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Jay Wellik–Dallas, TX, USA

When working on topics that are global in scope, it is easy to get understand your own local issues, and it is easy to understand international issues, but it is very difficult to understand other countries’ local issues.  It’s rare to get firsthand experience with the needs and viewpoints of a different nation, especially if that nation is on a different economic level from your own.  The UNIV 290 class got pretty close this past week, however, when Professor Brett O’Bannon—from the DePauw Political Science department—returned from the ‘Regional Conference on Protection Challenges to Climate Change in West Africa’ hosted by Togo.

At that meeting, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) met to discuss what their position would be for the December UNFCCC COP-15 meetings in Copenhagen.  Professor O’Bannon was asked to attend the meeting and speak on the security threats that climate change poses to Africa.

The basic issue we discussed with Prof. O’Bannon was how a group of weak governments—like those in ECOWAS—band together to create an audible voice.  What bargaining chips do economically and politically weak countries even have?  Well, none if you limit the conversation to economics and politics.  But what if you broaden the conversation and open it up to, let’s say, something like human rights?  Now you’re talking about displaced peoples, desertification, and resultant social tensions and violent conflict.  These are areas in which the people of Africa—as well as other LDC countries—have already paid dearly.

Prof. Brett O'Bannon discussing climate change and security in West Africa with the UNIV290 group.

Prof. Brett O'Bannon discussing climate change and security in West Africa with the UNIV290 group. (Photo taken by Anthony Baratta--DEPP UNIV 290).

The ECOWAS nations agreed on asserting a new human rights based approach, but there is still a lot standing in the way of a recognizable voice at COP-15.  In order to keep from being ignored, the African nations must present a strong and unified position.  By doing this and moving the conversation away from economic policies–something which LDC countries play a small role–African nations have at least some hope of being listened to during UNFCCC negotiations.

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