Welcome to my new blog! What has made me create this blog is that I’m given the privilege to follow the ongoing Climate Change Conference closely as an observer from the LSE; First from London, and then, during the second week, from Copenhagen.
And my first observation would be that while the Londoners are getting into a Christmassy mood, Santa Claus has yet to be spotted in the Bella Center in Copenhagen. Only the coming two weeks will show whether the negotiators can unwrap the gifts that many have wished for – and this is what I’ll comment on in this blog.
The conference started with the usual media reports, originating from the Telegraph and reported in e.g. Dagbladet, on all the limos and private jets that seem to be necessary to transport the climate VIPs from A to B. Not the biggest problem, ok – but still a good point from any journalist’s point of view. It does bring back memories of the GM, Ford, and Chrysler CEOs who flew private jets across the US to beg for money to save the business that they’d driven into the ditch. This certainly isn’t leading by example, one type of leadership I plan to discuss in a later blog.
And also: We didn’t need to wait any longer than until the first session to get the first introduction to why the UN negotiations are said to be inefficient. Papua New Guinea’s (PNG) high-profile envoy Kevin Conrad asked for the floor nothing less than three times in a row to protest against a technical detail in the session rules – and to stress the importance of the conference. Annoying. But also understandable. PNG is one of the countries that has already started to feel some possible consequences of climate change.
But despite the UN’s much-criticized and well-known slowness, it should be possible to get quite a lot out of the talks this time. If not for any of the many other good reasons, then because more and more states are becoming aware of the possible economic costs of not taking action. Interestingly enough, the insurance industry is already bracing itself and taking action. And this is not to save endangered species, unless you count their money in that category.
For state- and business leaders under pressure it can be useful to think in economic terms, something that the Stern review has tried to help with. Nicholas Stern’s calculations show that the costs of the consequences of climate change can be compared to the costs of the two World Wars and the Great Depression. Stern himself is in Copenhagen to remind the negotiators of this.
But a complete economic understanding shouldn’t really end there, as Raj Patel recently pointed out in a public lecture at the LSE. We do need to start understanding the full value of things that we consume, because what they’re worth isn’t always reflected in the price tags. To quote Oscar Wilde: ‘What is a cynic? A man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing’. Patel’s main point in his lecture (Podcast) was that: If the beef that went into making a normal Big Mac were raised on land that used to be rainforest, the actual value of that burger could be translated into nearly, say, 200 USD.
If you now think I’ll go on to argue that burgers should cost you 200 dollars (121 pounds), please lower your axe. My point is simply that it’s interesting to see the value of rainforest translated into the price of a familiar product, like a Big Mac. And if we don’t start realizing the full value of such things as green house gas-absorbing rainforest now (e.g. by preserving it), then it’s possible that our descendants and we will have to pay the full price later – with interest rates.
Just ask someone from Papua New Guinea.