Thursday, October 8, 2009

My Copenhagen Justification


I have heard that the Danish capital is expected to welcome approximately 17,000 guests to COP15 over the next two weeks. No doubt a clearer picture of participant numbers will emerge as the conference moves forward, but it’s obvious that a lot of people will be travelling here from far flung destinations. (I suppose when one hears that one’s friends are (a) staying in Swedish hotels and (b) sleeping on ships docked in Copenhagen’s harbour, it’s obvious local accommodations are being stretched to their limits by hordes of attendees.) And while there will probably be a few participants who engage in the token long-distance bicycle ride or hike demonstration, many of us will be flying and contributing to GHG emissions in the process. If I take climate change seriously (and I do), how can I justify my own cross-Atlantic excursion as a principled decision?

The scary answer is, that unlike some of the more engaged participants, I may actually have a prima facie relatively weak case. I am not a negotiator or member of a country delegation. I am registered as a delegate of the Canadian Bar Association but we do not even have an articulated organizational objective for attending. In this case, the CBA is basically facilitating the attendance of some of its membership. Nevertheless, I profess at least three reasons for making this trip and I’ll let you decide if any combination of them meets your exacting standards.

Justification #1 – My Legal Practice:

The first, and most relevant, justification for my attendance at COP15 is that I am attempting to jump-start a climate change and renewable energy law career in Toronto. I have the fortune of working with some truly inspirational and committed colleagues back home (see e.g. and their encouragement has proven pivotal in my plunging headfirst into international climate change negotiating as a way of better preparing myself to effectively work in this area.

While it’s undoubtedly possible to learn about climate change law and policy through low-carbon methods such as reading articles, exchanging emails and phone calls and participating in webinars, I believe spending one’s personal resources (i.e. time and money) demonstrates a higher level of commitment to the issue. I wouldn’t dream of disparaging anyone’s commitment to mitigating climate change simply because they could not physically attend COP15, but I think it’s harder to argue against my own dedication if I’ve gone to the trouble of getting myself over here. Moreover, if I intend to hold myself out as knowledgeable on climate change law to clients back home, I think the marketing job is made a tad easier if I can point to my two-week attendance in Copenhagen.

In addition to the marketing cache that comes with my attendance, I naturally believe I will actually be able to learn more about the issues involved. I anticipate being surrounded by global experts on a myriad of climate change-related topics and my goal is to exploit their presence by accosting them in the conference centre and attending seminars at which they are speaking (so much the better if they prefer to share their knowledge over a Tubourg). To that end, I have already RSVP’d to a weekend course that will touch on carbon finance and climate justice. Representatives from New York University, the University of Sydney and the University of Toronto will combine to lead these sessions and provide an unparalleled opportunity to develop a truly global perspective and perhaps become acquainted with best practices on these topics.

Finally, I am also interested in meeting a wide variety of people seriously engaged in climate change issues. At its most basic, I hope this experience will lead to job opportunities by making personal connections. My related aspiration is to develop a network of resources that I can tap into for the benefit of future clients when I’m back in Canada. I hope this will be part of the “value-added” I can offer and will end up setting me apart from some of my local competitors.

If you’re not convinced my contribution to GHG emissions is justified after these few paragraphs, I doubt anything I say next will change your mind, but they were definitely bonus factors when considering the value of this trip to me personally.

Justification #2 – Visiting Denmark:

This trip to Denmark falls nicely at the end of a year in which I have explored beyond my traditional European comfort zone. Most of my extended family lives in Germany and over the years I have fortunately managed to consistently visit them. On occasion these trips have been combined with some fleeting explorations of neighbouring countries, but for the most part my European visits have centred on the land of pretzels and David Hasselfhoff fans. For whatever reason, I have been lucky in 2009 to move my experiences well beyond central Europe to include the Iberian Peninsula, Iceland and now Denmark. I consider myself very lucky to have had these opportunities and I’m excited to use COP15 as an excuse to add another new culture to the mix.

I am taking my opportunity to be in Denmark seriously by hooking up for my second week with a Danish host family that has agreed to provide hospitality to COP15 guests. New Life Copenhagen is a website/art movement to create a unique and inspiring “live art project” out of matching Danish families with foreign guests. I can think of no better way to become acquainted with a place than to spend time connecting with its local population. I hope this will be a chance for me to gain an understanding of Denmark beyond Hans Christian Anderson, Arctic sovereignty disputes with Canada and renewable energy generation. (Although, I do hope to also learn more about that last point.)

Justification #3 – My Oma:

My oma (i.e. grandmother) is turning 90 in January and unfortunately I will not be able to attend the festivities in a cute Rheinland-Phalz hamlet about 45 minutes from Frankfurt in the direction of Mainz. She is my last remaining grandparent and the one with whom I always had the closest relationship. I last saw her in 2005 and there is no obvious trip to Germany planned for my near future.

This birthday is particularly significant because it is her first one being spent in an elderly care facility. She had remained remarkably independent despite serious hip operations until this past year. Even the last time I stayed with her four years ago, she would still cook for us, although I would offer to go buy the groceries. So this trip offers me a chance to see an ailing grandparent and I don’t know how many more of these chances will come along. As a side bonus, I will be with her and my other German relatives in the days leading up to Christmas (departing Dec 23rd), which should be a treat and unique experience for me.

So there you have it. I want to boost my climate change law practice, get to know Denmark and visit my oma. A trifecta I’m comfortable with and gives me hope that I’m not just spewing hot air.

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