An exciting prospect: Upcoming Climate conferences

About COP23 and COP24’s locations and what I think about it. Also, looking back at COP22 and forward at a big climate fight in 2018.

So the COP22 Marrakech Climate conference is over, and I haven’t been there. Sure, it would have been interesting reporting the progress or lack thereof one after my big Paris expedition. Also, meeting some of the many nice people, especially from the PlaceToB project should have made me go to Morocco.

Still, I had decided to skip the 2016 conference, which – unlike the COP21 – wasn’t expected to bring great changes. I speculated that COP23, which should normally take place in Asia, might be hosted by China. I planned to go there. First because of the importance of the country in climate politics. Second, because I have a thing with China and know the language reasonably well to get along. I think that would have made for some more good reporting.

Climate leadership: From the USA to China

It turns out, the COP23 won’t take place in China – as a matter of fact, nobody was volunteering to host it. Now I guess the Chinese government was surprised – as we all were – by Donald Trump winning the presidential election. It has become clear that the kind of partial leadership the US took in climate politics will be given up and that there’s room for new countries to draw prestige from being in the frontline of the fight against global warming.

China’s certainly the most interested in this role – and had Trump been elected a month earlier, I bet they would have seriously considered to host the Climate conference in 2017. Bad luck for them… and for me.

koenigswinter_vom_drachenfels-small-climate-dim-future-wikipedia-tohma-cc-by-sa-4-0

Climate conferences: A dim future? (Bonn – Wikipedia / Tohma / CC BY-SA 4.0)

 

Finally, I learned that the COP23 would take place at an enclave of the Fiji Islands, namely Bonn-by-the-Sea. Seriously, Fiji as an Asian country volunteered to preside the Conference whereas it will take place in Germany’s former capital, some 150 kilometers from Luxembourg. That’s goood for me, and I’ll try my best to be there.

I’ve wanted to visit Bonn for some time. It has a kind of United Nations District, with several environmental institutions, notably the UNFCCC secretariat. Also,there’s the Museum Mile, with the Bundeskunsthalle (art) and the Haus für Geschichte (history). Last but not least, there’s the Beethovenhaus.

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Beethoven (Joseph Karl Stieler / Beethoven-Haus Bonn / PD)

I hope the people from PlaceToB plan to set up a project for that conference. As I don’t live too far away and I’m bilingual in German and French, I might be of help with the preparations and the communication in Bonn.

COPs, next stops: Beethoven, Germany, then Chopin, Poland

Beethoven is one of my favorite composers, but I’m also a big fan of Slavic music. So when I hear Poland, I think of Fryderyk Chopin, and also of Henryk Wieniawski. The reason I mention this is, the government in Warsaw has volunteered to host the COP24. As far as I understand, this is a proposal, not yet a decision.

Normally the 2018 Conference should take place in Eastern Europe, but because the preceding conference is already located in Europe, this might be changed. Should it take place in Poland, I think Wroclaw (German name: Breslau) might be chosen (after 2008 in Poznan and 2013 in Warsaw) – the city has been the European Capital of Culture 2016.

1836-chopin-small-maria-wodzinska-_-national-museum-warsaw-_-pd

Chopin (Maria Wodzinska / National museum Warsaw / PD)

Anyway, while the COP23 will be transitional, the COP24 will be really important and conflictual. 2018 will be the beginning of the Facilitative dialogue, which is meant to bring the countries commitments in line with what is needed to remain below the 1.5 degree target. How much more needs to be done will be more clear thanks to an IPCC report to be published that year.

COP24 might see a big fight, and may represent the last stand if humanity is to avoid a massive climate change that may cause anything from an unprecedented economical crisis up to the extinction of the human species.

An all-important climate conference at a „climate dunce’s“ place

Should the Climate conferences take place in Bonn and somewhere in Poland in succession, that would symbolize a core problem of the international climate policy: There are highly motivated countries like Fiji and Germany, but there are others that keep a hidden agenda, like Poland. The Eastern European country depends on coal for its energy production and for economical and social reasons tries to keep mining as long as possible.

Clearly, organizing the all-important COP24 at a „climate dunce’s“ place will make for interesting discussions. And although Poland is some 1000 kilometers from Luxembourg, it’s still quite close – I just have to be there!

 

1989 Project – Preliminary remarks

Robin Okey: The Demise of Communist East Europe: 1989 in Context  http://www.amazon.com/The-Demise-Communist-East-Europe/dp/0340740574/

Robin Okey: The Demise of Communist East Europe: 1989 in Context
http://www.amazon.com/The-Demise-Communist-East-Europe/dp/0340740574/

This book I got for my project after doing some online research. I got it as – hopefully – the best available analysis that puts the events of 1989 in a context. Context of time, reaching from the nationalist movements of the 19th century through the hopes and failures of the interwar period and the communist period, right into the present. Context of space, insofar that the story of 1989 can be told as “poor eastern Europeans against the communist beast”, but can also be seen as differing national societies with differing histories, differing structures and differing internal regime crisises.

This isn’t meant to deny that the external context of crisis of the “Warsaw pact”’s foundations played a decisive role. I believe however that, in order to understand the events of 1989, one has to look at them in their national context, as they were perceived by most of the actors at that time – rather than only analyzing them with hindsight as if they were meant to necessarily lead to the known end (of “communism”). An additional benefit of that approach will be to understand the present of eastern european countries not so much as a parallel “post-communist” evolution starting from the year 1989, but to stress the continuities of economical, social and ethnic matters that have shaped politics in that region long before 1945, and seemingly are there to stay.

Looking back at 1989 to assess the present situation in Eastern Europe: Victor Orbán was a Hungarian student leader 25 years ago.

Looking back at 1989 to assess the present situation in Eastern Europe: Victor Orbán was a Hungarian student leader 25 years ago.

A book and a game

I plan to read the book, play the historical simulation game named “1989: Dawn of Freedom” and get a feeling for the things that happened in those days. I will then write an account mixing game elements and historical account – something I did some years ago for the anniversary of the end of the Soviet Union and the Cold War (“Jouer les rouges”, 23.12.2011, in French). Clearly, a game cannot be as reliable a source as an academic study. However, it helps familiarizing with the events and the forces in play. Also, by raising questions about how the game designer translates (or leaves out) factors, circumstances and events found in the book and other sources, one gets a feeling for the possible divergencies in interpreting the events of 1989. Anniversaries are often an opportunity to celebrate the mainstream view of historical events – this will be no different. That alone would justify me spending time and energy on the subject.

An additional, although less important, incentive will be the ways the events of 1989 are related to China. Obviously, there are the protests of Tiananmen, brutally ended in June of that year. This was followed by a stabilization of the “Communist” regime that has lasted until now. The game is focussed on eastern Europe and includes a “Tiananmen track” only as a “gamey” feature, that is not part of the competitive reenactement that gives it a pedagocical value.

From Miss Liberty to the Tank Man: During the demise of European Communism, Tiananmen was only a sideshow. But comparing change and immobility here and there is instructive.

From Miss Liberty to the Tank Man: During the demise of European Communism, Tiananmen was only a sideshow. But comparing change and immobility here and there is instructive.

Anyway, the most interesting relationship is not the coincidence in time, but the fact that China started in a state that might be seen as less ripe for a reform than eastern Europe. Since Tiananmen however, Chinese “Communism” has walked on a path that might have been taken by eastern European and Soviet reform communists. Surprisingly, the combination of economical reforms and political immobility (see for example my review of the Deng Xiaoping biography by Felix Lee, in German) has evolved much beyond what had been done in Europe in the years preceding 1989. Comparing the challenges here and there, then and now, promises to be gratifying: Why did the economical reforms give consistent results in China but not in the Soviet area? What can be learnt from the events of 1989 – either from the perspective of those who want to preserve the dominance of the Communist party or the perspective of those who dream of its demise? In the book as well as in the minds of the game designers and, no doubt, in those of the Chinese leaders of today, there’s a recurring quote from Alexis de Tocqueville (relating to Ancien Régime France):

“… the most critical moment for bad governments is the one which witnesses their first steps toward reform.”

Finally there’s another personal reason to be attracted towards the subject of 1989: Being born in the 1960s, I have witnessed the era before and the one after that fateful year for an approximately equal amount of time. Unlike many younger friends, I remember clearly how it felt to be a progressive or even a Socialist and to have an assertive Communist movement as your competitor and partner. Those first 25 years of my life shape the way I look towards the actions of Western countries today, be it invading foreign countries, spying on and harassing their own citizens and building walls against people fleeing from their countries.

My generation – half cold, half free?

The walls, then and now - justified as a way to protect us!?

The walls, then and now – justified as a way to protect us!?

During the cold war, those who didn’t wanna choose between freedom and social justice opposed the cynism of the Communists arguing that Western freedom was just a fake. We felt that we were right to criticize the Soviet interventions from Hungary to Afghanistan, the suppression of opponents by the KGB and the Stasi and, as a symbol of the inhumanity of the eastern European Communism, the Berlin Wall and the people shot while passing the frontier.

We were right to criticize. We were wrong to hopes that the end of Communism and of the Cold War would bring along a better world. Clearly, I do not regret the presence of Communism, which in part can be seen as a perversion of socialist ideas. But I may have been over optimistic regarding the possibilities of a “free world”. Or maybe, there was a potential for a better world that has not – not yet? – been realized. The question then would be: What went wrong in 1989?

Working in the lobby of the Hotel Rosatsch, view on the garden with squirrels and redstarts.

Working in the lobby of the Hotel Rosatsch, view on the garden with squirrels and redstarts.

Ecriture: traiter et raconter

Cette semaine, j’ai traité dans le woxx le sujet de la médecine chinoise. Un peu exténué, comme tous les jeudis soirs, j’ai feuilleté mon gros recueil sur 25 siècles de reportages. J’ai lu plusieurs textes de suite – le style était en général celui du récit (même fictif, quand c’est Defoe qui parle de la peste comme un adulte alors qu’il n’avait que 5 ans quand elle a ravagé Londres). Très loin du style reportage comme il est enseigné par les maîtres allemands. Ceux-ci privilégient un style très “en direct”, avec conversations et témoignages, utilisant les descriptions pour mettre le lecteur dans le bain – et souvent avec des mises en contexte impersonnelles qui ressemblent à ce qu’on fait dans les articles normaux. Comme dans le mien sur la médecine chinoise, où la seule “folie” que je me suis permise a été de nommer deux personnes rien qu’avec leurs prénoms, afin de faire transparaître qu’il s’agit d’amis.

Cuisine occidentale, cuisine chinoise, en Chine j’ai pu goûter aux deux.

Cuisine occidentale, cuisine chinoise, en Chine j’ai pu goûter aux deux.

J’aurais aussi pu raconter comment, après les cours de chinois, quand Anne-Marie me ramenait en voiture, elle me conseillait des remèdes chinois contre le refroidissement, ou me parlait de son expérience. Moi, je restais sceptique, comme je l’ai toujours été par rapport aux médecines “alternatives”. Mais le trajet était trop court, on n’a jamais approfondi le sujet.

Mon scepticisme n’est pas dû au fait que je serais un défenseur de la médecine classique, mais à ce que les modèles théoriques de ces médecines n’ont en général rien d’alternatif au sens où je l’entends. Ces modèles sont souvent encore plus obsédés par la systématisation et la rationalisation que la science orthodoxe. De surcroît – pour se donner un air de sérieux ou pour satisfaire au besoin d’ordre naturel, même quand il s’agit de magie ou de spiritualité – ils laissent bien peu de place au facteur humain, à l’incertitude inhérente aux choses vivantes et au sentiment que l’individu humain est pris dans un tissu de vécu social et corporel qui ne se prête pas à la dissection.

L’art de découper le canard. En Chine, cuisine rime avec médecine, mais de là à essayer la TCM ... Mes doutes dissipés, je m’y mettrai sans doute.

L’art de découper le canard. En Chine, cuisine rime avec médecine, mais de là à essayer la TCM … Mes doutes dissipés, je m’y mettrai sans doute.

J’aurais pu raconter comment, lors de cette soirée à l’ambassade du Luxembourg à Pékin, Xavier a commencé à me parler de son expérience frustrante avec les études de médecine chinoise et de son projet d’organiser une conférence au Luxembourg. C’était déjà le printemps, on se tenait sur la terrasse, avec vue sur le jardin dans la grande cour intérieure. La plupart des invités étaient partis, et, comme d’habitude, le groupe des étudiants luxembourgeois à Pékin, ainsi que l’ambassadeur, sa femme, et ses enfants restaient à discuter ou à jouer. Je crois que j’ai essayé d’expliquer gentiment à Xavier que je m’intéressais à la médecine chinoise en tant que partie de la culture chinoise, mais que je m’en méfiais en tant que médecine. J’ai donc été agréablement surpris quand j’ai compris que les théoriciens avec lesquels il avait retrouvé son goût de la médecine étaient précisément ceux qui ne se satisfaisaient pas de mystérieux flux d’énergie et d’une systématisation basée sur les cinq éléments (trois chez les anthroposophes, je crois ;-). Et qu’on avait – en partie – trouvé des explications scientifiques aux effets bénéfiques provoqués par l’acupuncture, des explications articulées dans le cadre de notre savoir sur la constitution biologique du corps humain. Sachant que j’allais rentrer bientôt – je crois que c’était mon dernier soir à l’ambassade – , je lui ai demandé de me prévenir à l’avance de la date de la conférence. J’avais décidé de profiter de cette occasion pour commencer à investir le sujet de manière journalistique.

C’est fait. Il y aura d’autres occasions. Mais cette idée de raconter plutôt que de “traiter” ne me lâchera pas non plus.

Superbe couverture pour mon premier article sur la médecine traditionnelle chinoise.

Superbe couverture pour mon premier article sur la médecine traditionnelle chinoise.