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Minnesota grad talks climate change in Paris

While the world received updates from the COP21 climate change summit in Paris earlier this month, Aaron Wildenborg was experiencing the historic gathering first hand.

While the world received updates from the COP21 climate change summit in Paris earlier this month, Aaron Wildenborg was experiencing the historic gathering first hand.

The 19-year-old college student and Red Wing High School graduate was part of a delegation from St. John’s University and the College of St. Benedict that attended the United Nations Climate Change Conference, where leaders from across the globe met to hash out an agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming.

“It seemed very optimistic,” Wildenborg said of the mood of the conference held at Le Bourget in the suburbs northeast of Paris.

Individual study

The site was split into two color-coded zones - a blue zone for policy discussions, and green zone for public events.

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Though a few of the student delegates were granted access to the blue zone, Wildenborg said he spent most of his time attending presentations in the green zone to research an individual study project.

Students were tasked with exploring a specific aspect of climate change, with Wildenborg covering the proceedings from an economic and technological perspective, particularly dealing with the relationships between developing and developed countries.

Parents Peter and Anne Wildenborg of Red Wing said they are proud of their son’s enthusiasm for the trip - including fundraising efforts to help with expenses and attending the Citizens’ Climate Lobby Regional Conference last month at Red Wing High School to get prepared - but were “apprehensive” for him to go after more than a hundred people were killed Nov. 13 in attacks around the Paris area.

“We had to go through basically airport-style security every day,” Wildenborg said, but generally the group wasn’t worried about safety.

Paris Agreement

Nearly 200 countries took part in the two-week conference that concluded Saturday Dec. 12.

The agreement calls for reductions in greenhouse gas emissions this century to limit a rise in global temperatures to well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

President Barack Obama praised the deal as a possible “turning point for the world” in a statement last week, while critics say it is nonbinding and difficult to enforce.

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Wildenborg said he hopes the agreement will help put an end to debate over the legitimacy of climate change and lead to action nationally as well as locally.

One of the messages he took from the conference is the importance for the public and private sectors to work together on solutions “we can all benefit from and all work towards,” he said.

“No one side can do it alone.”

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