Making History: Yale Students, Faculty Help Drive Success at Paris Climate Talks

Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.

martini moon cop21 paris
For the dozens of Yale students, faculty, and staff who were in Paris for the landmark climate talks this month, it was more than just a rare chance to watch history unfold up close. They helped make history.
Throughout the COP21 talks, members of the community — including 60 students from the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies and Yale College — filled a wide range of roles. They served as delegators at the conference, provided translation, spoke on panels, and presented original research. They hosted side events, covered breaking news on social media, and worked with NGOs, international coalitions, student organizations, and Yale-based programs.
Last Chance in Paris Yale at the COP21 Climate Talks YaleClimate lux 420 Yale F&ES students at the Paris climate talks.
And ultimately they each played a part in achieving a historic agreement, which sets an ambitious target to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.
“Being in the negotiating rooms and seeing delegates work tirelessly, sometimes overnight, for two weeks to converge on these issues really put the enormity of the climate change issue in perspective for me,” said Lucian Go ’16 M.E.M., who, as a delegate for the Republic of Palau, was tasked with monitoring certain parts of the negotiations. “It was encouraging to see a lot of countries show a willingness to compromise on key issues in the spirit of moving forward.”
During the conference, F&ES students
  • Served with the Colombian, Macedonian, Palauan, Panamanian, and Peruvian delegations, as well as the UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean; 
  • Presented original research on forest livelihoods, pathway dependency, deforestation, and the role of non-state market-driven governance systems;
I was surprised by the general willingness among negotiators to arrive at solutions ... Risking sounding overly optimistic, I must say it made me hopeful for international negotiations.
— Alejandro Campo Gnecco '17 M.E.M., Colombia delegation
  • Represented several F&ES-based programs, including the Governance, Environment, and Markets Initiative, Yale Data-Driven Environmental Group, Yale Climate Change Dialogue, and Yale Himalaya Initiative;
  • Attended the Global Landscapes Forum Social Reporting Boot camp; and
  • Advocated for climate justice with the Indigenous Peoples’ Biocultural Climate Change Assessment Initiative, the Climate Vulnerable Forum, Global Island Partnership, and UNFCCC’s Women & Gender Constituency;
  • Read more about F&ES Student projects at COP 21.
Members of the F&ES faculty were also on the ground throughout the talks.
  • Daniel Esty, Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy and a former UN climate negotiator, represented the Yale Climate Change Dialogue who released a report, 21 Solutions to Protect our Shared Planet, during the Local Leaders Summit. The report, developed by cities and subnational governments, highlights current and future best practices for climate change adaptation, mitigation, and public engagement. In an interview with The Climate Group Esty called the Paris negotiations the “biggest step forward since the 1992 Framework Convention.”
  • Paul Lussier, F&ES lecturer, participated in a panel called “From Science to Solutions: Uses and Strategies of IPCC Communications for a Climate-changing World.” Other panelists included Hoesung Lee, IPCC chair, Celia Blauel, Paris’s Deputy Mayor, Ali Shareef, member of the UNFCCC Adaptation Committee, and Keith Tuffley, CEO of The B Team Business Leadership Initiative. Jonathan Lynn, Head of Communications for the IPCC, moderated the panel.
  • Edgar Hertwich, Professor of Industrial Sustainability, released a new report produced by the International Resource Panel at the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). Hertwich, a member of the panel, served as lead author of the report, “Green Energy Choices: The Benefits, Risks, and Trade-Offs of Low-Carbon Technologies for Electricity Production,” which compares greenhouse gas mitigation potential for a number of renewable energy systems.
  • Benjamin Cashore, Professor of Environmental Governance & Political Science, led a group of F&ES students working on various decarbonization projects and pathway dependency with the Governance, Environment, and Markets (GEM) Initiative as part of the Climate, Law, and Governance Day.
  • Angel Hsu, Assistant Professor at Yale-NUS, helped launch several reports with the Yale Data-Driven Environmental Solutions Group, including “Scaling Up: Local to Global Climate Action,” a white paper providing case studies of subnational climate actions and their GHG emissions reduction potential, another for UNEP's 1 Gigaton Coalition, and a third for the UNFCCC. “One of the most notable outcomes of COP21 is the number of parallel actions cities, states, regions, companies and investors committed to as well,” Hsu said. “This groundswell of bottom-up climate action is encouraging to help hold national governments accountable to what they pledged in Paris.”
Students working at the conference noted the emphasis on engaging all segments of society, including cities, states, NGOs, and the private sector. 
angel hsu panel
“The momentum of local and regional leaders’ climate action has mobilized the climate negotiations with an increased spirit of possibility,” said Dena Adler ’17 M.E.M./Law. “The Paris Agreement will set the tone for international climate work in coming years, but much work remains to be done on implementation and ratcheting up ambition over time.”

Added Mohammad Aatish Khan ’16 M.E.M., another member of the Palau delegation:  “The agreement provides us an ambitious course to follow to achieve a better future. Recent finance pledges by a number of countries indicates that we already started moving forward.”