On Thursday 19th February, from 2pm, Professor Matthew Paterson is giving a seminar at University of Manchester on the Cultural Politics of Climate Change. It is open to members of the public. It will be held in Room 10.05 Harold Hankins building (above the Precinct). Ahead of that, Professor Paterson has kindly answered some questions from MCFly.
I was interested in exploring the different ways we might explain these negotiations, from classical approaches to international politics “realism vs liberal institutionalism” to political economy approaches based on Marxism, to newer approaches (within IR) based on poststructuralism in particular. I’ve always been a “theory as toolkit” person, not really convinced that in the social sciences we can arrive at the “one true” theoretical approach, or strictly “test” theories, so the aim was really to see what each approach might tell us about the dynamics of the negotiations. That said, I did end up arguing that we need to understand them in terms of (a) the political economic forces (corporate power, globalisation, neoliberalism, etc) and (b) the processes of constructing identities and thus interests that are ongoing and in many ways radically called into question by climate change, which produce novel and sometimes surprising forms of identity and political alliances. In the early FCCC negotiations, and I think in many ways still today, many state decision-makers don’t really know what their “interests” are in relation to climate change – they are a complex mix of pressure from vested energy interests, senses of what voters will punish them for (which could be high energy prices, but could be repeated floods or storms if they are connected to climate change in the popular imagination), desire to create new sources of economic growth (carbon markets, renewable energy, etc), confusion about how to think about the relationship between short-term action and its long term effects, and so on.
What are your thoughts/expectations for the Paris negotiations at the end of this year – do you think it will be some sort of lowest common denominator deal?
Yes, is the short answer. Perhaps a qualified yes. In Kyoto, we effectively started with a lowest common denominator where industrialised countries said what their target would be, and then there was a bit of looking each other in the face late in the day, which produced in effect some countries (the US, Canada, for example) making their targets more ambitious than they had been, in return for other countries (the EU, notably) accepting the carbon markets that the US had led the push for. I think we’ll get something similar to this out of the “intended nationally determined contributions” process that is underway at the moment in the run-up to Paris. Some countries will make their targets a little stronger as they’re forced to look others in the face. Who will blink is not clear – but for example Canada has an election scheduled for 6 weeks prior to Paris – so a shift in that country, currently competing with Australia for the dubious distinction of worst performing industrialised country, could be interesting in terms of shifting the dynamic a little.
To me the key thing is how successfully negotiators manage to do joined-up thinking about how the FCCC relates to a whole host of ‘transnational climate change governance’ initiatives that we explored in our book on the subject (http://www.cambridge.org/gb/academic/subjects/earth-and-environmental-science/environmental-policy-economics-and-law/transnational-climate-change-governance). If they could work out how FCCC rules or initiatives would stimulate better activity in this field there could be all sorts of interesting developments I think. They have already started to realise the potential, and have a database now on what they call “international cooperative initiatives”, but they could be more strategic in how they attempt to use them to stimulate investment and innovation in various contexts.
You’re giving a talk about the “cultural politics” of climate change on Thursday. What do you mean by that phrase, and (as briefly as you like!) what will you be saying on Thursday?
I use the term principally to refer to (a) the governance and (b) the contestation over the subjectivities associated with daily practices that produce carbon emissions. So two parts of the meaning of politics are involved – the question of authority and governing, and the question of conflict. The main idea is to use this to explore sites at which either people or organisations are attempting self-consciously to govern subjectivities in a low-carbon direction, or where pre-existing affective attachments to particular practices generate political conflict and resistance against attempts to shift to low-carbon practices. A good example of the former is the attempt to frame people’s relationship to climate change via a dieting metaphor, as in the notion of ‘carbon dieting’. A good example of the latter is when cities, especially but not only in the north american context where sprawl is a key part of the problem, attempt to increase urban density to generate shifts to public transport, cycling, etc., which generates lots of micro-conflicts over infill development. I’ll talk about both of these examples on Thursday.
Are there things that academics could do to make their (climate change) work more accessible/directly relevant to “civil society” and social movements. What are the barriers?
I admit I don’t think I’ve been as good at this as I’d like to be. So I hesitate to pronounce on the subject. It seems to me the people who do it best are those who do it ‘from the inside’ – being involved in campaigns, etc., doing participant observation, etc. This gives them the ability to talk more effectively across the two languages of academia and activism.
Anything else you’d like to say
Looking forward to meeting you and the talk on Thursday!