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Engineering doctoral student attends UN Climate Negotiations

Michael CharlesMichael CharlesMichael Charles, a PhD student in the William G. Lowrie Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at The Ohio State University, was honored to attend the 23rd annual UN Climate Negotiations (COP23) in Bonn, Germany. Representatives from around the world gathered November 6-17, 2017 to review climate change on an international level, decide how to move forward with the Paris Climate Agreement, and address a matter that many are finding to be of great personal concern. 

"After watching my relatives fight for their right to clean water at Standing Rock while I attended classes, I felt disconnected and unable to stand by them," said Michael, who is a citizen of the Navajo Nation. "However, I realized there is solidarity in committing to years of education and playing my own role in protecting our people, our land, and our resources. In honor of my ancestors and all the hardships they fought against for me to exist, I wanted to bring my research, my ideas, and my culture to the decision-making spaces of COP23 that affect all our cultures and well-being."

Michael gave several speeches at the US People's Delegation speakout, and was involved with the Indigenous Peoples' Platform, which participated in speech-making and wrote the final text on the need for providing a platform for indigenous people and local communities. The recommendation was voted on by the parties and approved by the chair of the Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

Michael Charles and Troy Robertson at the UN Climate Negotiation talks, Bonn Germany, November 2017Michael Charles and Troy Robertson at the UN Climate Negotiation talks, Bonn Germany, November 2017

This is the first time indigenous peoples have had a formal voice at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Michael hopes that future summits will further recognize that the indigenous voice is not representative of just one group, but many different groups with different cultures and practices.

Michael, who graduated in 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in chemical engineering from Cornell University, has been active with the American Indian Science and Engineering Society (AISES) ever since he was introduced to the organization at Cornell. 

"Mankind must recognize that we need the Earth, it doesn't need us," Michael wrote recently on "She is our mother because she cares for us and provides what we need to survive. Our actions won't prevent her from existing, but they certainly can prevent us from existing."

Hear more from Michael and listen to him describe his journey through culture, science, and humanity to explain why he feels indigenous voices should lead the cultural change required to make sustainable practice achievable. 

Michael is a member of Professor Bhavik Bakshi's Process Systems Engineering Group.