3/27/2017 Peter Durantine

Research Takes Senior, Professor to Bonn UN Conference on Biodiversity

Senior Lea Senft’s twin passions for wildlife and environmental conservation moved her to a joint studies major that addresses both, while her research into public policy recently sent her to a United Nations conference in Bonn, Germany.

“I was very excited to attend the fifth plenary session of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES),” Senft said. “Before attending Franklin & Marshall, I would have not known what a plenary was, or that the field of environmental studies and public policy would allow me to pursue my love for wildlife and help to protect the planet.”

  • Senior Lea Senft recently participated in a United Nations conference on the environment, held in Bonn, Germany. Image Credit: Elizabeth De Santo
  • Delegates discuss environmental policies at the United Nations conference in Bonn. Image Credit: IUCN
  • Senior Lea Senft and Elizabeth De Santo, assistant professor of environmental studies, were two participants in a recent United Nations conference on the environment in Bonn. Image Credit: IUCN
  • F&M's Elizabeth De Santo is a member of the International Union for Conservation of Nature's World Commission on Environmental Law. Image Credit: IUCN

Senft arrived for the weeklong plenary in Bonn with Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Elizabeth De Santo, a marine-biodiversity conservation and environmental-policy specialist. De Santo also is a member of the World Commission on Environmental Law under the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the world’s largest conservation organization.

“The overall theme of the conference is how are we protecting life on earth?” De Santo said. “Since we are talking about the U.N., there are a lot of levels to this and a lot of pockets of interest. This particular pocket is looking at how we value biodiversity and the services it provides us.”

At F&M, De Santo teaches a mock U.N. treaty negotiation simulation in her Global Environmental Politics class, which Senft has taken along with De Santo’s courses on U.S. environmental policy and marine protected areas. Senft also has completed two independent studies about the effectiveness of international biodiversity conservation treaties.

The senior first examined the inclusion of indigenous and local knowledge in environmental decision-making, focusing on the IPBES’s assessment of pollinators such as bees providing the free benefit of pollinating fruits and nuts.

Her second project studied the challenges intergovernmental organizations such as IPBES and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change face when attempting to communicate science into policy, and how scientific knowledge concerning biodiversity and the benefits society derives from healthy ecosystems is understood by policymakers.

Senft presented her findings last fall to graduate students and faculty at Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, where De Santo used to teach and continues to collaborate with the Environmental Information “Use and Influence” project (www.eiui.ca).

“Lea knows about these U.N. negotiations, including how to bring in indigenous population perspectives to biodiversity conservation,” De Santo said. “This is going to be an opportunity for her to see not just what’s really going with the case study she’s been studying for two independent studies, but also what a real U.N. summit is like.”

At the Bonn conference, Senft and De Santo served on the IUCN delegation, which included networking with other participants and tracking the negotiations, sometimes late into the night, as delegations debated mechanisms for including indigenous and local knowledge in biodiversity conservation.

“Bonn has allowed me to expand upon my knowledge that I gained in Global Environmental Politics with Professor De Santo,” Senft said. “As I prepare for a career and graduate school, this experience has given me the chance to meet leaders and experts within the biodiversity field, and it has shown me what I need to accomplish to get there.”

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