STIA Students Attend U.N. Climate Change Conference

Georgetown Delegation COP21

The Georgetown Delegation: Alex Donovan and Norah Berk (SFS’17), Professor Joanna Lewis and Professor Vicky Arroyo in front of the U.S. booth.

December 11, 2015
by Ara Friedman

Georgetown University sent a delegation to the U.N. Climate Conference in Paris, France. SFS Professor Joanna Lewis, associate professor of Science, Technology and International Affairs, and Professor Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center at Georgetown Law, brought two Georgetown undergraduates, Norah Berk (SFS ’16) and Alexandra Donovan (SFS ’17), as well as several state government officials who participated in some of the events. The faculty members spoke at events alongside the official negotiations, and tracked the negotiations closely.

Conversation with Alexandra Donavan and Norah Berk

How did you come to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference? 

Alexandra Donovan

Alexandra Donavan (SFS’17)

I dreamed of attending a COP ever since I first learned about them in my STIA class last fall. When I heard that COP would be held in Paris while I was studying abroad in France this semester, I knew I had to find a way to get myself to the conference. I spoke with Prof. Lewis a few times about going with the Georgetown Delegation, and eventually she sent out an application.  I applied and received a spot to go.

What was the highlight of your week? Were you surprised by anything?

The highlight of my week was definitely just being around 30,000+ people who were so passionate about climate change that they would fly from all over the world to help the UNFCCC come to an agreement about the next steps each country needs to take. The most surprising thing was actually watching some of the negotiations—its even harder than you would think to get 190 countries to agree on even the most unimportant parts of the treaty. The negotiations can move excruciatingly slow and sometimes it seems like nothing is every going to get done, but somehow it seems to come together at the end.

What are you studying at SFS? How did your experience at COP21 fit into your course of study? 

I am a STIA major concentrating in Business, Growth and Development. I am very interested in evolving energy markets and the role of alternative energy in the face of climate change, and so I was able to follow topics such as climate financing and carbon pricing. I hope to take a few classes on these topics when I get back to Georgetown and then pursue those interests professionally after graduation.

Did it have any impact on your career goals or your thinking about climate change?

I would say the conference definitely solidified my interest in working in alternative energy or climate financing after graduation. Those aren’t necessarily careers that have obvious ways to break into right after college, but I heard so many different people speak about their work in this field that I feel more confident that these are realistic goals to pursue after graduation.

This is the “Green Zone” which is open to the public, anyone can walk in here and learn about what’s going on at the conference, talk to different NGOs, and attend presentations and talks about the climate.

This is the “Green Zone” which is open to the public, anyone can walk in here and learn about what’s going on at the conference, talk to different NGOs, and attend presentations and talks about the climate.

This is the “Blue Zone,” where you must have a badge to enter and where the official negotiations and side events take place.

This is the “Blue Zone,” where you must have a badge to enter and where the official negotiations and side events take place.

Norah Berk

Norah Berk (SFS’16)

How did you come to attend the U.N. Climate Change Conference? 

Professor Joanna Lewis has been attending COPs for years and sent out an application for two students to attend. Alex and I were chosen as the two!

What was the highlight of your week? Were you surprised by anything?

The amount that I learned. I focused on REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation), mechanisms to price carbon absorbed by forests, which includes many considerations related to gender and human rights. Concentrating so heavily on one topic over the week allowed me to explore many sides of it.

I was surprised by how non-hierarchical people at the conference were. Although I was just a student amongst many world leaders; mayors, head negotiators, heads of ministries, were all very open and inviting in their discussions.

What are you studying at SFS? How did your experience at COP21 fit into your course of study? 

My major is Science, Technology and International Affairs with a concentration in Energy and Environment. I have studied climate change in many different areas of my studies, as well as international affairs. Hence, international negotiations on climate change fits exactly into my course of study. I have also worked at organizations involved with COP21.

Did it have any impact on your career goals or your thinking about climate change?

COP21 is the largest meeting of heads of state in the history of the world. Attending it further emphasized how global the problem is and introduced me to how people from around the world are combating the effects and causes of climate change.

For my four years at Georgetown I have known that I want to work in some environmental capacity, so attending COP21 was really a dream. I have never been somewhere where I knew so concretely that I would want to work in such a setting.

U.S. Senators

This is a press conference with 10 US Senators that came to COP to show how committed the US is to fighting climate change. They answered questions about how their individual states and the US as a whole will do their part to meet the agreement.

Each country at the conference had their own booth to give presentations, and this is the US booth.

Each country at the conference had their own booth to give presentations, and this is the US booth.