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An Observer in Paris

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“Massive, exciting, chaotic and a bit overwhelming.” That’s how Olivia Voorhis ’16 described her time as an official observer of COP21, the United Nations conference on climate change held last December in Paris, where delegates of 195 countries came together to try once again to negotiate a global climate agreement.

In halls she describes as “the size of jet hangers,” she encountered languages and dress from around the globe and attended dozens of lectures and panels and a range of side events. “There were thousands upon thousands of people, from scientists and researchers to activists, media and government representatives,” she says.

In all, she spent a week in Paris, focusing mainly on ways in which World Wide Views, a global citizen consultation initiative, might become a more effective part of the international policy-making process.

She doubts that the COP21 agreement, which was signed after she left Paris, will achieve everything environmentalists had hoped for, but she believes the conference is a step forward becasue it focused global attention on the problems. “I think the global community left COP21 with admirable goals,” she says, “but now comes the extremely difficult and politically contentious work of implementation.”

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