One of the inconvenient ironies of hammering out a global climate change accord is that assembling delegates from 192 countries in close physical proximity tends to spew thousands of metric tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
But that face-to-face is so necessary, and not just because of the language and cultural barriers inherent in international discussions. Negotiations on climate change can be contentious: agreements have considerable impact on national economies and rates of growth, and they touch emotional hot buttons around the fair distribution of responsibility between industrialized and developing countries. It’s a bit like a holiday gathering of a large, extended, and occasionally dysfunctional family.
You know what I’m going to write next: Cisco has a solution, and it has something to do with telepresence technology.
Today, Cisco announced the Global Climate Change Meeting Platform, the first immersive and virtual community of interest brought together using Cisco TelePresence. It’s part of Cisco’s technology sponsorship of the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP15), at which members of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Control will be meeting in December to hammer out the post-2012 agreements and carbon mitigation targets.
Through Cisco TelePresence, government representatives of 192 countries, intergovernmental organizations, nongovernmental organizations and the accredited members of the media will, for the first time, be able to conduct important meetings, negotiations, press conference, with stakeholders in their home countries or other locations while they are in Copenhagen.
From a networking view, the Global Climate Change Meeting Platform is a significant feat of engineering. For the duration of COP15, it will connect four temporary rooms at COP15 in Copenhagen with:
- Cisco TelePresence rooms in 43 countries and 77 locations
- Traditional video conferencing systems at Danish embassies in 23 countries
- The Danish Ministry of Climate and Energy
- UN offices, including UNFCCC in Bonn, UNEP in Nairobi, UN Palais des Nations in Geneva, UNICC in Geneva, and UN Headquarters in New York City
After COP15, it will continue to operate as a Cisco TelePresence exchange with the UN offices and the Danish ministry as anchor tenants, open to all accredited members of COP15.
So that’s the technical bit.
What’s more interesting to me is the implication of this on international negotiations. Essentially, the use of Cisco TelePresence communities of interest can preserve the in-person negotiating environments—so you can understand when a “yes” means “no”, or when a smile expresses agreement or embarrassment.
Countries could develop virtual communities of interest for nuclear disarmament, for regional trade issues, for international sporting events—in short, anything in which the stakes are high, the situation complex, the tension (and egos?) elevated.
Problems can be solved faster, small issues have no time to balloon into show-stoppers. It can be more inclusive: for the country that can’t afford to send a large delegation, this could be an equalizer.
Yes, I know that with opportunity comes challenges, such as bandwidth issues. That’s where new innovations like Cisco TelePresence Extended Reach come in. Or where satellite deployment options make sense.
On the whole, though, this opens up a new way for governments and global organizations to think about how technology can transform the status quo. Now, if only we can figure out a way to virtualize a cocktail party or a game of golf. . .