Thursday, 16 December 2010

Impressions and Highlights from a COP Novice

I am currently an Environmental Change and Management MSc candidate at the ECI and took the elective International Climate Politics with Heike Schroeder in Michaelmas term. After gaining some more insight into the minefield of climate negotiations I came to the realisation that unless I actually sunk my teeth into a COP I would remain ignorant of the on the ground reality of many of the processes discussed in the elective. Thus when the possibility arose to attend COP 16 with the Oxford delegation I jumped at the opportunity. Given that the dust has started to settle on most of the COP 16 madness I want to reflect on some of the experiences that left a lasting impression on me.

The first major event on the cards was Forest Day on the 5th of December which consisted of all things green and leafy: from REDD+ financial mechanisms to discussions on landscape level environmental management. These thematic days (i.e. Forest Day and Ocean Day) between negotiation weeks have apparently become quite an institution and it is not hard to see why. At the conference all major speakers and representatives of institutions are scheduled into one day and issues are discussed in more detail than is feasible at other side-event talks. It was a fantastic opportunity to see amazing speakers such as Frances Seymour from CIFOR (Centre for International Forestry Research) and Lord Nicholas Stern. Yes, it is probably going to take a while for me to not get star struck by environmental celebrities.

Another lasting impression was the sheer amount of talks that were happening at the same time. It was a bit frustrating that COP 16 was spread out between the Cancunmesse (where the main side-events were happening), the Moon Palace (where the actual negotiations were taking place) and the Climate Change Village (a space promoting dialogue related to environmental issues amongst non-governmental organizations, the private sector and civil society). So every day was spent mapping out exactly what bus to take and what talks would fit into which time frames. Needless to say the planning usually paid off because the selected speakers were interesting, from all corners of the world and experts on a diverse array of issues. Another thing that struck me about the COP was the fact that I had not quite comprehended how much happens outside of the formal processes. For example, it is not uncommon to see party members mingling in restaurant and bars and joining talks. I suppose one imagines these international negotiations to be quite sterile yet this is definitely far from the truth.

Another highlight was a field trip to a forest project managed by rural Mayan campesinos. The project is located 3 hours away from Cancun and the trip allowed me to learn about the experiences and challenges of REDD+ projects and forestry carbon credits. Each group was assigned three guides that all had worked on the project and the outing helped contextualise the complexities present in forest and land-use management.The guides explained that the local communities often struggle to make ends meet from the forest management project and that more capacity building is needed in the region. Overall the outing was a welcome break from the neon lights and air-conditioning that had engulfed me. It was amazing to stand in the Meso American forest the second largest forest in the Americas after the Amazon.

So all in all, the knowledge gained is something that I would never have learnt from academic journals and I hope to put the experiences to good use over the next few months. Additionally, I will be closely following the progress of the set of agreements reached at COP 16 with a much better understanding of the weird and wonderful landscape of international climate negotiations and am very excited for COP 17 which will be in my country, South Africa, next year. A special thank you to the ECI team that was in Cancun for allowed me to stay with them and for answering my stream of questions during the conference. This trip was a definite highlight of my studies at Oxford thus far…

Inka Schomer-Current ECI MSc Student

COP17 in SA next year

Forest Day

Lord Nicholas Stern

Dr. Heike Schroeder- Oxford side-event

Oxford side-event

Dr. Connie McDermott at the Oxford side-event

Amazon photo gallery

EU Pavilion

Ban Ki-moon

Oxford-ECI stall

Final day departure picture

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