‘Foul and loathsome’ or jewels of the natural world? The complicated history of human-frog relations

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When was the last time you saw a frog? Perhaps you came across one in your garden and wondered at its little hands, glossy skin and what looked very much like a contented smile.

Maybe you regularly see them on Instagram or TikTok, where “frog accounts” have proliferated in recent years. People share adorable cartoon frogs, coo over crocheted frogs or go gaga for frogs dressed in cute hats.

In fact, our fascination with frogs isn’t new. As our research has found, the history of human-frog relations is long and complicated – and not all of it is nice.

Why we love frogs

There is a rich history of people really loving frogs.

This is interesting, because many people much prefer mammals and birds over reptiles and amphibians.

But the frog is an exception – for a lot of reasons. People tend to be attracted to baby-like faces. Many species of frog have the large eyes characteristic of young animals, humans included.

Having no teeth and no sharp claws, they also do not seem to be immediately threatening, while many of them have beautiful skin colouring and some are improbably tiny.

Frogs are truly among the jewels of the natural world, unlike toads which – with their more mundane colours and “warty skins” – do not usually inspire the same sense of enchantment.

Their beauty connects us to the wider riches of a vibrant nature hidden from most people’s sight in the dense rainforests of the tropical regions.

And they also connect us to nature in our own backyards. At certain times of the year, they spontaneously appear in our gardens and ponds. They can feel like special visitors from the natural world.

Dissecting human feelings for frogs

Yet relationships between people and frogs haven’t always been so positive. In fact, frogs occupy complicated places across cultures all over the world.

In the Western tradition, the legacy of biblical and classical sources was both negative and longstanding.

References to frogs in the Bible rendered them the instrument of divine anger as a swarming plague.

An etching from the late 1700s shows a plague of frogs.
An etching from the late 1700s shows a plague of frogs.
Wellcome Collection

Frogs challenged early modern zoological taxonomies, moving between classification as serpent, insect or reptile.

Perhaps their resistance to easy placement by humans explains the strong emotional language about them used by Swedish naturalist (and “father of modern taxonomy”) Carl Linnaeus.

When he considered the Amphibia in his 1758 Systema Naturae, he noted:

These foul and loathsome animals are abhorrent because of their cold body, pale colour, cartilaginous skeleton, filthy skin, fierce aspect, calculating eye, offensive smell, harsh voice, squalid habitation, and terrible venom.

In modern science, they sit in a branch of zoology, herpetology, that brings frogs together as “creeping animals” with snakes and lizards.

Frogs have also (or perhaps consequently) suffered in the service of science since at least the eighteenth century because it seemed to be possible to easily replicate experiments across multiple frog specimens.

Frogs were particularly crucial to the study of muscles and nerves. This led to ever more violent encounters between experimenters and frog bodies. Italian scientist Luigi Galvani, for example, did experiments in the late 18th century on legs of frogs to investigate what he thought of as “animal electricity”.

Legs of dissected frogs, and various metallic apparatus used to measure what was thought to be electricity flowing in animals
Scientist Luigi Galvani’s 18th-century diagrams of dissected frog legs and various metallic apparatus he used to measure what was thought to be electricity flowing in animals.
Library of Congress

In this sense, frogs were valued as significant scientific objects, their value lying in their flesh, their nervous systems, rather than in their status as living, feeling beings in the world.

In time, experiments with frogs moved beyond the laboratory into the classroom. In the 1930s, schoolchildren were expected to find frogs and bring them to school for dissection in biology classes.

This practice was, however, somewhat controversial, with opponents expressing sentimental attachment to frogs and concerns that such animal cruelty would lead to barbarism.

Recognising the fragility of frogs

So, our relationship with frogs is complicated. From the frogs of Aesop’s Fables to the meme Pepe the Frog, we have projected our own feelings and frustrations onto frogs, and exploited them for science and education.

Frogs have also borne the brunt of our failures as environmental stewards.

By 1990, the world was seeing a global pattern of decline in frog populations due to destruction and degradation of habitat for agriculture and logging, as well as a global amphibian pandemic caused by the chytrid fungus.

Climate change is also making life hard for many species. In 2022, over 40% of amphibian species (of which frogs and toads are by far the largest group) were threatened with extinction. Their vulnerability has seen the frog – especially the red-eyed tree frog – become a symbol for the environment more generally.

So we should delight in frogs and marvel at how beautiful and special they are while we still can, and consider how we might help save them.

Something to reflect on next time you are lucky enough to spot a frog.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Susan Broomhall, Director, Gender and Women’s History Research Centre, Australian Catholic University; Andrea Gaynor, Professor of History, The University of Western Australia, and Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Andy Flack, Senior Lecturer in Modern and Environmental History, University of Bristol. This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Labour scaling back its £28 billion green pledge will impact UK housing – and public health

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The UK Labour party has announced its intention to reduce its £28 billion green investment pledge to less than £15 billion if elected this year. The political fallout has been been largely focused on the party’s fiscal credibility and leader of the opposition Keir Starmer’s seeming proclivity for U-turns.

A crucial question so far overlooked is what impact the cut would have on public health. The initial pledge included a key home-insulation plan to upgrade 72% – 19m homes – of the UK’s housing stock.

The revised plan, however, replaces that ambitious target with the more ambiguous statement that “millions of homes” will be refurbished. Research has long shown that uninsulated homes have consequences for health, especially for those living in poverty and in poor quality housing. This in turn places an extra burden on an already over-stretched health service.

A constructionn site.
Labour plans to build 1.5 million homes.
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Existing government failure

The wider societal cost of poor-quality housing in the UK is estimated at £18.6 billion a year. Such costs, however, are often ignored when housing policy is being developed and implemented.

Labour promises to deliver 1.5 million homes by “blitzing” the planning system, but it has so far ignored the potential consequences for public health.

Of course, the failure to factor in health is by no means unique to Labour policy. It is already embedded in the government’s approach. A recent academic review of government housing and transport policy found that health is notably absent, despite well-established evidence that urban spaces are making us ill. This shows that on the occasions where health is included, it is lower in a hierarchy of priorities compared to other agendas such as growing the economy.

For many years, government housing policy has been shaped by the numeric gap between supply and demand, rather than the type or quality of the housing stock. The mechanisms for delivering have been based on land release and planning reform. Successive housing policies have mentioned involving communities and supporting their health, social, and cultural wellbeing. But there have been no clear targets for ensuring house retrofit and house building positively impact public health.

In his 2010 independent review on how to reduce health inequalities in England, epidemiologist Michael Marmot showed that prioritising health in urban policies, like housing and transport, can have significant health benefits for local populations.

Our research project has shown that health should be made a central factor in all national policy and guidance that shapes urban spaces. The World Health Organization recommends explicitly including health in housing policy – and tracking its impact with recognised metrics. UK politicians have largely failed to respond.

Promising developments

In addition to positive developments in government, such as the Build Back Beautiful Commission, the opposition also has some promising ambitions. Labour is pledging to deliver a “prevention-first revolution”, in which it envisions a pro-active role for government in ensuring that everybody has the building blocks for a healthy life.

In its mission document for health policy, Labour says that retrofitting of millions of homes will “keep families warm rather than living in damp, mouldy conditions that give their children asthma”. The fact that the party is making explicit this link between housing and health signal is a potentially very positive step forward.

However, in all the furore about Labour scrapping its £28 billion pledge, this crucial link to public health has been entirely forgotten. Indeed, while Labour’s environmental policy has been carefully updated to revise and remove various targets, the preventative health agenda retains the now defunct promise to “oversee retrofitting of 19 million homes”. This is perhaps indicative of the extent to which policymakers just don’t think about health when they think about housing.

While the Conservative pledges for the next parliament remain unclear, analysis of their existing policies in government has found a failure to think about or measure the way housing and urban development policis impact health. Instead, it is merely assumed that housing policies will have positive health outcomes. Rather than making such assumptions, policymakers should be putting public health considerations at the centre of all their decision making.

To ensure that the impact any given policy has on public health is measured and acted upon, health needs to be an explicit urban planning policy outcome. It needs to be clearly defined, measurable, and built into policy implementation and political discourse.

It is also important that different government ministries and relevant stakeholders focused on public health, planning and the environment work together more effectively. Unhealthy homes should be a priority for both the housing minister and the health minister.

Healthier people are more economically productive. They have a smaller financial footprint on the NHS. In the long term, better preventative health is a key part of solving some of the UK’s biggest economic challenges, from labour shortages and sluggish productivity growth to stretched public finances.

Too often government policy is not often designed with the long-term in mind. Instead, short-term economic outcomes and political gains are prioritised – to the detriment of public health.

The best way for the government to protect public health is for every department to consider how their work impacts on it. If political and economic calculations about creating, scrapping and rescaling major projects continue to ignore health, however, politicians are likely to continue coming up with the wrong answers.The Conversation

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This blog is written by Dr Jack Newman, Research Fellow, School for Policy Studies, University of Bristol and Dr Geoff Bates, Lecturer in Social Policy, Research Fellow, University of Bath.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Is the Loss and Damage Fund all that it promises to be?

Examining some of the Fund’s shortcomings and putting things into perspective after COP 28

Failed crop

 COP 28, the latest United Nations Climate Conference, came to an end in December 2023. It began with an agreement to launch the loss and damage fund, which was kick-started by the UAE’s $100 million pledge. A further 15 countries followed suit, making pledges of varying amounts, and by 2 December 2023, a cumulative total of $655.9 million had been pledged to the loss and damage fund.[1] The fund has been heralded by many as the biggest success of the entire conference and a historic agreement – being the first time that a substantive decision was adopted on the first day of the Conference. The delegates of nations present from around the world, rose in a standing ovation when the agreement was passed.  

However, although the loss and damage fund is an important and long overdue step towards getting vulnerable countries and communities funding they require, it may be too soon to be rejoicing, with many of the details regarding the fund’s set-up being highly controversial.  

A brief background to the loss and damage fund  

The loss and damage fund was first agreed to at COP 27 last year, after more than three decades of pressure from developing countries disproportionately affected by the irreversible and adverse consequences of climate change calling for funding to help them pay for the losses and damages suffered as a result of the escalating climate crisis. These impacts range from, and are caused by, increasingly frequent and more extreme weather events, as well as slow-onset events, including sea-level rise, increasing temperatures, ocean acidification, glacial retreats, loss of biodiversity, land and forest degradation, salinisation and desertification. These endanger human security and health, destroy homes, disrupt agriculture and threaten water and food security in ways that are often unequally distributed. 

As one of the outcomes of COP 27, a Transitional Committee was established and, in the lead up to COP 28, they met several times to negotiate the operationalisation and the details of the new funding arrangements. In less than a year, the Transitional Committee were able to report back with its recommendations and its text was subsequently passed at COP 28, with no objection by the parties. After almost no momentum for thirty years, the progress made in less than a year is a remarkable feat.  

Examining some of the shortcomings  

While funding for climate disaster loss and damages is vital and certainly hard fought for, one should be hesitant before deeming it a substantive win for developing countries.  

 Inadequate and duplicate pledges 

Although $655.9 million may at first glance appear like a significant amount of money, it is in fact relatively insubstantial when one considers that it is estimated that more than $400 billion is suffered in losses by developing countries each year,[2] a figure which is expected to grow as the impacts of climate change grow worse. The current funding will therefore cover less than 0.2% of developing countries’ annual needs. It has therefore been recommended that $400 billion be used as a baseline and revised upwards over time to meet increasing needs.[3] Furthermore, how to actually implement the pledges that have been made poses its own issue. This is a problem that previous funds, such as the Green Climate Fund, have faced and it is an issue that will need to be tackled to ensure that the pledges made do not simply turn out to be more broken promises.  Moreover, approximately $115.3 million of the total amount pledged to date will go towards setting up the fund rather than directly to beneficiaries of the fund.[4] Future pledges to the fund may make this operational expense insignificant, but it is still uncertain how much money will go into the fund and where it will come from. In addition, campaigners pointed out that some countries, such as the United Kingdom, were simply re-pledging money that they had already committed to, rather than offering new or additional funding.[5] In this way, the United Kingdom are simply re-branding existing forms of climate finance or development aid so as to appear to be contributing.  

Moreover, the amount pledged by some countries has been criticised for being inadequate. In particular, the United States, the world’s largest historical emitter[6] and the largest producer and consumer of oil and gas in 2023,[7] pledged only $17.5 million, an amount that still needs to be approved by Congress and accordingly hinges on the political climate and the upcoming elections. When viewed against the billions of dollars of undelivered climate finance that the United States owes to developed countries as part of its share of the annual $100 billion climate finance goal committed to by developed countries in 2009, this amount of $17.5 million certainly appears limited.[8] Of the $43.51 billion the United States owes, as part of its fair share of the $100 billion goal, only $9.27 billion has been provided to date, being a measly 21% of its targets.[9] 

It is also very telling as to what the United States’ priorities are when the $17.5 million pledged by the United States to the loss and damage fund is compared to the estimated annual $20.5 billion in fossil fuel subsidies distributed by the United States government each year,[10] contributing to the cumulative amount of $7 trillion in fossil fuel subsidies in 2022.[11] 

Historical responsibility and voluntary contributions  

During the negotiations that the Transitional Committee had leading up to COP 28, the United States, Australia and Canada all insisted that the loss and damage fund be de-linked from liability or compensation. This is in keeping with previous stance adopted by developed countries, particularly with that of the United States, who insisted that this wording be included in the decision on the adoption of the Paris Agreement which noted that loss and damage was “not a basis for liability or compensation”.[12] As the historically greatest emitters, developed countries have long opposed the establishment of the loss and damage fund over concerns that it would open the door to legal liability and compensation. Due to this refusal to assume historical accountability, communities who are experiencing the worst impacts of climate change have been forced to shoulder the consequent costs of loss and damage suffered, even though many of them, such as the Pacific Small Island Developing States, have contributed very little to climate change. This goes to the issue of equity and responsibility for the climate crisis, a sensitive topic which makes developed countries defensive. Instead of framing loss and damage in terms of responsibility and liability, wording was included in the agreed text stating that the fund is based on cooperation and facilitation.  

The approved text also stops short of demanding any payments, with the United States having fought to ensure that the contributions should remain voluntary, and the text indicated that developed countries ought to “take the lead” on providing seed money. The text “urged” developed countries to contribute to the fund, while other developing countries are “encouraged” to provide support “on a voluntary basis”.[13] The United States, Australia and Canada further insisted that contributor countries include presently high-polluting nations such as China, India, Russia and Saudia Arabia, and that only the least developed countries be eligible to benefit from the fund. As a result, high polluter states are not obligated to make any payments into the fund and instead of framing the contributions in terms of countries’ responsibility for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, they are framed as donations made out of generosity and charity. 

The World Bank as the interim host of the Loss and Damage Fund, the set-up of the Fund’s governing board and the structure of funding 

Who would host and administer the new fund was a politically contentious sticking point in the discussions leading up to COP 28. Less than a month before COP 28, at a final and impromptu meeting called by the Transitional Committee, this matter was hastily decided. Developing countries wanted the loss and damage fund to operate as an independent United Nations body and were resistant to it being hosted by the World Bank, which many poorer countries see as an economic policy weapon wielded by the industrialised world.  

The World Bank was established by colonial powers and is known for having historically spread pro-Western ideologies and policies.[14] Moreover, it is housed in Washington DC, is headed by a US citizen, appointed by the government of the United States, as its major shareholder,[15] and has a history of operating as an Untied States policy tool. In addition, concerns were raised that the World Bank would be charging high hosting fees, has a weak climate change record and that having it host and administer the loss and damage fund would compromise the fund’s independence and give developed countries the influence over who receives the funds and who doesn’t. Developing countries eventually caved under the United States’ insistence that the fund be hosted and administered by the World Bank, and it was agreed that the World Bank would act as an interim host, provided that the World Bank would agree to certain conditions. This arrangement is to be reassessed in four years, which will result in either the fund being made fully independent or continuing as a permanent hosting situation under the World Bank.  

The United States has argued that there are practical reasons for placing the loss and damage fund under the auspices of the World Bank, and that the fiduciary experience the institution has, places it in the best position to deliver money to state beneficiaries. However, given the World Bank’s donor-recipient and loan-driven business model, reservations have been expressed as to whether developed donor countries would have a disproportionate influence, even though the Transitional Committee has recommended that the fund’s governing board have a majority of developing-country members. Although this sounds positive, the board’s composition is limited to national representatives, meaning that civil society representatives such as members of Indigenous groups, are automatically excluded. 

Another concern regarding the World Bank, is high overhead costs, with the administrative fees of the World Bank rising and likely to absorb a large portion of the funding meant for the fund’s beneficiaries. Further, developing countries have consistently called for funding to be in the form of grants, rather than debt and loan financing, which would only deepen the debt crisis and increase developing countries’ burden, which is the traditional model of financing employed by the World Bank. The agreed text stipulates that “the Fund will provide financing in the form of grants and highly concessional loans”.[16]

The ultimate success or failure of the loss and damage fund still hangs in the balance  

In order to retain any faith in the international climate policy process, there needs to be follow-through on both the pledges and commitments made. To date, climate finance has not had the best track record. Other funds, including the Green Climate Fund and the Adaptation Fund, have been radically under-resourced from the get-go and climate finance has grown at an annual rate of only 7%, which is less than half of the cumulative annual growth of 21% which is required until 2030.[17] In order for the Loss and Damage Fund to be effective, the scale of the funding will need to be increased, as what has been pledged to date constitutes a mere 0.2% of what is actually needed. 

There are also still a lot of questions to address, which the new Board of the Loss and Damage Fund will start to work through at its first meeting on 31 January 2024. Popular Gentle, the development management expert to the prime minister of Nepal, pointed out that while the establishment of the loss and damage fund is a promising start, that applause should be reserved for the time being, saying “our concern is we are excited about the establishment of the loss and damage fund. We are still cautious that the same story will be repeated. We need easy, equitable, accessible loss and damage funds without any procedural difficulties”.[18]  

So far, there are already some concerning issues that have arisen out of what has been decided. The issues that still need to be determined will prove critical to whether the fund’s operation is a success or a failure. These issues include the fact that there are no specifics yet on the scale and scope of funding, the financial targets or how the loss and damage fund will be funded going forward – although the text provides that contributions will come from a “variety of sources”.[19] The current language included in the agreed text merely invites developed nations to “take the lead”[20] in providing finance and encourages other developing country parties to make commitments. There is also little clarity regarding the performance indicators and who will be eligible to receive funding or precisely what type of climate loss and damages will qualify. Another issue will be how the application procedure will work and how quickly countries who need it will be able to access the funds and whether they will encounter any procedural difficulties in doing so. Until these things are decided, it is simply too early to greet the loss and damage fund with anything other than a mixture of cautious optimism and healthy scepticism. 

References  

[1] Joe Thwaites ‘COP28 Climate Funds Pledge Tracker’ (NRDC, 9 December 2023), available at: https://www.nrdc.org/bio/joe-thwaites/cop-28-climate-fund-pledge-tracker

[2] Julie-Anne Richards, Rajib Ghosal, Brenda Mwale, Hyacinthe Niyitegeka and Moleen Nand ‘STANDING IN SOLIDARITY WITH THOSE ON THE FRONTLINES OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS: A LOSS AND DAMAGE PACKAGE FOR COP 28’(The Loss and Damage Collaboration, 20 November 2023), available at: https://assets-global.website-files.com/605869242b205050a0579e87/655b50e163c953059360564d_L%26DC_L%26D_Package_for_COP28_20112023_1227.pdf

[3] Julie-Anne Richards, Liane Schalatek, Leia Achampong, and Heidi White ‘THE LOSS AND DAMAGE FINANCE LANDSCAPE’ (The Loss and Damage Collaboration, 16 May 2023), available at: https://www.lossanddamagecollaboration.org/publication/the-loss-and-damage-finance-landscape

[4] ‘COP 28: Key outcomes agreed to at the UN Climate talks in Dubai’ (Carbon Brief, 13 December 2023), available at: https://www.carbonbrief.org/cop28-key-outcomes-agreed-at-the-un-climate-talks-in-dubai/

[5] Tweet on X (CAN-UK 30 November 2023), available https://twitter.com/CAN_UK_/status/1730225613456204089?s=20

[6] ‘Cumulative carbon dioxide (CO₂) emissions from fossil fuel combustion worldwide from 1750 to 2022, by major country’ (Statistica, 12 December 2023), available at: https://www.statista.com/statistics/1007454/cumulative-co2-emissions-worldwide-by-country/#:~:text=Global%20cumulative%20CO%E2%82%82%20emissions%20from,combustion%201750%2D2022%2C%20by%20country&text=The%20United%20States%20was%20the,birth%20of%20the%20industrial%20revolution

[7] World Population Review, available at: https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/oil-producing-countries; https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/oil-consumption-by-country; https://worldpopulationreview.com/country-rankings/natural-gas-by-country

[8] At the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) of the UNFCCC in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to a collective goal of mobilising USD 100 billion per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation. The goal was formalised at COP16 in Cancun, and at COP21 in Paris, it was reiterated and extended to 2025; Laetitia Pettinotti, Yue Cao, Tony Mwenda Kamninga, Sarah Colenbrander ‘A fair share of climate finance? The Adaptation Edition’ (ODI, 13 September 2023), available at: https://odi.org/en/publications/a-fair-share-of-climate-finance-the-adaptation-edition/#:~:text=In%20a%20bid%20to%20strengthen,national%20income%2C%20and%20population%20size

[9] At the 15th Conference of Parties (COP15) of the UNFCCC in Copenhagen in 2009, developed countries committed to a collective goal of mobilising USD 100 billion per year by 2020 for climate action in developing countries, in the context of meaningful mitigation actions and transparency on implementation. The goal was formalised at COP16 in Cancun, and at COP21 in Paris, it was reiterated and extended to 2025; Laetitia Pettinotti, Yue Cao, Tony Mwenda Kamninga, Sarah Colenbrander ‘A fair share of climate finance? The Adaptation Edition’ (ODI, 13 September 2023), available at: https://odi.org/en/publications/a-fair-share-of-climate-finance-the-adaptation-edition/#:~:text=In%20a%20bid%20to%20strengthen,national%20income%2C%20and%20population%20size

[10] Janet Redman ‘DIRTY ENERGY DOMINANCE: DEPENDENT ON DENIAL – HOW THE U.S. FOSSIL FUEL INDUSTRY DEPENDS ON SUBSIDIES AND CLIMATE DENIAL’ (Oil Change International, October 2017), available at: https://priceofoil.org/content/uploads/2017/10/OCI_US-Fossil-Fuel-Subs-2015-16_Final_Oct2017.pdf

[11] Simon Black, Ian Parry, Nate Vernon ‘Fossil Fuel Subsidies Surged to Record $7 Trillion’ (IMF Blog, 24 August 2023), available at: https://www.imf.org/en/Blogs/Articles/2023/08/24/fossil-fuel-subsidies-surged-to-record-7-trillion

[12] UNFCCC 2015, Decision 1/CP.21, Adoption of the Paris Agreement, UN Doc FCCC/CP/2015/10/Add, para. 51, available at: https://unfccc.int/resource/docs/2015/cop21/eng/10a01.pdf

[13] Para 12 of Annex I ‘Draft decision on the operationalization of the new funding arrangements, including the fund, for responding to loss and damage referred to in paragraphs 2–3 of decisions 2/CP.27 and 2/CMA.4’ to the Report by the Transitional Committee dated 28 November 2023, FCCC/CP/2023/9−FCCC/PA/CMA/2023/9, available at: https://unfccc.int/documents?f%5B0%5D=topic%3A1136&search2=&search3=&page=0%2C0%2C0

[14] E Feder, ‘Plundering the Poor: The Role of the World Bank in the Third World’ (1983) 13 International Journal of Health Services 649, available at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.2190/6GE4-8EC6-JXD5-QJ2Q

[15] The Congressional Research Service Report prepared for Members and Committees of Congress, titled ‘Selecting the World Bank President’ and updated 10 May 2023, available at: https://sgp.fas.org/crs/row/R42463.pdf

[16] Para 57 of Annex II to the Report by the Transitional Committee dated 28 November 2023, FCCC/CP/2023/9−FCCC/PA/CMA/2023/9, available at: https://unfccc.int/documents?f%5B0%5D=topic%3A1136&search2=&search3=&page=0%2C0%2C0

[17] Baysa Naran, Jake Connolly, Paul Rosane, Dharshan Wignarajah, Githungo Wakaba and Barbara Buchner ‘The Global Landscape on Climate Finance: A Decade of Data’ (Climate Policy Initiative, 27 October 2022), available at: https://www.climatepolicyinitiative.org/publication/global-landscape-of-climate-finance-a-decade-of-data/

[18] Lameez Omarjee ‘COP 28 I Pledges for Loss and Damage roll in, but billions is needed – SA chief negotiator’ (news24, 10 December 2023), available at: https://www.news24.com/fin24/climate_future/news/cop28-pledges-for-loss-and-damage-roll-in-but-billions-needed-sa-chief-negotiator-20231210

[19] Para 20 (i) of Annex I ‘Draft decision on the operationalization of the new funding arrangements, including the fund, for responding to loss and damage referred to in paragraphs 2–3 of decisions 2/CP.27 and 2/CMA.4’ to the Report by the Transitional Committee dated 28 November 2023, FCCC/CP/2023/9−FCCC/PA/CMA/2023/9, available at: https://unfccc.int/documents?f%5B0%5D=topic%3A1136&search2=&search3=&page=0%2C0%2C0

[20] Para 13 of Annex I ‘Draft decision on the operationalization of the new funding arrangements, including the fund, for responding to loss and damage referred to in paragraphs 2–3 of decisions 2/CP.27 and 2/CMA.4’ to the Report by the Transitional Committee dated 28 November 2023, FCCC/CP/2023/9−FCCC/PA/CMA/2023/9, available at: https://unfccc.int/documents?f%5B0%5D=topic%3A1136&search2=&search3=&page=0%2C0%2C0

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member Alexia Kaplan.

Alexia Kaplan
Alexia Kaplan

Reflections on COP28’s Global Stocktake and emissions reductions

COP28 national flags at night in Dubai.

With carbon emission of around 25tCO2 per capita (global average around 4.5tCO2eq per capita) and energy demand of around 150MWh per capita (global average around 20MWh per capita), both among the 5 highest in the world, the UAE is on a per capita basis one of the largest contributor to climate change. And the host of COP28, the 28th Conference of the Parties, the main decision-making body of the UNFCCC. This makes uncomfortable reading, especially given the lack of progress in tackling human-made climate change. Then again, it probably does not matter where COPs are held as it is the agreements which countries commit to, and their success in fulfilling these commitments, which ultimately count. The number of fossil fuel business representatives makes equally uncomfortable reading. But maybe the number of fossil fuel lobbyists is a sign that they are taking COPs more seriously and rightly recognize strong action on climate change as a challenge to business as usual. Their desire to have their voices heard is testament to their recognition of the importance the UNFCCC’s process and progress on climate policy more generally.

The event itself, meanwhile, was discombobulating. Dubai’s geography of nowhere which robs you of any sense of scale and place is replicated in its Expo2020 site where COP was held. Huge distances between everything and the closed doors behind which languished side events and pavilions, mainly of countries but also of non-governmental organisations, multinational development banks, even universities, were the polar opposite of a bazaar where exchange was facilitated at previous COPs and in the space of 100 meters you might come across the International Labour Organisation, the World Bank, Egypt, Japan, Zambia, and Portugal. Thus, COP28 was sapped of interaction where browsing is enabled, chance facilitated, and happenstance happened. Instead, it felt strangely disjointed, more like an in-person zoom conference in the desert.

But the food was good, if expensive, the streets eerily safe and clean, the organization well executed, the venue shiny and spotless, public transport clean and efficient, water plentiful, and the sun reliable. It is hard to imagine impoverished countries not choosing a similar development trajectory if they were provided the opportunity. According to some calculations, African countries are sat on $10trn worth of hydrocarbons capable of pursuing such a development trajectory while pushing global warming to 6-7 degrees above pre-industrial levels. But which alternative development trajectory are we supporting which keeps these hydrocarbons in the ground while improving living standards and increasing opportunities? Access to climate finance is essential, while debt relief is the elephant in the room (I wonder how this analogy will read if we tacitly enable their extinction through poverty?). Calculations suggest that sentencing debt costs the 58 countries that make up the Vulnerable Twenty (V20) over £100bn/a. This sum would go a long way towards greening development and keeping hydrocarbons in the ground.

Instead, the Global Stocktake, the COP28 agreement, ‘calls on parties’ to ‘tripling renewable energy capacity globally and doubling the global average annual rate of energy efficiency improvements by 2030’. This is important as we need something to replace fossil fuels the Stocktake agrees to ‘transition away from’ and coal especially which it agrees to ‘phase-down’. While it will be virtually impossible to eliminate fossil fuels entirely from our economies, this language emphasizes the need to reduce their stranglehold on our energy systems. With emphasis placed on renewables and energy efficiency, this provides a plausible, just, and equitable transition pathway. While the statement that ‘abatement and removal technologies such as carbon capture and storage’ should be accelerated leaves a loophole for abated fossil fuel technologies, it emphasizes its use ‘in hard-to-abate’ sectors such as steel and cement. This loophole is to bring on board countries with very high fossil fuel dependence, not just for power generation but as the foundation of their entire economic prosperity.

Regarding transport, the document emphasizes the ‘reduction of emission from road transport on a range of pathways, including through development of infrastructure and rapid deployment of zero and low-emission vehicles’. This reference to infrastructure is highly relevant as it refers to mass transit systems which, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, are far more efficient than electric vehicles for example. Finally, ‘phasing out inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that do not address energy poverty or just transitions, as soon as possible’ should act as a financial driver of this transition. According to the International Monetary Fund, such subsidies amount to $7tn per year, or 7.1% of GDP. This implies that governments around the world effectively subsidise every tonne of CO2 emitted to the amount of $125. If we used this money to subsidise renewable energy and energy efficiency, as well as abatement in hard-to-treat sectors and eventually removals to account for historical emissions, 1.5 degrees is still alive, and African countries for example could be placed on a clean development trajectory towards prosperity and opportunity.

Despite tentative progress, however, parties failed to agree on the modalities of Article 6. Article 6 is the last building block of the Paris Agreement which has yet to be agreed on, with a rulebook in place that all parties agree on. Apparently, a bloc led by the US favours a light-touch approach akin to voluntary carbon markets. Unsurprisingly given their discreditation in recent months, a bloc involving the EU an African and Latin American states favours stronger checks and balances to avoid the creation of junk credits and discreditation of all market mechanism. A lot is at stake. Under the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), the predecessor of Article 6, over £200bn was channelled into Chinese wind energy. For all its flaws, the CDM in this particular case supported the development of a renewable energy industry in a country which barely had a wind turbine installed when it came into force. Market mechanisms are powerful instruments which are difficult to guide but their potential to incentivize climate finance is evident.

To deliver the objectives of the Global Stocktake and the Paris Agreement, we need mechanisms to avoid free-riding which occurs when countries benefit from ambitious net zero emission mitigation activities in other countries without contributing to the cost. If market mechanisms are operationalised through climate clubs, this issue of free-riding can be overcome. This enables  ambition to be raised and collective action to be supported. Yet significant efforts are required to ensure that poor countries can benefit while excludable benefits are sufficient to ensure integrity and support higher ambition in climate change mitigation. The stakes are high and the Global Stocktake is a small but significant step in this direction. But a lot more climate diplomacy is necessary, alongside a collaborative spirit, to ensure that the transition away from fossil fuel is actions and that this transition is just.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Colin Nolden, University of Bristol Law School.

Colin Nolden
Colin Nolden

 

How do you manage a dam when there’s a tropical cyclone in Mozambique?

Mozambique dam

I’d never given a huge amount of thought of what a dam manager did until I visited Pequenos Libombos dam in Mozambique in October 2023. Standing at the dam, in hot conditions, listening to the lived experience of people who work on the ground and explain what they do during a tropical cyclone leaves you with more understanding than any peer reviewed journal article. Context is everything. It’s why visiting the countries I’m researching is something I do given the chance.

That’s what members of Bristol projects REPRESA (co-led by Prof Elizabeth Kendon at University of Bristol & UK Met Office, Dr Luis Artur from Eduardo Mondlane University and Prof Francois Engelbrecht from University of the Witwatersrand) and SALIENT (led by Dr Rachel James, University of Bristol) did in October. The REPRESA project aims to understand compound tropical cyclone risks, impacts of tropical cyclones and improve early warning systems in Mozambique, Malawi and Madagascar. Seeing the research alignment in projects, the SALIENT team also joined. The SALIENT project aims to improve the characterisation and communication of future climate information for national adaptation planning in southern Africa.

On the field trip day, we travelled to Pequenos Libombos dam and heard from a government official from the Vila De Boane Municipality. It was this day where I had my epiphany that if I ever left academia, dam management is not my calling. Providing water to the local population is the dams primary role and it provides 2 million people within Maputo Province with access to water. That is more than 4 times the population of Bristol.

The management of Pequenos Libombos dam is difficult as there are many other people and industries to consider and keep safe and happy when making decisions. From the businesses who want to use the dam’s water for industrial purposes to the farming communities that are reliant on the water for irrigation, and hydroelectricity companies that want to use the dam to create energy to the communities downstream that may be flooded if the dam releases water too quickly. The dam catchment is also shared with 2 of Mozambique’s neighbouring countries; eSwatini and South Africa, adding another element of complexity to the dams management.

Management must carefully balance both periods of water surplus and deficit and Maputo has experienced numerous extreme weather events in recent years.  The 2015-2016 southern African drought impacted Central and Southern Mozambique and more recently the remnants of tropical cyclones in 2019, 2011, 2022 and 2023. During February 2023, Tropical Cyclone (TC) Freddy passed over Madagascar and southern Mozambique before returning a couple of weeks later to central Mozambique. It is thought to be the longest lived and have the highest accumulated cyclone energy of any cyclone on record, awaiting formal investigation from the World Meteorological Organization. Although TC Freddy didn’t directly pass over Pequenos Limbombos, its associated rainfall resulted in 250 mm of rainfall at the dam in one day. For context, the Bristol experiences 265mm rainfall, on average, in October, November and December combined. To avoid a breach of the dam, discharge was released at the maximum rate, which is more than 500 time more than normal.

Globally there is evidence that TCs and their impacts are being impacted by climate change. The frequency, intensity and storm tracks of TCs may be changing meanwhile, rising sea levels may lead to higher storm surges. Yet we know a limited amount about how tropical cyclones may act in a future with increased global sea surface and air temperatures.  TCs in the Indian Ocean are particularly under researched, but recent and frequent events have highlighted the importance of understanding TCs in a changing climate.

After hearing about the vast amount of rain that fell in February 2023, we walk past the disused hydroelectric generator that was forced to cease operation during the drought as it was no longer economically viable. It really hammered home the complexities faced when trying to manage such a huge piece of infrastructure during extreme events. Similarly, it is clear why research projects like REPRESA and SALIENT are needed to understand how tropical cyclones may behave in the future and explore how early warning systems and climate change adaptation can be strengthened.

Mozambique dam

The human side of extreme weather

After the talk at Pequenos Libombos Dam, we visited the Municipality of Vila de Boane. Vila de Boane is located roughly 15 km downstream from the dam and the River Umbuluzi passes through the municipality. The municipality experienced large scale flooding after the dam was forced to increase to maximum discharge during the February 2023 rainfall.

Despite already hearing about TC’s Freddy’s impacts at the dam, they were not as focused on the human impact. The leader of the municipality compellingly described how 16,000 people were impacted overnight, 6000 people were displaced and 6 people sadly died. The community water pump was destroyed, leaving people without water for 3 months. The municipality leader said he had never seen that amount of water passing through the municipality at such high speed before. Meanwhile, money that had been budgeted for development initiatives, had to be redirected to repair and response. It was not clear if extra money had been sourced for the development initiatives.

It was also highlighted that the increased release of water from the dam occurred over night with little warning. The municipality had been told to expect “above normal” rainfall and to avoid being close to rivers and move farming machinery further inland. But as the municipality leader questioned, what does “above normal” actually mean? People will perceive this message differently, which will influence how they act upon it. As part of the SALIENT research project, I am researching how we best communicate future climate information to decision makers and this anecdote will stay with me. It’s clear that improved communications are needed in both weather and climate services, something REPRESA is also aiming to research further.

Reflections and collaboration

After hearing about the vast amount of impacts the flooding had on Villa de Boane, we waited for our transport back to Maputo under the shade as it was too hot to stand in the sun. It was clear everyone from the REPRESA and SALIENT teams, both physical scientists and social scientists, had taken a lot from the field day. There was discussion about what the research should consider as well as the different angles that could be taken. It also fostered collaboration, SALIENT team member, Alan-Kennedy Asser, is providing the REPRESA team with analysis of precipitation trends from a multiple ensembles of climate models to characterise the range in future projections over the region. Meanwhile I spoke with some REPRESA team members in more depth about future climate information and will be providing risk communication training session in the future.

My personal key take away is that understanding the context and hearing the lived experiences of people working and living with extreme weather events enriches me as a researcher. Similarly, collaborating with researchers and practitioners on different projects enhances your work by providing questions and inputs from different standpoints. And finally, I’m too indecisive a person to ever be a good dam manager.

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This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment member, Dr Ailish Craig, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol with contributions from Dr Alan Kennedy-Asser, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol and Dr Rachel James, School of Geographical Sciences, University of Bristol.

Ailish Craig
Dr Ailish Craig

Climate summits are too big and key voices are being crowded out – here’s a better solution

Conference room at COP28
Conference room at COP28

Every year, the official UN climate summits are getting bigger. In 2021 at COP26 in Glasgow there were around 40,000 participants, COP27 in 2022 in Sharm el-Sheikh had 50,000.

But this year blew all previous records out of the water. More than 97,000 participants had badges to attend COP28 in Dubai in person. This raises questions about who is attending COPs and what they are doing there, who gets their voices heard and, on a more practical note, how this affects the negotiations.

For those not familiar with the COP setup, there are two “worlds” that exist side by side. One is the negotiations, which are run under the UN’s climate change body the UNFCCC, and the other is a very long list of talks and social events. These take place in pavilion exhibition spaces and are open to anyone attending, in contrast to the negotiations which are often closed to the media and sometimes closed to observers.

There is a stark difference between these worlds, with pavilion spaces featuring elaborate and inviting settings, particularly if they are well funded, while negotiations often happen in windowless rooms.

A growing sense exists among those invested in the “traditional” side of the COPs that many delegates have no intention of observing the climate talks themselves, and instead spend their time networking in the pavilions.

Indigenous people visiting COP28 from Brazilian Amazon.
Indigenous people visiting COP28 from Brazilian Amazon.

In terms of who attends, at COP28 there were around 25,000 “party” (country) delegates, 27,000 “party overflow” delegates (usually guests, sponsors, or advisors), 900 UNFCCC secretariat members (who run the COPs), 600 “UN overflow”, and 1,350 from “specialised agencies” such as the World Health Organization or World Bank and their overflows. That makes up just under 55,000 or half of the attendees.

The rest are intergovernmental organisations (2,000), UN Global Climate Action award winners (600), host country guests (5,000), temporary passes (500 – many issued to big private companies), NGOs (14,000 – including one of us, as part of a university delegation), and media (4,000). This is according to the UNFCCC, which places the number of attendees closer to 80,000.

The “party overflow” badges are particularly concerning. The number of delegates connected to the oil and gas industries has quadrupled from last year to around 2,400, many of whom were invited as part of country delegations. As another example, meat industry representatives became part of Brazil’s delegation, while dairy associations organised official COP side events. In the official programme, the Energy and Industry, Just Transition, and Indigenous Peoples Day featured more events by industrial giant Siemens than by indigenous people.

Practically speaking, huge numbers cause problems – this year for example there were delayed meetings, long queues, and several negotiation rooms were beyond capacity with observers and even party delegates asked to limit their numbers and leave.

Even with access to an observer badge, there is little one can contribute to negotiations. The negotiating positions are decided long before the COPs begin, and observers are rarely permitted to speak in negotiations. In addition, a lot of the negotiations are either conducted behind closed doors (called “informal-informals” with no access for the UN or observers) or even in the corridors, where negotiators meet informally to cement positions. The negotiations you can (silently) observe are usually a series of prepared statements, rather than a discussion.

So if COPs are too big and bloated, what is the alternative?

Smaller and more online

One alternative is being a virtual delegate, which one of us tried. This year’s COP trialled live streams and recordings of some of the negotiations, side events and press conferences on an official UNFCCC virtual platform for the first time. The option is a long overdue, but welcome addition. It reduces travel emissions and makes it more accessible, for instance for people with caring responsibilities and others who are unable to travel (or perhaps who refuse to fly).

Some technical teething problems are to be expected. Yet when we queried why the virtual platform didn’t livestream many of the sessions, the COP28 support team pointed us to the official COP28 app. Our employer, the University of Bristol, had advised us not to download the app because of security concerns, which again raises serious issues around transparency and accountability in UNFCCC spaces, as well as freedom of speech and assembly in COP host countries.

Not being there in person also has downsides. As a virtual observer, it’s harder to judge the atmosphere in a negotiation room, to stumble upon and observe spontaneous negotiations happening in corridors, or participate in or observe protests. While indigenous voices were rarely heard in the livestreamed negotiations and events, the Indigenous People’s Pavilion offered a chance to hear them – but only if you were in Dubai. The virtual alternative is a good option to observe negotiations, but it means missing out on some of the civil society lifeblood of COP.

Another option is to limit access to COPs – for example, limiting the in-person negotiations only to the most vital participants. Party tickets could be limited, with lobbyists from fossil fuel industries tightly controlled and priority given to climate victims, indigenous communities and underrepresented countries. Side events and pavilions could take place a few months before the COPs, increasing the chances of influencing negotiations, since positions are cemented early. There is no reason these only need to happen in one place once a year, there could be regional meetups in between, allowing for formal contact more often.

These issues of access, transparency and influence have serious implications on negotiation outcomes and climate action. After undergoing various draft iterations that offered options ranging from “no text” to “phasing out” or “down” fossil fuels, this year’s final agreement does not include a commitment to phasing out. This watered-down agreement reflects the inability of indigenous peoples and the most climate vulnerable countries to meaningfully participate in the negotiations – future COPs must trim down to make their voices heard.

 


This blog is written by Cabot Institute for the Environment members, Drs Alix Dietzel, Senior Lecturer in Climate Justice, University of Bristol and Katharina Richter, Lecturer in Climate Change, Politics and Society, University of Bristol.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Katharina Richter
Dr Katharina Richter
Dr Alix Dietzel
Dr Alix Dietzel

Disinformation campaigns are undermining democracy. Here’s how we can fight back

Misinformation is debated everywhere and has justifiably sparked concerns. It can polarise the public, reduce health-protective behaviours such as mask wearing and vaccination, and erode trust in science. Much of misinformation is spread not by accident but as part of organised political campaigns, in which case we refer to it as disinformation.

But there is a more fundamental, subversive damage arising from misinformation and disinformation that is discussed less often.

It undermines democracy itself. In a recent paper published in Current Opinion in Psychology, we highlight two important aspects of democracy that disinformation works to erode.

The integrity of elections

The first of the two aspects is confidence in how power is distributed – the integrity of elections in particular.

In the United States, recent polls have shown nearly 70% of Republicans question the legitimacy of the 2020 presidential election. This is a direct result of disinformation from Donald Trump, the loser of that election.

Democracy depends on the people knowing that power will be transferred peacefully if an incumbent loses an election. The “big lie” that the 2020 US election was stolen undermines that confidence.

Depending on reliable information

The second important aspect of democracy is this – it depends on reliable information about the evidence for various policy options.

One reason we trust democracy as a system of governance is the idea that it can deliver “better” decisions and outcomes than autocracy, because the “wisdom of crowds” outperforms any one individual. But the benefits of this wisdom vanish if people are pervasively disinformed.

Disinformation about climate change is a well-documented example. The fossil fuel industry understood the environmental consequences of burning fossil fuels at least as early as the 1960s. Yet they spent decades funding organisations that denied the reality of climate change. This disinformation campaign has delayed climate mitigation by several decades – a case of public policy being thwarted by false information.

We’ve seen a similar misinformation trajectory in the COVID-19 pandemic, although it happened in just a few years rather than decades. Misinformation about COVID varied from claims that 5G towers rather than a virus caused the disease, to casting doubt on the effectiveness of lockdowns or the safety of vaccines.

The viral surge of misinformation led to the World Health Organisation introducing a new term – infodemic – to describe the abundance of low-quality information and conspiracy theories.

A common denominator of misinformation

Strikingly, some of the same political operatives involved in denying climate change have also used their rhetorical playbook to promote COVID disinformation. What do these two issues have in common?

One common denominator is suspicion of government solutions to societal problems. Whether it’s setting a price on carbon to mitigate climate change, or social distancing to slow the spread of COVID, contrarians fear the policies they consider to be an attack on personal liberties.

An ecosystem of conservative and free-market think tanks exists to deny any science that, if acted on, has the potential to infringe on “liberty” through regulations.

There is another common attribute that ties together all organised disinformation campaigns – whether about elections, climate change or vaccines. It’s the use of personal attacks to compromise people’s integrity and credibility.

Election workers in the US were falsely accused of committing fraud by those who fraudulently claimed the election had been “stolen” from Trump.

Climate scientists have been subject to harassment campaigns, ranging from hate mail to vexatious complaints and freedom-of-information requests. Public health officials such as Anthony Fauci have been prominent targets of far-right attacks.

The new frontier in attacks on scientists

It is perhaps unsurprising there is now a new frontier in the attacks on scientists and others who seek to uphold the evidence-based integrity of democracy. It involves attacks and allegations of bias against misinformation researchers.

Such attacks are largely driven by Republican politicians, in particular those who have endorsed Trump’s baseless claims about the 2020 election.

The misinformers are seeking to neutralise research focused on their own conduct by borrowing from the climate denial and anti-vaccination playbook. Their campaign has had a chilling effect on research into misinformation.

How do we move on from here?

Psychological research has contributed to legislative efforts by the European Union, such as the Digital Services Act or Code of Practice, which seek to make democracies more resilient against misinformation and disinformation.

Research has also investigated how to boost the public’s resistance to misinformation. One such method is inoculation, which rests on the idea people can be protected against being misled if they learn about the rhetorical techniques used to mislead them.

In a recent inoculation campaign involving brief educational videos shown to 38 million citizens in Eastern Europe, people’s ability to recognise misleading rhetoric about Ukrainian refugees was frequently improved.

It remains to be seen whether these initiatives and research findings will be put to use in places like the US, where one side of politics appears more threatened by research into misinformation than by the risks to democracy arising from misinformation itself.


We’d like to acknowledge our colleagues Ullrich Ecker, Naomi Oreskes, Jon Roozenbeek and Sander van der Linden who coauthored the journal article on which this article is based.The Conversation

Stephan Lewandowsky, Chair of Cognitive Psychology, University of Bristol and John Cook, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, The University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The cracks are where the light gets in – studying vulnerabilities in Elite Incumbent Resistance at COP26

Elites are often rightly blamed for resisting bold action needed to tackle climate change. But what if elite alliances are more fragile than commonly assumed? What if we consider Elite Incumbent Resistance – to transitions in food, energy and finance – not as a homogenous bloc of resistance towards sustainability transitions, but instead as made up of temporary, fragile alliances held together in ways that might be amenable to disruption?

A group of interdisciplinary researchers brought together by the British Academy’s Virtual Sandpit on Just Transition, set out to explore this question by piloting a new approach to studying the COP26 Climate Summit.

Starting Points

This thought experiment emerged from a critique of existing International Political Economy literature on climate negotiations which tends to focus on intense resistance to transitions to sustainable societies from elite groups benefiting from the status quo. This approach tends to homogenise incumbent elite-alliances, making them appear more robust than they really are. We were curious about what would happen if we instead focused on the vulnerabilities inherent in any alliances and how they are maintained and undone in climate negotiations. 

As tools to help us think this through, we firstly turned to  Laclau and Mouffe’s work on hegemony and socialist strategy. This is an old text but still relevant as it shows how all alliances are built on what they call relations of ‘equivalence’, which means, in simple terms, coming to a compromise about what key words  (‘sustainable growth’ anyone?) mean. These equivalences, however, are always temporary and can, in theory, be unsettled. 

Secondly, we drew on performance theory to highlight the importance of physical, visual and material performances, like UNFCCC COPs, for creating and maintaining the impression of elite unity and competence in managing global public goods like the climate. 

Thirdly, Science and technology studies helped us to consider how to spot opportunities to facilitate rapid transitions by identifying how changing material circumstances bridge differences between previously opposed groups.  Equally, the multiple-level perspective, drew our attention to how changing conditions at regime, landscape and local levels might have the opportunity to both disrupt existing alliances and bring seemingly opposed groups together through shared interests.  

With these theories, we set out to explore whether we could find cracks in elite forums at COP, explore whether there were strains in these performances and if we could identify potentially new alliances that might come out of opening up these cracks. 

What happens next is described in the rest of this blog and illustrated with cartoons we developed to capture the essence of what we came to think of as the highly vulnerable performances of elite power at COP26. 

Performing the COP

What struck us about COP26 was that it was not a coherent space managed and led by a single elite. Instead, it had a multiple, fragmented nature. COP is perhaps best thought of as a bewildering circus of loosely connected activities masquerading as a single event.  

This is not surprising. A COP meeting gathers multiple groups with contradictory aims: simultaneously a forum of intergovernmental negotiations, a trade fair for corporate partners and a site of civil society participation and protests. 

What is also noticeable, however, is that this fragmentation is hierarchically organised through complex procedures of inclusion and exclusion (Blue Zones, Green Zones, Access Cards, T shirts) with different levels of access accorded to different groups depending on their symbolic importance for validating the COP performance of an inclusive and diverse forum (recognised and acceptable scientists, a selection of key green activists and representatives of youth indigenous peoples). This is stage managed in such a way as to produce a performance that reassures a public watching via television and social media that there is a coherent plan for averting climate disaster. 

Cartoon of a clown made of two children standing on top of each other, standing at the entrance to a circus talking to two other children saying "of course we're a real-life legitimate, trustworthy, responsible, ticket-taking adult".

The hierarchical format of the COP, most clearly expressed through the separation between the Green and Blue Zones, maintains the impression of there being a central heart of power,  where decisions are made and the global response is organised. Such an impression produces the performance of the COP as the key forum for climate action, to which interested parties must desire access, and in which those with access must desire ever greater access to the ever elusive and ever more exclusive circle of decision-making. Despite this, the event was characterised in fact by a pluralisation of decision-making activities – by side dinners for particular industries, by one to one meetings, bilateral agreements, and encounters between civil society, academic, policy, media and industry groups. 

From this perspective, the ultimate discursive illusion of the COP is that there is a central seat of power, of the governing and corporate elites that come together in a single place to take decisive actions to avert climate change disaster. The selective inclusion of groups like youth, indigenous peoples and green civil society organisations in particular, served to bolster this illusion – creating an impression of participation while reducing them to symbolic speeches and side-events. We call this co-option because, in reality, such groups and individuals appear to have had almost no influence on the outcomes of COP, the Glasgow Climate Pact or the agreement of the Paris Rulebook.  

A circus master standing on a stand talking to people saying "everyone has a role here! your role is to stand 3 miles away, quietly".

Intra-elite cracks and potential for new alliances

Drawing on Laclau and Mouffe, we mapped out the discursive nodal points that created the equivalences that allowed the highly fractured parties in the discussions to sustain the perception of elite consensus on addressing the climate crisis. Unsurprisingly, they were vague. All organised around the major overarching nodal point – the climate model itself. The key nodal points of the official COP26 were  ‘keeping one degree alive’ and ‘achieving net-zero’, with vague references to  ‘technological solutions’ and ‘nature-based solutions’ as means of achieving this. These were reiterated in a variety of different formulations across all aspects of the COP – from the public-facing leaders’ stages to online materials to banners and marketing materials throughout the events. A second critical overarching nodal point was the false universalism that diffused responsibility from specific actors and instead presented this as a shared global challenge – the repeated marketing phrases ‘we are all in this together’ and ‘we have to turn anger into action’. This papered over the intra-elite cracks that would emerge between the winners and losers of any genuinely decisive action. 

Cartoon of balloons with environmental slogans on being popped with a person saying "your plan was more than just hot air though, right?"

Given the intentional ambiguity of these discursive nodal points, there is unsurprisingly growing debate about what they actually mean, and signs of intra-elite cracks emerging around them. This creates opportunities for civil society groups and others wanting to build alternative strategies to combat the climate emergency. 

An example of such a crack is evident in the concept of ‘nature-based solutions’ and what it can mean to different incumbent elite factions. The fossil fuel industry is happy to endorse this phrase, provided that it allows offsets from carbon emissions through reforestation to reach ‘net-zero’. Such an interpretation of nature-based solutions would in practice mean doubling down on current practices which have led to the displacement of indigenous peoples and peasants to make room for offsetting plantations.  On the other hand, the insurance industry, which routinely underwrites extractive projects, has grown increasingly aware of its exposure to climate change. We can see an emerging rift between them and their long time fossil fuel partners as they begin to demand that nature-based solutions involve the preservation of biodiverse nature. 

At COP we saw some examples of civil society groups seeking to re-articulate and open up the contestation in terms such as ‘nature-based solutions’ and ‘we are all in this together’ as a way of disrupting intra elite relationships. For example, we saw joint activities between the insurance giant Aviva, civil society group Global Canopy and representatives of Amazonian Indigenous peoples speaking of their partnership in identifying companies contributing to deforestation and divesting from them. Such activities take these key terms and make visible the differences in how they might be interpreted in ways that can either enable the preservation of climate destroying practices or empower current custodians of biodiverse nature. Such events successfully undermine the performance of consensus in events such as COP and outline routes towards rearticulating these key terms in ways that allow new alliances to form between marginalised and elite groups. 

Reflections

Our team started out with hunches that there were cracks in elite incumbent resistance to serious actions to tackle climate change. What we came away with after using these theoretical tools to make sense of the COP was less a sense of cracks in alliances, and instead a sense of profound fragmentation, disconnection between hugely varied actors and a desperate struggle to create the impression of coherence and the successful performance of control. We were left wondering whether the search for ever greater access to inner sanctums of elite power that seemed to be ever more elusive would be a wise strategy for actors wishing to shift the debate. Instead, starting from an assumption of heterogeneity and disorganisation, of failed performances and illusory central points of power would suggest there are opportunities in thinking horizontally, organising in multiple sites, pluralising and making visible the heterogeneity of decision-making moments. At the same time, rather than simply naming the over-familiar discursive nodal points as ‘blah blah blah’ – recognising them precisely as a key means of organising alliances, the challenge may be to occupy, interpret and reinterpret these terms. If we are all in it together – let’s make it all of us, if we are looking for nature-based solutions – let’s have a conversation about the different meanings of nature and what we are looking for a solution to. 

In other words – our sense is that it no longer makes sense to only search for cracks in elite incumbent resistance. But instead – there is merit in starting from the assumption that it is a miracle that alliances are made at all, and working creatively and persuasively to make visible the divides that sit both beneath the performance of events like COP, and the disagreements that sit within the language of consensus. From that, new alliances might be made. 

References

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Bachram H. (2004) Climate fraud and carbon colonialism: the new trade in greenhouse gases, Capitalism Nature Socialism, 15:4: 5-20.

Barry, A. (2002) The anti-political economy, Economy and Society, 31:2: 268-284.

Callon, M, Lascoumes, P and Barthe, Y (2001). Acting in an Uncertain World. An Essay on Technical Democracy. Boston Mass: MIT Press.

Ford, A. and Newell, P. (2021) Regime resistance and accommodation: Toward a neo-Gramscian perspective on energy transitions, Energy Research & Social Science, 79.

Goffman, E. (1959). The presentation of self in everyday life. Garden City, NY:Doubleday.

Golnaraghi, M et. al. (2021) Climate Change Risk Assessment for the Insurance Industry: A holistic decision-making framework and key considerations for both sides of the balance sheet, The Geneva Association: https://www.genevaassociation.org/sites/default/files/research-topics-document-type/pdf_public/climate_risk_web_final_250221.pdf Last accessed on 06.10.2022.

Krauss, A.D. (2021) ‘Chapter 16 – Effect of climate change on the insurance sector’, in ed. Letcher T.M., The Impacts of Climate Change: A Comprehensive Study of Physical, Biophysical, Social, and Political Issues, Bath, UK: Laurel House, Stratton on the Fosse: 397-436.

 Laclau, E. and Mouffe, C. (2001). Hegemony and Socialist Strategy: Towards A Radical Democratic Politics. NY: Verso.

Marres N. The Issues Deserve More Credit: Pragmatist Contributions to the Study of Public Involvement in Controversy. Social Studies of Science. 2007; 37(5): 759-780.

Newell, P. (2021). Power Shift: The Global Political Economy of Energy Transitions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Newell, P., & Mulvaney, D. (2013). The political economy of the ‘just transition’. The Geographical Journal, 170(2): 132–140.

Oxfam (2021) ‘Net zero’ carbon targets are dangerous distractions from the priority of cutting emissions says new Oxfam report. Press Releases, 03.08.2021: https://www.oxfam.org/en/press-releases/net-zero-carbon-targets-are-dangerous-distractions-priority-cutting-emissions-says Last accessed on 06.10.2022.

Paterson, M (2001) Risky Business: Insurance Companies in Global Warming Politics, Global Environmental Politics, 1(4): 18–42.

Swilling M. & Annecke E. (2012). Just transitions: explorations of sustainability in an unfair world. Claremont, South Africa, UCT Press.

Turnheim, B. and Sovacool B.K. (2020) Forever stuck in old ways? Pluralising incumbencies in sustainability transitions, Environmental Innovation and Societal Transitions. 35: 180-184.

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The authors of this blog have worked on this as “the Carbon Elites Collective”, which includes Aslak-Antti Oksanen (Bristol, SPAIS), Keri Facer (Bristol, School of Education), Peter Newell (University of Sussex), Pablo Suarez (The Red Cross/Red Crescent), María Estrada Fuentes (Royal Holloway), Jeremy Brice (University of Manchester), Antonia Layard  (University of Oxford) and Kendra Allenby (freelance cartoonist).

Loss and Damage: fears, vulnerabilities, emotions and compensation in the face of climate change

Artwork by Andy Council on loss and damage
Artwork by Andy Council on loss and damage. Image credit: Amanda Woodman-Hardy. View the artwork in high resolution.

In July 2023, the Cabot Institute for the Environment and Universities UK Climate Network hosted an event focusing on loss and damage.

Loss and damage captures the adverse impacts and irreversible harm caused by climate-related events and changes, particularly in vulnerable and disadvantaged communities. It recognizes that some effects of climate change cannot be fully mitigated or adapted to, leading to tangible and intangible losses such as loss of lives, livelihoods, cultural heritage, and ecosystems.

Loss and damage has become a significant topic in international climate negotiations, with discussions focusing on how to address and compensate for unavoidable consequences of climate change, often in the context of financial support and liability for those responsible.

Participants at Loss and Damage event.
Participants at Loss and Damage event.

Participants at the workshop were encouraged to speak openly about their emotions around climate change losses and what it might look like to be compensated. They spoke openly and with great vulnerability about what they feared and hoped for.

post it notes denoting peoples feelings around loss and damage

Artist Andy Council was on hand to take notes and created a stunning piece of art to reflect our conversations – centering around greed, grief, injustice, and anger.

post it notes about compensation with regards to loss and damage

Andy said ‘When I attended the event, I heard different thoughts on the issues raised and I wanted to get as many of these into my artwork piece as possible. I wanted to get the different ideas as smaller components into a larger image, a symbol: the dollar sign. It seemed relevant as unfortunately things come down to money – profit from industry over climate change and habitat loss, money put towards preserving prestigious artefacts, less industrialised nations bearing the brunt of climate change and the funding to compensate for the loss and damage. The artwork is overall quite dark and gloomy, however there are elements of hope within the piece with images of resistance and preservation of the world’s natural landscape.’

Artist Andy Council looking at post it notes on the floor
Artist Andy Council reading post it notes.

Art has the unique ability to transcend language and cultural barriers, making it a powerful tool for raising awareness and fostering understanding of complex global issues like loss and damage. Climate change often feels abstract and distant, but through art, it can become tangible and emotionally resonant. Art can also convey the urgency and gravity of the issue, bridging gaps between different communities and fostering a sense of shared responsibility.

The UK Climate network said ‘we are keen to make sure that our research connects to people and action outside the academic world. It was great to see Dr Alix Dietzel engaging the public on this topic and bringing the conversation to life through art.’

COP27 established a Loss and Damage Fund that aims to provide financial assistance to nations most vulnerable and impacted by the effects of climate change. However, the UNFCCC has not yet specified which countries should contribute to the fund, and who will be eligible to receive help. As we head into COP28, all eyes will be on the negotiations to see whether these aspects of the fund can be nailed down.

Are you a journalist looking for climate experts for COP28? We’ve got you covered

COP28 logo

We’ve got lots of media trained climate change experts. If you need an expert for an interview, here is a list of our experts you can approach. All media enquiries should be made via Victoria Tagg, our dedicated Media and PR Manager at the University of Bristol. 

Email victoria.tagg@bristol.ac.uk or call +44 (0)117 428 2489.

Climate change / climate emergency / climate science / climate-induced disasters

Dr Eunice Lo – expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells, and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter/X @EuniceLoClimate.

Professor Daniela Schmidt – expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems. Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports.

Dr Katerina Michalides – expert in drylands, drought and desertification and helping East African rural communities to adapt to droughts and future climate change. Follow on Twitter/X @_kmichaelides.

Professor Dann Mitchell – expert in how climate change alters the atmospheric circulation, extreme events, and impacts on human health. Dann is also a Met Office Chair. Follow on Twitter/X @ClimateDann.

Professor Dan Lunt – expert on past climate change, with a focus on understanding how and why climate has changed in the past and what we can learn about the future from the past. Dan is also a Lead Author on IPCC AR6. Follow on Twitter/X @ClimateSamwell.

Professor Jonathan Bamber – expert on the impact of melting land ice on sea level rise (SLR) and the response of the ocean to changes in freshwater forcing. Follow on Twitter/X @jlbamber

Professor Paul Bates CBE – expert in the science of flooding, risk and reducing threats to life and economic losses worldwide. Follow on Twitter/X @paul_d_bates

Dr Matt Palmer – expert in sea level and ocean heat content at the Met Office Hadley Centre and University of Bristol. Follow on Twitter/X @mpclimate.

Professor Guy Howard – expertise in building resilience and supporting adaptation in water systems, sanitation, health care facilities, and housing. Expert in wider infrastructure resilience assessment.

Net Zero / Energy / Renewables

Dr Caitlin Robinson – expert on energy poverty and energy justice and also in mapping ambient vulnerabilities in UK cities. Caitlin will be virtually attending COP28. Follow on Twitter/X @CaitHRobin.

Professor Philip Taylor – Expert in net zero, energy systems, energy storage, utilities, electric power distribution. Also Pro-Vice Chancellor at the University of Bristol. Follow on Twitter/X @rolyatlihp.

Dr Colin Nolden – expert in sustainable energy policyregulation and business models and interactions with secondary markets such as carbon markets and other sectors such as mobility. Colin will be in attendance in the Blue Zone at COP28 during week 2.

Professor Charl Faul – expert in novel functional materials for sustainable energy applications e.g. in CO2 capture and conversion and energy storage devices.  Follow on Twitter/X @Charl_FJ_Faul.

Climate finance / Loss and damage

Dr Rachel James – Expert in climate finance, damage, loss and decision making. Also has expertise in African climate systems and contemporary and future climate change. Follow on Twitter/X @_RachelJames.

Dr Katharina Richter – expert in decolonial environmental politics and equitable development in times of climate crises. Also an expert on degrowth and Buen Vivir, two alternatives to growth-based development from the Global North and South. Katarina will be virtually attending COP28. @DrKatRichter.

Climate justice

Dr Alix Dietzel – climate justice and climate policy expert. Focusing on the global and local scale and interested in how just the response to climate change is and how we can ensure a just transition. Alix will be in attendance in the Blue Zone at COP28 during week 1. Follow on Twitter/X @alixdietzel.

Dr Ed Atkins – expert on environmental and energy policy, politics and governance and how they must be equitable and inclusive. Also interested in local politics of climate change policies and energy generation and consumption. Follow on Twitter/X @edatkins_.

Dr Karen Tucker – expert on colonial politics of knowledge that shape encounters with indigenous knowledges, bodies and natures, and the decolonial practices that can reveal and remake them. Karen will be in attending the Blue Zone of COP28 in week 2.

Climate change and health

Dr Dan O’Hare – expert in climate anxiety and educational psychologist. Follow on Twitter/X @edpsydan.

Professor Dann Mitchell – expert in how climate change alters the atmospheric circulation, extreme events, and impacts on human health. Dann is also a Met Office Chair. Follow on Twitter/X @ClimateDann.

Dr Eunice Lo – expert in changes in extreme weather events such as heatwaves and cold spells, and how these changes translate to negative health outcomes including illnesses and deaths. Follow on Twitter/X @EuniceLoClimate.

Professor Guy Howard – expert in influence of climate change on infectious water-related disease, including waterborne disease and vector-borne disease.

Professor Rachael Gooberman-Hill – expert in health research, including long-term health conditions and design of ways to support and improve health. @EBIBristol (this account is only monitored in office hours).

Youth, children, education and skills

Dr Dan O’Hare – expert in climate anxiety in children and educational psychologist. Follow on Twitter/X @edpsydan.

Dr Camilla Morelli – expert in how children and young people imagine the future, asking what are the key challenges they face towards the adulthoods they desire and implementing impact strategies to make these desires attainable. Follow on Twitter/X @DrCamiMorelli.

Dr Helen Thomas-Hughes – expert in engaging, empowering, and inspiring diverse student bodies as collaborative environmental change makers. Also Lead of the Cabot Institute’s MScR in Global Environmental Challenges. Follow on Twitter/X @Researchhelen.

Professor Daniela Schmidt – expert in the causes and effects of climate change on marine systems. Dani is also a Lead Author on the IPCC reports. Also part of the Waves of Change project with Dr Camilla Morelli, looking at the intersection of social, economic and climatic impacts on young people’s lives and futures around the world.

Climate activism / Extinction Rebellion

Dr Oscar Berglund – expert on climate change activism and particularly Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the use of civil disobedience. Follow on Twitter @berglund_oscar.

Land / Nature / Food

Dr Jo House – expert on land and climate interactions, including emissions of carbon dioxide from land use change (e.g. deforestation), climate mitigation potential from the land (e.g. afforestationbioenergy), and implications of science for policy. Previously Government Office for Science’s Head of Climate Advice. Follow on Twitter @Drjohouse.

Professor Steve Simpson – expert marine biology and fish ecology, with particular interests in the behaviour of coral reef fishes, bioacoustics, effects of climate change on marine ecosystems, conservation and management. Follow on Twitter/X @DrSteveSimpson.

Dr Taro Takahashi – expert on farminglivestock production systems as well as programme evaluation and general equilibrium modelling of pasture and livestock-based economies.

Dr Maria Paula Escobar-Tello – expert on tensions and intersections between livestock farming and the environment.

Air pollution / Greenhouse gases

Dr Aoife Grant – expert in greenhouse gases and methane. Set up a monitoring station at Glasgow for COP26 to record emissions.

Professor Matt Rigby – expert on sources and sinks of greenhouse gases and ozone depleting substances. Follow on Twitter @TheOtherMRigby.

Professor Guy Howard – expert in contribution of waste and wastewater systems to methane emissions in low- and middle-income countries

Plastic and the environment

Dr Charlotte Lloyd – expert on the fate of chemicals in the terrestrial environment, including plasticsbioplastics and agricultural wastes. Follow on Twitter @DrCharlLloyd.

Cabot Institute for the Environment at COP28

We will have three media trained academics in attendance at the Blue Zone at COP28. These are: Dr Alix Dietzel (week 1), Dr Colin Nolden (week 2) and Dr Karen Tucker (week 2). We will also have two academics attending virtually: Dr Caitlin Robinson and Dr Katharina Richter.

Read more about COP on our website at https://bristol.ac.uk/cabot/what-we-do/projects/cop/
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This blog was written by Amanda Woodman-Hardy, Communications and Engagement Officer at the Cabot Institute for the Environment. Follow on Twitter @Enviro_Mand and @cabotinstitute.

Watch our Cabot Conversations – 10 conversations between 2 experts on a climate change issue, all whilst an artist listens in the background and interprets the conversation into a beautiful piece of art in real time. Find out more at bristol.ac.uk/cabot/conversations.