Sustainability Center supports Inspiring Climate Talks at University of Freiburg

On Thursday, April 12, 2018, representatives of the Sustainability Center attended a lively discussion on “Polycentric Climate Governance after Paris: Expectations, Challenges and Pathways”, an open to the public discussion held at the University of Freiburg.

They were joined by members of the scientific community including students (mostly PhD candidates) from varying departments, including the FRIAS (Freiburg Institute for Advanced Studies) department. This event was co-financed by the FRIAS Junior Researcher Conferences. The Sustainability Center was present not only due to interest in the topic but also as supporters for the event, including for the prizes for the top three winners of the photo competition “Prima Klima in Freiburg”.

The discussion began with an introductory speech on polycentric governance held by Jonas Schönefeld, who spontaneously took the place of the original speaker Andy Jordan who was detained in England due to weather conditions. Mr. Schönefeld enlightened the audience on the topic of polycentric governance and how it has developed since the Paris Agreement of 2016. The term comes from the Nobel laureate Elinor Ostrom who coined the phrase, along with Oliver E. Williamson, in 2009. Her analysis of economic governance demonstrated how common resources can be managed successfully by those who use them rather than an overarching government or private company. This bottom-up approach of climate governance has been gaining popularity since then, as it allows for more precise and informed decision-making. There are five pillars of this form of governance which allows for its success: local action, mutual adjustment, experimentation, trust and finally, overarching rules. Mr. Schönefeld also introduced a cooperation, INOGOV, a network across the EU, which strives to develop innovations in climate governance. Its main research themes include emergence, creation, invention; diffusion, upscaling and transfer; and evaluation, legitimacy and accountability. He pointed out that although the research and knowledge of climate change is abundant in today’s scientific community, it is fragmented and thus, collaborating networks are essential.

As a quick intermission, members of the Freiburg Scientific Theatre performed a short skit to highlight the injustice of certain practices pertaining to carbon emissions. Their metaphor of being allowed to cheat in a relationship as long as the couple pays a fee to another loyal couple, highlighted the issue of CO2 trade in a humorous way. 

The next speaker, Frank Biermann from Utrecht University, analyzed the issue of power in politics i.e. the relationships of power. Stakeholders, varying actors, institutions etc. all play a vital role in decision-making, each with their own interests and demands. With that in mind, Mr. Biermann stressed the vital importance of having equity and power as core features of any research design. He alluded to the Robert Keohane controversy, a debated topic in political science spheres. The controversy pertains to a statement by Keohane on the price for equity and justice in climate change politics. Power always plays a role in any political discussion and cannot be ignored. Instead, any proposed policies need to have power, equity of power, accountability and interests clearly stated and formulated. Otherwise, as is unfortunately often the case, weaker stakeholders are treated unfairly or taken advantage of, as exemplified by carbon leaking.
Philipp Pattberg from the Free University of Amsterdam vividly depicted the complexity of polycentric governance with help of a metaphor and a bag of expired medications. As he put it, the earth has a fever (climate change) and requires medication (policies, standards, new technologies, etc.). However, when too many medications are mixed, negative side effects may arise from the positive-intended intervention. The complexity of having varying policies that are technically all aiming at fighting climate change can be presented as thus: the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The effects of the numerous policies cannot be simply added together as many play off of each other and may even negate one another. Mr. Pattberg recommended setting boundary conditions for a complex system which allows for more experimentation and with that, more failure. However, the Earth does not have the luxury of much time for experimentation and failure, but with good research, scientists can assist the governance system to learn better and smarter.

Dr. Sabine Reinecke from the Forest and Environmental Policy faculty of the University of Freiburg rounded off the discussion with an example of how Ken broke up with Barbie in 2011 as her packaging contributed to deforestation. Barbie’s manufacturer Mattel, was purchasing packaging products from Asia Pulp and Paper (APP), a company well-known for its deforestation practices in Indonesia. Deforestation is a key contributing factor to climate change, as the harvested trees no longer contribute to the carbon sequestration which can be up to 8.8 billion tons of CO2 per year. The public outing of Mattel and with that, APP, prompted a drastic reduction in contracts with the paper company, including that with Barbie and with Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC). The response was the support of the development of a new “Deforestation Free Certificate” which should be available in 2020 for companies. This story exemplified how climate change policies are vital in sectors across daily life, including toy manufacturing.

The event concluded with the presentation of the three best photos submitted to the “Prima Klima Freiburg” competition. Each winner received a cash prize and will have their photo, along with the other 7 photos of the top ten finalists, showcased in Freiburg. The Sustainability Center was proud to be a supporter of the reward for their effort. 

Katrina-Magdalena Lindemann