Professor returns from UN climate change conference brimming with ideas

As a philosophy professor researching the ethics of climate change policy, York’s Idil Boran found her recent experience at COP18 in Doha, Qatar, illuminating and informative.

“I place real value in backing theory with practice,” she says. Attending the 18th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) allowed Boran to witness negotiations in real time, thanks to photo of Idil Boran in QatarYork’s Institute for Research & Innovation in Sustainability (IRIS), which secured accredited spots (see YFile story, Nov. 30, 2012). “I thought it would be really important for a philosopher to see the actual conference where the deliberations between sovereign states take place.”

Idil Boran in Qatar

She returned with so much more useful information than she ever expected and is now determined to share it with other researchers at the University and beyond. “I would like to think ahead to what the research community could do with it.”

There were three key issues that came out of COP18 that Boran thought were noteworthy and important to monitor for future developments, but that also presented opportunities for research. First, “for the first time in the entire history of international debates on climate change there was an agreement in principle for compensating countries for loss and damage incurred by climate change,” she says. “It’s a very important achievement.” That’s especially true as it is often developing countries that are hit by the adverse effects – present and future – of climate the DOHA 2012 Conferencechange, and Western countries have typically, so far, been resistant to the idea of compensation. One of the challenges going forward will be in deciding what constitutes loss and damage as a result of climate change. Boran predicts there will be more discussions on the matter at future conferences.

Idil Boran was one of two York professors to attend COP18 in Qatar

But it also opens up “a wide array of questions that could be pursued by formal research,” she says, such as how “to integrate scientific assessment – in probabilistic terms – of the likelihood of a given event being caused by anthropogenic climate change to a policy of compensation.” Fundamentally, Boran suggests, these are problems of a philosophical nature pertaining to the justification of law and institutions, both at domestic and international levels.

Second, the issue of financing clean technology and the tension between the use of private or public funds was one of the most “heavily discussed questions” in Doha, says Boran. It is usually assumed that once an agreement or treaty is reached, a system of international cooperation by sovereign states to achieve investment in clean technology and development in the Qatar in December during COP18developing world and emerging markets would follow. That, however, hasn’t been the case.

Qatar in December during COP18

“The idea of turning to alternative instruments for finance is now at the forefront of the debates,” she says. As one speaker put it, investing is already risky for private investors; investing in clean technology is even riskier. But as Boran points out, “investment banks are actually talking about how that obstacle can be overcome” and she finds that hopeful.

Third, the question of financing also came up at “Momentum for Change: Women for Results”, a high-profile special event in relation to women in the developing world, organized by the Rockefeller Foundation and the UN Climate Change Secretariat. “Women tend to be more vulnerable than men, on a global scale, to the loss and damage caused by climate change as the effect of poverty is harder on women,” says Boran. This is because women are more likely to run the household, but their status in traditional male/female relations leaves the burden they carry largely unrecognized in the public sphere. At the same time, women are recognized as extremely resourceful and resilient in the face of adverse circumstances. If given the large 3-D word "Think" with a city in the backgroundopportunity, women present a remarkable human resource worldwide.

There was much thinking going on during the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Qatar

With these things in mind, the “idea of designing financing policies and instruments with the express purpose of offering real opportunities to women was heavily discussed,” she says. The idea would be to provide financing specifically targeted to women, an idea that grew from the microfinance model, which “provided women in developing countries life-transforming opportunities that didn’t exist through traditional means of banking and credit”.

One of the recurrent challenges is that international aid funds often don’t reach those who can make good use of them, however, women are seen as an important resource to foster development. As a result, “experts are now discussing the idea of making clean development financing ‘gender-sensitive’,” says Boran. She expects this too will be an ongoing topic of debate going forward. “It is important to do more work around this concept.” It needs further examination, such as “how, Banners spelling out: Every step you take makes a differenceconceptually, the idea of genderizing policy could fit into a model”.

The banners spelling out: Every step you take makes a difference

Overall, Boran is optimistic with the process of climate change debate. “It’s an extremely complicated issue with many different global perspectives,” she says. She found it heartening that there were some productive discussions that could potentially yield significant results. She acknowledges there won’t be a quick solution, but highlights one of the banners at the Qatar National Convention Centre, which read: “Every step you take makes a difference”.

“This idea,” says Boran, “is precisely what should keep motivating us, both for policy and for research.”

Anyone interested in attending next year should watch the UNFCCC website and contact IRIS at irisinfo@yorku.ca.

For more information, contact Professor Idil Boran at iboran@yorku.ca.

By Sandra McLean, YFile deputy editor

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