School of Social and Political Science

COP26 — the view from Bangladesh, Panama and from within the UNFCCC

03 November 2021
14:00 - 16:00




As the COP26 meetings get underway in Glasgow, we welcome Naveeda Khan, Perry Maddox and Magnús Örn Agnesar Sigurðsson to discuss how they are applying anthropological lenses to policy forums, legal provisions and project implementations as they pertain to climate, land and environmental damage in Bangladesh, Panama and within the UNFCCCC.

What is Loss and Damage?

Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

I explore how the newest pillar of climate action, loss and damage, emerged historically and was attempted to be controlled by developed countries within the climate negotiation process.  I show how it has ramified in many different and unexpected directions.  The chapter takes us to Bangladesh, to both my primary field site and the national context, to understand how the country attempted to create leverage for itself within this process by pursuing the potential within loss and damage.

It ends with speculating on a possible need for loss and damage beyond that claimed by its supporters. 

Bio: I work on silt islands in the middle of the Brahmaputra-Jamuna River, the ministries engaged in climate change policy in Bangladesh and the climate negotiations hosted by the UNFCCC to study how climate change manifests as an object of concern at different scales. 


Rural Life, Climate Politics, and Forest Futures

Perry Maddox, PhD Student, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University

This paper considers how climate imperatives contribute to the remaking of forest as both an object of knowledge and a site of intervention. It traces the physical and conceptual constitution of “forest” through scenes of everyday life and labor in rural Panama; satellite-based land use mapping of these same areas; and the scenario-building processes of the UN REDD Program in the country. It closes by reflecting briefly on the challenges and possibilities for building a shared future via the UN climate process, when this process is so densely entangled with entrenched power relations and economic structures across many scales.

Bio: My work is grounded in partnership with Ngäbe, Buglé and campesino land rights activists in the mountains of western Panama. It moves transversally from there to consider the world making practices, ecological knowledges, and political imaginaries, which overlap around rural land and climate concerns.


Political Imagination and Negotiation Support at the UNFCCC, COP

Magnús Örn Agnesar Sigurðsson, Ph.D. student, Anthropology, Rice University

Many of the international civil servants working for the UN Climate Change (UNFCCC) Secretariat have negotiation support as one of their core duties. They convene negotiation meetings for specific agenda items at the SB and COP sessions which means to keep stock of what should be decided, to plan and organize any inter-sessional work, to support chairs and other delegates in the development of draft decision texts, and to make sure that the meetings are convened in a procedurally correct manner. Their objectivity and impartiality in this process are key and rely on in-depth knowledge of the techno-politics at stake. Following this kind of work through ethnographic research calls for a reconsideration of the concept of "political imagination" when brought to bear on politics from within the administrative system itself.

Bio: I study the world of climate policy from an anthropological perspective, the service and support provided by global organizations, institutions, and initiatives for international climate policy as well as the implementation of climate-resilient development, in compliance with global climate agreements (e.g. the Paris Agreement).  Specifically, I am interested in white-collar work in close proximity to political actors and their brokerage positions within decision-making and coordination processes. I have a background in environmental theory and science and currently work on adaptation policy in Iceland's Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources while working to finish my Ph.D.

Key speakers

  • Naveeda Khan, Associate Professor, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
  • Perry Maddox, PhD Student, Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University
  • Magnús Örn Agnesar Sigurðsson, Ph.D. student, Anthropology, Rice University