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Delegation to U.N. Climate Change Convention Includes Students, Faculty

Jonathan Pershing

Georgetown students met with Jonathan Pershing, the United States' deputy special envoy for climate change, during their week attending and observing the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Doha, Qatar.

December 3, 2012 – A Georgetown delegation of 25 students, faculty and staff representing 11 nationalities were on hand to participate in and observe part of the 18th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Students from the College and School of Foreign Service in Washington, D.C., and in Doha, Qatar, gathered last week in the latter city for the first week of the conference.

“A week at the international climate change negotiations proved to be a week of intense learning,” said Cathryn Courtin (SFS’13), a STIA major with a focus on energy and environment. “The conference served not only as a reminder of the urgency of the problem, but also as a refreshing look at how many individuals around the world are invested in finding a solution.”

The U.N. in Action

During their week at the conference, students met with negotiators, non-governmental organization (NGO) representatives and other experts.

The trip also provided a chance for Lewis and main campus students to meet with undergraduates at the SFS-Q campus in Doha who are interested in environmental issues.

“It’s been really fun for me to be able to share this experience with students,” says Joanna Lewis, an assistant professor of science, technology and international affairs (STIA) who researches climate change and energy issues. “Until you see one of these conferences in action it’s hard to really perceive the difficulty of getting 194 countries to agree on anything, particularly an issue like climate change, which is so complex and will affect different countries in different ways.”

Lewis co-organized with the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) an official side event on “Green Innovation: Examining Experiences in Low Carbon Technology Transfer and Green Patenting,” for which she presented her research on technology transfer models in the wind power industry.

Tough Questions

The Georgetown contingency also met with Jonathan Pershing, the United States’ deputy special envoy for climate change who serves as the U.S. Department of State’s senior climate negotiator at U.N. climate change conventions.

The students’ meeting with Pershing provided a good dialogue on the United States’ perspective on climate change issues, Lewis says.

“[The students] got to ask him some tough questions about what the U.S. might be able to deliver in terms of emissions reductions,” says Lewis, who has been following the U.N. climate change negotiations for years. “And I think Pershing gave them some pretty candid answers.”

Class Simulation

The convention began on Nov. 26 and lasts through Dec. 7. Georgetown has had official observer status at the UNFCCC since 2009.

Lewis says four of the students who traveled to Doha are enrolled in her STIA class, Climate Science and Policy, and will participate in a climate negotiation simulation in class this week.

The students will represent different country positions during the simulation.

Hope for the Future

Although she does not expect any major decisions or decrees to come out of the conference, Lewis says the convention will extend the Kyoto Protocol, which obligates industrialized countries to lower their greenhouse gas emissions.

The summit also kicks off a new process enacted at last year’s meeting in Durban, South Africa, that enables all U.N. parties to eventually negotiate a new climate change agreement.

“It’s very interesting to see where the different countries stand as they begin to negotiate what will hopefully be the start of a new international treaty to deal with climate change,” she says.

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