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UMD, Paris and the Fate of the World's Climate

Leading the way toward and beyond the 21st Conference of the Parties

The moment is now upon us.  In December 2015, a new climate agreement will be struck by the 195 parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The Paris outcome will represent a major milestone in more than two decades of global efforts to respond to the challenge of climate change. It will also represent a new kind of accord – one that entails responsibilities for all signatories and one that involves an unprecedented number and range of stakeholders. A “bottom-up” architecture is emerging for the global climate regime – an architecture featuring significant roles not only for all countries but also for sub-national and non-state actors, the private sector, civil society and academia.

As a leading Tier 1 research institution inside the Capital Beltway, the University of Maryland will be at the forefront of this new regime.  Having just submitted an ambitious pledge for the White House Climate Day of Action on November 19, we are fearlessly positioning ourselves as a leader among American colleges and universities in support of a robust and comprehensive climate deal in Paris. UMD is truly “walking the walk” with its goals of eliminating 50% of net greenhouse gas emissions from campus operations, commuting, air travel and solid waste disposal by 2020; reducing campus electricity consumption by 20% by 2020; incorporating on-site and off-site renewable energy production; and ensuring that 100% of electricity purchased for campus is renewable by 2020. We are also leveraging our formidable research prowess to develop and innovate low-carbon power generation and energy efficiency technologies to drive the new global energy economy of the future.

With its strong faculty and research capacity in this arena, the School of Public Policy features prominently in this University-wide climate effort. In a few short weeks, seven SPP students will travel to Paris as part of the UMD delegation to attend the climate conference itself – a culmination of a semester’s worth of study under Professor Anand Patwardhan and Assistant Professor Elisabeth Gilmore in a course specifically devoted to the Paris climate negotiations. Meanwhile, Associate Professor Nate Hultman, SPP’s environmental and energy policy specialization director, has spent the past year and a half working on climate issues as deputy associate director for energy and climate change in the White House Council on Environmental Quality, and will be attending the negotiations as part of the U.S. delegation.

But the Paris talks, important as they are for establishing a path toward a prosperous low-carbon future, are just the beginning. To be effective, any global climate agreement must also be effectively implemented. That’s why the School of Public Policy is working to mobilize the full University to catalyze a robust and long-term global climate implementation effort post-Paris. We are organizing and partnering with other international research institutions to provide decision-makers at the global, national and local levels with the necessary tools to support the new climate regime. We are continuing to recruit the best undergraduate and graduate students and deploying them to key organizations throughout the National Capital Region through significant experiential education opportunities. Finally, we are launching our graduates into exciting careers within one of the fastest growing segments of the job market, creating a pipeline for green jobs in clean energy, climate smart development, climate implementation financing, advocacy and policymaking. 

By working collaboratively across schools and departments, the School of Public Policy – and the University of Maryland overall – can therefore create entrepreneurial models for addressing climate change at the local, state, national and global levels.  It is now clear that, as the defining issue of our age, climate change requires a robust academic and institutional response in order to pivot societies towards a more sustainable future for all. The University of Maryland, using its depth, breadth and location, is seizing this opportunity not only to understand climate change but also to drive the coalitions of actors necessary to address it effectively from the bottom up as well as top down. As all eyes look to Paris in the weeks ahead, that’s a fearless idea we can use to chart our course.

Dr. Robert Orr
Dr. Robert Orr
Dean, University of Maryland School of Public Policy

Dr. Robert C. Orr serves as UMD School of Public Policy dean, United Nations under secretary-general, and special advisor to the UN secretary-general on climate change. Prior to joining the University of Maryland, Orr served as the assistant secretary-general for strategic planning in the executive office of the United Nations secretary-general from 2004 to 2014, and was the principal advisor to the secretary-general on counter-terrorism, peace building, women’s and children’s health, sustainable energy, food and nutrition, institutional innovation, public-private partnership and climate change.

Orr joined the United Nations from Harvard University where he served as the executive director of the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at the Kennedy School of Government. Prior to this, he served as director of the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, D.C.

Orr has served in senior posts in the government of the United States, including deputy to the United States ambassador to the United Nations and director of global affairs at the National Security Council, where he was responsible for peacekeeping and humanitarian affairs.

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