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Alumnae Participate in UN Climate Change Negotiations in Durban, South Africa

Two LBJ School alumnae took part in the climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa in November and December of 2011. The Durban Climate Change Conference was held by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

Kate Larsen, MPAff 2007, is the lead negotiator on mitigation for the U.S. and Elizabeth Lien, MPAff 2006, was a member of the U.S. delegation focused on climate finance.

“The goal of the UN negotiations over the past few years has been to come up with a global agreement that can set the world on the right path to avoid catastrophic climate change,” said Larsen. “Disagreement about what form this agreement should take and which countries be bound by it has meant that we have not been able to agree on a new legally binding regime to replace the Kyoto Protocol.”

According to Larsen, at the most recent meeting in Durban, South Africa, the parties involved agreed to launch a new process to agree on a legal outcome that applies equally to all.

“From my perspective, the substantive outcomes of Copenhagen, Cancun and Durban –-where heads of state committed to emission reduction targets and actions by 2020 and where countries established a clear process to make those efforts transparent and verifiable—are the most important accomplishments,” said Larsen.

Lien, who worked on creating the Green Climate Fund (GCF) as an employee of the U.S. Department of Treasury’s International Affairs Office, was part of the Treasury and State team negotiating and designing the initial elements of the GCF in Durban.

“Although these past couple of years were, and continue to be, economically difficult, the bulk of the international community is committed to investing in ways to help the developing world mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change,” said Lien.

According to Larsen, countries that never before considered climate change action, or even had so much as a ministry responsible for climate change, have committed internationally to act.

According to both alumnae, long before they ever thought they would be involved in international climate change negotiations, they were set on their path by their work as students at the LBJ School of Public Affairs.

“My work on a policy research project on carbon sequestration led me to a summer job with a think tank in Washington,” said Larsen. “I loved the atmosphere and energy there and the access to federal and international policy.”

When it came time to think about what to do after graduation, Larsen says she decided to apply for a Presidential Management Fellowship (PMF) offered by the U.S. government that places recent graduates in high levels of government. That highly competitive fellowship led Larsen to her current position with the U. S. State Department.

“I signed up with Professor David Eaton’s Policy Research Project on water policy my first semester at LBJ and worked with Dr. Eaton for the entirety of my time at LBJ,” said Lien. “Working with Dr. Eaton was an invaluable experience that included working with Palestinian and Israeli water professionals – something I never thought I would have an opportunity to do before coming to LBJ.”

According to Lien, she wasn’t always interested in climate change negotiations and began her career on domestic water policy as a PMF at the Office of Management and Budget.

“I knew that I wanted to work on international policy, since that was my area of focus at UT, and I knew that my preference would be to focus on international environmental policy,” said Lien. “When the Treasury position opened up, I knew that it was a great institution filled with brilliant people, a wonderful office and a fascinating topic.”

Lien’s advice to young people just graduating with their degree in public affairs is to learn something wherever they land.

“As long as you keep looking for opportunities to try new things and grow, you can create a path to your perfect job,” said Lien.