So I just finished up doing a third year course called Climate Change Science and Policy and I want to reflect a bit on it all, so here goes.
I’ve done a little bit of climate science before, with the same lecturer, but that was more about the hard science; more physical geography in that it was just telling us how our interactions with the climate system are going (tldr: not well). This course, however, was several levels up the evolutionary ladder in that it was more about human geography, telling us about the health impacts of climate change; about how agriculture is having to adapt; about the future of water resources under climate change; and a brilliant guest lecture by someone from the university’s Law school about adaptation.
This lecture was different to others as it presented me with a real challenge to the way I usually think of climate change.
It was all about adaptation and who bears responsibility for it, who pays the cost, who reaps the benefits. In my volunteering life as a climate activist I’m all about mitigation but this course, emphasised very strongly in this lecture, made me realise how important it is to have the tricky conversations about adaptation. In that lecture we spoke specifically about building codes in coastal areas but in the rest of the course we tackled much larger questions in our mock CoP.
The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have this thing called the Kyoto Protocol and ever year all the Parties to the Protocol go to a Conference; the Conference of the Parties (CoP). You probably heard about the 2009 one in Copenhagen that was meant to be the silver bullet of climate change but actually went up in flames (as we’re talking climate change this can be taken literally). In it, Tuvalu didn’t sign on because an item they’d had tabled for six moths was ignored. A similar thing had happened two years earlier at the Bali CoP; basically America couldn’t agree on anything at all, and the Secretariat was bullied by China and left crying. Dang.
CoPs are crazy. Ian Fry, a long time CoP attendee, gave us two lectures on CoPs that can basically be summed up thus: for two weeks everyone only sleeps about three hours a night; everyone is too busy protecting their own interests to think about anyone else; big countries like the US and blocs like the EU often dominate discussions; it doesn’t matter how high your ambition is at a CoP if you can’t pass anything in domestic law.
So we did a mock CoP and this whole process really did my head in. I’ve always been very, The rich countries whose fault it is should take responsibility!, but that’s not fair. It won’t even work; if only Annex I countries (Australia, England, Germany, the US etc.) mitigated it wouldn’t really get us anywhere as they’ve already done all their hard yards in the serious emitting stage of development.
That’s another thing that struck me. In the mock CoP I was Tuvalu, a tiny Pacific Island nation that has fewer than 12 000 people on 26 square kilometres on six islands.
When researching for the CoP I read this article (Connell, 2003) that said the people of Tuvalu are much less interested in climate change than one would assume; they’re far more concerned about developing their small and fragile economy. This is something one can call the climate/development nexus: even though developing countries (especially small island states like Tuvalu) are the most vulnerable they don’t have the resources to deal with it. So do we get everyone out of poverty first? No, there’s not enough time for that. We just have to balance on that nexus and try to do what’s best. And it’s SO DIFFICULT.
Living in Australia and caring about climate change is really difficult. I did this course because I wanted to learn more about the effects of climate change and the international process but so many people in this country know so little about it, or worse: they think they know about it but are actually on a scale of being confused to being drastically misinformed. I want to be a high school science teacher and this course really highlighted for me how important it is to teach kids these things early and correctly. Then, hopefully, we’ll have a better informed public leading to better informed politicians and better international outcomes.
And that’s my theory of change.
At the end of the course we had a 40% report. I did the assignment with sincerity and quite a bit of effort but I was one stupid climate change denier or irritating news article or picture of our (climate change idiot) PM away from just handing this in, centred on a single sheet of paper:
Absurd arbitrary arithmetic actually affecting all Aves, animals and agriculture. But bulging behemoth businesses bemoaning bumbling bystander bureaucracies: curse callous corporations, craven countries; casual collusion causing climate change! Development’s dogmas determinedly damning delicate developing democracies – every extra economically enthralling emission eradicating ethical entreaties, eroding entire ecosystems. Fuck fossil fuels.
Connell, J 2003, ‘Losing ground? Tuvalu, the greenhouse effect and the garbage can’, Asia Pacific Viewpoint, vol.44, no.4, pp. 89-107.