Economics Professor Mark Smith spent the fall of 2009 as a Fulbright-Schuman EU Scholar studying the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme, based in Brussels. As part of his sabbatical, he attended the United Nations 15th Conference of the Parties on Global Climate Change in Copenhagen.

Despite the wintry setting, Copenhagen was the hot place to be, as Smith and eight CC alumni who attended can attest. Smith asked the alums to contribute their reflections on the meeting to the Bulletin.

CC alumni in Copenhagen

Courtney Shephard ’09, Mark Smith, and Matt Banks ’97 in Copenhagen.

What do you get when you put an international climate summit, a rock concert, a trade show, protesters of all stripes, a snowstorm and eight CC alums together in Copenhagen in the dead of winter? The United Nations 15th Conference of the Parties on Global Climate Change. I asked these alums to contribute their reflections on the meeting to the Bulletin.

John Anthony ’95, political science
Barring the industrial revolution and the century’s long effort to abolish human enslavement, mankind has arguably not seen a more fundamental and comprehensive transition than the one currently underway in how the world powers economic growth. It’s imperative that we keep in mind the sheer scope of this challenge.

If anything positive came out of the negotiations it was Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and South Korea making the U.S., China and India share a bit of the driver’s seat. Once again, however, no emissions reductions were committed to, continuing to hold in the balance the future of one climate that sustains life for us all.

International negotiations to produce a new agreement to combat climate change are an annual exercise in jargon, hyperbole, and regrettably, inaction. That’s why the United Nations Foundation decided to shuffle the deck for Copenhagen. Drawn from thousands of individual submissions from more than 90 countries, we produced and delivered 2,000 decks of playing cards to country negotiators and delegations, media and NGOs, each card with a message about personal concerns about global warming. The decks carried a very simple message “Stop Gambling With Our Future. Deal With Climate Change.” You can see the cards, and a video of their delivery here:

John works for the United Nations Foundation in Washington, D.C.

Courtney Shephard ’09, international political economy
During one of the major protests (50,000+), I volunteered to help a Sociology professor from Columbia survey activists. I discovered that my black attire was a poor choice when I found myself in the middle of a group of anarchists attempting to evade the Danish police force.

My optimism for a legally binding treaty was quickly squashed as I experienced the collective action problem facing 192 sovereigns firsthand. However, I left inspired by the tens of thousands of people dedicated to designing positive, sustainable solutions to leapfrog the political quagmire.

Courtney attended the COP15 proceedings as a member of Duke University’s graduate student delegation.

Mike Ashley ’06, history
During my time in Copenhagen I was fortunate enough to interact with many different individuals from all walks of life. What really stood out to me was the level of engagement from the private sector. The business community is begging for clear policy signals that will allow them to invest heavily in clean technology.

Mike attended the COP as a member of a delegation of students from the University of Edinburgh Business School’s program in Carbon Management.

Drew Nelson ’99, English
The negotiations in Copenhagen were among the most complex countries have ever undertaken; and I can attest firsthand the U.S. delegation did everything we could do to get the best possible outcome. At any given time there were over 30 groups with representatives from as many as 192 countries negotiating. Being there for the State Department meant I was right in the middle of the chaos; whether it was representing the U.S. in negotiations, meeting with other negotiators, or sitting in meetings between Secretary Clinton and her counterparts. Ultimately, the differences on many key issues were too great for negotiators to overcome, however President Obama and his counterparts worked to find a way forward. While it’s not everything we hoped for, the “Copenhagen Accord,” is a significant first step in solving climate change. It was an honor to represent the U.S. and see the key role the U.S. team and President Obama played in developing the Accord.

Drew is a member of the climate negotiations team for the U.S. State Department.

Matt Banks ’97, American political economy
In my eight years of work on climate, I’ve never seen business so mobilized as was evident with companies participating in Copenhagen. Governments are slowly catching up. At the COP in Montreal we could barely get a handful of companies to call for strong climate policy. Copenhagen showed that there is great concern about the uncertainty that climate limbo is causing for industrial planning. We screamed “Let The Clean Economy Begin!” Not sure who heard us.

Representing World Wildlife Fund, Matt was in Copenhagen to host side events with WWF’s corporate partners, including HP, Nike, and Johnson & Johnson, in an effort to raise the business voice in advocating for a global climate treaty.

Spenser Shadle ’07, international political economy
Despite Copenhagen’s circus-like atmosphere, late work nights, and limited success, it was an incredible opportunity to participate in this historic effort. While much remains to be done, I did not find Denmark to be the rotten state that Hamlet’s Marcellus (and the media) so claimed.

Representing World Wildlife Fund, Spenser was in Copenhagen to host side events with WWF’s corporate partners, including HP, Nike, and Johnson & Johnson, in an effort to raise the business voice in advocating for a global climate treaty.

Christopher Zink ’04, Latin American studies
In spite of the disorganization, spirits were high during the first part of the Copenhagen conference. Many of us had low expectations going in, but few of us were prepared for the utter failure that the talks produced. The world was left with a three-page document which encapsulates the political reality of the moment, that countries are not yet willing to step out on a limb to combat dangerous climate change. All the arguments about which mechanism to use (cap and trade, carbon tax, command and control) are useless unless there are binding national targets. While Obama had the excuse of having his hands tied by a skeptical Congress, China was widely seen as the ultimate disruptor of the talks, disallowing other nations from signing up to binding targets of their own. In China, as in the U.S., it will take further climate catastrophe before the realities of what IPCC scientists are predicting take hold in the public consciousness.

Chris attended the COP as an employee of the Dutch firm Eneco and a member of the International Emissions Trading Association.

Carol A. “Annie” Petsonk ’79, biology
As a CC alumna who’s been working since 1986 to fight global warming, and began attending the climate treaty talks in 1995, I’d say that while Sisyphus’s boulder took a downward tumble at Copenhagen, there were some positive nuggets too. China agreed to begin actions to reduce its emissions per unit of economic growth, and opened a door for verification on a bilateral consultative basis. Negotiations on reducing emissions from deforestation in the tropics, a major contributor to global warming, made the most progress of perhaps any issue at the talks. But most nations are waiting for the U.S. to tackle the issue in a serious way. And that means we must redouble our efforts – working, as so many CC alumni are, with business, scientists, and community leaders all over the country – to create the political foundation to enable our country to confront the signal environmental and energy challenge of our time.

Annie was at the COP as the international legal counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Smith hopes to compile a list of CC alumni working on climate change and related issues. If you are interested in being included, please send information about your work to