“It’s Nice to Say Something”

Universities mostly watch from the sidelines

First thing every morning at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) meeting in Warsaw, Gregg Walker attends meetings in his capacity as a steering committee member for a coalition of organizations called RINGO (Research and Independent Non-Governmental Organizations to the UNFCCC).

“RINGO is for universities, think tanks and NGOs doing research on climate change,” explains the Oregon State University professor of speech communications.

On the fifth day of the conference, he joins his fellow RINGO leaders in the Crakow Room to recap yesterday’s events. By the time the meeting comes to order, several dozen researchers and university students from around the world have wandered in, eager to share their scientific aspirations with like-minded conferees. There’s a Swedish sociologist working on crisis management, a Japanese researcher studying tech transfer, a Canadian student investigating ecological restoration of marine environments. There are scholars from Ontario’s University of Waterloo, from Sweden’s Gothenburg University, from the U.S.A.’s Swarthmore, Duke and University of Colorado. There’s a biologist from Honduras, an environmental law expert from Stockholm, a chemist from the Netherlands.

For university researchers and students, RINGO meetings are one of the few places they get to speak out and be heard. “It’s nice to sit at the table and say something,” one student remarks, alluding to her status as silent observers during the delegates’ negotiating sessions. In fact, as neutral third parties, observers often are shut out of the talks altogether. Someone suggests creating an online network, a “database of expertise” where RINGOs can connect and share. As the idea gains traction, a flurry of business cards is exchanged. Walker notes, “A number of research collaborations have come out of RINGO in the past.”

For more on Walker’s research on climate change negotiations, see The Warsaw Discourses.

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