CSU delegation travels to Poland for United Nations climate talks

A team of Colorado State University faculty and graduate students is attending the 24th session of the United Nations Climate Change conference, which kicked off Dec. 2 in Katowice, Poland.

The event, known as the Conference of Parties or COP, is a unique opportunity to observe international public policy negotiations on a massive scale, said Ken Shockley, an associate professor, the Holmes Rolston III Chair in Environmental Ethics and Philosophy and an affiliate faculty member with the School of Global Environmental Sustainability at CSU.

Shockley, who is the official head of CSU’s delegation, first attended the Conference of the Parties in Durban, South Africa, in 2011.

He sat down with SOURCE recently to discuss what he hopes to see and accomplish at this COP.

Q: What’s your area of expertise in the climate change realm?

Shockley: I study the ethical dimensions of climate change and the relation of climate change to sustainable development, and particularly the way in which the climate talks and related policies conceptualize questions of loss and damage. That matters a whole lot when you consider the intersection between development and climate change.

I also study the notion of equity between states and the way in which current capabilities of dealing with climate change are tied to historical responsibilities.

And I am interested in how the political landscape has conceptually changed, particularly with the participation of non-state actors, which I wrote about for The Conversation.

Q: What do you mean by “loss and damage”?

Shockley: The losses associated with climate change – direct and indirect harms. That means the way in which changes in flooding or water use will lead to people sufferingIt might also be tied in with the opportunities that are available to people in virtue of their geographical and cultural backgrounds. When we worry about what we’re trying to protect for development, that makes a huge difference.


In addition to Shockley, CSU’s delegation to the UN climate talks includes:

  • Assistant Professor Doreen Martinez, Department of Ethnic Studies
  • Research Scientist Gillian Bowser, Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory
  • Graduate students enrolled in ECOL 592, The Policy and Practice of International Climate Negotiations: Nycole Echeverria, Marissa Bell, Shelby McClelland, Hazelle Tomlin, Daqi Wang, and Sarah Whipple.

The graduate students will be managing an event on youth research and advocacy for climate change in partnership with Emory University, Clark University and the Caribbean Youth Network. This team will also be an official exhibitor at this year’s COP.

Follow their adventures on Twitter by searching #ecol592 or tracking @Gwsn2012 and @sarahwhipple15

After COP19, a committee created a document called the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change. But a good deal of work remains to be done, both in understanding loss and damage, and in connecting that understanding with policy.

Q: What are you looking forward to seeing, hearing or observing in Poland?

Shockley: I am really interested to see how policymakers and other parties try to integrate the recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which looked at limiting the impacts of global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and global greenhouse gas emission pathways. This figure was decided upon during COP21, when the Paris Agreement was adopted.

Ken Shockley
Associate Professor Ken Shockley studies the ethical dimensions of climate change and the relation of climate change to sustainable development. Photo: William A. Cotton/CSU Photography

I am also interested in how they’ll use the Talanoa Dialogue, which is a model for transparent discussion between parties to better take stock of progress made. It relies on small group and person-to-person discussion, in concert with large group meetings, and provides a hopeful model of discourse for the negotiations. It has been utilized in many of the meetings that have taken place over the last year or so, and it will be interesting to see how it is used at this COP.

Lastly, I am curious about the way in which sustainable development goals, also created by the United Nations in the recent Agenda 2030, are aligned with nationally determined contributions. Following the adoption of the Paris Agreement, countries are supposed to share what they are capable of and willing to provide in support of meeting the 2 degrees Celsius goal, or the aspirational 1.5 degrees Celsius goal.

(The Paris Agreement’s central aim is to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century below 2 degrees Celsius.)

We must find some way to take stock of how individual countries have ratcheted up their own efforts, and how it aggregates across countries.

Q: What are you expecting in terms of the mood, in light of the recent release of the Fourth National Climate Assessment report by the U.S. government?

Shockley: I don’t think the release of this report from the U.S. will matter for these particular negotiations, at least on the surface. It will matter to the extent that it will be one more important scientific document to add to existing climate change research. It will provide fodder for a range of interested parties, including California and other groups focused on the U.S. In the international arena, the recent IPCC special report will certainly overshadow the U.S.-specific National Climate Assessment.

Q: How common is it for universities to manage the credential process for the climate talks, and to ensure a presence?

Shockley: It’s a rarity. I relocated to CSU because this university is the place to be if you’re interested in the environment, particularly environmental ethics. The School of Global Environmental Sustainability is at the center of this environmental focus, and fits in with the character of the institution.

Beyond SoGES, CSU has a clear global focus on sustainability, and on general matters of environmental concern. Whether that’s viewed through the standings of recent “Green Schools” rankings, or the much lauded STARS report, or just by looking around at the students and the research and the culture of the campus community, CSU is a leader in sustainability.

CSU has one of the most interesting and dynamic environmental political theory focuses among universities across the country, combining policy with theory. It is a real strength here and it’s particularly relevant for the climate talks negotiations.

Environmental justice is taught in different departments across the University, and the Warner College of Natural Resources is a powerhouse in environmental science. SoGES has created a network of environmental researchers that most universities would swoon over.

Q: What does it mean for students to be involved in this conference?

 Shockley: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is among the largest policy endeavors ever engaged in by the human species, and to get students to see this up close is amazing. To see it firsthand, watching the global-scale machinations of policy struggle forward, it’s a unique experience and opportunity for them to attend this meeting.