22 November 2023

Her passport is already on her desk. Maria Jernnäs at Tema M - Environmental Change is ready to leave for this year’s climate summit in Dubai. But despite the increasingly acute climate threat, she does not think negotiations will be easy.

Charlotte Perhammar

Can I take the train there? That was one of the first questions that Maria asked herself. After a quick look at the map, she realised it would be difficult. The journey would take too long and it would involve passing through some of the world’s major trouble spots.

Reluctantly, she realised that she would have to travel by plane.

In the shadow of many crises

The climate summit will take place in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, from 30 November to 12 December 2023. It is happening in the shadow of war, economic crisis and increasing climate change. In addition to politicians, researchers and representatives of various organisations will be attending. Maria Jernnäs is travelling with several colleagues from Tema M - Environmental Change at Linköping University.

Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar Her first climate summit was Paris in 2015, when the world’s countries agreed on the goal of keeping the temperature rise on Earth well below 1.5 degrees Celsius and to strive towards 2 degrees. The agreement was a milestone, but since then concrete measures have been limited even though there are many ambitious national climate plans.

“I’m not optimistic that we will stay below 1.5 degrees or 2 degrees. There’s no indication that we will meet these temperature goals. At the same time, I’m not a pessimist in the sense that I think the planet is doomed, but the challenges are piling up. We haven’t even seen all the effects of what we’ve created,” she says.

More voices being heard

In her research, Maria studies global climate policy. This concerns how the climate issue is perceived in different countries and what political ideas exist about how climate action should be implemented. Some may see it as a purely technical problem, while others weigh in factors such as fairness, equality and gender equality.
Different economic conditions have an effect, but so does history. What responsibility do the rich countries have? What demands can be placed on growing economies like China? By highlighting different perspectives, she hopes as a researcher to be able to contribute to more voices being heard.

Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar

“What’s important when studying international climate policy is to not only assume that some people are evil and some are good, but that everyone works according to their own circumstances to ensure that national interests can be maintained and strengthened. Then that has different consequences for climate action. It’s important to think about that.”

The climate negotiations in Dubai will be a chance to really get close to these issues.

Two major issues

The summit is to present a fresh evaluation of global climate transition. There will also be proposals for further action and political leaders will negotiate on the continued way forward. Maria Jernnäs thinks it will be exciting to see what issues are highlighted and how the countries act.

“From my perspective, it will also be interesting how things like just transition are perceived and to see how the wording there is framed. For example, how concrete the emphasis is on where the main measures need to come from.”

The second major issue concerns compensation for climate damage that cannot be repaired, for example when coastlines and islands disappear due to rising sea levels or when people's culture, identity and living conditions are destroyed. Negotiations to set up a fund for this are already under way.

“But then everyone must first admit that there are losses and damage and that there are effects that we can’t adapt to. In that case, who will pay and how much? It will also be a question of who is responsible. How do you quantify such losses?”

The climate summit in Dubai is going to be challenging, even though the threat is increasingly acute. There is a great deal of disagreement not only between countries, but also within countries. At the same time, there is considerable pressure on politicians to agree on concrete measures. For example, it would be a success if the final document actually stated that fossil fuels need to be phased out, according to Maria Jernnäs.

But there is a long way to go.

Transformation takes time

Working on the climate issue can be hard, she admits. There seems to be no end to the bad news. One way she deals with this is by taking on her professional role of researcher. A certain distance can then be kept.

Photo credit Charlotte Perhammar

“Then, at certain times, I open the door and think that feeling something is also a driving force. You have to connect with what you are doing. But you can’t be super depressed every day. You’d probably have to change jobs.”

On the notice board in her office are pictures of her two young children. What does she think their society will look like in 20 years?

“More electrified probably, but I think it won’t be that much different. We need a social transformation, but it’s very difficult to bring about. To actually change how you think, how you see your own role and what is desirable is probably not something you can do in 20 years, says Maria Jernnäs.

Translation: Simon Phillips

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