CLIMATE CHANGE | The lord and the lady: COP16, day 4


I found Lord Christopher Monckton sitting all alone at the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) booth in Cancunmesse on Thursday afternoon. Lord Monckton is one of the better-known climate change deniers (or skeptics; take your pick of terms) and achieved notoriety in Copenhagen by calling a group of young activists “Hitler Youth.” He spoke in St. Paul last October and has been in a somewhat publicized disagreement recently with John Abraham, the climate scientist from the University of St. Thomas. I thought this would be an interesting conversation, so I ambled over and we ended up having a 45-minute chat.

It’s somewhat odd how many points of agreement we have, given that our overall attitudes are very, very different. Based on our conversation, we both think science should be open, transparent, and civil. We both think that unconventional views should be allowed to be expressed in scientific literature, provided they undergo the same rigorous peer review process as other material. And we both agree that global warming is occurring and is human caused — we just differ significantly about the amount and impact of such warming. He believes that the United Nations is overstating the potential warming by about two-and-a-half times; I do not. He is positively convinced that no climate predictions that rely on models instead of purely observational data can ever be considered valid; I am not. And he explicitly rejects the precautionary principle, stating instead that no action should be taken unless every effect of climate change is conclusively known. I do not. This leads us to very different conclusions about the state of climate science and the need for action.

It was a day of great conversations. During the U of M delegation’s morning meeting, Peter, a fellow undergrad who speaks German, had connected up with a German television crew and brought them back to our group to talk. While the camera guys looked at the exhibits in the EU Pavilion (it was a slow news day), we chatted with the reporter, asking him about differences between the way climate change is reported on in Germany and the United States. “It’s almost a tradition for Germany to have lots of reporters here,” he said. “Even though we know not much will come of this COP, we’re still here.” He believed that many journalists in both countries didn’t understand details of climate change, “because that takes time, and journalists don’t have time.” He also talked about political differences between the two countries. “All the parties in Germany are clear in understanding there IS a problem,” he said.

But the best part of the day was attending a briefing for youth by Ms. Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Words fail me in describing her. Think of the optimism and passion of a 17-year-old, the protectiveness of a mother, and the wisdom of a very old lady all rolled into one fireball personality. She became our entire delegation’s favorite.

Ms. Christiana Figueres gives a briefing

Photo: Ms. Christiana Figueres gives a briefing.

We had seen her speak on Wednesday as well (a meeting which she opened with, in very fast Spanish, “We’re just going to do this whole thing in Spanish because everybody here understands it perfectly, right?” before breaking into guffaws and switching to perfect unaccented English. Apparently she has command of five languages. On Wednesday, where she was addressing NGOs, she pointedly asked environmental organizations to not shoot down an agreement that may be less than perfect. “I think that if we load the U.N. process with all the expectations in this room and in rooms abroad, we will sink this boat,” she said. “I would entreat upon all of you to be realistic and realize that this is not the last agreement that the climate regime is going to have. It is insufficient. It is completely insufficient in every respect. And that’s a pretty bold statement for me to make. But it is the best we have, and we’re not going to get there overnight. If we try for everything, we will get nothing.”

In her briefing to youth on Thursday, an audience member asked, “How do you deal with wanting strong action so badly and yet accepting something that’s just ‘good?'” She explained, “Here’s how I think of it: I have two daughters, both in college now. When they were born, did I have high hopes for them? Absolutely; I had every hope for the kind of women they’d be. But I knew I couldn’t rush them to walk before they were ready. Sometimes, things take time, as much as we wish with all of ourselves that they didn’t.” The subject was obviously emotional for her. She expressed her thanks to the youth present for being able to “see beyond national boundaries” and implored us to keep that perspective. When a student made a comment that expressed gratitude at her appointment as Executive Secretary and included “I hope you will be a strong advocate for action on climate change,” she shot back, “Will be? I hope you know by now that I already am.” When she closed her remarks by talking about some of her motivations for dedicating her life to this work — us, our children, and our grandchildren — her voice broke and she couldn’t talk any more. People who think that international negotiations are dry or emotionless have never met Christiana Figueres.

I’ll be back with my last blog from COP16. I fly home to Minneapolis on Sunday. Thanks for reading!

State Senator Ellen Anderson, Representative Kate Knuth and a delegation of University of Minnesota students are attending the COP 16 conference in Cancun, and students will share the experience with TC Daily Planet readers through blog post from the conference.