prevention and master of science in global medicine. She attended COP20 in Peru with SustainUS, a youth-led organization which advocates for justice and sustainability.
Marwah is trying to make the most of every moment at COP21.
“Hearing from 147 world leaders at the conference’s opening, including Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon and U.S. President Barack Obama was undoubtedly a phenomenal and inspiring experience,” Marwah said. “There is an unbelievable energy pulsing through the COP21 — people from across the globe communicating and collaborating to quite literally do their part in saving the world.”
Marwah credited USC for playing a role in who she is today.
“My USC education inspired me to ‘think globally and act locally,’” she said. “So my advice to USC students is to cherish every moment and seize every opportunity. You have countless resources at your fingertips and should definitely make an effort to utilize as many as you can.”
Marwah said her journey in climate change advocacy began at USC one afternoon when her WRIT 340 class was canceled.
“Instead of going home to binge-watch Netflix, I was persuaded to attend a guest lecture,” she said. “At the lecture, I learned about the public health relationship with climate change. The next week, I was applying to go to Peru for the UN COP20. You never know what you might become passionate about. I encourage you to engage in these opportunities while you can. Your time at USC truly does fly by.”