An undergrad in Paris for (UNFCCC) COP21 negotiations

students behind large 3-D letters of #COP21
A group of Washington University undergraduate and graduate students traveled to Paris to observe the first week of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP21 negotiations

Leading up to the conference, we were each given a specific section of the negotiation text to study during the talks leading up to the conference and how this section ended up being represented in the final document.

Given my previous experience in studying the use of mitigation-centered technologies such as Carbon Capture and Sequestration and their role in a global climate solution, I was assigned the mitigation section (Article III of the text). This text developed relatively quickly during the meetings leading up to COP 21, with the body outlining the process by which countries will act both individually and collectively to curb carbon emissions to limit average temperature rise to 2°C above 1990 levels.

During the first week of the conference, I split my time between observing the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) negotiation sessions, which were used to craft a working document to be finalized for negotiation in the second week, and side events related to mitigation and other topics of interest to me. Throughout the work under the ADP during the first week of COP21, the negotiations surrounding the mitigation section of the text appeared to converge on the general concepts of differentiation and the goal of quantified and economy-wide emissions reductions targets for all parties. Differentiation, or “common but differentiated responsibilities,” is a key tenet of the UNFCCC and is the concept that all countries have a responsibility to their people and to the global community to combat climate change, but includes the recognition that each party has unique capabilities to do so and has contributed to the climate problem to varying degrees, as is characterized by their historic cumulative carbon emissions.

The exchange of ideas from the international to local levels and vice versa was certainly one of the most interesting and inspiring aspects of the conference for me.

Outside of the negotiations, I had the opportunity to network with attendees from all over the world who were involved in a wide range of activities, including policy development, technological research, private industry, human rights and many others. As I am currently studying chemical engineering and economics with the intention of learning as much as possible about the intersection of science, finance and policy in crafting a solution to the global climate issue, I found this to be an incredibly inspiring and unique forum in order to discuss my ideas with others and learn from their experiences. We were fortunate to have the opportunity to run a booth for both weeks of the conference, which we used to network with other young researchers, especially other university students. The creation of this network allowed us to see much more of the conference than would have otherwise been possible and helped me gain a great deal of insight into the complexity of these issues and the incredible initiatives that are under way in order to solve them.

Read the full story by Taylor Blevin, undergraduate student: What I learned at the Paris Climate Talks