Copenhagen, climate science and the emotional geographies of climate change

The Pacific island nation-state of Tuvalu featured significantly at the Copenhagen Conference of Parties (COP) 15 climate change negotiations, where the vulnerability of Tuvalu to sea level rise and emotional outpourings of the Tuvaluan delegation contributed to the nation’s prominence. In this paper we discuss the likely impacts for Tuvalu of a 1.5°C versus 2°C global warming target and explore sadness and discomfort surrounding discussion of these targets during COP 15. We highlight tensions between science and emotion, arguing that affective encounters can be significant in climate change decision-making. Weeping by a member of the Tuvalu delegation evoked discomfort in the conference plenary. This discomfort briefly unsettled the apparently stable boundaries of convention and protocol that seek to separate emotion from science and politics. We argue that possibilities for change arise when emotions enter climate change negotiations, even though (or perhaps because) these are arenas that privilege rational exchange. Our conclusion urges that more attention be paid to how climate science and emotion are intertwined in climate change politics.

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