Ok, let’s get it straight from the outset. The irony is not lost on me that many hundreds of people have flown across the world – no doubt with the total carbon footprint equivalent to the entire annual emissions of a poor country – in order to attend a conference on climate change. How can this use of precious ‘resources’ (oil and the atmosphere) possibly be justified?
Well, for governments, that depends on whether they do the right thing and create a process that will give us a fighting chance of getting out of this climate change mess we have created. And let’s face it, there’s no way this can happen without governments meeting in person.
Anyone who works in an office will know how badly wrong communicating by e-mail can go. One typo (‘I do apologise Mr Chinese Environment Minister, I missed an ‘r’ in the message I sent last week. I meant to say “we have some concerns over the draft document you submitted.” The British Government wishes to apologise for any offence and to assure you that I have been re-assigned to a junior position in the tea and biscuits department.’)
And even with the wonders of modern technology, it’s hard to imagine video conferencing between dozens of countries. So they need to meet. Granted, it seems pretty bizarre coming to the holiday island of Bali to do the job – maybe they thought the stifling heat would help increase the pressure for a deal. Who knows?
As to the cost/benefit of the rest of us flying across the world for the climate conference, I feel less certain. The guys I play football with in London were quick to raise an eyebrow when they heard about this trip – particularly given what I do and who I work for – and I imagine many others would think the same.
To be honest, there’s no simple and compelling reason why myself, or any other individual campaigner, should be here. However, I strongly believe that some campaigners need to be here and the extent to which it is worthwhile depends on whether we can play an active and positive role in making something happen.
Again, the face-to-face stuff is important. Governments need to be scrutinised and kept to their word. The way these things develop – with constant shifts in positioning and tactics during the talks – it’s useful to have people who don’t work for the government keeping an eye on things. There might have been a time when it could have been argued that it is the media’s job to keep tabs on the powers that be, expose hypocrisy and keep governments to their word. But these days, with some notable exceptions, most journalists covering the climate talks simply have not had the experience, or been given the time by their employers, to understand the detail of what is happening.
So there it is. Alongside governments, ‘civil society’ as they call it, in all its myriad forms – from business lobby groups and academic researchers to local authorities and development/environment campaigners – is here en masse. Whether every single one of us needs to be here is a reasonable question, but I’ll leave it to you to work out the complex algebra needed to create a fair quota system that reduces overall numbers while giving all interested parties a voice.
For now, let’s just hope the outcome in 12 days time makes all this worthwhile.