COP23 Day 1: Procedural Problems in the Plenary…

by Danny Waite

Source: UNFCCC Twitter 06/11/2017
Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, speaking at COP23 opening ceremony on 06/11/2017

At 11am local time in Bonn, Germany, on Monday 6th November, the prime minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama officially declared COP23 – the first “island COP” of the UNFCCC – open, to kick-start the next wave of negotiations on how to tackle climate change. It was a rousing call to action – a drive to build a coalition of governments and across all sectors of society, to “put everyone first by locking arms and moving forward together”. The science on climate change, said the new COP president, is now clear: climate change poses a multitude of dangers, from floods to droughts, hurricanes to threats to human health and food security, particularly for the most vulnerable peoples of the world. As prime minister of Fiji, this suffering is, of course, something Mr Bainimarama has seen first-hand, and is anxious to protect his people from. In the wake of the recent revelation that 2016 saw record carbon emissions, the COP president urged his counterparts to advance their ambitions and to meet their Paris Agreement commitments in full – in particular, to commit to the most ambitious target of 1.5°C warming relative to pre-industrial levels. After all, Mr Bainimarama reminded the conference centre, “We are all in the same canoe”.

What followed the COP president were similarly passionate responses to the dangers of climate change. Each of the executive secretary of the UNFCCC, the secretary general of the WMO, and the chair of the IPCC cited the fact that 2017 is likely to be the warmest year on record and stressed the urgency of the window for action with which the world is now presented. They were joined in their calls for implementation of action by Barbara Hendricks, the German Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety, who urged parties to persevere in moving away from fossil fuels and to address the “scientifically proven” and “existential threat” that is climate change. Every dollar spent, said Ms Hendricks, pays for better health, cleaner air, and more economic opportunities – a world in which our children and grandchildren can thrive.

Source: The Malay Mail Online

A pity, then, that the following items on the COP agenda lacked the same degree of harmony. The president had got only as far as presenting item 2(c), the adoption of the agenda itself, before cracks began to appear in the international community. COP President Bainimarama announced that two items had been submitted by parties – the Democratic Republic of Congo and Iran respectively – which, in the president’s pre-COP closed door meetings with blocs and parties, had not garnered a consensus view, would not be considered for inclusion in the agenda, and that instead they would be investigated by the president of COP22 with a report to be written by Saturday. This prompted retorts from both parties, who asserted that their submissions had been deposited months before, and concerned increasing ambition levels for the COP negotiations, in particular for the pre-2020 period before the Paris Agreement comes into effect. Four other parties – India, Switzerland, Costa Rica, and China – urged the president at various points to reconsider, given the importance of starting action as soon as possible, and noted that no other parties had openly explained why a consensus was not achieved before the COP. Nevertheless, the appeals fell on deaf ears, and Mr Bainimarama repeated that the items would be addressed on Saturday. It was evident that, as the Indian delegate clarified, to ignore these requests was a serious issue of trust for developing countries at the COP.

The remaining COP agenda items – the election of other COP officers, the admittance of observer organisations, and the organisation of work for the subsidiary bodies – as well as the CMP and CMA meetings, passed without objection, although this was to prove the calm before the storm. The last event of the morning session, which overran by more than an hour, much to the irritation of the Tuvalu delegation, was the joint plenary between the COP, CMP, and CMA committees, in which blocs of countries set out their initial negotiating positions. What little patience was left by this point began to fray as every speaker bar one easily overran the allotted time of three minutes – indeed, Ecuador, on behalf of the G77 & China bloc, even warned in advance that their speech would exceed the time limits. It became apparent early on that there was a clear divide in the room – developing country blocs, such as the G77 & China, AOSIS, the LDCs, the LMDCs, the African Group, AILAC, BASIC, and ALBA, all reiterating their frustration at the problems with the provision of finance, technology transfer, and capacity building measures to the developing world. A particular source of irritation was the “conditionality” which, it was argued, developed countries had attached to access to finance. In the words of the Brazilian delegate, speaking on behalf of the BASIC group, this was “tantamount to a renegotiation of the Paris Agreement and a departure from the spirit of the UNFCCC.” Loss and damage was equally contentious, and a permanent place for the Warsaw Mechanism within the Paris Agreement was called for repeatedly.

In response, the developed world seemed to have little to say besides generic platitudes. The EU recognised the increased severity of extreme weather and the need to help the world’s most vulnerable communities, and called for the Paris pledges to be scaled up and for draft decisions on all Paris work programme items to be completed next year. The Environmental Integrity Group committed itself to the Paris process, and called for ambitious implementation guidelines. The Umbrella Group was “committed to playing our part” and shared the COP presidency’s desire for a successful high level event. The theme they all shared, however, was a stated desire for enhanced transparency in determining national action plans on climate change, something which is likely to place them at loggerheads with the developing world, especially given their perceived standstill on all things finance-related. The US had even less to say – its delegate spoke for a mere 30 seconds, stating no more than that the Trump administration’s position is unchanged, but that the delegation will continue to participate over the next two weeks.

The moment of greatest drama in the morning session came when it was Saudi Arabia’s turn to speak, on behalf of the Arab League. The Saudi delegate voiced his displeasure at the plenary rule of presenting statements in English only – perhaps with one eye on the clock (!) – and refused to speak in any language other than Arabic, citing parties’ “legitimate right to speak in their mother languages”. He “resented such disrespect”, and even went as far as declaring that “it seems like statements by some groups are not important”, deploring the fact that delegates had been asked to work through their lunches – although, as he also noted, by the time of his speech, the conference room was all but empty. “Absolutely not acceptable” was his final verdict, triggering an apology from the presidency.

All in all, then, a decidedly frosty morning in Bonn on day 1 of COP23. It already appears that the parties will have great difficulty in squaring their disagreements, particularly over finance and transparency, and the entire process will not be helped by the air of tension that the first four hours generated. As the Saudi delegate forcefully expressed with his very first words of the plenary, “This is not a good start for the COP.”

Danny Waite is on the COP-Climate Action Studio this week.

Just a little bit longer for climate justice in developing countries

Just a little bit longer for climate justice in developing countries*
With the way things stand at the moment, it is now clear that vulnerable groups in developing countries will have to wait a little bit longer to receive the climate justice they deserve through adaptation (see the optimism in the estimation of waiting times?).
The good news last week was that the Green Climate Fund (GCF) approved a total of $392 million for climate action in developing countries. Why is this good news? Well, first, because even though there is still a significant adaptation deficit as reported by a 2016 UNEP assessment, the GCF allocation can start off the adaptation processes while the world continues to explore new ways of raising climate finance. Secondly, we see a slow shift from the ‘usual suspects’ recipients of adaptation funding to inclusion of other states. Lastly, we acknowledge an increasing focus on adaptation actions in these developing countries, for example, several of these projects involve water management which is critical for adaptation in areas that are experiencing rainfall variability and water scarcity.
However, we don’t know the extent to which these projects will address integration of adaptation into development planning processes. Investing in capacities and institutions for adaptation policy planning, as highlighted in the 13th Sustainable Development Goal on Climate Action contributes towards sustainable development. Policies that have been appropriately developed and implemented enable targeting of adaptation action to the most vulnerable. The fact that insufficient funding might have been committed to policy and institutional development fuels fears that vulnerable communities will have to wait longer to receive climate justice through adaptation.
While many will agree that developing countries have made considerable progress in adaptation planning at both national and sub-national level, planning is still in its infancy and faces financial and capacity constraints. For example, most developing countries have already developed their National Adaptation Plans of Action (NAPAs), but implementation still depends on availability of funding. Some states are yet to implement the NAPAs. More adaptation policies have been developed post-NAPAs. After development, most of these sit and wait for external funding for implementation.
Uganda presents a good example. Uganda’s NAPA was only implemented after support from DANIDA. Lessons learned from the NAPAs helped inform the National Climate Change Policy (NCCP) and its costed implementation Strategy. The NCCP has a deliberate focus on building institutional capacities at the national and sub-national level to address climate change, which is expected to translate into substantial benefits for the socially and economically marginalized in Uganda for improved adaptive capacity. The Government of Uganda insists that actual implementation of this policy will be dependent on availability of financial support. Uganda’s Ministry of Agriculture, with backing from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has taken a bold step to implement the NCCP by developing an Agriculture sector National Adaptation Plan (NAP-Ag). The NAP-Ag will address vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector, which is very essential for communities which rely on agricultural production as their main livelihood activity. As this draft policy goes through parliamentary approval over the next few months, the big question is – How long will it take for the policy to be fully implemented? Conversations with policy actors in Uganda reveal that the government does not have funding to implement the NAP-Ag. So, the answer is–probably a few more years. Until then, agrarian communities will remain vulnerable to climate risks, and will continue relying on isolated local scale interventions by government and non-government actors that can only build short-term capacities to adapt to climate change.
* This piece was inspired by a scoping field visit for research recently made to Uganda as part of the Climate Justice Doctoral program. The visit allowed me to partially understand Uganda’s national adaptation planning processes and the progress made with the NCCP and the NAP-Ag.

European Consortium for Political Research, Oslo 2017

On the 7th of September, political scientists and theorists descended upon Oslo for the General Conference of the European Consortium for Political Research. Amongst the many sections exploring myriad topics was one section titled “The Ethics and Politics of Climate Change – Theoretical and Empirical Investigations”. Over the course of three days, this was the locus of diverse discussions on different aspects of climate change politics, including panels on justice in adaptation to climate change, local variation in adaptation, the role of the notion of ‘loss and damage’, and mitigation options after the Paris agreements in 2015.

My own presentation was in the section on justice in adaptation to climate change, and focused on the role of the provision of asylum or refuge to those displaced by climate change as an adaptive response. I argued that, in a certain subset of cases of climate-induced displacement, something like asylum or refuge can be an appropriate (if incomplete) remedy for the harms victims face. Further, I sought to demonstrate that an account of how the burdens or costs of such a remedy can be apportioned according to the responsibility the different contributions of different actors to the impacts of climate change.

As John O’Neill’s excellent paper, “Dimensions of Climate Disadvantage”, showed, however, displacement is only one of a number of ways in which people can disadvantaged by the impacts of climate change. The key point from this paper was that the ways in which disadvantages from climate change impacts are felt are mediated through social factors, such as particular vulnerabilities to climate impacts, and the extent that particular communities are able to be resilient to the impacts of climate change. Whilst political theorists and philosophers often speak abstractly about burdens and benefits and their proper distribution, this paper was a clear reminder that our policy responses must be sensitive to the social scientific realities concerning how the impacts of climate change are felt. Another paper on this panel, “What Should Change and What Should Stay the Same?”, by Fergus Green, also sought to highlight under-appreciated aspects of adaptation. Fergus distinguished adaptation to the impacts of climate change from “adaptation” to the impacts of measures which seek to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Highlighting this kind of “adaptation” gives us useful conceptual tools to engage with growing topics in climate policy debates, such as the ‘winners and losers’ of economic diversification, the impacts of ‘response measures’, and the stranding of fossil fuel assets.

Some of these issues were themselves raised in other panels, such as in Eike Duvel’s paper on stranded assets in the ‘loss and damage’ panel. The fact that topics such as these were discussed in both the sections on ‘adaptation’ and ‘loss and damage’ led to a series of discussions about the conceptual distinction between the two ideas. It became clear that it is easy to use these terms differently, and that clear stipulation of their content is required. In my own case, for example, whilst migration might be understood as an adaptive response to the impacts of climate change, the loss of a home and the subsequent provision of new lodgings elsewhere might reasonably be taken to be a matter of compensation for loss and damage brought about by the impacts of climate change. It should be clear that this is not merely an excessively academic point about conceptual clarity, but has direct implications for climate policy. Policy proposals and mechanisms which concern adaptation and loss and damage draw from different funding schemes, are subject to different requirements, and so on. So, even if the distinction can be messy, it is important to map the borders of these different concepts.

Though an agreement concerning the interpretation of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, which concerns loss and damage, specifically maintains that loss and damage “does not involve or provide a basis for any liability or compensation”, much of the discussion did also focus on the possible role of compensatory justice in tackling climate change. Even if it is not framed in this way in policy discourse because of the political unpalatability of the term ‘compensation’ in international negotiations, proposals which seem to involve the idea of compensation has been set out. In the loss and damage panel, the idea of compensation was explored from a number of perspectives; Laura Garica-Portela interrogated the notion of ‘making victims as subjectively well-off as they were’, which is often understood to be at the heart of compensatory justice, and Pierre André considered whether the distinctive cultural losses faced by those displaced from small-island states means that there can be no such thing as truly ‘fair’ compensation.

The final panel, on mitigation after Paris, focused on the permissibility of, and issues raised by, different mitigation techniques. Ethical concerns surrounding negative emissions technologies (NETs) such as solar radiation management were raised, and Dominic Lenzi’s excellent paper sought to highlight that the possible implications of deployment of geoengineering technologies vary widely depending on the projected scenarios in which they are employed. The usage of market-based mechanisms such as carbon pricing was also debated, especially in Alexandre Gajevic Sayegh’s and Louise Fitzgerald’s papers. Some in the room felt that market-based mechanisms employ the sorts of reasoning which lend themselves to negative externalities and self-interested behaviour, and that, independently of any effectiveness they might have, we have good reasons to be wary of them. Others, however, felt that their ethical standing is determined not by their nature, but by the usages towards which they are put. Market-based mechanisms may be policy solutions, but it is too often the case that their distributional impacts are left unexamined in cost-benefit analyses employed by policy-makers with a strict economistic focus. It’s not clear, however, that these distributional consequences cannot be accounted for, and market-based mechanisms might be profitably seen as one useful ‘tool’ in the policy ‘toolkit’. The important question here, it seems to me, is whether it is possible to sharpen what is all too often a blunt instrument.

Over the course of several days, the conference provided fertile ground for the discussion of a number of important issues, many of which remained underexplored in climate politics debates. The breadth of experience in the room lent itself to insightful discussions which were able at once to pick up on important and subtle points in close detail, and to locate these finer points within the context of a bigger picture of the different aspects of climate politics.

Science, Society and Schnitzel

From the 24th-18th April, Vienna once again became the temporary home for 14,496 scientists from all over the world, as they gathered for the European Geosciences Union General Assembly, 2017. The week packed in 4,849 oral presentations, 11,312 posters (never before have poster tubes been such a demanded fashion accessory – save maybe for the fabric posters that became fashion themselves), 1,238 PICO presentations (think speed-dating-style consumption of new research), 88 short-courses, 322 organised side sessions, and what one can only guestimate to have been around a gazillion cups of coffee. For a cappuccino-drinking graph-lover, it was heaven.

The EGU’s Annual Conference showcases cutting-edge research from Earth, planetary and space science, and is the perfect opportunity to meet the people who write the papers you cite. The range of disciplines present is proof of how much we already know about our planet and the laws that govern it; the number of conversations being had across disciplines is evidence that that we still have so much to learn. I was at the EGU to update my scientific knowledge around climate change (by trying to grasp as much as I could of what was flying over my head), and to listen to scientists’ concerns and strategies for engaging with policy-makers and the general public. The ‘March for Science’ had happened the weekend before the conference, with many of the conference attendees participating, so my research area of policy advocacy was something that appeared in several sessions across the week.

A lot of the sessions that I attended were about the communication of science and engaging in the policy-making process, particularly in a context where science seems to be ignored. Interestingly, there were a few key themes that repeatedly appeared in sessions discussions:

Trust in Science
People still trust science to provide reliable results that we can base decisions on (although may sometimes feel like some people don’t). It is important, therefore, for scientists to maintain transparency. Being seen to advocate a specific policy can generate distrust. Both Sarah Connors from the IPCC and Luca Montanarella from the EU Joint Research Council emphasised the importance of being trusted to provide all policy options, not just what policy a scientist thinks is best as policy-makers have other concerns to factor into their decision making. However, some politicians may be selective in the science that they use, requiring scientists to speak up when their science is being misused (although quite how the scientific community embark upon this is controversial). Therefore, one of the key factors of being trusted is being honest about what you do not know and to be transparent about the scientific process and how conclusions are made. Heike Langenberg, editor of Nature Geoscience, said that whilst peer review can create trust and seek to make things transparent, it is mostly something that exists between other scientists – the ‘transparency’ achieved here does not translate into something that the public can readily identify as being transparent. We therefore need to be vigilant about over-reach, and how the media portray science to the public.

Nutshell: Be transparent about what it you are doing and why, and speak up when science is being misused in order to maintain trust.

Building relationships
Part of effective communication must be understanding your audience, and what it is they need. Having a relationship and engaging in dialogue with others is therefore essential for gaining this understanding. This dialogue is not just ‘educating’ the public, but being willing to be educated yourself about what concerns people have and the language that they use to describe the observations they have. Iain Stewart even suggested that we might want to consider using the public’s language around risk, rather than imposing our scientifically constructed risk-language in order to facilitate better communication and understanding. Ultimately, you can’t beat narratives with facts, scientists need to create narratives too, and that can only come from engaging in a dialogue with the audience.

Nutshell: Co-creating narratives with audiences can help engage them and facilitate mutual understanding.

Get involved
It’s as simple as that really. Check what policy-makers are looking into by signing up to receive consultation alerts (such as here for the UK Government). If you think your research (or that of a colleague) is relevant to an issue being discussed, you can submit it to the respective committee. There are lots of opportunities to engage (which will increase through building relationships with others who are involved in policy-making), including writing to your local MP or working with business and NGOs (see below).

Aside from policy, also get out there and engage with the public. Be it in schools, churches, mosques, temples, museums, libraries – there is lots going on and people love talking to a ‘real’ scientist. However, this all takes time and energy and money. Funders seem to be increasingly interested in measuring ‘impact’ and are willing to support some aspect of this, but it can be hard to justify the cost of engaging in outreach activities. This was something that many scientists felt frustrated about as outreach was something that they could see the importance of doing, but lacked the resource to do properly. Most scientists that expressed this said that they did a lot of their outreach work in their own time, and based on what funds they could scrape out of projects.

Nutshell: There are lots of opportunities for scientists to feed into policy-making and to engage with the public, but scientists need better support in freeing them up to do so.

Form of communication
So much of research is applicable to policy, but getting the research noticed by policy makers can be difficult. The ways in which research is presented to policy makers can really make a difference. The policy makers on the various panels suggested that presentation and timing were key. Graphs, maps, or any other form of diagram should not try to show more than three things – three colours are more than enough, and preferably red, yellow and green. The boundaries for these colour schemes have usually already been agreed by different regulatory bodies, so find them out.
Getting the timing right about when and how research is presented can also influence how useful it is for policy-makers. Knowing how to frame the important aspects of your research for policy-makers, and when that information will be particularly useful for them requires researchers to be in conversation with policy-makers.

Nutshell: Keep it simple, and know when would be best to show how your research can contribute.

Businesses and NGOs
Policy advice doesn’t just involve government. Of course, researchers need to be aware of how they should associate with certain businesses and NGOs, but often these organisations can be in a good position to help inform and test run policies and procedures. Businesses and NGOs can also act as a bridge between the research community and government as they can help translate the research into scenarios that are directly applicable to policy. There are also lots of areas that government does not cover, so when it comes to innovation and striving to create new methods, businesses and NGO’s are often keen to crack on.

Nutshell: Government policy is just one area where change can occur, businesses and NGO’s are often more willing and able to work at the cutting edge of innovative ideas.

Creative Communication
Science is an art, so to use art forms to communicate your science makes perfect sense. If science is a creative process too, then scientists are creatives. Sam Illingworth’s poetry workshop was a brilliant example of how we can talk about science with a different language, and translate our scientific creativity into another art form. No longer restricted to a technocratic methodological lab report, research findings gained rhythm and rhyme, and created a space for researchers to express the frustrations and joys experienced in their work. Whilst geologists are unlikely to be the next Shelley or Shakespeare (not much rhymes with potassium feldspar…) collaborations between researchers and artists are providing some truly beautiful public outreach projects and create potential new methods of data analysis.

(rhyming)Nutshell: There’s nothing more boring than a standard graph, whereas sniffing a meteorite is quite a laugh.

To embrace different forms of communication, I tweeted a watercolour-summary of the week at the EGU including quartz crystals, poster tubes, sausages and the never ending series of escalators.

For more information on the EGU, go here, or you can watch a few of the key sessions on their youtube channel here.

Clear Eyed Equity: Setting a Climate Equity and Justice research Agenda

The Leverhulme climate justice scholars were fortunate enough to be invited in their entirety to a one day workshop in Bonn, entitled “Clear Eyed Equity: Setting a Climate Equity and Justice Research Agenda”. Hosted by the Germany Development Institute, the conference sought to connect academics and practitioners with an interest in the justice dimensions of climate change, hoping to deliver a manifesto that reflects the future aims and pertinence of the movement.

The day began with three hard-hitting key note lectures, starting with friend of the project Sonja Klinsky (Arizona State), who stressed in no uncertain terms just how central equity is to any genuine progress. Through this, she rejected claims that we should act first and worry about equity afterwards, questioning the feasibility of any climate action that failed to pay suitable attention to this complex dimension of the climate problem. Another key theme from her talk were the importance of creating a vibrant, supportive and, importantly, interdisciplinary network of climate ethicists (partly facilitated by an email list that she has set up – details of which will be at the end of the blog). Timmons Roberts’ discussion drew upon a temporal analysis of high-profile climate discussions, to map whether the arc of history was heading towards climate justice – with the unfortunate (but maybe unsurprising) answer being ‘no’. Finally, Tom Athanasiou (Eco-Equity) delivered a sobering analysis of the extant state of play with regards to climate change, essentially concluding that we are nearly 30 years past the point of urgent action and are now staring real catastrophe in the face. With regards to arresting this rapid decline into the abyss, he highlighted the importance of addressing the startling fact that we are living in a grossly unequal world (a recent Oxfam report suggests that just 8 people own the same wealth as the 3.6 billion people who constitute the world’s poorest people). While this exists, Tom suggests, an adequate response to climate change will never be mobilised.

Much of the next portion of the day involved the synthesis and discussion of the various policy briefs submitted by equity scholars globally. These were sorted into five ‘bundles’, which explored paradigmatic questions of equity, equity under the UNFCCC, justice at the local level with a focus on adaptation, equity in transformational change and social and cultural responses to climate change (the final four running in pairs, concurrently). A plethora of different ideas and themes arose here, demonstrating just how broad and multidimensional the questions of equity that arise in the context of climate change can be. To mention but a few, there were discussions of technological and energy justice and their crossover with climate justice, how justice may look at a local level, intra-community injustices and the importance of social sustainability – including the need to develop an understanding of the creation and dissemination of environmental knowledge across scales.

The workshop ended with a summary of the day’s proceedings, along with a brainstorming session on practical action that could be taken by the group as a collective. The early contours of a manifesto were deliberated, as well as identifying the need to create a platform in which scholars could discuss their particular research interests. The group then mapped a list of actors with whom they should interact, although the all-important questions of how these interactions should take place were unfortunately limited by time, to no doubt be continued on a later occasion. What was undoubtedly an excellent, and productive day was rounded of by a suitably eloquent toast by Timmons Roberts and Tom Athanasiou to their friend and prominent climate ethicist Paul Baer, who sadly passed away last year.

Having reflected upon the conference, it is abundantly clear that there is an ever-growing and incredibly committed, intelligent and passionate community whose aim is to make tangible and lasting progress in the daunting task of achieving climate justice. To this end, it would be near impossible not to come away feeling buoyed by the day’s proceedings. However, the real success of the workshop lies in what happens next – the actioning of the innovative ideas, the increased interdisciplinary communication and development of a thriving and organised network of researchers and activists alike and the development and dissemination of a bold manifesto are the true indicators of how much the workshop has accomplished.


The climate justice and equity emailing list can be subscribed to by contacting, and also found on twitter @CJENetwork.

Climate migration and resettlement workshop: thoughts from the discussions

The one day workshop, organized by the Climate Change, Culture and Society Cluster in collaboration with the Leverhulme Doctoral Programme in Climate Justice at the University of Reading, had a diverse range of participants from both academia and INGOs working in migration, loss and damage and resettlement of displaced groups and individuals.

The general objective of the workshop was to understand the conditions under which bottom-up claims-making for displacement and resettlement would be possible for those displaced and/or resettled because of both fast and slow onset disasters.

A few issues came up that I found particularly interesting:

  1. Uncertainty of climate change projections and attribution of extreme events, which was discussed in relation to the use of uncertain information to make attributions and decisions regarding who should claim and pay for displacements and resettlements.[1] This was also related to the attribution of displacements to climate events, with the awareness that displacements and resettlements were not entirely a result of climate and climate change related events, but were because of the combined effect of other social and political factors which interacted to produce displacements and resettlements. This resonates with knowledge on climate change impacts where the capacity to adapt is a factor of risk to climate related shocks and stresses as well as vulnerability, meaning that an individual’s ability to adapt to climate change is not purely dictated by their exposure to a climate risk, but is also a matter of other pre-existing social and economic factors which might or might not be related to the climate risk in question. It was therefore noted that in such cases, actors needed to be clear on what percentage of the overall impact and cost of resettlement and displacement would be attributed to climate change.
  2. Development of long-term policies on displacement and resettlement. Clarity of terminologies relating to displacement, resettlement and claim-making was still required, as well as an understanding of what displacements, migrations and claims-making meant for individuals and states, both now and in the future. A presentation by Reuven Ziegler illustrated how legal definitions relating to refugees and displaced persons has evolved over the years and has moved from just considering individuals who cross national borders (arising from civil conflict) to include internal and climate driven displacements.

However, meeting discussions pointed towards a limited understanding, by state actors, on how best to define policies relating to displaced people, leaving them more likely to have negative effects resulting from less forward looking policies. Georgia was used as an example, whose refugee policy, developed more than two decades ago, was costing the government millions of dollars as a result of the new and continuously changing structure of migrants and displaced people. This policy was unable to comprehensively define who would be considered a refugee, which has produced unprecedented negative effects on both government planning and resources capabilities, as well as the socio-economic consequences on refugees and displaced groups.[2]

Most important of all, the workshop sparked thoughts of equity, especially in relation to who should make claims, what sort of claims should be made/accepted, and on what bases these claims should be distributed. These were discussed both inter and intra-generationally. It is important that displacement/resettlement and the resultant impacts on groups and individuals  be analysed in two ways: internally, in regards to understanding groups that are most impacted within communities, and identifying the ‘voiceless’ in the claims-making processes, for example children, whose needs can easily be overlooked in such cases; and externally, which requires a focus on host communities (people already inhabiting a place) or those indirectly impacted by displacements or resettlements. For example, if a displaced community is a major producer of a region’s staple food, then their displacement has ramifications on the food security of other communities who either buy food from the displaced community, offer farm labour etc. Additionally, resettlement of communities results in direct and indirect impacts to host communities, both politically, economically and socially. Ethics and equity require that these impacts not be ignored.

However, one question remains unanswered, and this related to what I mentioned earlier on defining policies that serve the present and future generations: what is the limit of claims-making? How far should claims relating to generations or indirect impacts within a generation be considered?

By Jessica Omukuti, First Year Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar

[1] From presentation by Ted Shepherd, University of Reading.

[2] Kurshitashvili, 2012. The Impact of Socially Ir/responsible Resettlement on the Livelihoods of Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia



What’s wrong with Trump’s climate denial?

By Professor Catriona McKinnon (Director, Leverhulme Programme in Climate Justice)

Later this week, a climate denier will become the President of the United States. Donald Trump claims that ‘nobody really knows’ whether climate change is happening, and has asserted in the past that climate change is a hoax. To make things worse, Trump has filled his cabinet with several climate deniers, and his transition team have raised fears of a ‘witch hunt’ of climate experts in the Department for Energy.

I'm not a big believer in global warming

Today, a letter to the Prime Minister Theresa May, signed by leading figures in the UK climate research community – including some at the University of Reading – expressed fears about what this could do to the evidence base for global climate policy making. If the new Trump administration follows up on his campaign pledges to tear up existing US climate policies, the future could be bleak for the Paris Agreement, which may be the best and last hope for global action on climate change.

Many people in the climate research community are appalled by the climate denial of Trump and his incoming cabinet. But what, exactly, is wrong with it?

The climate denial of Trump and his cabinet is not bad science: it is not science at all

One thought might be that Trump’s climate denial is outrageously bad science. The essence of science is contestation and disagreement, and science in a state of health makes space for mavericks who strike out with bold new hypotheses, sometimes enabling great leaps forward. Should we be horrified by Trump’s denial because he does not fit this mould? This would be a serious mistake. The climate denial of Trump and his cabinet is not bad science: it is not science at all.

Such views  have grown from a set of organised, well-funded, strategic, deceptive, ideological practices undertaken by a range of conservative think tanks in the US, funded by those with fossil fuel interests, and which have perverted climate legislation in America. The tactics these deniers employ include claims of conspiracy among climate scientists, appeal to fake experts, cherry-picking data, and outright deception.

High stakes of climate risks

So he says he doesn’t believe the experts. So what? To understand why Trump’s climate denial is so heinous we must be alive to the severity of the climate crisis and how little time is left to take meaningful action to contain it.

Climate change damages human security on a global and intergenerational scale. Even if all countries achieve the emissions reductions to which they have voluntarily committed in the Paris Agreement, average global temperatures are likely to rise by between 2.7C and 3.5C by 2100. And if countries don’t meet these commitments, and instead continue to increase emissions of greenhouse gases – the ‘business as usual’ scenario –  we could see truly catastrophic temperature rises in the range of 4.78C to 7.36C by 2100.

And let’s be clear: average temperature rises in either of these ranges will have devastating impacts on food production and security, will increase disease, cause conflict over scarce resources, displace millions of people, and deprive them of their livelihoods and cultures. Furthermore, this damage could extend far into the future, with terrible consequences: as a recent study in Nature Climate Change put it, ‘the next few decades offer a brief window of opportunity to minimize large-scale and potentially catastrophic climate change that will extend longer than the entire history of human civilization thus far’.

It is appropriate – required, even – to be horrified by the aggressive climate denial of Trump and his cabinet

We have a brief and shrinking window of opportunity to avert climate catastrophe for our grandchildren and the further future. In this context, it is appropriate – required, even – to be horrified by the aggressive climate denial of Trump and his cabinet. This is far from an ordinary exercise of freedom of speech. Climate denial in the context of the climate crisis is like the famous crowded theatre case, of which Justice Holmes stated ‘[t]he most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic’. Using this model, here is how we should assess Trump’s climate denial.

Shouting ‘no fire!’ 

A fire (climate change) has started in the theatre (planet Earth), from which there are no exits. Unchecked, the fire will kill and injure many in the theatre, especially those in the cheapest seats (the global poor, and the future poor). Many people can smell the smoke, but many others have not yet noticed and are still enjoying the show. Some speakers (climate scientists) are trying to warn everyone so that the fire can be contained before it quickly spreads out of control, with dire consequences for the people waiting outside to see the next show. These warnings are measured and calm, and reflect the consensus among them on the causes, severity and likely impacts of the growing fire.

Another group are sitting mainly in the most expensive seats, and have easy access to fire extinguishers (Trump and his cabinet). This group are shouting louder that there is no fire, or that it is not serious, or that there is plenty of time left to put it out. They shout a lot about how the other group are hoaxers, or lack real evidence that the fire has started, or don’t really agree that there is a fire. And they are not using the fire extinguishers, and won’t let other people get to them, because they and their friends would lose their nice seats in the theatre by having to do this.

Many of the people in the theatre are either confused by these conflicting messages, or are convinced by the fire-deniers. There are enough people in this combined set to significantly slow down the efforts of those listening to the accurate warnings who are trying to put out the fire, and of those who are trying to persuade the fire-deniers to hand over the extinguishers.

The right way to condemn the climate denial of Trump and his cabinet is as an endangerment of humanity

In this scenario those shouting ‘No fire!’ endanger all those in the auditorium, as well as the people queuing up for future shows who will be taking their seats in a burning building. Focusing on this kind of crowded theatre scenario reveals the right way to condemn the climate denial of Trump and his cabinet: as an endangerment of humanity.

This post draws on Professor McKinnon’s published work, and was funded by a Leverhulme Research Fellowship (RF-2014-021).

  • ‘Should We Tolerate Climate Denial?’, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Vol. 40, Issue 1, pp. 205-16.
  • ‘Endangering Humanity: An International Crime?’, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, forthcoming 2017.

Dialogue between Disciplines Conference Day 2

In general, Day 2 saw the conference participants listen to and engage in discussions on morals and ethics of climate change, distributive justice, governance of geoengineering, attitudes towards nature and issues related to participation and recognition.

Key take-aways from the key-note presentations were:

  • Wealthy states are engaging in moral corruption by suggesting shadow solutions that would extort poor countries but still fail to address the problem of climate change;
  • To achieve distributive justice, actions need to target participation and recognition as an important element, which would ensure that groups are not excluded from discussions regarding climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Stephen Gardiner from the University of Washington gave a keynote presentation about the moral corruption engaged in by developed states in addressing climate change. This, per Gardiner, had been exhibited through the forms of extortion that developed states were trying to impose towards developing countries for the developed states to engage in the cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that were required to avoid dangerous climate change. His question was: As in other examples of extortion, the victim must have something that the perpetrator of the extortion must desperately need for an exchange to occur. In this case, what would poor countries own that the wealthy states do not (or cannot get through other means)?

Gardiner’s talk also touched on the prevalence of shadow solutions proposed by developed countries (e.g. geoengineering), where he admitted that even though these solutions seemed to be able to work, they would not solve the problem – achieving reductions in anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Gardiner’s talk is linked to earlier work by Henry Shue (1999)[1], where Shue questions the effectiveness of incentives for developed states to engage in emission cuts. Shue asks: What types of incentives would be appropriate? What is the limit of providing incentives? Who provides these incentives and who pays?

Discussions panels were clustered under three themes:

  1. Distributive justice and climate change

Alex McLaughlin assessed the use of Simon Carney’s ‘Intergrationism’ approach in analysing the distribution of costs and benefits of climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Nimrod Kovner’s presentation looked at distributive justice in climate finance, where he discussed the implications of additionality of adaptation finance to development finance by developed states to developing countries, given the large overlap between the two.

  1. Contemplating governance of geoengineering

Joshua Wells presented on ‘Moral Schizophrenia’, which he referred to as a case where ethical considerations raised in geoengineering debates would be used to endorse other types of action before geoengineering is endorsed.

Daniel Callies on the other hand presented on legitimacy of institutions and governance of solar radiation management, where he sought to develop a broad framework of what these governance structures would look like.

  1. Attitudes towards nature

Samantha Earle discussed how imaginaries can affect how we engage in the climate change problem, and how these cut across attitudinal, moral and public spheres. Vera Van Gool talked about how green virtues may provide a framework for fostering new values that would create a society that is able to tackle climate change.

The last key-note speaker was Marion Hourdequin from Colorado College, who presented on Climate justice, recognition and participatory parity. Hourdequin discussed the important role of recognition and participation in ensuring that marginalized groups received climate justice. Giving case examples from the US and Mozambique, she demonstrated how people could be denied participation and recognition due to their social characteristics, which would eventually deny them distributive justice.

Hourdequin’s presentation placed recognition and participation as a key element for distributive justice, as compared to other works which see these as key for procedural justice. However, this presentation and that by Schlosberg on day 1 had one clear message: participation and recognition determine the extent to which adaptation or mitigation approaches are just.

By Jessica Omukuti and Lydia Messling, Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars

[1] Shue, 1999. Global environment and international inequality.

Doctoral Scholar’s Conference: Dialogue between Disciplines

The Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars’ conference, titled Dialogue between Disciplines, was a productive and stimulating conference which brought together scholars working on climate justice across different disciplines. As such, it proved useful not only for the Leverhulme scholars at Reading, who each presented their work, but also for furthering dialogue between the various fields of study and topics represented. Presentations were from the three key note speakers – David Schlosberg, Stephen Gardiner and Marion Hourdequin, Leverhulme Climate Justice Doctoral Scholars and other guest speakers undertaking research related to climate justice.

Day 1

The conference opened with a keynote from David Schlosberg from the University of Sydney, who spoke on Adaptation, Community Discourse and Just Transformation. Much of the discussion surrounding ‘justice’ in the case of climate change tends to focus on mitigation, and often specifically on the just distribution of the costs involved in mitigating climate change. David’s presentation was, then, a welcome turn towards adaptation, which has been examined perhaps more extensively by those working in human geography and other related disciplines. David’s paper examined the ‘discursive disconnect’ between the values expressed in governmental discourse and citizens’ discourse surrounding adaptation in Sydney. Where government documentation tended to express itself in terms of risk management, citizens who had been engaged in public deliberation events tended to express themselves more in terms of social vulnerability. In the deliberations, citizens highlighted threats to their basic needs, and expressed desires for ‘transformative’ change. Whilst it is difficult to know the extent to which David’s findings might be generalizable, what it did highlight was the need for participation in adaptation to climate change. Much of the discussion of climate justice focuses on distributive justice, but in the case of adaptation planning it seems imperative that procedural justice and recognition is at the forefront of our policy planning. Public deliberation, and the recognition of the values expressed by communities, not only stresses the importance of certain aspects of adaptation, but raises insights that those outside of the communities concerned would be unable to foresee.

The first Doctoral Scholar-led panel followed David’s address. Callum Nolan and Manogna Goparaju presented on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and Climate Change. Callum’s presentation was on his research, which examines stakeholder perceptions of CSR, using cases of Multinational Oil Companies in Nigeria. His work focuses on the conflict between multinational oil companies and local communities in this context, and the possibility of using CSR as a mechanism for productively engaging with the conflict. One important consideration here was that there seems to be an identifiable responsibility on the part of the oil companies, and a clear gap in state provision. Mobilising CSR might then be an attractive path to pursue in order to make tangible progress. Understandably, some of those coming from a political theory or philosophy background expressed scepticism at the idea of CSR in such a context being mobilised in order to achieve ‘justice’. There are certainly political and moral issues at stake in such a contested domain, and the worry of companies being disingenuous in their CSR efforts. Nonetheless, if tangible progress can be made through such mechanisms in radically non-ideal conditions, then abstract considerations of justice do seem to be less weighty as reasons.

Manogna also spoke on CSR, though her researched examined it in the Indian context. It was firstly highlighted that current understanding of CSR in India seems to have fundamentally different roots: there is a long-standing tradition of voluntary CSR activity, whereas CSR in Anglophone contexts has largely been a strategic enterprise. This longstanding tradition in India has recently been codified as a legal obligation for companies fitting certain criteria. Manogna examined the reasons that companies engage in societal and environmental CSR activities, as well as the barriers that they face in choosing environmental CSR activities. One of the more interesting points that arose in the discussion was on the perceptions of and reactions to the legally-mandated CSR activity. Though many companies had already been engaged in CSR, the relatively low legally-mandated level of engagement might have provided a strategic reason for some companies to actually reduce their CSR engagement.

The next panel was on the Multilateral Nature of Climate Negotiations. Danny Waite presented first, on the roles and influences of the two under-examined groups in the UNFCCC negotiations, AILAC (The Independent Association of Latin America and the Caribbean) and AGN (The African Group of Negotiators). Danny’s presentation was primarily an account of his proposed methodology for the research, but raised interesting questions about the way to determine roles and influences, which harked back to Robyn Eckersley’s investigations into what constitutes a ‘climate leader’ that we had encountered the previous week. The second presentation, from Laura Iozzelli, raised similar conceptual questions. Laura examined transnational cooperative climate initiatives, looking at their legitimacy and effectiveness (and possible relations between the two). The meanings of both ‘legitimacy’ and ‘effectiveness’ were put into question in the course of the presentation. Standards of legitimacy, such as the extent of participation, accountability and transparency, might be important metrics. However, it was also suggested that effectiveness itself could lend legitimacy in some cases, and so that we ought to be clear about what we mean by these terms when assessing transnational cooperative climate initiatives in these terms.

The first day of the conference closed with shorter presentations, introducing the research of the new cohort of Leverhulme Doctoral Scholars. Bennet Francis (Philosophy) presented on climate change as a structural injustice, and what this might mean for our notions of ‘responsibility’. The starting point was to reject the idea that climate change is a ‘tragic’ phenomenon, both the Greek sense of the word and in the idea that climate change is a straightforward ‘tragedy of the commons’. Rather, he argued, we ought to think of climate change as a collective injustice which manifests itself in the societal structures we construct. Next, Daniel Harris (Politics) presented on the significance of historic wrongdoing, focusing on the case of climate denial. Daniel’s presentation mapped some of the normative terrain involved, highlighting the importance of being clear about what we mean by both ‘denial’ and ‘scepticism’. One important consideration was in determining exactly where the wrong of climate denial can be located; in order to be clear in this, he also distinguished between organised climate denial, and other climate denial (which might still be considered ‘harmful’) which does not stem directly from organised misinformation campaigns. My own presentation (Jamie Draper, Politics) focused on what high-emitting states owe to those migrating and displaced in the context of climate change. I proposed two possible avenues for research, the first focusing on normative arguments for states’ obligations to those migrating internationally in this context, with the background presumption being that states have prima facie rights to determine to whom they open their borders. The second possible avenue would examine what states might owe even where their borders are open, in terms of assistance in building resilience and facilitating migration, as well as compensation for those displaced in the climate change context. Jessica Omukuti (Agriculture, Policy and Development) then presented her research, on the practical considerations raised in enacting climate justice. Jessica’s proposed research engaged with questions of equity and how it translates from policy to practice. She pointed to the difficulties associated with transforming policies on equitable adaptation into practice, noting that the two do not always inform each other. Her research sought to understand conceptions of equity across adaptation policy and practice, as well as policy-practice interactions. Finally, Lydia Messling (Politics) presented on the role of climate scientists in communicating with the public. One of the central questions was whether climate scientists ought to be ‘advocates’, and related questions that emerged concerned the role of scientists in society, possibility of neutrality and of expertise, and the role of communicative media in shaping opinion. Lydia closed her presentation, and the first day of the conference, by highlighting how differently presented graphs could have quite different connotations, despite presenting the same information.

For myself, and I am sure for the other first-year scholars, the presentations proved to be invaluable in gaining feedback and ideas from a range of academics working in related areas. At this early stage in our research, gaining insight into possible pathways to pursue and possible pitfalls to avoid was very useful. Above all, however, the first day of the conference demonstrated the diversity in the study of climate justice – not only in terms of sub-topics, but in terms of methodologies and the strategies of different disciplines. Cross-disciplinary work is often hard to do, and it was heartening to see productivity at the same time as academic diversity.

By James Draper, Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar

What is the value of being a reflexive academic?

On Friday the 23rd of September 2016 the working-group Critical Approaches at Reading (CAAR) organised a workshop on the methodology of Critical Reflexivity (CR). The purpose of this workshop was for early career researchers from various disciplinary backgrounds to get together and discuss how we could engage with this methodology in our own work. For the purpose of this blog I will write about the lessons I personally took away from this workshop as a researcher starting out in the field of philosophy and more specifically in Climate Justice.

The Origins of CR as a methodology can be traced back to the discipline of cultural anthropology. It is widely accepted by anthropologists that if you do some form of ethnographic research, you have to reflect on how you and your own background might influence the findings about the communities you research. Questions that auto-ethnographers would ask themselves vary from “how do I impact and position myself in relation to the subjects of my research? “, through “can I ever have an insight in another community as an outsider?”, to “is it possible to eliminate personal biases from my research?”. In other disciplines it is less common to ask yourself these type of questions, mostly because in the sciences it is generally not accepted to elaborate on one’s own background to show how (or rather ‘why’) you came up with your research results. Rather the sciences aim to uncover universal truths and objectivity, not personal fancy and subjectivity.

For philosophers, and I consider myself an early career researcher in their community, it can be said that they are ever present in their work. They put forward their argumentation and opinion in the articles and books they write, which together can make up a map (of kinds) of their position in the world. Like in the sciences philosophers arguably pursue universality through their work, or in the least logical coherence. However, many philosophers, and I confess to doing this myself, do not enlighten us as to their personal background that may have informed their theoretical judgments. This type of self-reflective work can, I would say, be enlightening with regards to the origin of a particular argument and readers can come to know which aspects influence the formation of scholars’ worldviews. In part it also helps readers, academic or otherwise, understand or even empathise with a philosopher when they get to know where the philosopher as a person fits the bigger whole of academia or humanity.

In my presentation during the workshop I asked myself the following main question: Where do the foundational assumptions I make in my work originate from both theoretically and personally? Apart from having some rough and ready (attempts at) answers to this, it raised more questions. I caught myself wondering with regards to academic theorising whether we can actually separate the subjective from the objective. For the field of philosophy I specifically pondered how we are to say that one philosophical theory is more representative of or fitting in the world we live than another. On a more personal level I questioned why I agree with the theoretical standpoints I agree with in Climate Justice. Did I find those worldviews to be agreeable? Did they convince me they are agreeable? Or did I recognise myself in these views? The first and last question here seem to be able to collapse into one; it looks like a case of assessing how I, as an individual, critically examined the merit of the theories I came across in my field. However, I would say that this is only the subject-matter of the first question. The last one I think expresses more profoundly how we have to consider that in our research there could be this sense of what I might call ‘predetermined agreeableness’. Was I bound to agree with some philosophers as I am just that type of person that has been shaped by some of their views that are still found or seem to underlie part of our society today?

The last, but maybe most central question in this reflexivity exercise for me was: what does all this actually mean for the merit of my work? Does this ‘determinism’ actually influence the credibility of my work? Somewhat, I would argue. Being in the business of philosophy where we attempt to convince others of our argumentation we have to be open to the idea we are not going to convince everyone with our theorising. However, in the field of Climate Justice where most scholars share the conviction that climate change is a grave threat to all human beings, I would hope Climate Justice scholars could make a case that will get some like- or open-minded individuals on board. This is exactly where a tension in my own work lies. On the one hand I admit to the constructed nature of our philosophical beliefs and worldviews, leaning towards the side of constructivism and almost nihilism. On the other I am utterly convinced that we could potentially all agree to do something about climate change, e.g. just for the sake of being human and our natural concern for our wellbeing, leaning towards the side of naturalism and moral realism.

Admitting to the limitations of our work is, I believe, the first step in making more people sympathetic to it. You would hope that showing you are reflexive would create some basis for respect in academia. Particularly showing humility, as is coincidentally a virtue I will elaborate on in my PhD, and accepting fallibility of yourself as an academic I think has the potential to create mutual respect. But also importantly: we need to show courage (another virtue I will write on in my thesis) as academics, stand our ground when defending our standpoint even if it’s considered to be an ‘outlier’ in the field. Humility and courage may seem to be contradictory virtues and I do admit it will be hard to act upon them both in the right measure. However, that is the whole point of the exercise: being reflexive on those attitudes, assessing which measure of each of them is appropriate when and then acting upon them in a balanced manner is what I think makes for a great academic. I hope that I might one day live up to this myself, as leading by example might be one of the most powerful ways of getting our conviction across.

By Vera Van Gool, Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar