he nations of Earth have collectively recognized that global warming and climate change require an international response.
In the interest of supporting and deepening that response, educators and students need to bring these international efforts into the classroom with as much urgency as possible.
To that end, on this Topic page I provide everything you need as educators or students to begin developing your own critical educational initiatives and join the effort.
As a sociologist conducting field research in this arena for over 20 years, I bring terabytes of data and scores of hours of audio and visual documentation to the table, as well a few insights into integrated methods for research, publication and teaching about the soci0-cultural struggle over emergent global climate governance.
The first and biggest problem for teaching global climate governance is complexity, so it is important to begin by narrowing the topic down.
For our purposes, the generic term global climate governance will be used to indicate the collective response of human societies to produce democratic self-governance of the unfolding climate crisis.
This collective response must be understood as an emergent compromise formation of opposing social forces that can be broadly described as emerging from three reciprocally determining but relatively independent spheres of everyday modern life:
the economic sphere: working people, labor and ownership associations, and corporations in every sector of production — the sphere in which wealth and poverty are produced and maintained
the public sphere: an almost infinite collection of individual and collective social forces represented by voluntary organizations of every sort, including activists, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), public interest and citizens groups self-organized at every scale in every sector of everyday life — the sphere in which public opinion is forged
the political sphere: the organized, multilateral international processes for negotiation and cooperation among transnational entities and actors — the sphere in which collective power is codified and expressed as governance
For my purposes here, the term emergent global political sphere of climate governance specifically refers to the institutional spaces created and managed by:
The United Nations and its subsidiary bodies, including first and foremost the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its subsidiary bodies
The World Bank
The International Monetary Fund
In May of 1992, the UN General Assembly adopted the text of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and they opened the Convention for signing at the Rio Earth Summit in June of 1992.
On March 21, 1994, the UNFCCC entered into force, and the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) to the Convention have been meeting every year since COP 1 in Berlin, in April 1995.
With my climate research partner John Foran (Professor of Sociology at UCSB and NXTerra co-director), I started my research on this international experiment in global climate governance at COP 17, Durban South Africa 2011, at which I represented the University of California as an Official Observer Delegate for the first time.
In that year, the UNFCCC launched the so-called Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP), the process that delivered the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
I have been at every COP from 2011 to 2019 in that same official but autonomous capacity.
The IICAT website was and remains our climate research archive — a public file cabinet with which we share our sources and publish our work.
IICAT is a methodological experiment in conflict-seeking participatory ethnography and visual documentation — a tool for participating in the UN climate talks and engaging with the scholars, intellectuals, activists, politicians and business folks who gather each year inside the COPs as well as outside, in the streets.
In 2015 Foran and I put out an open call for UCSB scholars interested in environmental and climate governance, and in environmental and climate justice social movements to join us in forming the Environmental and Climate Justice Studies Research Hub (EJ/CJ) at the Orfalea Center for Global & International Studies at UCSB.
EJ/CJ is constituted by 20 UCSB scholars and seven Constituent Projects, each of which is organized by one or more EJ/CJ scholars.
In 2016, John Foran (UC) and Sarah Jaquette Ray (CSU) created the UC-CSU Knowledge Action Network for Climate Justice Education, out of which grew the UC-CSU NXTerra Project.
In 2017, EJ/CJ adopted the UC-CSU KAN as one of its EJ/CJ Constituent Projects.
The KAN met and brainstormed the problem of teaching in climate change, and decided a powerful engagement with the concept and practice of climate justice was necessary.
In 2017, Foran and Sarah Ray (Professor of Environmental Studies and NXTerra co-director) and I proposed UC-CSU NXTerra as the next step toward shaping the study of climate change, critical sustainability, and climate justice, a tripartite conceptual attempt to capture what we see as crucial streams of related knowledge-creation (discourses) that can help us transform the way educators from both of California’s flagship public university systems think, act, and teach about the unfolding climate crisis.
A key component of the educational transformation we envision is bringing the global efforts to regulate/govern what I call carbon maldevelopment—to bring the extractive fossil fuel culture of corporations, private interests, public interests, and nations into the realm of democratic governance, and thus under the purview of climate science—what we know to be true, and thus what we know needs to be done.
Updated — February 21, 2021
The History of Global Climate Governance — QUICK LINKS for the Classroom
KEY CONCEPTS, presented in logical order for classroom presentation
Climate Science: This is what we know, and it comes inscribed with forces compelling us to act in the service of truth, first of all, and to achieve certain valuable outcomes, for example — a just and livable future on an environmentally friendly planet fit for human habitation.
Global Political Ecology – Three Basic Spheres of Social Activity:
The Economic Sphere – Extraction, Production, Consumption, and Externalization
The Public Sphere – Speech, Communication, and Assembly
The Political Sphere – Governance, self- and otherwise
1. THE ECONOMIC SPHERE OF EXTRACTION, PRODUCTION, CONSUMPTION, ACCUMULATION AND EXTERNALIZATION: This is where economic activity takes place, producing and reproducing the social and environmental conditions for human life, as well as a number of external, unintended consequences, chief among which for our interests here is climate change.
In the exacting words of environmental sociologist James O’Connor, culture enters nature through work.
In the same vein, critical theoretical economic analysis should treat all economic activity as beginning in the appropriation of nature in and through a specific form of society.
From this perspective, there is no such thing as economic production in general, only every historically and materially specific action by which human beings direct their attention at the world (nature) and transform some piece of that world into something of value, claiming that valuable thing for themselves (or some group) in the process.
Wealth acquired by labor directed at nature accumulates and serves as the basis for more lobar to be so directed, leading to further extraction, production, consumption, and accumulation for further extraction, etc.
Thus begins the dialectic of nature and culture that informs the work of critical theoretical economists, sociologists, and geographers, among others. (On dialectics of nature and culture, see Foran and Widick 2016 essay Whose Utopia?, Nature & Culture).
2. THE PUBLIC SPHERE OF SPEECH, COMMUNICATION, AND ASSEMBLY: This is where people talk about what they know about climate change and educate themselves for participation in Climate Governance. It refers to the manifold activities of all stakeholders, including social movements, the non-government organizations, the nations, universities and researchers, journalists and writers, artists and humanists — everyone directing their sustained attention at the climate crisis and engaging in the public
Selected key sources on climate-crisis-focused public culture:
3. POLITICAL SPHERE OF CLIMATE GOVERNANCE: This is where climate policy is made. It refers to policy making at every scale, local, municipal, state, region, territory, nation, and global. Here we provide links to explore this local to global scale from Santa Barbara up through the UNFCCC.
2020 Report, Politics & Global Warming, by Yale Program on Climate Change Communications and the George Mason Center for Climate Change Communication
KEY LINKS FOR CLASSROOM ENGAGEMENT WITH CLIMATE POLICY-MAKING INSTITUTIONS ON LOCAL TO GLOBAL SCALE:
Teaching the Political Ecology of Emergent Global Climate Governance
The United Nations
After World War 2, and in the interest of preventing further catastrophic conflicts between the nations, the victors of the war set up the United Nations as a world deliberative body intent on establishing the principle of global environmental governance—and these victors went on to build the UN system in their own image.
By adopting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the UN Charter, the UN ensured that all further deliberations would occur under the auspices of liberal political science, with input from stakeholders rooted in three relatively autonomous rights-based and rights-driven spheres of social life:
1) the economic sphere: productive agents (individuals, unions, owners, corporations, associations) representing individual and collective economic forces in what can be called the property rights-driven global economic sphere;
2) the public sphere: individuals and voluntary associations individuals and groups of every type, including economic agents, speaking and assembling for self-education and preparation to participate in the economic and political spheres
3) the political sphere: this is the sphere of governance in which all parties struggle for
Each of the three spheres can be quickly identified in the UN Charter, the UN Universal Declaration of Human, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, and the Paris Agreement—these are founding documents (speech) that called into being and action the current regime of global climate governance, as it has been achieved to date.
This “Three Spheres” analysis of emergent global governance is useful for teachers and students because it identifies how modern governance, to the extent that it is modern, legitimates itself as self-governance by following collectively self-established rules guaranteeing individual rights of free speech and assemble, property ownership, and political participation.
The following films and videos are presented here as teaching resources because they can be used in the classroom to demonstrate the value of the “Three Spheres” analysis and fertilize discussions about emergent global climate governance.
The Economic Sphere
In this clip from Climate Justice (Richard Widick, MGP 2019, post-production), I highlight the profound ways in which the economic forces dominate and inhibit both public and political forces engaged in emergent global climate governance.
The Public Sphere
The following videos are useful classroom tools for showing how voluntary organizations and individuals from civil society increase their value as stakeholders in the Paris process.
The first video is produced by the UNFCCC itself and explains how all peoples and all groups are invited to interact engage in the process and help make sure it embodies the interests of all stakeholders.
The second video is a powerful example of how much expertise and prescient analysis can help clarify the complex problem of apportioning ‘fair shares’ of the massive burden that global warming and climate change.
VIDEO: Observer organizations in the UNFCCC process (UNFCCC 2018)
VISIT THE UNFCCC CLIMATE ACTION STUDIO YouTube Channel for additional videos serving as cicil society interventions in the UN climate talks.
The CIVIL SOCIETY REVIEW (website) VIDEO by Action Aid USA (below).
Climate Action and the Responsibility of the Rich, ActionAid USA 2019
DETAILS: Join Brandon Wu, Director of Policy and Campaigns at ActionAid USA, and Sivan Kartha, Senior Scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, to talk fairness in global climate action. What does ambitious climate action look like for rich countries who have done the most to cause the climate crisis compared to countries who have done the least?
Neoliberal Dreaming — from Globalization to Climate Crisis
Dr. Richard Widick, UC Santa Barbara
When carbon pricing, emissions trade and offsets become the privatization of the air
Patrick Bond, University of the Western Cape, South Africa
Gore & Kerry TED Talk:
QUOTE: “On his first day as president, Joe Biden signed a letter of acceptance that set in motion the 30-day process for the United States to re-join the Paris Agreement on climate. On the day the US returns to the accord, John Kerry, the US Special Envoy for Climate, sits down with Nobel Laureate Al Gore to discuss the make-or-break decade ahead of us. Listen as Kerry lays out how the US fits into the global plan to get to net-zero emissions, explains why the COP26 UN climate conference could be humanity’s “last best hope” to build international momentum and explores the role of business and youth activists in promoting environmental justice. (This interview features an introduction from Christiana Figueres, the principal architect of the Paris Agreement.)” — Ted.com, February 2021
This webinar was put together to help participants navigate the UNFCCC and COP24 in Katowice, Poland. View the presentation to learn how to effectively participate in and observe the UNFCCC COP negotiations. Highlighting the organizational and decision-making structure of the meetings, speakers share tools and resources to facilitate attendee’s navigation of the COP space both in person and online. While this webinar is targeted to the Research and Independent NGOs (RINGO) constituency group, all COP attendees will find it useful.
An historic pact to combat climate change and unleash actions and investment towards a low carbon, resilient and sustainable future was agreed by 195 nations in Paris. See the best moments of COP21.
Here the UNFCCC puts its best face forward, displaying the official narrative of the conclusion of the Paris process and adoption of the 2015 Paris Agreement on Climate Change.
Useful in the classroom for documenting the physical space of the historic talks, introducing many of the great personalities, showing the many heads of state and global dignitaries in attendance that helped establish the universal importance of the event.
At the 24th meeting of the Parties to the UN Climate Change Convention, governments completed the so-called Paris Rulebook, the set of guidelines for implementing the Paris Climate Change Agreement, and attention is shifting to implementation of measures that cut greenhouse gas emissions. Mark Radka, Chief of the Energy and Climate Branch at UN Environment, describes how the UN works with countries, companies, and people to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Recorded on 04/08/2019.
The EARTH – 4K Extended Edition (NASA, 2017, 60 min)
Can we hack climate change to save us all? – Foreign Correspondent (ABC News, Australia, 2017, 60 min)
Foreign Correspondent is the prime-time international public affairs program on Australia’s national broadcaster, ABC-TV. We produce half-hour duration in-depth reports for broadcast across the ABC’s television channels and digital platforms. Since 1992, our teams have journeyed to more than 170 countries to report on war, natural calamity and social and political upheaval – through the eyes of the people at the heart of it all.
The segment details several controversial geoengineering programs.
— NASA: Earth Views – International Space Station B-Roll (2015) —
— NASA: Gazing at Earth’s Light Show from Space (NASA, Johnson, June 30, 2017) —