Paul Edwards, a professor in the School of Information and the Department of History, is a member of the University’s observational delegation that will attend the United Nations 2015 Climate Change Conference in Paris from Nov. 30 through Dec. 11. Edwards, along with two other faculty members, was responsible for selecting the eight students who will join him in the delegation.
In a Q&A with The Michigan Daily, Edwards discussed his history with the conference, changes to the negotiation structure and the fact that, despite the terrorist attacks earlier this month that killed 130 in the region, the conference will still be held in Paris. The conference will be attended by world leaders including President Barack Obama.
The Conference began in 1992 when countries signed an international treaty for its creation. Their target goals, which include set limits on global temperature increases and greenhouse gas emmission reduction, have continued to change with each years’meeting.
What is the significance and structure of the conference, as well as the role of the delegation?
This is the 21st conference of parties to the framework convention on climate change that has been meeting every year since 1995. The convention is essentially an agreement to agree — or try to agree — of the world’s nations. Back when it was signed in Rio in 1992, all the parties to the convention said we will meet and negotiate an agreement to stop climate change and adapt to its effects.
What is your history with the Climate Change Conference?
Essentially the Kyoto Protocol was signed in (1997), but it was not actually enforced for (almost) another 10 years, until 2005. It’s been very weak and ineffective but at least it was something. In Copenhagen in 2009, which I also attended with the first U-M delegation, there was a lot of hope in Copenhagen that there would be a binding agreement coming out of that — it was right after Obama had been elected — but that has not happened. It’s billions of dollars that were pledged in Copenhagen that was never delivered and will never be delivered. The thing that did come out of Copenhagen was a kind of plan to keep the planetary warming to less than 2 degrees centigrade.
How has the conference changed?
There has been kind of a really important change in the way the whole association is structured. It used to be that the countries were grouped into various categories and then essentially assigned a sort of target that everyone would have to reach. It was more of a top-down approach, but this time, it’s much more bottom-up, where every country has put together its own independent, nationally determined contributions, which is basically a statement of what it’s planning to do to slow climate change and adapt to the effects.
Why aren’t you staying for the full conference?
I’d love to stay the rest of the time, but I have family obligations and even if I didn’t have that there would be no point because there’s nothing to do or see if you can’t get into the meeting. A big feature of these conference meetings is that they have enormous side events of all kinds. Demonstrations and exhibitions by corporations and international organizations, all kinds of really interesting things happen that aren’t formally part of the meeting, but with the attacks, the government is trying to discourage large gatherings. They cancelled most of these. Some of them will happen anyways — people will defy the police — hold those meetings no matter what, but it’s not prudent.
The delegation will present their findings of the summit Jan. 21 at North Quad Residence Hall.