Day 11 Update (Thursday Week 2)

Thursday was one of our biggest days at the COP, and it went by so quickly that we were all surprised when the sun started to go down around 5pm. After staying at the venue until 11:30pm on Wednesday, we returned on Thursday morning to find out that the negotiators had met in “indabas” until 4am. We spent most of the morning poring over the text again, slicing and dicing it to understand how the compromises were being made. After a quick lunch (have we mentioned how delicious the food is here? Definitely the best-and most affordable-of any COP I have been to!), we attended a panel discussion with leaders from the EPA, DoE, USDA, and more about how the US is implementing the Climate Action Plan. We were then able to fit in a quick briefing to NGOs by the US delegation, one of our main sources of insights into how the closed-door negotiations are going and where the “landing zones” and ongoing points of contention are.

The highlight of the day for all of us was a meeting with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, who sat down for a 45 minute Q&A session with about 25 US university students. While our discussion was off the record, I was very impressed by how genuine she was, and how honestly supportive she is of the youth in America’s role in spreading the message on climate change. She focused on the role of effective climate communications in uniting Americans behind climate change, and the fact that we need to find ways to make climate change relatable to everyone. Overall it was a wonderful opportunity to meet with a strong leader that all of us look up to.


Duke students attempt a selfie with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, although Jess' arms arent quite long enough!
Duke students attempt a selfie with EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, although Jess’ arms arent quite long enough!


The day wrapped up late once again as we waited for a new text to be released at a Comite de Paris meeting at 9pm. The negotiators are currently engaged in more indabas and bilateral negotiations, and we are hopefully for a new text Saturday morning!


Emma: What a day! Thursday started off with IUCN staff meeting. It is very informative, like always. And I feel I am learning more and more about civil society through the lens of climate change. The only event I attended this morning is poverty alleviation and climate change. A lot of questions lingering in my mind after the presentation … We had several back to back meetings in the afternoon. Talking to people who wrote our readings and designed our environmental policies still feels a bit surreal. While having dinner with a local journalist, he pointed to me french senator and prestigious scientist sitting around us. Plus, I finally saw SG Ban Ki-moon… Some parties proposed to hold COP every two years to reduce the carbon footprint. To be honest, I prefer the annual setting now. Because I want to come back so badly next year 🙂

Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Momentum for Change Awards
Ban Ki Moon speaking at the Momentum for Change Awards
Poverty alleviation and climate change
Poverty alleviation and climate change


Kait: Today was very exciting! The International Energy Agency (IEA) hosted a big energy debate in the climate generations area. They had some really amazing speakers participate like Sir David King, and Sir Nicholas Stern, as well as many others. The executive director of the IEA, Fatih Birol, opened the event and I had the opportunity to meet with him briefly and ask him some questions. Stay tuned for a blog post about it!


Oliver: As a confessed Clean Power Plan nerd, the highlight of my day was, of course, the surprise meeting with its main architects and champions: Gina McCarthy (Administrator of the U.S. EPA.) and Janet McCabe (Acting Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation). We then rushed to a fascinating meeting with climate negotiations scholar Dr. Dan Bodansky – having read his articles since my freshman year of college, I may have geeked out a bit. A new text came out today as well, and I had the dubious honor of being first in line for hard copies among the mad hordes surrounding the document station!

Duke students introducing themselves to Administrator Gina McCarthy
Duke students introducing themselves to Administrator Gina McCarthy



Day 10 Update (Wednesday Week 2)

It’s coming up on crunch time here at the COP, and Wednesday was the first day since last Saturday that we have been able to get a clearer understand of the direction that the text is taking. At 3pm, the COP President Laurent Fabius called a meeting of the “Comite de Paris”, the main working body of the negotiations, to announce that the Secretariat had compiled a new text, “inspired” by the text from the ADP released last weekend. Immediately after the meeting, the text was handed out to the Parties in the plenary rooms, and was soon after available to observers. The text was significant progress – the number of square brackets (text that has not yet been agreed to) had been reduced by three quarters and the length of the agreement had been reduced to 14 pages. The parties (and our students) spent the next several hours poring over the text to see what kinds of options had emerged, and then the Comite de Paris met again starting at 8pm to allow the Parties to react to the text. Our students stuck around until 11:30pm watching the responses of the Parties, and then the plenary broke up again to continue bilateral and “indaba” (small group) negotiations until late into the night.

The new text, dissected by Jess
The new text, dissected by Jess

The current text has made a lot of progress towards consensus on a number of issues – Adaptation, Capacity Building, and Transparency are very close. Other areas, such as Loss & Damage, Forests, Means of Cooperation and Consensus are getting closer. There still seems to be lots of contention on a few specific areas, including Finance (how much money will go from developed to developing countries, and how), Differentiation (whether there should be different levels of responsibility between developed and developing countries), and Level of Ambition (whether we attain to have temperatures rise less than 1.5 degrees, 2 degrees, or more; 1.5 degrees marks the scientifically predicted “safe” level, above which several island countries may be under water). We are expecting a new text  Thursday afternoon, hopefully with significant progress on many of these issues!

Jess and Oliver heatedly discuss the proposed market mechanisms in Wednesdays text
Jess and Oliver heatedly discuss the proposed market mechanisms in Wednesdays text

Besides dissecting the text on Wednesday, we were also able to meeting with Duke alum and current US delegate Jennifer Carroll, as well as her colleague Jesse Young, Senior Advisor at the Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change. They gave us a great overview of what it’s like in the US delegation right now, how they focus on engaging domestic and international stakeholders, and the paths you can take to secure a job working on climate change at the State department. We were also able to participate in the Briefing to Observers by UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and a motivating speech by John Kerry. Updates from our students below!


Jess: The atmosphere in the COP yesterday was electric as people waited anxiously for the release of the draft text at 3 pm. I could almost here the clicking of thousands of computers as people refreshed the UNFCCC page over and over in anticipation. When the text was finally released I ran to the documents counter where I had to literally push my way to the front and I finally got my golden ticket (new draft text).

Afterward I met with Sonja and Kimberley from ICTSD and we scanned through the newest version searching for changes relevant for market mechanisms, cooperative approaches, response measures, finance, and tech transfer. Everyone around us was also doing the same thing, scanning the text for significant changes relevant to issues that concern them the most! In brief, what we found is that the text is now moving more explicitly towards the use of markets compared to the text released in Bonn in October. It’s clear that the EU-Brazil proposal put forth earlier this week is a key driver for this. A new text should be released today!
Oliver: Wednesday was a big day for the Paris text: a new draft was released, and I got to see (and inadvertently join) hordes of observers and negotiators run for the document booths to pick up the paper copies as they were churned out. We looked over the text and then attended over three and a half hours of countries’ reactions during the Comite de Paris, which was absolutely fascinating. Wednesday also included meetings with Jennifer Carroll from the Department of State and a chance meeting and photo op with one of my personal climate heroes, the magnificently-bearded U.S. energy advisor (and former lead negotiator) Jonathan Pershing!
Emily and Oliver meet Jonathan Pershing
Emma: Wednesday is a China day. I spent my whole day hanging out in China Pavilion after IUCN staff meeting. The topics in the Pavilion ranged from climate finance, national INDC, to low carbon development. It has been a great opportunity to meet experts in each of these field and get to know new friends. Meanwhile, I bumped into a Chinese negotiator and had s super short conversation with him on the expertise on their team. Oliver, Jess and I stayed until 11:00pm to watch the broadcasting of Paris Committee in Le Bourget. It was amazing to feel the energy and emotion with our civil society buddies!
"Understanding Chinas INDC" panel
“Understanding Chinas INDC” panel
Climate Change Action
Climate Change Action


Kait: This morning Siqi and I attended an event hosted by LVMH, the conglomerate behind many of the worlds luxury brands like Luis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy. The talk concerned supply chain and logistics in the subsidiary companies and was heavily focused on transportation of goods. It was extremely interesting to hear about the issue from companies that ship worldwide and many times must manufacture in France (or just somewhere far from where the products are eventually sold).  Most of the subsidiaries are aiming to use more and more ocean freight as it has the least carbon emissions compared to truck, rail, and air transport. Some of the companies ( Sephora and Guerlain) even use electric cars to ship their products to stores.


Siqi: Today’s highlight definitely is the US-China Climate Dialogue that Kait and I attended. As the only two student faces among the audience, we had the privilege to talk to the experts such as Li Junfeng, Director General of National Center of Climate Change Strategy Research at NDRC, and Jonathan Pershing, former US lead negotiator at COPs. It was interesting to learn that among many other things that US and China have difficulties work together on, climate change has always been an open dialogue and the two countries could have friendly and frankly communications and make substantial progress. For people who would love to work on US China collaborations on environmental issues, this is a very encouraging message. Jonathan also gave Kait travel tips for her upcoming trip to Iceland. Unexpected extra bonus, hah!

Day 9 Update (Tuesday Week 2)

Tuesday for the Week 2 crew overflowed with interesting, exciting and inspiring encounters. While the students were busy with their clients, we were also able to get a number of briefings with members of the US delegation to shed some light on how their priority items are tracking in the negotiating sessions. There seems to have been lots of work done earlier this week, and a new text is to be released on Wednesday. Highlights of the day included:

  • A briefing with high level members of the US negotiating team for students, featuring Deputy Special Envoy for Climate Change Karen Florini, where we learned more about the US’s position on 5 year re-commitment periods for INDCs, efforts to find “landing zones” of compromise, and the overall positive tone of the negotiations
  • Hearing head of the EPA, Gina McCarthy, motivate us all on the influence and opportunities created by the Clean Power Plan
  • 20151208_123921
    Gina McCarthy speaking about the Clean Power Plan at the US Pavillion
  • A roundtable with the Managing Director for the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), Christy Goldfuss, where we were able to ask questions about how a climate agreement will be translated into policy at the domestic level.
US graduate students meet with Christy Goldfuss, head of the White House CEQ
US graduate students meet with Christy Goldfuss, head of the White House CEQ
  • A speech about the urgency of climate change from Al Gore, joined by celebrities including Arnold Schwarzenegger and Alec Baldwin
The Terminator fighting for climate change!
  • A meeting with Duke MEM alum Bill Hohenstein, Director of the Climate Change Program Office for the USDA, where we learned about how the USDA is facing the climate change needs of our agriculture and forestry sectors, as well as  the cool on-campus bar that was the hot spot for Duke basketball games in the 1980s!


  • Jess got some ice cream with Christiana Figueres!
Jess enjoying some Ben and Jerrys after running into Christiana Figueres and sharing a love of Duke!
Jess enjoying some Ben and Jerrys after running into Christiana Figueres and sharing a love of Duke!

Updates from our three students inside the COP are below:



Second day is all about ecosystem based adaptation 🙂 Ali from IUCN is such a nice and lovely supervisor. He asked me to speak in an Eba effective coastal planning event. I also slowly realized that Eba is a similar concept that I had heard from many years ago in my hometown Guiyang, China. Back then, our city leader was very proud about it. The essence has been that we need to work with nature in harmony rather than conquer it. Nowadays, it is pervasive in the Chinese environmental policy, called ecological civilization 生态文明. On the negotiation, the president announced that a cleaner version of text will be released tomorrow. Most of consultation groups were working smoothly towards compromises and consensus. Cannot wait to see the new text!
Emma presenting coastal adaptation at an IUCN panel
Emma presenting coastal adaptation at an IUCN panel


Oliver: On Tuesday – Gender Day at COP21! – the Global Gender and Climate Alliance launched a landmark publication on the interaction of gender and climate change. I had the privilege of supporting the launch with the wonderful team at IUCN’s Global Gender Office. We attended meetings with the Council on Environmental Quality and with Bill Hohenstein (a member of the U.S. delegation hailing from the USDA), both of which were fascinating. Today was also a celebrity sighting day – we saw Al Gore speak and ran into Christina Figueres (Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC), Gina McCarthy (Administrator of the EPA), Alec Baldwin, and Arnold Schwarzenegger!

Jess: Tuesday was a whirlwind day! On top of all of the exciting run in’s that Oliver outlined below, I sat in on the new “Paris Committees” evening session. It was encouraging to hear countries’ support for the COP Presidency and the process thus far. The breakout groups announced some progress, however, it is clear that loss and damage and differentiation remain deeply entrenched issues between parties….nevertheless I do remain cautiously optimistic! The atmosphere in the venue is electric with everyone waiting to hear what’s happening in the behind closed doors sessions. The Paris Committee meeting at the end of the day is everyones (including governments) first chance to hear what’s happened! AND there’s been progress on cooperative mechanisms (aka references to markets) with a joint proposal released by Brazil and the EU that is very different from before and explicitly references the use of international emissions trading to reach climate goals. It was also really an honor to meet one of my role models Christiana Figueres who was so kind to chat with me for a few mere minutes on her way to another meeting after treating herself to some Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. Apparently, her daughter goes to Duke as well!

Day 8 Update (Monday Week 2)

Hello everyone! The Week 2 crew from Duke started their week at the COP on Monday to a whirlwind of a day. Between making our way up to Le Bourget and finding our way through the maze of the venue, to getting to meet members of the Canadian delegation responsible for the Ontario carbon markets and presenting the Practicum to Duke alumni in France, we had a fantastic introduction to the COP. Some highlights from the day from the group are below:

Oliver: Today was my first day at COP21! I assisted IUCN’s (International Union for the Conservation of Nature) Global Gender Office with a couple of events (Gender & Finance and Gender & Energy). Between those events, I ran back to the Climate Generations area, where I volunteered for the UN Global Compact’s Caring for Climate business forum, where I took notes for a panel on how fiduciary duties incorporate climate and carbon risk. Between all of that, we met with Alex Wood, the Executive Director of Ontario’s Climate Science Directorate, who talked to all of us about carbon market linkage, and had the chance to chat with Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of the Environment & Climate Change. Between the two venues, I went through security about six times over the day, but the whole thing was a whirlwind and I loved it.

Emma: First day at my First COP, Full of insights and excitement! Because of my client work, I attended several events that I would not likely to participate myself and they turned out to be quite interesting. The gender & climate change panel focused on pay-for-performance financing. One example all panelists kept recycling was cookstove projects that bring about duel impact. I am wondering if there are other successful projects with gender issue embedded. Meanwhile, it seems like Dutch government has been working hard to have gender included in the objective of Green Climate Fund. Also Interested in finding out how is that going. Other events I attended today are small island states press conference, East Asian low carbon growth side event, and, of course, Duke&IETA carbon market panel. Due to jet lag, my eyes were hardly open during the Duke event 🙁

Jess: Today was an exhilarating day at the COP!  Ministers flew in yesterday and I could tell the atmosphere in the COP was full of energy as the negotiations start to boil down to the nitty gritty issues of finance, differentiation, and monitoring, reporting, and verification. Ministers will provide political guidance regarding these remaining sticking points in the text. There is a sense that negotiators will now be able to work through these elements productively in order to come to consensus by the end of the week.

Key US leaders have arrived in Paris as well! I spotted Gina McCarthy walking through the venue and Secretary of State John Kerry flew in this evening. It’s sure to be a hectic and exciting week ahead!
More photos from Day 8:
Duke students meeting with Alex Wood, Executive Director of the Ontario Climate Change Directorate, to discuss Canadian climate politics and the possibility of further carbon market linkages in North America
Duke students meeting with Alex Wood, Executive Director of the Ontario Climate Change Directorate, to discuss Canadian climate politics and the possibility of further carbon market linkages in North America
Duke students and Brian Murray met Ontario's Minister of Environment and Climate Change as well
Duke students and Brian Murray met Ontario’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change as well


IUCN gender side event attended by Emma
IUCN gender side event attended by Emma


High level plenary session with heads of state
High level plenary session with heads of state


Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki Moon making an appeal for climate progress
Secretary General of the UN Ban Ki Moon making an appeal for climate progress

Welcome to the 2015 Practicum

Last week we had our first meeting of the fall 2015 UN Climate Negotiations Practicum, which this year includes 7 Masters of Environmental Management, 1 PhD in Philosophy, 1 Masters of Public Policy, 2 MPP/MBAs, 1 LLM and a 1 SDJ student. Get to know our cohort on the “Who We Are” page.

We are quickly getting up to speed on the UNFCCC history and current issues, and will send our first round of students to the Bonn Intersessional ADP negotiations in October. Students will be posting on the blog about their experiences and developments surrounding their focus issue in the negotiations, so stay tuned!

Applications are Live!

Hello climate change enthusiasts! Applications are now live for current graduate students to apply for the Practicum in fall 2015. The course will be held on Fridays from 1-3pm. Applications are due May 1st at 11:59pm, and students will be informed about their application status in July.

Incoming students – don’t fret! We will have a separate application period for you in August before the registration deadlines. Please note that all current Duke students must apply by May 1st to be considered.

To apply:

1. Fill out an application here:

2. Email your CV/Resume to

Send any questions to or

Welcome to the 2015 UN Climate Change Negotiations Practicum at Duke

Thanks for your interest in the 2015 UN Climate Negotiations Practicum course at Duke. Throughout the course of the fall 2015 semester, students will participate in a guided independent study to become experts on the UN climate change negotiations, in preparation for attending the 2015 negotiations in Paris, France or intersessional meeting in Bonn, Germany.

More details about the course and application process will be available throughout the year. For now, you can learn more about the course in the “About” section, or browse the blogs of previous Duke delegations to the UN climate negotiations.