A lot of thoughts regarding my recent experience at Frankfurt airport are still going through my mind. For those interested, here is post two, reflecting more on the research-side of this incident. As always, these are budding thoughts, but I am happy to be able to express them here!
The Conference of the Parties or COP plays an important role in the international governance around climate change. For those who remember the Paris Agreement of 2015, that international treaty was created and signed at COP 21. However, in addition to the representatives from various countries who come to the COPs for the important job of discussing the intricacies of a complex global agreement, the conference is also open to a number of environmentalists, businesses, NGOs, researchers, and civil society leaders. These stakeholders come to COPs for their own myriad purposes from networking and advocating, to advertising and researching. Thus there are two parallel vibrant spaces at COPs where a number of different activities can take place.
I was concerned with exploring what kinds of opportunities are available for students that attend the COPs from around the world. Why do students like me spend the time, effort and energy to come to a COP, which isn’t a traditional academic conference where they can present their work or network with peers in a normal academic setting? Is there anything to be gained by there being here? The COP has not been designed to accommodate students and yet, among other actors, students have found a place at this table. What does this place represent for them? That was what I was hoping to get at, but my underlying goal was to understand if there is a different in accessibility for people from different parts of the world.
Like everything else, the climate change regime is fraught with justice issues. A number of common themes come to mind, some of which may be familiar to a lay reader: developing countries are asked to switch towards renewables and away from traditional energy sources that allowed the developed parts of the world to advance in the first place, and often on the backs of resources obtained from the developing world; communities and countries most vulnerable to climate impacts include places such as the Small Island Developing States (SIDS) that are, in many cases likely to be underwater in a few decades even though they contributed the least to the problem of climate change; within the international governance regime for climate change, policies and funding options continue to be skewed, and it is common knowledge at least for those familiar with the Paris Agreement that what is being proposed under the agreement is not going to be enough to combat some grave climate impacts, especially in vulnerable parts around the world.
In such a scenario, and with so many justice implications at stake, the ability to arm countries with the skills to deal with climate change on their own becomes very important. Simply put, this is called capacity building where actors within countries get to take the reins within their own hands and take decisions about what they would or would not like to see within their country, without powerful global corporations or governments dictating their mandates. Opportunities for capacity building need to be created around the world and especially in the Global South. And as students are one of the key players for the future, and students who are chosen to attend COPs are likely to be passionate about climate change in the first place, I have been wondering how accessible the COPs are for these students, and whether or not there are divisions around the Global North and Global South that make these conferences more or less accessible for people born in or living in different parts of the world.
I think I got a small slice of my answer, even though I was unable to carry out the research I had intended to do. One reason I so admired the COPs was because by reducing barriers to travel between countries for the purposes of the conference, they became more accessible to people from different parts of the world. In that one sense, this allowed climate change activists, leaders and researchers to transcend international politics and be able to focus on the other more important stuff. When this mobility is taken away or even restricted by mechanisms and systems that may not always serve their original purpose, aren’t we basically circling back to some of the justice issues I mentioned earlier? Whose voice is being heard in decision-making for climate change? Who has access to the information and resources countries and communities might need to deal with the challenges of climate change? What are the degrees of ease of access for those from around the world? Who is being kept out of the conversation and what could the long-term implications of being kept out be?
These are important questions for those of us who want to see the climate change playing field made more just and accessible. Often, we are so caught up in how our old ways of doing things, even when they do not serve us, that it becomes hard to redefine ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ based on changes in the world around us.
I do not have any answers yet, but I do know that my desire to seek them remains as strong as ever. These reflections are an ongoing process and I will come back with more later! Thank you for reading.