Meet the Jon Snow of ANU

16 August 2016

From an outsider’s perspective, an international environmental negotiation might seem like one never-ending, incomprehensible acronym, but for Dr Luke Kemp, it’s as gripping as Game of Thrones.

“There are power struggles and outcomes dependent on individual personalities. Admittedly there are fewer killings and more debates about commas than in Game of Thrones, but once you learn to unpick the language and how important the placement of a single comma is, it’s almost like watching a sporting game. It can be quite exciting. There’s drama in it.”

Dr Kemp has just graduated from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU with a PhD looking at American participation in environmental negotiations, which afforded him a front-row seat to that drama. He met with diplomats and negotiators in climate change talks and even had his very own commas scrutinised when text he drafted was put up for discussion.

His research concluded that while global consensus might be “sexy”, agreements reached semi-globally, without the United States, can work just as well.

“When you look at the history of international agreements, those which have succeeded tended to have started small and grown big over time,” he explains.

“I came up with a framework to explain why that happens and in what cases these semi-global agreements are likely to work, which is when you have feedbacks.

“For example, if you look at the Kyoto Protocol, everyone thinks it failed, which perhaps it did to a certain extent, but it really drove German environmental policy. Because of that, the price of solar dropped dramatically globally. China wouldn’t be taking such strong climate action now if it wasn’t for the falling price of solar. One action nationally can have global implications. It’s something we don’t always think of.”

Dr Kemp is now lecturing at the Fenner School and Crawford School of Public Policy at ANU, but remains an active player in international environmental negotiations. The important question is, of course, who exactly is he in this Westeros of climate diplomacy?

“I’m tempted to say Jon Snow. But I have a minor amount of influence. More like Tyrion Lannister. Ideally I’d like to be more like Daenerys Targaryen: come riding in on a dragon and change the entire game.”

Change the entire game with a degree from the Fenner School of Environment and Society at ANU. Dragons not included.

First published by Colleges of Science - News and Events

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