One for the road: ClimateGate, French wine and Copenhagen

Knowledge brokering04 Dec 2009

‘Martin Luther King did not say “I have a nightmare’’’ warned Maarten Hajer in today’s session on ‘New Theories for Earth System Governance. The recent ‘ClimateGate’ media coverage might seem like a nightmare for those who have been trudging the long, lobbying road to Copenhagen, but Hajer warns that the trick is in the media message. New theories of Earth System Governance have to take into account the impact that the media has on the public, and that positive messages are much more likely to succeed than negative ones. Climate change needs to move away from an image of ‘dead-end destruction’ and towards one which focuses on an age of renewables and new chances and opportunities around the corner. Negative media coverage can cause serious damage to years and years of lobbying. So how do we do this? How do you explain to people about the individual personal effect that climate change will have on their life rather than images of melting ice caps and polar bears?

Roberto Pereira Guimaraes gave a nice example today. ‘Take the French’ he said. ‘If I tell a French person that soon the Pinot Noir grapes will become extinct in France and move to production in other parts of the world, then perhaps they can start to see the impact of climate change’. An interesting example, and perhaps this is indeed the approach that should be adopted by the climate change lobby. In a trip to Provence earlier this year, I visited a couple of vineyards in the region where the average percentage of alcohol in a bottle of wine has risen to 15 or 16% in some cases. The locals are now talking about climate change, not because of the fear of rising sea levels but because it is affecting the wine trade and we are drinking more alcohol.

Away from Provence, the long-awaited Copenhagen climate summit looms. It’s been interesting to hear the different opinions from participants about how they think the event will pan out. The number of attendees at this event probably demonstrates the size of the human caravan heading for Denmark, an organizer estimated that probably half the participants here will continue on to the Danish capital after this conference ends. So the question buzzing around the corridors of the Volendam Hotel is: what will happen at Copenhagen?

Views seem to be mixed. Joyeeta Gupta, professor at the Institute for Environmental Studies, the Netherlands, who we interviewed yesterday, is optimistic. Despite certain governments toning down expectations over the last few weeks, Gupta argues that this might well provide an opportunity to release the pressure on negotiators. The hope is that once expectations have been managed, Copenhagen will produce a legally binding agreement that provides clear guiding principles and targets. We also spoke with Diana Liverman, director of the Environmental Change Institute at Oxford University, who feels quite optimistic about the coming summit. Barack Obama’s commitments last week have given the process extra momentum in addition to newly introduced provisions for adaptation. Other participants talk rather pessimistically about the summit, saying that the fine print is not impressive and won’t amount to much.

Back on the conference floor this morning, Roberto Pereira Guimaraes, the self-proclaimed ‘Devil’s advocate of Earth System Governance’, was arguing that we need to think more about values and ethics than the actual processes and architecture of governance. We need to consider what our ‘ideal’ actually is. Frans Bieckmann, Editor In Chief at The Broker, writes in his blog today that ‘the climate crisis could be, to use a term often used in complexity thinking, the tipping point that helps us move into world relations which will be characterized by real cooperation, instead of competition’ .

As the conference draws to a close, it is clear that cooperation is one of the main ideals so necessary, not just to climate change, but also to Earth System Governance. A paradigm that ambitiously incorporates so many disciplines needs this at least to start here.