Climate Change Negotiations

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A group of Arizona State University professors and students traveled to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Bonn, Germany recently, where the students presented white papers on international climate change negotiations. Daniel Bodansky, an ASU professor of Law, Ethics and Sustainability, and law student Ashley Votruba, will talk about the trip, climate change negotiations and the paper presented by Votruba. She focused on the impact of bottom-up approaches to protecting wetlands internationally and preventing the rapid depletion of plant life and loss of top soil in desert and arid regions.

Ted Simons: A group of professors and students traveled to a U.N. convention on climate change in Bonn, Germany. Here to discuss the trip and the conference is Daniel Bodansky, USA professor of law, ethics and sustainability, and also joining us is Ashley Votruba, one of the ASU law students who presented research at the conference. Good to have you joining us.

Daniel Bodansky: Thank you.

Ted Simons: This is an international U.N. conference. Give us a better idea of what was going on here.

Daniel Bodansky: There was a convention adopted in 1992, a meeting under the U.N. convention. It's a meeting of countries from all around the world to try to develop a new agreement to try to develop --

Ted Simons: That is a framework, that is what that means?

Daniel Bodansky: Now there are various things going on under that to try to push the process forward.

Ted Simons: Is it similar to the Kyoto protocol and those things?

Daniel Bodansky: That was developed under the framework.

Ted Simons: And you guys are over there presenting white papers on a variety of research?

Daniel Bodansky: That's right. The idea of the project is to try to inject some fresh thinking into the climate change process. The process tends to get bogged down and gets very task dependent. It's hard to move from one track to another track. The idea of academia is bringing fresh ideas.

Ted Simons: And your idea is about lands, and arid and semi-arid areas. What did you bring to the conference?

Ashley Votruba: My project is, is there something we can gain from a bottom-up approach. It's one where we can let our states and countries choose their own commitment levels. I choose the convention as examples of conventions that have developed a bottom-up approach, and whether or not those things can be useful and effective.

Ted Simons: What were those approaches and how universal were they?

Ashley Votruba: It's difficult to say how useful they are. Some of the advantages are increased state participation, states are more willing to get involved if they are able to set their own commitment levels. There are funding opportunities that come with adopting those approaches and there are of course downfalls, as well. Difficult to maintain a high level of stringency from a bottom-up approach.

Ted Simons: How did you research that, what did you do?

Ashley Votruba: You do a lot of reading into academic literature published on those institutions. The ransar convention started in the 1970s, so it's older. There are papers written on its effectiveness. There are papers written on the research out of different conventions.

Ted Simons: You're looking at depletion of plant life and preventing depletion?

Ashley Votruba: Desertification convention, yes. That's one of the measures, seeing if there are ways to mitigate desertification from happening and looking to see if it's been successful in certain areas or not.

Ted Simons: Do you look at Arizona or places trying not to become like Arizona?

Ashley Votruba: The goal is to look at places trying not to become like Arizona. There are countries in Africa that have taken measures to move forward in preventing desertification from happening.

Ted Simons: How did ASU become involved in this?

Daniel Bodansky: I worked at the State Department and I have been involved in the process for about years now. We were trying to find something where ASU could make a contribution and give students real-life experience. Papers on the process, rather than just academic purposes. I developed in conjunction with the U.N. climate change secretariat and tried to find something they would think is useful to the negotiations going on right now.

Ted Simons: Sounds like an independent research project.

Daniel Bodansky: That's right, it was. Funded by Lincoln center for applied ethics. The idea was not just to do an academic exercise, but something that's applied and really practical and makes it actually useful to the people involved in the negotiations.

Ted Simons: We heard what Ashley focused on. What were some of the other areas of interest that ASU students participated in?

Daniel Bodansky: Four students all together. One was the human rights treaty system, how that evolved. It hasn't been that successful. Our idea was to look at other systems where it's been more evolutionary, step by step, incremental. That was one of the other ones we looked at. We looked at the intellectual property regime, and we looked at private international law dealing with commercial law aspects.

Ted Simons: I was going to say, trade law, intellectual property law, all of this and climate change, that's some pretty deep weeds there, isn't it?

Daniel Bodansky: We're trying to identify what are some of the key things facing the negotiations. Do they try to develop a single agreement or a series of different agreements. The intellectual property regime is an example of a lot of different treaties. It's been successful, so we're trying to see why that is the case, why it's worked as well as it has, and if there are some lessons we can learn.

Ted Simons: What kind of response did you get from the white papers?

Ashley Votruba: We had people interested in the work and talking to us afterwards. Hopefully some of these ideas will move forward and turn into something.

Ted Simons: How do you know if the ideas have moved forward?

Ashley Votruba: It's difficult to see. We'll look to see if pieces of what we presented will turn up in an agreement in the future.

Ted Simons: Is there a way to track what ASU students presented?

Daniel Bodansky: I think it's difficult to see where the exact influence goes, but you can watch and see whether somebody's ideas can be traced through.

Ted Simons: And as far as the students, what did you want them to take from all this?

Daniel Bodansky: We wanted to try to give them some sense as to how the international process really works, so they would have a better understanding as to really when countries are negotiating, what are they concerned about, how do they interact, so they are not just studying it from afar but they can actually see it in practice.

Ted Simons: And Ashley, what did you take from all this?

Ashley Votruba: Much similar to what he said. The opportunity to see the delegations in action, how it works. See the complexities. It really provided a different perspective.

Ted Simons: Going to change your career plans?

Ashley Votruba: Maybe a little bit, we'll see. It's still a ways away. I certainly have an interest in international law and climate change. If there was a way to weave that into my future I'd be up for it.

Ted Simons: It's kind of a life-changing situation here?

Daniel Bodansky: I think it's really eye-opening to go to one of these meetings and see what it's like in practice.

Ted Simons: Thanks for joining us, we appreciate it.

Daniel Bodansky:Professor of Law, Ethics and Sustainability, Arizona State University; Ashley Votruba:Law Student;

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