COP28 Climate Conference proves a formative experience for Maine Law students

“I came to Maine Law knowing I wanted to focus my career on mitigating and addressing climate change,” 3L Natalie Nowatzke. “My coursework, internships, externships, and other opportunities at Maine Law have only reaffirmed and strengthened this interest.”

The culmination of these experiences was attending COP28, the UN Climate Change Conference that this year took place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Nowatzke was part of a Maine Law contingent that included two other students, 3Ls Geetanjali Talpade and Bryant Wolff, and environmental law Professor Anthony Moffa. The group spent a week in Dubai attending talks, negotiations, and developing important connections.

(Left to right): Anthony Moffa, Geetanjali Talpade, Bryant Wolff, Natalie Nowatzke in Dubai at COP28.

“We met with a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) administrator, a scientist for the US Geological Survey (USGS), Senator Ed Markey, Tzeporah Berman, who launched the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty in 2020, and other high-level officials,” Moffa said. “Getting face time with these people, in addition to witnessing all the activity in the rooms was a really formative experience for students.”

“My specific interest is in climate finance, and I followed opportunities according to that interest at COP28,” Wolff said. “I got a much better perspective on the kind of conversations happening around these issues, and even when talks felt at times contentious or pessimistic, it just energized me more.”

Nowatzke felt similarly motivated, although she also came away from the conference with a bit more skepticism, which she found equally motivating. 

“I am frustrated and disappointed by the final agreements adopted at COP28, called the UAE consensus,” she explained. “The soft language used around fossil fuels is not enough to create meaningful change during the critical period we are in now. But this experience also emphasized the importance of the work I can do at home in Maine on this front.” 

The Maine Law delegation met with Senator Ed Markey

Gaining this kind of high-level overview and crystalized purpose is the best possible outcome for students from Moffa’s perspective. In 2022, Moffa attended the COP27 conference with then Maine Law student Mikala Bolmer. Upon returning from the conference, Bolmer set out to have the Portland City Council sign the Fossil Fuel Non-proliferation Treaty. She was successful in this campaign and the council unanimously adopted the treaty in August 2023.

“That’s tangible impact,” Moffa said. “That’s a direct line from Mikala’s experience at the conference to an outcome in her local community.”

Sending delegations to the climate conferences also helps to further develop the interdisciplinary program of environmental law, where law students collaborate with the University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

“We are so well positioned as a school and university system to participate in COP,” Moffa continued. “This is the second year of the program and already we were able to bring two more students than the first year. I am excited to see where this opportunity takes us.”