St. Edward’s at COP21: Chris, Thomas and Wilmarie – Obama, Al Gore, & More

This blog is part of a series written by St. Edward’s student Chris Jackson, who was selected as one of eight students from around the country to represent the American Chemical Society (ACS) as a student ambassador at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 21st Conference of Parties (UNFCCC COP21) in Paris in December of 2015. Student delegates like Chris attended talks, took part in UN events, discussed special interests with other non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and interviewed world leaders. We will publish one of Chris’s blogs each week, so stay tuned for more!

By Chris Jackson, 11/30/2015

The first day of COP21 focused primarily on speeches by the heads of states, setting the tone (an optimistic one) for further days at the conference. With everyone’s attention on them, there were very few side events in the morning. We browsed through all the available Countries Pavilions and participated in some of their activities. Of course, a lot of important people were around, but security made it difficult to track them down. However, Thomas was lucky and got a picture with Al Gore!

One of the big highlights, of course, was watching President Obama’s speech from the United States pavilion. You can check out the full text of his speech here, but we wanted to highlight some key ideas that we were inspired by!

  • As one of America’s governors has said, “We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, and the last generation that can do something about it.”
  • I’ve come here personally, as the leader of the world’s largest economy and the second-largest emitter, to say that the United States of America not only recognizes our role in creating this problem, we embrace our responsibility to do something about it.
  • Last year, the global economy grew while global carbon emissions from burning fossil fuels stayed flat.  And what this means can’t be overstated.  We have broken the old arguments for inaction.  We have proved that strong economic growth and a safer environment no longer have to conflict with one another; they can work in concert with one another.
  • I want our actions to show [young people] that we’re listening. I want our actions to be big enough to draw on the talents of all our people — men and women, rich and poor — I want to show her passionate, idealistic young generation that we care about their future.

Watching all the heads of state line up for the honorary photo (like elementary school kids lining up after recess), it’s important to remember that they aren’t the ones really negotiating here.  While appearances by Obama and other leaders show a global commitment to change, it is other representatives and negotiators who now have to hash out the details towards our 2 C goal over the coming weeks.

As President Obama said, “Let’s get to work”.