COP Student Testimonials


Mae Bowen 16C, COP21 & 22

There is only so much you can learn about environmental issues from a classroom. Some of us choose to augment our learning by going out in the field, or into the lab. But for me, I wanted to see how environmental policies were made up close. An avid Model UN competitor and environmental science major, the opportunity to work with Emory faculty to teach a course on the climate change negotiations and participate in our first ever observer delegation was a dream come true. Negotiations for environmental treaties are complex and fascinating, and my appreciation for this particular policymaking process changed dramatically after observing COP21. The experience of meeting government negotiators and watching them collaborate to craft the Paris Agreement changed my entire academic and professional trajectory. I’ve known since I was young that I wanted to become a public servant and protect the environment, but this invaluable experience convinced me to choose to do so as a lawyer and diplomat.

Since leaving Emory I have had the opportunity to come full circle on my COP21 experience. I have worked with the United Nations International Law Commission to craft guidelines for States on protection of the atmosphere. I interned at the U.S. Department of State Office of the Legal Adviser, where I worked with our government’s negotiators to prepare for COP25 this past November. This spring, I am assisting the government of a small island State in the fourth round of negotiations to create a legally binding international agreement on the conservation and sustainable use of marine biological diversity of areas beyond national jurisdiction in our oceans. None of this would have been possible, nor even on my radar, if not for Emory’s COP21 delegation.

I will graduate from law school this May and cannot wait to get to work with people from around the world to save our planet.

Clara Pérez-Medina 17C, COP 21

My experience at the COP was somewhat unconventional, since I chose not to enter the negotiations themselves. I was part of the first Emory delegation in 2015 (COP21), bearing witness to the signing of the Paris Accords in France and the creative movement mobilizations that were pushing forward and beyond the negotiations themselves.

When I pitched my idea for how I would spend my time in Paris, the class professors didn’t flinch (or, maybe only when I proposed attending protest events!). While my classmates were observing negotiations proceedings, I found myself in women’s assemblies elevating women’s particular vulnerabilities to climate events, international farmer’s associations coordinating cross-continental democratic practices of food production, and left social movement spaces pushing visions of energy democracy and historical reckonings of global inequality.

It impacted me most that our class remained centrally occupied with the question of social responsibility. We all spent a great deal of time mulling over how we might translate issues like the historical legacy of colonialism in climate inequality, or how to relate climate change to other social issues. Riding on the alternative visions of the movement spaces I was encountering, I wrote blog posts and composed photo essays passing on lessons from Paris back to the Atlanta community. A group of us were inspired to start the Emory Climate Organization that year to show that hard scientists needed to start listening to social scientists (and activists on the ground, for that matter!) when it came to the story of climate change and what we should do about it.

At the end of the day, I got a taste of what it means to be a public scholar. I’m now a sociology PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley on an NSF fellowship and my experience both in Paris and, more importantly, of bringing it back to campus and beyond, was a formative adventure on my path here. I’m forever grateful to the professors who made this possible for me and future students to form their own experiences and charge ahead to add their drop in the bucket of this fight to tackle climate change.

 Tyler Stern, 16C, COP 22

Attending COP22 in Morocco was genuinely the most rewarding academic experience I had at Emory. 

Up until then, most of my academic experience involved simply studying theory in the classroom, but the Conference of Parties offered a chance to experience first-hand the interdisciplinary nature of climate action. I witnessed activists demanding for more aggressive climate policy, diplomats negotiating to adopt that policy, business leaders showcasing different technologies that would help achieve that policy’s goals, journalists distilling that policy into more understandable stories, and artists portraying those stories in poetic forms. One woman spoke to me about her non-profit that offers support to women because of the increasing household roles they must assume due to rising temperatures. Before interacting with her, I had never considered how climate change connected to gender equality. Hearing her unique perspective shifted my understanding. A lot of these seemingly disparate subjects are actually interconnected. 

As a physics major turned UX Designer, it was empowering to see this kind of cross-pollination. Scientists weren’t siloed in labs. Business leaders weren’t confined to board rooms. The Conference of Parties was a space for these different people with a variety of expertise to cross conventional boundaries and hopefully work towards making meaningful progress. I think that challenges the structure that we’re taught when we’re younger: lawyers only practice law; doctors only practice medicine. In actuality, there’s a lot more intersectionality to how all of these roles interact with each other. Even though I loved physics, I didn’t feel fulfilled solving math problems every day. What did fulfill me was communicating complicated science topics like climate change in creative and understandable ways. 

Attending COP22 was a critical moment in my personal journey because it offered the chance to practice those skills while reaffirming the idea that everyone has something to contribute. It doesn’t matter what your background is or if you don’t fit into a traditional role, there’s always a way for you to help out.

Geoff Martin MS 17’, COP 22

As for COP experience, I would say it was a once in a lifetime experience that allowed me to see international climate policy being made, learn from the most experienced experts in the world, and network with potential employers. It was incredible to be a part of these talks in a completely different country, and to be with a group of other dedicated Emory students and faculty to share our experiences each day. 

Jennifer Fundora 18C, COP 23

Being a first-generation college student, I didn’t think I’d have the opportunity to represent Emory and the United States as a youth delegate at an international event like the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). My research on deforestation in Haiti and the Dominican Republic was elevated to another level when I had the opportunity to interview delegates from both countries on work directly related to my thesis. Having that kind of access to the decision makers on climate change policy in their respective countries makes you feel like the youth voice can actually be represented at these negotiations. 

I’d also like to temper my enthusiasm about COP negotiations by saying that it is also frustrating as an observer to see how little gets achieved by the end of the two weeks. While I came in hopeful and excited to see critical steps taken in the right direction, it’s hard to get past the fact that enforcement of international climate policy is extremely difficult. We’re only now seeing how well countries who have committed to climate goals are keeping their promises (or not).  

I’d like to give my sincerest thank you to our funder for making this trip possible. Without his generosity to our delegation, funding this research endeavor and life-changing experience would have been impossible. 

Zola Berger-Schmitz 19C, COP 23

Being a part of Emory’s UN Climate delegation and having the opportunity to interview world-renowned climate leaders was one of the most seminal parts of my undergraduate experience. As I entered the negotiations on the first day, I felt transported into a global climate incubator where I had the opportunity to observe scientists and policy-makers at work trying to tackle the global climate crisis. In addition to strengthening my field research skills, I emerged from the experience with a whole new vocabulary for communicating the nuances of international climate politics. My peers and I were able to bring some of this knowledge back to the Atlanta community through doing local outreach and organizing events such as the Universities for a Greener Georgia Conference, which I helped co-found as president of the Emory Climate Organization. These experiences inspired me to pursue a master’s degree in Environmental Policy and Regulation at the London School of Economics. Most importantly, my participation in Emory’s UN delegation left me with the desire to follow in the footsteps of these global climate leaders and to forge a career in the international climate policy arena. 

Maya Bornstein 19C, COP 22 & 24

When I first learned about Emory’s delegation to attend the UN COP Climate Change Conference I thought it was an amazing opportunity, little did I know the community I was about to enter that came with this experience. I entered into a liberal arts CoLa course my first year where I met the first ever delegates from Emory that watched directly as the Paris Climate Accord unfolded. In this class, I got to learn from their experiences and see how interdisciplinary climate change and climate justice is. Through this class we created the first ever climate week on Emory’s campus and the Emory Climate Organization (ECO).

As a sophomore and Sociology major, I applied to attend COP 22 in Marrakech Morocco. This experience shaped the course of my college trajectory. I met climate activist, politicians, and delegates from around the world. I absorbed international policy unfolding before my eyes. Being there on the day of the 2016 election results, I personally saw the way the world was shaken and worried about the future of climate reform. Lastly, I made lasting friendships with the other Emory delegates, better understood the innovative solutions Africa is contributing to climate mitigation, and formed strong bonds with professors such as Dr. Saikawa and Dr. Tefft.

My experience in 2016, sparked me to pursue my thesis research on how climate change impacts women in developing nations. When I attended COP 24 in Poland I interviewed men and women about their first hand experiences with climate change and it’s devastating impacts. The people I met at the conferences and Emory through this opportunity have inspired, encouraged, and ignited my path to pursuing and demanding much needed climate justice; it has influenced me to accept a job focused on food security post-college.

Lauren Balotin 19C, COP 23 & 24

The COP23 and COP24 negotiations were some of my most influential experiences as an Emory student and were really instrumental in shaping my academic interests. At COP23, I was able to speak with policymakers, corporate leaders, and researchers about the impact of climate change on food security and agriculture, and at COP24 I was present as the World Health Organization publicly released its special report on health and climate change. The conferences ended up being a major reason I chose to pursue an MPH in Environmental Health Promotion & Policy.  

For me, a highlight of the conferences was observing the changing role of the U.S. in the negotiations. At COP23, the U.S. had just announced its intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, and I was able to see how the international community reacted to it over the next two years. It was exciting to be able to watch the growth of the “We Are Still In” movement, as businesses, cities, and states pledged to remain committed to Paris Agreement’s goals on a sub-national level. Even more exciting was being able to watch this momentum grow over two years.  

Overall, my favorite part of the conference was that I was surrounded by people who were working towards a common cause, but who came from very different backgrounds and had different approaches to climate action. It was exciting when the Emory delegation was able to speak in a panel with students from Colorado State University, Clark University, and the Caribbean Youth Network about student and university climate action efforts. I learned a lot about the work other schools and students are doing for climate action, and it was very motivating in my own climate action pursuits.

Halle Bradshaw 18C, 19MS, COP 24

Attending COP24 in Katowice, Poland had such a significant and positive impact on my life. Not only was I able to learn from leading experts and activists on climate, but I was also able to grow professionally, ultimately leading me to intern with the United Nations following this experience. As a student interested in environment, it was an incredibly inspiring opportunity.

Paris Wagner, 19C, COP24

The COP 24 Conference was the ultimate field trip. Traditional education often occurs in a classroom through textbooks and worksheets. On rare occasions, students go on field trips where the hypotheticals they have studied become a reality. At the COP 24 Conference, my classmates and I were able to immerse ourselves in international climate change policy.

A semester of coursework prepared us for the week-long experience in Katowice, Poland. Even with this preparation, the conference was overwhelming. Thousands of people from all areas of the world came together at the COP 24 Conference to fulfill their climate change agenda. Ironically, the convoluted nature of the conference mirrored the complex and pervasive character of climate change. Whether it be representatives from the fashion industry discussing “fast fashion,” testimonies from surfers about warming oceans, or impassioned speeches from citizens of disappearing small island nations, each person in attendance had a unique and compelling reason to care.

The COP 24 Conference was as inspiring as it was frustrating. With each press conference I attended, information booth I studied, or conversation I shared, I became informed of a new climate change repercussion that deserved immediate attention. Even with the necessity for action, the conference ended with a weak resolution, which offered no significant strategies for addressing climate change. The lack of progress made at the COP 24 Conference galvanized me. My experience solidified my decision to pursue a career in environmental law and eventually influence climate policy.

Megan Withers, 19C, COP 24

Participating in the 24th Conference of Parties (COP24) as an Emory University delegate was one of the most influential experiences of my collegiate experience. I came to better understand diplomacy, politics, and the nuances of language in legislation – knowledge which has informed my choices as I continue my educational journey. I now aspire to further my skills in environmental policy in a graduate program and the University of St Andrews. In the course of the convention I realized it isn’t enough to merely understand the facts – scientists must also actively engage in political conversations at all levels of government. It is scientifically possible for us to limit global warming to 1.5° C, but we must move negotiations forward in a constructive manner if we are to achieve this goal. Scientists can and must play a valuable role in that effort and it wasn’t until COP24 that I truly understood this fact.

Attending the conference also introduced me to a multitude of international perspectives on climate change. I was encouraged by the many environmental initiatives carried out by activists, scientists, and public figures. Exposure to those other strategies has been a source of inspiration as I work to mitigate climate change and promote environmental education in my local community.

Current Student from COP 24 – Laura Toledo

Last year’s COP 24 was an invaluable experience. I got to interact with and listen to amazing people with varying thoughts and motivations on how to solve the world’s current most urgent environmental threat (for people and the biosphere) of climate change. I learned so much more in that one week about all of my interests than I have learned from simply studying these topics from books or online resources.

Leaders of side events gave me inspiration and hope that the world can really come together to solve this problem. Yet plenary discussions between member nations brought me to the realization that agreement will be difficult to reach with such a diversity of experiences and priorities. The world as a whole will need to come to terms with the reality of climate change and settle on a compromise in order to save ourselves. Our differences in experiences and perspectives should not be a roadblock on the road to a sustainable future but instead a source of inspiration and creativity.

At COP24, this was demonstrated by businesses coming together to do their part with the Fashion Industry Charter, with American NGOs and stakeholders coming together in the ‘We Are Still In’ campaign, and with Dr. Marco Springmann’s research at the Sustainable Diets side event supporting a flexitarian diet. This supports my long-held belief that an imperfect plan executed now is better than a perfect plan implemented later. We do not need to all become vegans, fashion does not need to go out of business, and countries do not all have to agree. But we must all do as much as we can, as soon as we can to ensure the long-term existence of the lives we currently enjoy.

Current Students from COP 25 in December 2019

Emily Strahan – MS in Environmental Sciences, Laney Graduate School

The most rewarding aspect of serving as an Emory delegate to COP25 was getting to take part in an experience that was shared by such a diverse group of people from various cultural and professional backgrounds. On one end of the spectrum, the conference proved how competing interests can be detrimental in international policy and negotiations. On the other end of the spectrum, however, we saw how global forums like COP allow people with a shared passion and commitment to come together and work through differences for the betterment of society as a whole.

Sean Goggin – BS in Environmental Sciences (OX’18, C’20), Emory College

The most rewarding experience for me was hearing the worldly and wise thoughts that many people from SIDS countries have in relation to this global phenomenon. The people from the most precarious lands were often the people speaking with the most grace and compassion for others. It is clear that they care deeply for the world as well as for their homes.

Wenlu Yu – PhD, Environmental Health, Laney Graduate School

Participating in COP25 has been an incredible experience. The conference in Spain provided me with a unique opportunity to learn about the business, political, and scientific aspects of climate change issues and potential solutions that could significantly influence entire populations in a meaningful way.

Tara Djukanovic, BA, International Studies, Emory College

The opportunity to go to COP25 as part of Emory’s delegation has been one of the most transformational experiences of my life. As a student who aspires to work with climate migration and human rights, the ability to speak to indigenous leaders, university professors, and country leaders was integral to my knowledge and decision to continue pursuing climate-related human rights issues in my career. There are so few spaces where indigenous and female voices are given a platform, and being in the room where oppressed voices were heard was both empowering and educational. Despite the failure to negotiate Article 6, progress was made elsewhere at COP25-mainly in the spaces where youth, women, and native leaders gathered to build coalitions.

Additionally, being part of Emory’s COP delegation also gave me the opportunity to present my own research to world leaders and climate experts. Having the ability to get valuable feedback and encouragement from some of the most respective individuals in the field of climate science was invaluable to both my confidence as an academic and my progress on my research. I came out of COP both inspired and connected with students and researchers across the world-an outcome that has been immensely helpful to my life even months after I’ve come home.