Juan Pablo Hoffmaister ’07 and classmate Jessica Glynn ’06 were instrumental in creating the very first delegation COA sent to the UNFCCC. This was the Montreal COP 11 of 2005. Already Juan was a leader, having been elected as one of fourteen youth advisors to the United Nations Environment Programme, or UNEP, in September 2005. Following his graduation from COA, Juan received a Watson fellowship to study how communities around the world were adapting to extreme weather changes. After completing a master’s at the Stockholm Resilience Centre in Sweden, Juan went on to serve as a lead negotiator on climate change, first for Bolivia under the administration of Evo Morales, then for the G-77, a coalition of 134 developing nations that jointly promote their interests at UN multilateral negotiations. During the negotiations that created the 2015 Paris Agreement, Juan was lead negotiator for several of the agreement’s chapters. He now leads the policy team at Green Climate Fund, an arm of the UNFCCC dedicated to assisting developing countries in financing their response to climate change.

Coming from Costa Rica, a country that doesn’t have a military and is heavily engaged in international diplomacy, the belief in peaceful outcomes and peaceful resolutions to complex problems is something I’ve grown up knowing—that’s the way to do things. That has always been with me.

In Bolivia, I was supporting the implementation of the country’s entire response to climate change—national planning efforts and some initiatives Bolivia was designing, but also supporting a lot of the work on foreign policy. Then I joined their national delegation and supported negotiations related to climate change impacts and Bolivia’s response to them—what we call adaptation in the United Nations.

At that point I started negotiating for this larger bloc—the G-77—and through that started the work on the general concept of response to climate change impacts. This led to creating what is now a new field of work in international relations, loss and damage. This is more than just responding to impacts but actually addressing those impacts that are too big to be resolved, starting from understanding the risks, to taking a more proactive approach to addressing them. Through that work, I was the lead negotiator for the Warsaw International Mechanism of Loss and Damage that the UN launched in 2013. It now does work ranging from assessing these impacts, to more specific issues, like applying financial incentives to addressing risk, or trying to better coordinate humanitarian responses to some of the major droughts and disasters worldwide.

The work that we do at the Green Climate Fund is financing some of the initiatives that countries are taking, from reducing emissions to building resilience nationwide; from climate information services in East Africa to concrete initiatives dealing with coastal management on islands in the South Pacific. It is quite a spectrum of work that we’re financing.

Do I ever feel totally discouraged? Many times. Many times. These are very complex international decision-making processes. Now as I look back to see the minute-by-minute of all of these processes, I can begin to see how some of those things that were quite sad and frustrating back then have actually moved along—maybe not at the pace that we’ve wanted, but at least they are moving.

COA offered me the opportunity to get much more serious about international affairs and understand the complexities that go with trying to wrap your head around the field of international governance, international relations, as well as law. It was a rich experience. I can’t think of any other place where I could take such complex and advanced courses that had to be studied together, and often it was maybe just five students who were involved. Being at COA also offered an opportunity to really value creative thinking and problem solving—and that’s not to be underestimated.