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The feeling in Paris after COP 21 was one of hope. – Megan Neligan ’16

Megan Neligan is a senior environmental studies major. Over the winter, she traveled to Paris to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference. Read more about this amazing student and her amazing experience in this q + a.

How did you get an opportunity to attend the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris?
In July, I started looking at different side conferences for COP 21. It was not a formal process or through an organization, but after all the logistics came together very smoothly, I knew I had to seize the opportunity to be present for what I believed would be a historical event.

What was it like to be present for this historic event?
Being in Paris during this time was both thrilling and jolting. It was thrilling because I was able to meet people from such a wide range of countries who all cared about climate change and were pushing for the same goal. On the other hand, it was jolting because it was so clear how much we all still need to do–at a rapid pace–to address climate change.

I think it is easy for UNC students, myself included, to think of climate change from an American perspective, but we are not among the most vulnerable nations when it comes to climate change. While I was in Paris, I had the opportunity to see the documentary Exit. While it addresses a variety of issues through data, one part I found particularly interesting compares the effects of natural disasters in wealthier nations to those of similar scales in poorer nations. Addressing climate change and protecting the Earth is a shared responsibility, and it was striking to see that idea personified by the attendees from all over the world.

What was the biggest take away from the event?
The feeling in Paris after COP 21 was one of hope. Especially after the recent terrorist attacks, it was wonderful to see countries come together through this agreement. Personally, I had a mixed reaction of excitement and fear, though I think many people felt the same. An agreement like this has the potential to allow politicians to become complacent, thinking that we’ve already addressed climate change through this agreement. Also, some of the language is not very strong so it made me wonder how many countries would follow through on their commitments. But, I also viewed Paris as an exciting event for the private sector. In April of 2016, countries will sign the agreement and affirm that climate change not only is a huge problem, but also presents huge opportunities for innovation. I saw many young people and students at the side conferences. Maybe one of them or I will be collaborating on a business venture in the near future to address climate change.

How do you think this experience will impact your future?
I felt a renewed sense of urgency to minimize the effects of climate change through my day-to-day actions in my career and life. It was invigorating to see so many other professionals and students who are also taking steps each day to impact the world positively and address climate change.

The one thing I will always remember about this experience is… realizing how great an impact – negative or positive – one country or individual can have on the rest of the world, meaning my generation must take this opportunity and responsibility seriously.

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