European Union Ambassadors Visit Drexel University to Share How They're Fighting Climate Change

Ambassadors from Denmark, Cyprus and Luxembourg visited with University leaders, faculty and students in an environmental studies class on Oct. 3.
EU ambassadors with Mathy Stanislaus and John Fry, posed in front of Drexel's Biowall.
Mathy Stanislaus, Christina Lassen, Marios Lysiotis, Nicole Bintner-Bakshian and John Fry.

With regard to combatting climate change, not even an island can be an island. Marios Lysiotis, Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the United States, emphasized that, as well as the importance of international collaboration during his visit to Drexel University on Oct. 3, organized and facilitated by The Environmental Collaboratory. The ambassadors were in Philadelphia as part of the European Ambassadors state outreach visit led by EU Ambassador to the U.S. Stavros Lambrinidis.

Lysiotis, along with the Ambassador of Denmark to the United States Christina Markus Lassen and the Ambassador of Luxembourg to the United States Nicole Bintner-Bakshian, shared tactics that European Union countries are deploying in the fight against climate change. The ambassadors took questions from Drexel President John Fry, faculty and other university leaders, as well as students and delegates from America’s first Local Conference of Youth (LCOY), which Drexel and the Academy of Natural Sciences hosted in late September.

The importance of collaboration is also at the heart of what Drexel does in many arenas within the University and around the city. In recent years, Drexel has made commitments to fighting climate change, including becoming part of the University Climate Change Coalition and a permanent observer to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Additionally, the University developed The Environmental Collaboratory, which is located within the Office of the Provost and works with community partners to drive change and environmental justice. It’s a big bet on collaboration and partnership, Fry said.

“I think there’s nothing that we’re doing right now that isn’t built around significant collaboration and partnerships, both internally and externally,” Fry said. “We have our helmets on every day going out there and problem solving."

With that collaboration and partnership, it seems like Drexel is on the right track. 

“If there is an area where collaboration goes without saying, it’s climate change,” Bintner-Bakshian said.

Bintner-Bakshian said the Paris Agreement, which is an agreement that has been ratified by more than 190 countries since it was adopted in 2015 to combat climate change by reducing greenhouse gases and limiting the global temperature increase, is something Luxembourg takes very seriously, and the country is currently working toward 40 percent energy efficiency. 

Lassen spoke about Denmark’s push to use more renewable sources of energy like offshore wind turbines since the war in Ukraine began. Danes and the EU at large are on board with collaboration to combat climate change, she said, and Denmark has been working to shift to renewables since it was hit hard by the oil crisis in the 1970s. 

As for Lysiotis, he spoke about the importance of being in the EU for the Republic of Cyprus, which is one of the union’s smallest states and its most southern state. The temperature of the Mediterranean Sea may rise by five degrees Centigrade by 2050, and the island country will face significant challenges. Being part of a collaborativeory organization like the EU will help the small country.

Drexel’s Vice Provost of Global Engagement Rogelio Miñana, PhD, spoke about the importance of student leaders at Drexel and of developing partnerships with industries to engagement with society. Drexel focuses on experiential learning and though the University currently has several research collaborations and study abroad programs in Europe, Miñana wants to build more relationships with institutions that have direct ties to solutions to climate change. 

Marios Lysiotis and Sarah Wetzel discuss.
Marios Lysiotis listens to a question from Sarah Wetzel.

Vice Provost and Executive Director of the Environmental Collaboratory Mathy Stanislaus echoed Miñana’s emphasis on Drexel’s student leaders, saying Drexel has always been led by its students before introducing one of the current student leaders. Sarah Wetzel helped organize America’s first Local Conference of Youth, which was a conference that brought the country’s youth together to create a statement to present at the next United Nations Climate Change Conference. Separately, he emphasized the opportunity for exchange of best practices and expertise between the EU and the US to deliver solutions that work on the ground.

“Our goal was to show the passion of youth and the creativity of youth, and I think we've done that with our demands, but we really want to emphasize that we know the importance of intergenerational collaboration,” Wetzel said. “It's easy as a young person to look at the action or inaction of our government and be frustrated, but with this, we wanted to bring together young people to create a cohesive set of demands that we can bring to places like the White House and local governments and city governments" [The demands were delivered to the White House Chair of Environmental Quality last week.] 

Wetzel and other LCOY students, along with College of Engineering Dean Sharon Walker, PhD, posed questions to the ambassadors and answered some in return. Drexel community members asked about how to better collaborate to solve problems together and how climate and sustainability education differs in Europe, while the EU ambassadors asked about the LCOY demands.

After the meeting, the ambassadors spoke to ENSS120 Introduction to Environmental Science, taught by Dr. Alexis Shulman, and took questions from students. Bintner-Bakshian talked about the Paris Agreement and the goal of reducing carbon emissions by 55 percent by 2030, while Lysiotis spoke about how the war in Ukraine has affected energy in Europe, pushing some countries to turn to renewable energy at a faster rate than they would’ve otherwise. Personally, he knows people who have begun to install solar panels because they’re a cheaper way to get energy in the long-term.

Lassen said that it’s time to get creative with climate solutions. When Denmark was hit with the international oil crisis about 50 years ago, creative solutions like Car-Free Sundays, which were days in 1973 and 1974 in which people didn’t use their cars to encourage mobility within the neighborhood, helped the country lessen their reliance on foreign oil. There are no more Car-Free Sundays, but there need to be creative and common solutions to the problems. 

“Everything we do nationally now we do within the EU’s frameworks,” Lassen said. “We’re working with all different sectors to see how we can meet our targets here. In Denmark, we learned about energy efficiency since we were kids. We learned the value of cooperation in Europe and we are trans-Atlantic in our outlook and need to work with the U.S. to achieve our goals.” 

Drexel students from various majors also put questions to the ambassadors about the impacts, metrics and goals of the Paris Agreement. 

One student asked about the carbon footprint associated with importing materials to make more sustainable goods, which Bintner-Bakshian said there was a discussion that was ongoing, but with no solutions yet. In a similar vein, another student asked about how the EU is combatting environmental degradation in countries rich in resources that help create environmentally sustainable technology. 

“That is a challenge we’re struggling with right now, because we are implementing so many new green technologies and some components come from outside of Europe,” Lassen said. “This is something that has become only more apparent in recent years and it’s a huge concern that technology is developed in a sustainable way, but we haven’t found a way to do so yet.” 

Before the end of the session, other questions touched on the evolution of renewable energy sources in the wake of the war in Ukraine, how nuclear power fits into fighting climate change and what suspensions may occur for countries who do not keep up with the 55 percent decrease.

“We cannot suspend countries and I don’t know about fines,” Lassen said. “There will be constant checks and reporting, and nobody likes flunking all the time. There is ambition and some will reach it faster than 2030.”