Paris Climate Change Conference

Faculty and alumni play key roles, while students get the hands-on learning experience of a lifetime.

Faculty and alumni play key roles, while students get the hands-on learning experience of a lifetime.

The 2015 UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP21, took place in Paris November 30 through December 12. The objective of organizers was to negotiate a universal climate change agreement that would serve as the starting point for longterm efforts to stop global temperatures from rising more than 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit (2 degrees Celcius).

Lewis & Clark Law School had a significant presence at the climate change negotiations. Erica Lyman, clinical professor and staff attorney for the International Environmental Law Project (IELP), and four students, along with numerous alumni, were actively involved in the proceedings.

Lyman attended the negotiations as a legal advisor to the Republic of Maldives, a country that holds the chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), the negotiating group of the island countries. In this role, Lyman supported the AOSIS legal team’s efforts to negotiate on loss and damage, perambulatory language, and numerous other legal issues, including the final provisions of the treaty itself. She also worked with a small group of lawyers on the Legal and Linguistic Review Committee, convened by the French presidency, in order to review the legal text before submitting it for adoption.

The students who accompanied Lyman also spent much of their time in the thick of things.

“Attending the COP21 meetings in Paris was an absolutely incredible experience,” said Liz Mering ’16. “Learning about international treaty-making in the abstract does not compare to observing it firsthand. Over those two weeks in Paris, I attended countless meetings and negotiations, read numerous versions of an ever-changing text, and conducted legal research on a variety of topics. It was fascinating watching global politics in action as each party negotiated in their national interests. The first week, we were able to watch the negotiations of crosscutting issues that were important for many countries. During those sessions, we took detailed notes to assist Professor Lyman in keeping track of the different parties’ positions. Additionally, there were dozens of relevant side events held every day, a number of which I was able to attend. These were useful both for my own education and also for IELP research and client work.”

The second week of the negotiations, said Olivier Jamin ’17, “was very exciting because by that time the deadline for an agreement was looming, increasing the work for all parties, as well as their willingness to compromise. I was personally amazed by the way the president of COP21, France’s Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, handled the negotiations. Facing egos from 196 countries was a tremendous task that he accomplished with brio, and emotion was clear on his face as he teared up during his closing speech.”

Liz Mering '16 and Olivier Jamin '17 Liz Mering ’16 and Olivier Jamin ’17

“’Sensory overload’ is how I would describe my experience at the climate negotiations in Paris,” said Max Zheng ’17. “There were some 50,000 participants and over 200 events during the two short weeks of negotiations.”

Zheng explained that he has a scientific background, which he found helpful. “We are able to roughly calculate the total emissions reduction needed to curb climate change—at least to a certain degree. During these negotiations, the challenge was determining what each individual party should contribute to reach that goal. With economic development so closely tied to emissions, you can begin to imagine how difficult it is to fairly divide that pie into 196 pieces. The negotiations essentially create the framework for future economic growth.”

But the problems associated with equitable division are really only evident when you’re there yourself, Zheng said. “I got to witness the step-by-step evolution of the draft text and the countless hours of arguments. Not only that, I was also able to contribute to the overall process by assisting Professor Lyman with draft text analysis and other climate change-related projects.”

“There is a limit to how much one can understand about the international treaty-making process without witnessing it firsthand,” said Ethan Bodegom ’16. “Even though I had learned of the politicized nature of the international treaty-making process, I did not truly understand just how politicized it could be until I witnessed it in person. I left Paris with not only a much better understanding of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, but also of the international lawmaking process in general.”

Elizabeth Crespo ’16 was nominated to work as the Centro de Planificación y Estudios Sociales Climate Justice Representative in Paris. “I tracked gender issues through the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) and reported findings back to the Ecuadorian civil society delegation and the REDD+ Safeguards Working Group (RSWG). Through WGC, I helped lobby for gender rights to be more present in the binding part of the Paris Agreement, specifically in Article 2. “As a member of RSWG, I advocated for the terms ‘Indigenous Peoples’ and ‘Ecosystem Integrity’ to be in the binding part of the text.”

Many Lewis & Clark alumni were also involved in the negotiations.

“I was in Paris with an environmental organization I did a legal internship with for six months in 2013, called the Interamerican Association for Environmental Defense, or AIDA,” said Orion Cruz ’12. “They’re a Latin American organization that, among other things, works on environmental and human rights cases and does climate change-related work. While I was with them I worked on human rights/environmental cases, but because I had experience working at COP17 with Professor Lyman and Professor Wold through IELP, and had continued to follow the negotiation process closely, they invited me to assist their climate team in Lima in 2014 and again in Paris this year.”

Lewis & Clark Law School and the International Environmental Law Project (IELP) offer the kind of hands-on international environmental law experience that has a lasting impact on students’ careers and the planet.


IELP works to develop, implement, and enforce international environmental law to tackle some of today’s most challenging global issues, including climate change, biodiversity conservation, threats to oceans and fisheries, and the relationship between trade and the environment. As the only on-campus legal clinic focusing solely on international environmental law at a U.S. law school, IELP also educates and trains Lewis & Clark Law School students to become effective international lawyers. Through classroom instruction, representation of clients, and hands-on participation at international environmental treaty negotiations, students learn the fundamentals of international environmental law and policy.

At the global climate change conferences, AIDA focuses primarily on issues related to climate finance and human rights, said Cruz. “Therefore, at COP21 this year we were pushing for the best possible finance provisions, as well as for strong human rights language to be included in the agreement. Some examples of what we were advocating for included a strong accountability framework for climate finance, a clear mechanism to scale up climate finance, and a balance between finance for mitigation and adaptation. With regard to human rights, we were trying to get them to be as central to the agreement as possible, as well as advocating for countries to commit themselves to respecting those rights while implementing climate policies at home.”

Cruz also managed to find time for ArtCOP21, an arts and culture festival that ran parallel to the conference. “I participated in the creation and presentation of an art project titled Lost Defenders of the Environment. It is a commemorative project aimed at spreading awareness about the large number of people who have lost their lives defending the environment in the last decade.”

Abdullah Al Ghamdi ’13 participated at COP21 as part of the Saudi delegation, having served as a legal advisor during COP20. His role “involved advising the delegation on the legal aspects of the negotiation’s text,” Al Ghamdi said. “Such advice included the drafting of textual proposals and in-session interventions. In addition to that, I negotiated on behalf of the Kingdom and the League of Arab States the final clauses of the Paris Agreement, which included compliance, entry into force, and other legal provisions. Towards the end of COP21, I also was nominated and selected as a member of the rather short-lived Legal and Linguistic Review Committee representing the Asia-Pacific region. The committee conducted a legal and linguistic review of the Paris Agreement prior to its adoption.”

Amelia Linn ’12, an attorney with Islands First, also served as an advisor to the Republic of Maldives in its capacity as chair of AOSIS both at the United Nations in New York and at the conference. “I have supported AOSIS at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change for the past three years, attending the Warsaw, Lima, and Paris COPs, as well as the many intercessional meetings on the road to Paris,” said Linn. “I began working on climate change as a student at Lewis & Clark, and began working with islands through an externship in the climate change office of the Republic of Palau.”

Grant S. Wilson ’12 helped organize several programs, held in Paris concurrently with the negotiations, focused on the relationship between the rights of nature and human rights. While working with San Francisco Bay Area-based Earth Law Center, Wilson also helped author a conprehensive report detailing “co-violations” of these rights worldwide.

Judith Needham LLM ’15 was in Paris as a journalist for the Environment News Service (ENS), one of only 3,000 members of the media worldwide were accredited to work the conference. “The experience was amazing—professionally and personally,” said Needham. She filed three general background stories in the run-up to COP21, and another three articles from Paris focused on niche topics that the major news services overlooked. You can read her pieces on the ENS website at