University of Manchester PhD student Robbie Watt is at the Warsaw climate talks (known as a ‘COP’). We asked him some semi-awkward questions…
UPDATE: See below the interview for another North-Westerner’s perspective… Thanks to Jenny Shepherd for pointing it out.
What are you personally hoping to get from going to the COP (personally, professionally etc)? Have you been to any other COPs or similar meetings?
I have been a student of international climate politics for a few years and followed what goes on in these forums, but this is the first time that I have attended the COP in person. Warsaw is a learning event for me, an opportunity to get a first-hand impression of what goes on at a UN climate summit. I’m also here to do research for my PhD thesis on carbon offsetting, so I’m tracking the negotiations and following the discussions that relate to the Clean Development Mechanism and proposals for ‘New Market Mechanisms’.
Can you quickly outline what is at stake at this COP (most readers will have stopped paying attention after the Copenhagen debacle). How does it feed towards Paris 2015, where All The World’s Problems Will Be Solved.
As ever, the most important thing in climate terms is to get rich countries to agree to cut their emissions. Commitments are not really on the table here, but are supposed to be agreed by 2015, when the summit meets in Paris. Unfortunately governments are not showing much ambition, and are even outlining plans to do less than they had previously agreed to. Australia, Japan and Canada have been bad culprits here, while the United States’ position as a laggard has hardly changed.
There are plenty of technical questions under discussion here in various work programmes and subsidiary bodies, keeping the delegates busy. But without any ambition on pollution cuts we are left with a clear impression of running around going nowhere, like a hamster exercising on a wheel in a cage. The strange layout of the conference in the Polish national stadium lends itself to this analogy of the hamster wheel: the meeting rooms go right around the circular stadium, so the delegates are literally going around in circles.
What are the best and worst outcomes in your opinion, (either overall, or within the specific thing you are interested in).
The new Australian government has been disastrous at this COP. The only good thing I can really think of is the ability of the Philippines lead negotiator to bring people to tears.
Are you flying there?! If so, have you investigated alternatives? Are you there for the whole thing?
I flew here and I’ll be here for two weeks. Normally I look at alternatives to flying but this time I didn’t because I could predict that the train would be four times the price and that the bus would be double the price and incredibly long. I don’t like polluting through flying, but I end up doing it because of the transport system and my own selfishness, both.
What would you say to someone who said “these COP things are just a giant waste of time, a ritual that we go through to make ourselves feel like we are doing something.”
The international response to climate change has been massively disappointing, but it remains a transnational problem. Solutions to transnational environmental problems require some level of inter-governmental coordination, and that is what the United Nations is for. Despite all the years of failure we should continue to see the UN as part of the policy response to climate change. In the end it will be about taking action on multiple levels, in a kind of nested governance approach, including the international, regional, national and city or local levels.
Robbie Watt is studying for a PhD at the University of Manchester, researching the moral political economy of carbon offsetting. His research is part of the Leverhulme Centre for the Study of Value, which looks at how society values biodiversity, carbon, land and water, life and death, and international development.
Former Calder High student Rachel Tansey is at the COP 19 climate talks in Warsaw. Thanks to her COP19 guide to corporate lobbying, published by the Corporate Europe Observatory and Transnational Institute, it’s clear that the Polish government hosting COP19 is criminally complicit with a large number of fossil fuel companies that it has invited to sponsor and attend the climate talks – giving them free rein to bend and capture the agenda to serve their own interests.
Here’s Rachel talking to The Real News about what’s going on at COP19
Rachel reports that
“COP19 is the first UN climate talks to have corporate sponsorship, with some of the biggest climate crooks as official ‘partners’, including ArcelorMittal, Alstom and BMW.”
This is ratcheting up the corporate capture of the UN Climate change agenda and programmes that has been going on for years.
At Rio+20 in 2012 the UK Coalition government delegation was accompanied by four corporate partners – raising the question of whose interests the UK government was representing. Protesters decried attempts to advance the corporate “Green Economy” agenda, pointing out that it is really a “Greed Economy”, one based on extending the financial sector’s grab of the basic building blocks of the planet that sustains us all.
Water, earth, the atmosphere, plants are all being priced as ecosystems services, in order that these “services” can be traded in the same way as carbon credits and permits are currently traded through the EU Emissions Trading Scheme – a scheme that has made many companies rich, failed to reduce carbon emissions and imposed a socially-regressive tax on the public.