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Georgetown Law’s Climate Center Delivers a Message in Paris

December 15, 2015 —

“Inspiring,” said Professor from Practice Vicki Arroyo (L'94), executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, describing the recently concluded COP21 climate talks in Paris. “This meeting accomplished something never done before – at a scale that we’ve never seen before.” 

Arroyo should know, having attended the 2009 Copenhagen conference and others over the past 15 years. In Le Bourget, the Paris suburb where the talks took place, the Georgetown Climate Center played a leading role as the organizer and sponsor of several events showcasing efforts by U.S. states and Canadian provinces to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and prepare for the impacts of climate change. Participants included the governors of California, Washington and Vermont, along with the premier of Manitoba and senior environmental officials from these and other states and provinces. Arroyo served as the point of contact between the U.S. governors in attendance and the U.S. Department of State.

Not entirely by coincidence, the conference provided a backdrop for a small reunion of Georgetown Law graduates who work on environmental issues. Arroyo (L’94) is a graduate, as is Deb Markowitz (L’87), secretary of Vermont’s Natural Resources Agency and a member of the Climate Center’s state advisory board. Joojin Kim (LL.M.’15), an environmental lawyer based in Korea and Arthur Haubenstock (L’89), who works on energy issues, both attended Climate Center events at Le Bourget. 

California Air Resources Board Chair and Distinguished Visitor from Practice at Georgetown Law Mary Nichols spoke at Georgetown events about California’s leadership on reducing emissions from transportation and in other sectors. 

Another Georgetown Law graduate, Distinguished Visitor from Practice John Podesta (L'76), is widely credited for the role he played helping to bring about last year’s breakthrough U.S. agreement with China, which many say paved the way for the success of COP21. 

“The reason it’s so important that Georgetown is in Paris to serve as a convener is that it allows us to show that the states are committed, that we’ve achieved some success and that what the negotiators are talking about is possible,” Markowitz says.

Adds Arroyo: “Leaders in other parts of the world are concerned about what will follow the Obama administration. That’s why it’s also important for them to see that it’s not just Congress, which can be quite negative. There are other political leaders in the U.S. who are seeing the impacts of climate change and are working to make a difference.”

“The successful outcome of the Paris talks provides an important lesson for our students,” says Arroyo. “Engaged individuals can make a difference.  This agreement is a crucial step but more needs to be done to turn words into action. As students and as graduates of Georgetown, they can each play a role.”  

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