The conclusion of the recent United Nations (UN) climate change negotiations in Doha generated an interesting spread of opinion among commentators. For European Commissioner Connie Hedergaard, writing in The Guardian, the Doha talks were significant for the agreement to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2020, for the supposed bridge-building that occurred between developed and developing countries, and for agreements on financial transfers between the former and the latter to help poorer countries cope with the burdens of climate change amelioration. For Hedergaard, the Doha outcomes lay an important foundation for a comprehensive agreement on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which is hoped to be achieved at the 2015 talks.
For Sunita Narain, a prominent Indian environmentalist and director of New Delhi’s Centre for Science and Environment, the Doha talks were another illustration of the intransigence of the major industrialized economies to accept equity as a guiding principle behind an ambitious programme of emissions reductions. Narain writes that the Doha package “is full of words, but no action. The second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol has been agreed upon, but with weak targets and loopholes. The US has not agreed to any meaningful emission reduction. The financial package is a broken promise.”
These are just two examples, but they distill a great diversity of opinions on the outcome of these climate talks, as well as on the future prospects of international climate politics in general. Geographers such as Ian Bailey, Mike Hulme and Harriet Bulkeley have done important work in exploring the spatial politics of climate change. As illustrated above, climate change is an issue which means different things to different people in different places, and which therefore poses challenges to any political process which seeks to integrate diverse and at times contradictory norms, values and expectations into a single, all-encompassing policy agreement.
As Bailey, Hulme, Bulkeley and others have shown, the UN process is not the be-all and end-all of climate change policy. Actions to address climate-related problems are occurring at a variety of spatial scales and through a great diversity of political and social networks, many of which are entirely independent of the annual diplomatic whirlpool of the international climate talks. The increasing acceptance of this multi-scalar approach to dealing with anthropogenic climate change reflects the pragmatic principles of the Hartwell Paper, and similar themes were voiced by a group of leading UK climate legislators following the Doha conference. A pragmatic approach to climate policy also recognizes the importance of ‘win-win’ strategies of emissions reduction, and the formation of the Climate and Clean Air Coalition in Doha, with its commitment to tackling emissions of short-lived atmospheric pollutants such as methane and ‘black carbon’ (or soot), perhaps represents a step in this direction. Cutting emissions of black carbon in particular would have important benefits for human health and wellbeing – for instance through providing cleaner cooking fuels to impoverished families – and could be achieved through policies which are sensitive to human needs across scales; from the global climate to the individual household.
The rise of a more pragmatic tone in some climate policy discussions is in part a response to the complex geographies of climate politics. Geographers can continue to provide important insight into the ways in which the idea of climate change interacts with the spatial politics of resource use, human well-being and environmental change, and this line of work may have important impacts on how societies approach the challenge of a changing climate as the outcomes of the Doha talks continue to be digested.
Connie Hedergaard: Why the Doha climate conference was a success, The Guardian
COP18, Doha: An assessment. A gateway that leads nowhere, Centre for Science and Environment
Ian Bailey and Hugh Compston, 2010, Geography and the Politics of Climate Policy, Geography Compass 4 1097-1114
Mike Hulme, 2008, Geographical Work at the Boundaries of Climate Change, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 33 5-11
Harriet Bulkeley and Vanesa Castán Broto, 2012, Government by Experiment? Global Cities and the Governing of Climate Change, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, DOI: 0.1111/j.1475-5661.2012.00535.x
Rare note of harmony at Doha as action agreed on black carbon, Business Green