Natalie Jones @nataliejon_es international law / climate justice. PhD-ing @Cambridge_Uni. ENB writer @IISDRS. Research Affiliate @CSERCambridge. 355ppm. Pākehā, she/her. Usual caveats. Aug. 11, 2019 6 min read

This is wrong on so many levels. I respect a lot of @GreenRupertRead's work, but this is not one of those times.

The idea that diplomats should take low-emissions transport to climate conferences will seem obvious to many people, but it's dangerous. THREAD:

Some background on how the UN climate talks work. The process is key. Follow me while I geek out a bit here - I'm a process nerd precisely BECAUSE it's often overlooked but is deeply unfair and serves the interests of big carbon emitters.

(Disclaimer: I've been going to the talks since 2013, first repping New Zealand youth orgs, and later with IISD Reporting Services, working to increase transparency in the process in light of what I'm about to say (opinions here all mine, not theirs))

(Before you yell at me for flying to these things, let it be known that I've taken the train to the COPs in Paris and Bonn - I've lived in the UK since 2015 - and don't fly at all for vacations anymore.)

Anyway! You know that image you have in your head, of country delegates all sitting in one big room with lots of flags, talking about climate change? (This was the image I had in my head before going to my first COP)

That's not what a COP looks like. Ok, you'll see all the countries together in a room at the start and end. But in between, the talks happen in 20-30 different parallel workstreams (called "informal consultations", "informal informals", or "contact groups").

At the last COP in Katowice last year, I counted 27 different workstreams. On average there are 5-10 meetings happening at the same time, in different rooms. (Counting informal informals)

And a lot gets done more informally or privately. One-to-one bilateral meetings with the COP President or the Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC. Casual chats in the cafetaria or in the corridors. Think diplomats sitting around cross-legged on the floor. (I've seen it)

This process in itself is really problematic - it mirrors and entrenches the general climate justice problem. A recap for anyone needing it: the countries that have caused the most climate change are also currently the richest, have the most capacity to adapt, & due to geography

...aren't facing the first or worst effects. By contrast, nations that are first and worst hit are generally less able to adapt and have contributed least to the problem. That's deeply unfair. (There's a lot more nuance here, but that's the general issue)

As an aside... The UN climate talks aren't just some kind of corporate scam by rich countries (though see later in thread...) they're a place where contestation and resistance happens. The hardest hit countries have to protect themselves. If they're not there...

the rich fossil fuel producing countries would find it even easier to steer the process in their own interests.

But the most powerful nations are the most able to take advantage of this fragmented process - all those meetings happening in different rooms. They have large teams.

The US had something like 50 people in Paris.

Many least developed countries, and small island developing states, have 2 or 3 delegates.

How are they meant to navigate 27 different parallel processes?

(Anyway, I wrote about this all the way back in 2013, on something like my 2nd day at COP:  http://www.ayli.org.nz/ayli-blog/2013/11/19/equity  )

When these vulnerable nations are fighting for their interests, how do they do it? By banding together, and pooling their resources to advance common positions in all the different rooms.

This happens via face-to-face meetings. Rapport and relationships are key.

Ok so bearing this all in mind, if delegates can only take the train or sail to attend a COP in Glasgow, who shows up? Europe. Canada and the US. Maybe China would put a delegation on a train for a month. Maybe some other richer countries by sailboat. Mexico. Japan. Brazil.

Who won't be in the room? Least developed countries for sure. Small island developing states. Kiribati. The Marshall Islands. Chad.

Of course it's technically possible for many countries to attend - taking 2-6 weeks each way - but most wouldn't. If you're a developing country you probably can't spare your Minister, head of state or even probably lower-level officials for months at a time.

A global flotilla of sailing ships paid for by rich countries, while a lovely-sounding idea, therefore will not enable island nations like Kiribati or the Marshall Islands - who are already battling rising sea levels - to effectively fight for their own survival.

Ok so what about teleconferencing? This relies on fast internet, which for many countries is not really a thing. Ask any government official from Samoa and they'll tell you.

And show me a videoconferencing system that can handle 27 different parallel meetings.

AND remember the informal element. If only those who can geographically take the train, or able to spare officials for long periods of time on ships (aka the most powerful countries) are in the room while everyone else isn't - even if they're virtually attending ...

all the meaningful decisions WILL be made informally. In huddles. In the corridors. Etc.

I've watched the process for 6 years and this is what happens.

And I haven't even gotten onto other actors, like indigenous peoples! Indigenous peoples come to COPs from every part of the world, to defend their rights. They do so at considerable expense. Countries won't fund their participation to begin with. Let alone on sailing ships.

A global flotilla of ships + videoconferencing paid for by the Global North will only further entrench the dominance of the most powerful. Insisting on sustainable travel will only reinforce the exclusion of the global South.

And if we're going to point out problems with the UN climate talks, by all means let's. There are MANY. Corporate influence. The fossil fuel lobby. Let's talk about how the UNFCCC doesn't mention fossil fuel production, and how to co-opt it to phase out coal, oil and gas drilling

If there's an XR action at COP 26 in Glasgow (which personally I really hope there is), let it be in service of the most vulnerable, and of ending fossil fuel production. For instance, organisers could contact the Indigenous Caucus to work out how to support their demands.

In conclusion, making nations like the Marshall Islands or Kiribati sail halfway around the world to Glasgow or attend by videoconference, while Global North power players get to be in the room, is a terrible idea.

In the immortal words from Australian cult classic The Castle:

"Tell him he's DREAMING"

.@GreenRupertRead I can talk more about this over DM/email if you would like. As I said, I really respect a lot of your work.

Lol this is definitely the longest thread I've ever done and I've just spent an hour ~not writing my thesis~ but the process nerd in me just gets so riled up

I'm all for not flying in basically all other situations. Academic conferences, for instance. As a PhD student lucky enough to be situated in Europe I've taken the train to all the conferences I've attended (in London, Manchester and Geneva).

Now to log off Twitter for another month or two until I hand in my thesis. Don't @ me. Seriously. (Except Rupert, who can email me if he likes.)

I'm also happy to discuss more with anyone at @xr_cambridge (whose retweet originally caused my timeline to show Rupert's tweet).


You can follow @nataliejon_es.



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