Global Environmental Politics

Master's Degree Programs in Global Environmental Policy and in Natural Resources and Sustainable Development

Picture of Chris Ververis (Global Environmental Policy, M.A. '16)

Chris Ververis: Reflections on my internship with UNFCCC and COP21

Chris Ververis is beginning his final semester in the Global Environmental Policy (M.A.) track, with a focus on energy and climate change. He spent the last six months interning for the Implementation Strategy Unit of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in the lead up to the 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21). Chris also previous interned for the White House Council on Environmental Quality during his time in the Global Environmental Politics (GEP) program. He will also be interning for the State Department this semester.


My role at COP21 and my internship with UNFCCC: I interned for the UNFCCC for the six months leading up to COP21 within the unit that directly managed the substantive aspects of the climate negotiations. My unit provided strategic advice to the Parties facilitating the negotiations and held the pen to the text of the Paris Agreement throughout the process, working closely with the French government, which chaired the conference.

In my role I supported the unit through regular quality assurance checks on the text which included elements of legal and substantive consistency and coherence, cross references, paragraph numbering, editorial issues, and formatting. I also helped compile summaries of the negotiation meetings and create various analytical products to track changes to the text.

The outcome of COP21: After four years of negotiations, the Paris Agreement has been adopted by the UNFCCC at COP21. The treaty must now go through the appropriate ratification process within each country. At a high level, the agreement creates a legal obligation for Parties to prepare, communicate, and maintain successive nationally determined contributions (NDCs). Parties are not obligated to “implement” the substance of their NDCs, strictly speaking, but the successive contributions “will represent a progression” beyond previous NDCs and reflect its highest possible ambition over time. Parties are also obligated to report their national emissions at least every 2 years, and Parties are to collectively take stock of the overall implementation of the agreement every 5 years.

Reflecting on the significance of the Paris Agreement: I’m very hopeful that the treaty will serve as a durable and dynamic framework for international climate policy into the future. The shift from bifurcated commitments between developed and developing countries to a more universal system based on each country’s respective capabilities and national circumstances is a revolutionary shift in international climate politics, albeit a largely untested framework.

It is clear though that the shift has already led to a groundswell of engagement by nearly all national governments to communicate their contributions transparently to the climate effort over time—as evidenced by the over 180 intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) already submitted and the over 150 national government leaders who attended COP21. Given that substance of those contributions is not legally binding, the long-term success of the treaty will likely rest on the capacity for the overall framework to drive both the international and domestic political processes towards enhanced climate action over time.

The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University is a diverse and inclusive community. The program does not necessarily endorse the ideas contained in this or any other guest post. Please understand that our aim is to provide a space for the expression of a range of perspectives on global environmental concerns.

Author: sisgep

The Global Environmental Politics program in the School of International Service at American University offers a unique, specialized, and world-leading graduate environmental studies education. We have two degree tracks: Global Environmental Policy (GEP), and our dual-degree Natural Resources and Sustainable Development (NRSD) option with the UN-mandated University for Peace in Costa Rica. Join us!

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