Making influence visible at the Paris Climate Summit

Wednesday, March 4th, 2020

Studies of power and influence at sites of global environmental governance often overlook the role of Indigenous Peoples in the agreement-making processes. This limits our understanding of these processes and how they can be shaped for more effective, inclusive and just global governance.

A research team led by Professors Laura Zanotti (Anthropology) and Kimberly Marion Suiseeya (Northwestern University) used innovative ethnographic concepts and methods to examine how Indigenous Peoples access, navigate, and cultivate power at the 2015 Paris Climate Summit (COP21) to shape global environmental governance. Onsite in Paris, 7 researchers documented Indigenous presence at the summit, ultimately collecting nearly 2 terabytes of data. Offsite, additional team members collected digital ethnographies for distant analysis of Indigenous representation during the summit. While organizers of COP21 noted efforts to include Indigenous People, the layout rules and regulations of the COP21 site (Le Bourget) created multiple structural, spatial and institutional constraints to access and engagement.

The research team detailed two critical ways in which Indigenous Peoples navigated through these barriers to deepen their representation and influence at COP21: they created physical, visual, and digital spaces to sustain their voices as they moved in and through Le Bourget’s official negotiating spaces (Blue Zone) and public spaces (Green Zone); and they shifted representation away from the modes established by the COP organizers toward representation advanced by Indigenous Peoples.

Marion Suiseeya, K. R. and L. Zanotti (2019). Making Influence Visible: Innovating Ethnography at the Paris Climate Summit. Global Environmental Politics 19, 2, 38-60.

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