COP’s Representation Problem

This morning, I went to a panel in the #wearestillin pavilion regarding the U.S. midterm elections and how they relate to advancing the climate agenda. This was essentially about the ‘blue wave’ that swept the states one month ago, flipping the house from red to, well, blue. These elections were remarkable in many ways- there was the highest voter turn out in a midterm election since 1966, we now have ourĀ first muslim representatives-elect, and an unprecedented number of women and people of color won hard-fought elections to take the house. This panel was remarkable in a different way, all 5 panelists were middle-aged white men in suits. As they rode the blue wave, a wave of irony hit me– demographically, it was not them who won this battle, not their rights on the line every day in Washington, and yet here they were sitting pretty talking about how we could now advance a climate agenda in Washington.

The COP, as a conference, suffers the same problem. Climate change will affect disproportionately people of color, people of low socioeconomic status, and women. And yet white people and men fill the panels and the hallways. The United States is most represented country per capita here at the COP. This is largely due to the fact that the bulk of the non-governmental organizations badged at the COP are from Western Europe and North America. It costs a load to get here, Katowice is no international hub, and then even once the barrier of arrival is met, the accommodations are expensive. This is not to mention the lack of accessibility of language here, almost every event is in English.

This is symptomatic of the larger negotiating process, developed countries ask for clemency in their past emissions, and then continue to emit. Developing countries bear the brunt of climate change and are often, by lack of economic resource, denied as large a seat at the negotiating table as developed nations and their constituents.

Solving climate change cannot be done on the backs of the poor and disadvantaged. If that is what happens, it will simply continue the same structural catastrophe that landed us here in the first place. Solving climate change requires a reckoning with structural inequality and systems of power. The first step towards this is giving developing countries a seat at the table, sitting back, and listening.