Climate Communication

Lost in Translation: The Complexities of Reaching a Global Climate Agreement

Kerrin Kinnear, OEP Intern


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Muscles tensed by a mind overcome with frustration, I exit the auditorium. I had just witnessed a keynote address made by the President of COP21, Laurent Fabius, at the start of the Global Landscapes Forum. Arguably a once in a lifetime opportunity for an environmentalist, I had not understood a single word he said. Why? The speech was in French, and my language skillset is primarily limited to English.

Language issues are significant in the realm of global negotiation. Prior to traveling to Paris for the United Nations Climate Conference, most of my conversations about international climate action focused solely on which strategies were most appropriate for effectively mitigating fossil fuel emissions and adapting to the current and future impacts of climate change. Speaking with delegates from Madagascar and Namibia as well as negotiation observers from Dickinson University, I realized I had overlooked a key concept for the conference – the profound impact complexities of language can have on the effectiveness of international coordination.

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With delegates and members of Civil Society from over 190 different countries gathered at COP21, ensuring a uniform sense of understanding is an incredible feat. To accommodate the resulting vast range of languages, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) mandates that all formal proceedings are interpreted into the organization’s six official languages: Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish. Using headsets, delegates from across the globe are able to hear live feeds of the negotiations in their preferred language, and contribute when they are given the floor. Representatives who speak none of the six official languages have the opportunity to speak in their language, so long as they pay for an interpreter to translate their message.

lost in translationWhile this framework for communication demonstrates a certain commitment to universal comprehension, barriers still persist in the conference arena. During my conversation with Dickinson alumni, I was surprised to learn that a topic of debate for that day’s official proceedings was the clarification that international parties “welcomed” rather than “invited” countries to increase climate change efforts. From this, the importance of semantics and cultural word meanings in an international setting became evident. Additionally, when I spoke with a researcher from a French NGO focused on deforestation, he explained how quickly high-level jargon becomes integrated into the climate negotiations. As a result, delegates who have limited proficiency in the UN languages and who cannot afford interpreters struggle to keep up with and weigh in on complex conversations and policy strategies.

Despite the difficulties associated with communicating across languages, the United Nations and its member countries have held 21 climate change conferences and continue to plan global coordination on this issue. Because of the international community’s persistence in the face of cross-cultural communication barriers, I am more excited than ever before about the prospects for a global climate agreement.

On Gender and Climate Change

Alexandra Mayer


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The agenda for the COP21 lists 22 steps towards agreement. Discussing “gender and climate change” is number 17. Women represent the majority of the world’s poor and agricultural workers and many are responsible for fetching water. Dramatic shifts in climate and food production are therefore primed to disproportionately harm women. Furthermore, women fight economic, social, and physical discrimination that also limit their ability to adapt to climate change.

Yet, on December 7th, Mary Robinson, former UN human rights chief and president of Ireland, lamented, “This [the UN conference] is a very male world. When it is a male world, you have male priorities,” and asserted, “women in developing countries are among the most vulnerable to climate change.” Her frustrated words indicate that there may be no legal text on gender equity coming out of the COP21 negotiations.


While I was listening to a panel discussion on indigenous and women’s rights at the Global Landscapes Forum in Paris, the man sitting next to me whispered, “Why should we care, if we’ll all be dead soon anyways?” alluding to the idea that if global warming goes unmitigated, humans may go extinct. I shushed the man to hear the speaker, but, as I have heard this argument used repeatedly to dismiss calls for human rights, I will reply now:

In fighting against climate change, you are fighting for the future of humankind. The next question, then, is what kind of future are you fighting for? We live in a beautiful world that is also riddled with atrocity, disparity, and exploitation.

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Rape, racism, and domestic violence are global epidemics, so is poverty at the hand of the elite. I must ask, whose future are you fighting for when you rally to limit emissions, but not to stop the avoidable deaths that are occurring now at the hand of starvation, lack of health care, and violence? Are you okay with saving your own kind, and nobody else?

I know it is impossible to take on every injustice. We all have our own cause. Still, at the very least, I invite you to recognize the importance of human rights. Why should we save ourselves if we’ll only continue to disparage the earth and each other?

Published on 11 December 2015 at the OEP blog.

Spring 2016 Geography 4098: Paris 2015 Climate Conference Debrief

Anji Seth will be instructing a Geography variable topics course in the spring to discuss outcomes from the Paris 2015 Climate Conference. Questions? Send  e-mail to <>.

GEOG 4098 Variable Topics:
The UN COP21 Paris 2015 Climate Conference Debrief
Credit Hours: 3
Prerequisites: none
Recommended preparation: GEOG 2300 or equivalent
CLAS 446 W 4-6:30pm (time/location may be adjusted after first class)

In December 2015, UConn is sending a delegation of students [Apply now at Paris Applicationdeadline Oct 9] and faculty to the Paris 2015 Climate Conference (COP21) to join the expected 50,000 participants including 25,000 official delegates from government, intergovernmental organizations, UN agencies, NGOs and civil society.

Professor Seth, a faculty co-Chair of the UConn COP21 delegation, will instruct this one-time course, informed by the experience of the delegation, with guest lectures and readings designed to help us unpack the outcomes and implications of the historic conference for people and the planet. The course is open to students interested in Global Warming from all disciplines/perspectives, including those who travel to Paris as part of the delegation, and those who do not.

Contact: Professor Anji Seth <>


Debate? or Entertainment?

This week I  was asked to be a guest on a local morning radio show, which I’ve done twice in the past, to talk global warming science. On this occasion the producer stated, “We are also inviting another guest who is convinced that man does not directly effect global climate change, to produce a lively debate.” My response is copied below:

Thank you for this invitation. I have enjoyed being a guest on [the] show twice in the past, and would be happy to do so again. However, I cannot accept this invitation under its present conditions.
A one-on-one debate regarding the science serves to confuse the issue in the public sphere. In the scientific community there is no debate about the basic facts of global warming. It has been shown through observations, theory and modeling that the release of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels is the primary cause of the present global warming, and continued emissions will accelerate the warming through the 21st century and beyond. Every major scientific body on the planet has written a statement to this effect , and more than 97 out of 100 scientists who are active in research on the topic agree on the facts.  See for example, the scientific consensus.

If a debate format is what you are looking for then a balanced view would require a minimum of 32 scientists arguing for the science for each person arguing the anti-science point of view.
John Oliver did a piece on this very topic in his new show [Last Week Tonight]. You can view the 4 minute video here:

If you’d like to do a discussion/debate on what actions should be taken to address global warming, [i.e., The Conversation We Need to Have] I’d be happy to participate, and can recommend a few others who would be appropriate guests on that topic.

This is a repost from Anji Seth <>.

Teal Lecture this week: Anthony Leiserowtiz

UConn’s Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series on Nature & the Environment


Climate Change in the American Mind

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz,
Director, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication,
Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies
Thursday, February 13, 4 pm
Thomas J. Dodd Research Center, Konover Auditorium
University of Connecticut, Storrs

Dr. Anthony Leiserowitz is Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication and a Research Scientist at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University. He will report on recent trends in Americans’ climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy support, and behavior and discuss strategies for more effective public engagement.

Dr. Leiserowitz is a widely recognized expert on American and international public opinion on global warming, including public perception of climate change risks, support and opposition for climate policies, and willingness to make individual behavioral change. His research investigates the psychological, cultural, political, and geographic factors that drive public environmental perception and behavior. He has conducted survey, experimental, and field research at scales ranging from the global to the local, including international studies, the United States, individual states (Alaska and Florida), municipalities (New York City), and with the Inupiaq Eskimo of Northwest Alaska. He also conducted the first empirical assessment of worldwide public values, attitudes, and behaviors regarding global sustainability, including environmental protection, economic growth, and human development. He has served as a consultant to the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard University), the United Nations Development Program, the Gallup World Poll, the Global Roundtable on Climate Change at the Earth Institute (Columbia University), and the World Economic Forum. – 860.486.4460

The Edwin Way Teale Lecture Series brings leading scholars and scientists to the University of Connecticut to present public lectures on nature and the environment.