Winning Warsaw: Poland’s Paternalism Hosts UNFCCC Negotiations


At the opening ceremony of the 19th Conference of the Parties (COP19) as part of the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) in November, Hanna Gronkeiwicz-Waltz, Mayor of Warsaw, introduced a short video produced for the Polish Ministry of the Environment to rally UN delegates to “win the Warsaw opportunity” by making considerable progress on international climate negotiations during the two-week climate summit. The video began with Polish school children asking their teacher for a story about their “other Poland” pen pals. The other Poland is later revealed as thevillage of Poland on Kiritimati Island.

Kiritimati Island is part of The Republic of Kiribati (pronounced KIRR-i-bas), an island nation in thecentral Pacific Ocean, near the Marshall Islands, Fiji and Western Samoa. Made up of 32 low-lying coral atolls and one solitary island, Kiribati is one of the first nations in the world expected to be lost to climate change-induced sea level rise, and it is estimated that Kiribati may be uninhabitable by the 2050s due to salinization. The warming ocean has caused severe coral bleaching, which has reduced the availability of fish, the main source of protein for the Kiribati people. Kiribati, considered a least developed country (LDC), is one of the poorest countries in the world, and it faces a potential loss of up to a third of its GDP by 2050 and forced migration of its population if serious climate change adaptation does not occur. Despite contributing the second fewest emissions of any nation to climate change, Kiribati has been pioneering against the effects of a changing climate without supportive action from large international powers. In an effort to unite the voices of Small Island Developing States on climate change, Kiribati is a member of the Alliance of Small Island States (“AOSIS”), an intergovernmental organization of low-lying coastal and small island countries.

Unfortunately, none of these facts are explained in the video. Instead, Western Poland paternalistically presents the Republic of Kiribati as a “child victim” in the video, thereby normalizing and validating the developed countries’ use of an oppressive savior-complex as a strategy to evade proactive, binding climate change negotiation, reinforcing international climate negotiation dichotomies.

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