My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This is an incredibly engaging and well-written memoir of something that affects everyone on this planet by somebody who was there in the thick of climate change negotiations for years until the Paris Agreement was signed in 2015 and beyond. Brianna Craft gives a no-holds-barred account of the frustrations and triumphs involved and the intense depression and euphoria it invoked, alongside family issues and an unexpectedly close relationship to her God. If you want to understand why it all took so long to agree on, you can’t do much better than read this book.
The insight into what goes on in the background of international negotiations was absolutely fascinating in this memoir. It’s incredible that so much of the support work is done by unpaid interns, whereas I was paid a salary to do essentially the same job for an international European project. Ranging from the COP17 in Durban in 2011 right up until the Paris Agreement signed in November 2015 and beyond, Brianna Craft attended and assisted at all the negotiations, preparations and discussions related to the Least Developed Countries.
Climate change and the Least Developed Countries
Reading Brianna Craft’s memoir of the climate change negotiations, it is fascinating to see the human side of the government officials and their support staff. But, working as she still is for the Least Developed Countries, Craft is well-positioned to give us an overview of the desperate situation many countries face. In fact, working to support Pa Ousman, one of the most prominent African negotiators, she may well have a better overview than anybody else of what happened.
As the world spirals towards climate disaster, negotiations are painstakingly slow. It is the Least Developed Countries that are facing the worst consequences and are affected most, yet it is the developed world that caused the climate crisis and is dragging its heels about solving it. Many small island nations and low-lying coastal areas may be swamped by rising sea levels and salination, making their farmland unproductive. In the entire continent downriver from the Himalayas, the vast quantities of water released by melting glaciers could spell disaster. Weather systems are destabilising and extreme weather causes disasters around the globe.
“After an AmeriCorps year spent teaching kids in after‐school environmental clubs, removing invasive species, and organizing local climate co‐ops in Seattle’s south side, I knew there was no going back, no more ignoring what I wanted. Doing something about the global threat affecting everything and everyone was more important than the regimented future continuing my architectural aspirations afforded. At twenty‐four, I would go back to school. I decided to gamble two years and all the borrowed money I could muster on a master’s in environ mental studies in the fabled Ivy League, where I hoped to turn passion into a bankable career, one that would make a genuine difference.” The subject she studied was Technology Transfer for the energy transition.
When she attended a weekly discussion group on climate change, mostly for the free lunch included, she was given the chance of a lifetime. A London‐based researcher at the International Institute for Environment and Development needed an assistant when she advised the chair of the Least Developed Countries Group at the upcoming UN climate change negotiations in Durban, South Africa, representing The Gambia.
Once she arrived in Durban, one of things that she noticed is that some of the delegates very openly sexually harassed and propositioned the young women like herself. It was a cultural difference she hadn’t expected and later on, she joined with other women to try to combat it, or rather, avoid it; there seem to have been no policy guidelines. However, most of the relationships she built up during the ongoing and repeating negotiations and their preparation were positive. One of the things I enjoyed most were her stories about informal moments and in particular with certain of her colleagues who obviously have a great sense of humour.
Another thing that she soon realised about the climate negotiations was that, unlike in her own country, i.e. the USA, there was no question about whether climate change was happening or if it was an issue. For many of the countries it was a deadly serious reality threatening their very existence. That gave the opinions of the Least Developed Countries added weight in the discussions.
“Power was the ability to inspire wide‐ranging agreement rather than bend others to your will. Moral authority could rally strength of numbers, so the vulnerable spoke with influence the wealthy could rarely command.”
A personal story
Interspersed with the main story of the climate talks is Brianna Craft’s own life story. She had always had an extremely difficult relationship with her tyrannical father and couldn’t wait to move away from the family home. Only when he had gone through major surgery (which she only heards about later) did she make a concerted effort to reconnect, but old habits are hard to break. Struggling with her guilt about this failure, she reveals that she has a very personal relationship with a loving God who values her. She does not pray in a conventional sense, but has imaginary conversations with an amusing God who teases her and advises her.
“I didn’t know anything like this Love. Patience on an unhuman timescale. Kindness. Undemanding, eternally hopeful. His faithful love endures forever. It was not inconsistent or determined by my performance.” The contrast with her father is obvious.
I found this an immensely absorbing and interesting glimpse into something that is a closed book to most of us. Yet anyone who has worked in an office will recognise the office politics and the day-to-day reality of back-to-back meetings, though I was surprised just how much of the final decision-making was done in extremely late-night meetings. I was also expecting Greta Thunberg to turn up at any moment, but she generally moves in completely different circles. This is the real inside story of how negotiations progress, rather than the activist side of things that possibly have more effect at persuading the public than truly changing the minds of politicians. There is also some succinct information about climate change and how it affects the Least Developed Countries that is extremely valuable. This book is just full of mind-blowing information. Personally I enjoyed the more personal aspects of Brianna Craft’s home life and her quirky, talkative God, but I can imagine that some people would find it unnecessary or even off-putting. You could always skip those parts; there’s more than enough to make this a fascinating and absorbing non-fiction read for anyone interested in travel and politics.
Disclaimer: This review is my honest opinion of a digital ARC I received for free from NetGalley.