We’re halfway through COP23 and we’ll soon pass the baton to our classmates attending during week two. Friday was an exciting last day for us, capping off an incredibly rewarding week. This morning, two of us had the pleasure of chatting with Senator Jeff Merkley (OR), who asked about Duke’s commitment to climate action and sustainability. He was encouraged to hear about the University’s plans for carbon neutrality and its commitment to upholding the Paris Agreement goals. We then attended a talk by Al Gore — and had front-row seats! It was an inspiring and lively talk, and a great way to kick off our last day.

Later on, students attended panels featuring corporate leaders from Mars, Wal-Mart, and Microsoft, as well as U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI). Students then had the rare opportunity to meet with a member of the U.S. negotiating delegation, offering unique insight into the diplomatic process and dynamics.  Their final updates are included below. Check back next week for updates from week two!

“The will to change is itself a renewable resource.” — Former Vice President Al Gore

Rachel and Adam meeting with U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (OR)

Former Vice President Al Gore addresses a packed room at COP23

Adam, Rachel, Galen, and Tasfia take the stage after hearing from Al Gore

U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (MD) and Sheldon Whitehouse (RI) discuss the economic case for climate policy in the U.S. Climate Action Zone

Danielle provides a rundown of her initial thoughts on the negotiating process here.

Rachel: Today was a busy day full of great and inspiring speakers. I had the incredible opportunity to hear Al Gore speak about the challenges that climate change presents and the reasons for optimism. One of the reasons for optimism relates to new technologies that businesses are developing.

One of these technologies was highlighted during a talk with Microsoft. The company is teaming up with the nonprofit startup WattTime to create software that automatically detects the precise carbon emissions caused by using or generating electricity at any place in real-time. Utilities in Europe are using this software which will allow both consumers and operators to adjust their behavior and operations to reduce emissions with a lower cost. For example, with this software it will be possible to compare renewable energy projects across a country to determine which projects have the biggest carbon-reduction impact. It is exciting to see where this technology and others will take us!

Sanjeev: As today was my last day at the COP, I really wanted to connect with my client, Climate Analytics, before I had to head back to the US. Because I didn’t have access to the negotiations zone, I had been unable to attend any of my client’s team meetings. What this basically meant was that the only time I had met my contact at Climate Analytics, Olivia, was on the first day of the COP when I was still figuring things out. Now that I had attended meetings for a week, my head was teeming with questions for her. Luckily for me, the side event I ended up going to in the morning featured Olivia as one of the panelists. The event itself – focused on loss and damage in the Pacific – was incredibly interesting, particularly because there was an individual from Tuvalu on the panel, who gave a very thoughtful and personalized presentation of Tuvalu’s vulnerability to climate change. But I really enjoyed my conversation with Olivia after the event.

Talking to her gave me some very interesting insights on how NGOs are involved in the negotiations. Specifically, Climate Analytics advises the LDC and AOSIS groups and its members are often part of the country party, meaning that they can be a part of the negotiations, and sometimes even speak on behalf of the country. I also realized that Olivia had recently done some work on climate change-induced displacement, including righting a paper for the German Development Institute (DIE) on the issue at the UNFCCC. For me this was fascinating because of my interest in the topic area and we had a fascinating conversation about some of the challenges and complexities of the issue. I’ve had a very good and enriching experience at the COP, and I think my conversation with Olivia was a great way to finish things off on my last day here.

Tasfia: The first week of COP 23 was a wild ride – from heated negotiations to thoughtful side events to insightful one-on-one meetings with delegates and environmental leaders. I am leaving Bonn with clearer career goals and with better knowledge of the optimal goals of both developed and developing countries. I plan to write more on these issues as I reflect on my time at the COP, and will continue to closely monitor the talks in the news and through classmates. The experience was incredibly rewarding and I am grateful to have had the opportunity to represent the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University and serve on the delegation of the International Center for Climate Change and Development (http://www.icccad.net).