BULA! That’s the Fijian word for “welcome.” So, bula to Bonn and bula to our live blog of the UN Climate Change Conference, also known as COP23, which is taking place in Germany from 6 to 17 November 2017.
For the next two weeks we will be sharing highlights here from the heart of the conference. You can watch all the proceedings live from here: https://unfccc.cloud.streamworld.de/live, and stay up to date with all of the Department of Public Information’s COP23 coverage here: http://www.un.org/sustainabledevelopment/cop23/.
Day 12: Friday, 17 November:
The Bonn Climate Conference and the Sustainable Development Goals
The Bonn Climate Conference produced many new climate action initiatives, commitments and partnerships. Announced by governments, business and civil society representatives, the announced actions cover many of the areas covered by the Sustainable Development Goals—such as energy, water, agriculture, oceans and coastal areas, human settlements, transportation, industry, and forests. Climate finance and climate resilience were also at the center of the discussions at the conference.
Sometimes it seems that climate change is its own issue that is being addressed in its own forum, quite separate from other issues, such as eliminating poverty, promoting prosperity, gender equality and human rights. Often, it is the big geopolitical stories that dominate the headlines, such as the impacts of the US announced intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, but often hidden from view is that the world is moving to take climate action. Climate action is often disguised as action in other areas as well, so we thought we would walk through the Sustainable Development Goals to see what we picked up on new trends and thinking.
Goal 1—No poverty—Climate change, without a doubt, is having the biggest impact on the poorest. In Bonn, greater attention was paid to the connection between climate change and the increasing numbers of climate refugees and migrants who are moving due to water scarcity, land degradation, depleted fisheries, and conflicts, all exacerbated by climate change. There is also a major focus on the most vulnerable, who suffer the most from the increasing number of extreme weather events. A major insurance initiative to help the most vulnerable received a boost here in Bonn. There was also a greater awareness of the need to link national climate plans with national sustainable development plans.
Goal 2—No hunger—Climate change is increasingly impacting food security—production of key staples around the world is declining– and agriculture was a major action area in Bonn. As demand for food is up around the world, largely driven by population growth, there are increased efforts to help farmers produce more food creating while less greenhouse gases. Agriculture accounts for about a quarter of all emissions. Consequently, there was an emphasis in Bonn on “low-carbon livestock,” improving soil conditions, reducing waste, and reducing meat consumption—and bringing new techniques and information to poor rural farmers. The Conference addressed areas of action on soil, livestock, nutrient and water management, adaptation and on the food security and socio-economic impacts of climate change across the agriculture sectors.
Goal 3—Good Health and Well-being—Actor and former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger was the most visible messenger on the climate-health connection, focusing on the World Health Organization (WHO) reports that show that air pollution causes more than six million premature deaths every year. The solution to air pollution corresponds to the solution for reducing emissions: reduce use of fossil fuels, and switch to cleaner cooking fuels. Another health issue that figured prominently in discussions in Bonn included the growing threat of vector-borne diseases, such as the Zika virus.
Goal 4—Quality Education—While the SDG goal is about all education, the Bonn Conference focused on the need for more climate education. Education Day here focused on the growing integration of climate awareness into curricula, as well as the need for greater science literacy and an understanding of the science of climate change.
Goal 5—Gender equality—After years of negotiations, countries agreed on a Gender Action Plan, a plan that calls for greater focus on issues of concern to women, and to ensure that more women are part of the process that historically has been male dominated. Still, while gender issues were mainstreamed into a wide range of events, many of the hundreds of panel discussions that took place at the Conference were still dominated by men .
Goal 6—Water and Sanitation–The majority of national climate plans with an adaptation component which have been submitted under the Paris Climate Change Agreement prioritize action on water, yet financing would need to triple to 255 billion euros (about USD295 billion) per year to meet such targets. Water tends to be a local issue but consequences of its unwise management have global impact. Around 40% of the world’s population will face water shortages by 2050, accelerating migration and triggering conflict, while some regions could lose up to 6% of their economic output, unless it is better managed. The European Investment Bank announced that they will provide US $75 million for a new US$405 million investment programme by the Water Authority of Fiji. The scheme will strengthen resilience of water distribution and wastewater treatment following Cyclone Winston, the world’s second strongest storm ever recorded, which hit Fiji in February 2016.
Goal 7—Affordable Clean Energy—Discussions on energy dominated the Conference. The news is mixed, with the use of renewable energy continuing to grow, and investments in renewables continuing to far outpace investments in fossil fuels, particularly in developing countries. Renewables are also having a greater impact in communities not served by the grid, and is replacing kerosene-lamp lighting in places like Kasese, Uganda. But fossil fuel use is still rising—and are causing emissions to rise this year after holding steady for three years. Ending, or at least sharply reducing, the use of coal continues to be a major objective for many NGOs, and many governments as well. Brazil and 18 other countries launched an initiative to promote clean biofuels in Bonn.
Goal 8—Decent Work and Economic Growth—For a long time, and even today, there is an argument that taking action on climate change would wreck the economy and cost jobs. But the opposite is happening, as countries have found that they could decouple economic growth from more intensive fossil-fueled use. More job opportunities are now in renewable energy than in fossil fuel, and countries—and local governments—used Bonn to show how there are greater economic opportunities in the green, low carbon economy.
Goal 9 – Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure—Greening infrastructure is a major area where action can reduce emissions. Buildings, in particular, are a major source of emissions and greening buildings has been a major focus of discussions here in Bonn. Transportation, which is responsible for 12 percent of global emissions, had its own day here in Bonn. The Conference itself employed a fleet of electric buses, shuttles, electric cards, and bicycles (the quickest way between two points here), emphasizing the need for sustainable transport. The focus of discussions here was on the decarbonization of the transport sector.
Goal 10—Reduced inequalities—One of the hallmarks of the negotiations over climate change is the inherent inequalities between rich and poor, developing and developed countries, and those who are most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, including women, persons with disabilities and indigenous people. Much of the work on building resilience discussed in Bonn, including initiatives on insurance, are aimed at assisting the most vulnerable.
Goal 11–Sustainable Cities and Communities – The role of cities and communities as major actors in climate efforts continued to grow in Bonn. Urban areas account for around two-thirds of the world’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from global energy use. Their overall contribution to total greenhouse gas emissions is estimated at between 37% and 49% globally, depending on base assumptions of data used. Industry sectors connected to human settlements have a major impact. Buildings, for example, are responsible for some 40% of global GHG emissions yet are an essential element for countries to achieve their NDCs. 132 of the NDCs submitted explicitly mention the building sector. If these NDC pledges were achieved in addition to existing action, about 60% of buildings-related CO2 emissions would be covered. However, nearly one-third of NDCs mentioning buildings do not indicate specific actions on how to achieve their ambition.
Goal 12 – Responsible consumption and production—It’s fundamental that to make the point about being green, you have to walk the talk. COP23 in Bonn is the first UN Climate Change Conference to receive official certification for eco-friendly performance. All goals and measures were documented in the environmental statement, then assessed on-site over several days by environmental verifiers and subsequently validated. Such measures included waste avoidance and strict waste separation, climate-friendly catering, excellent local public transport, climate-neutral shuttle services and environmentally sound and reusable materials also for the temporary structures. Energy supply and water consumption are also among the areas to be reviewed in the follow-up.
Goal 13—Climate Action—That’s what the Bonn conference was all about.
Goal 14—Life Below Water–The role that oceans play in climate change rarely receives top billing, but with a COP president from a small island developing country, that changed in Bonn. Oceans, after all, absorb most of the excess carbon dioxide generated by emissions, and have been subject to warming, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, acidification, and coral bleaching. The Fijian Presidency proposed the Ocean Pathway that calls for affirming the call for action from the UN Ocean Conference, calls on countries to insert oceans into their national climate plans, making oceans a UNFCCC agenda item, and mobilizing resources for ocean action.
Goal 15—Life on Land—There were two main areas of focus in Bonn that relate to this Goal, on reducing deforestation and preventing land degradation. Last year, forests equal to the size of New Zealand disappeared. In Bonn, initiatives from Ecuador, Gabon, Walmart and Mars Inc. were announced that included An Ecuadorean initiative to reduce 15 million tonnes of CO2 emissions in the forest sector, and a commitment to deforestation-free commodities by Walmart. Mars Inc. announced a new policy to reduce their carbon footprint 27% by 2025 and 67% by 2050 by addressing deforestation throughout their corporate value chain.
Goal 16—Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions—Climate change is playing an increasingly destabilizing role, as intensified droughts and floods are changing the landscape, and with major ecosystems disintegrating—such as the disappearance of much of Lake Chad, more people are on the move. Climate justice has been a major topic of concern, articulated mostly by civil society. But more countries are recognizing the need to build strong institutions as they develop their national climate plans—NDCs—and national plans to meet the SDGs.
Goal 17—Partnerships for the Goals—One of the most oft-repeated phrases delivered at the Bonn Conference was that governments cannot address climate change on their own. They require the involvement and engagement of civil society, business and finance. Building partnerships is at the core of the action agenda and fair amount of activity at the Bonn Conference involved groups of participants meeting in hallways discussing plans to move ahead.
Day 11: Thursday, 16 November:
An Implementation COP—The Bonn Climate Conference has been discussed as a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of COP. It has been described as an implementation COP where decisions are being made on the nitty gritty details that will determine how the climate process is moving forward. Now that the Conference is winding down, it appears that parties are heading toward agreement.
Ecuador, which is representing a group of 134 developing countries, reported progress on many of the outstanding issues in the negotiations. Lead negotiator and Ecuadorian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Human Mobility María Fernanda Espinosa said progress had been made on the creation of the platform for indigenous peoples to exchange knowledge and practices regarding adaptation that would start in 2018. Progress had also been made on the issue of loss and damage, which refers to people who are faced with situations where adaptation is no longer possible.
Areas where progress has been less than stellar center on the means of implementation. Developed countries had promised that they would ramp up climate financing to US$100 billion a year by 2020. Developing countries, however, are not seeing many signs that this money will materialize. Another sticking point during the COP, revolved around commitments made for the period prior to2020. Remarking that it was the 20 year anniversary of the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol, she said “no one is talking about Kyoto. We haven’t had its birthday party yet”.
Not a sunny COP—It was gray and drizzly for days, but the sun finally did emerge for short spurts. The emerging science on climate change has also cast a shadow: emissions are rising again after staying flat for three years. Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are at an all-time high, and global temperatures are continuing their upward march. But against all this news, there is an air of steadfast optimism about the realistic solutions out there, that can help us address climate change.
The reasons for optimism: For one, there is no shortage of sunshine in most of the world and the prospects for solar energy appear unlimited. With progress on storage batteries, renewable energies could continue their exponential growth. Renewables, right now, represent a small but developing energy sector, growing by 5.4 percent every year. Although still relatively small in the big picture, scientists here in Bonn contend that this kind of growth will lead to a sharp upward swing in the use of renewables.
The International Energy Agency, which maps these trends, says in 2016, growth in solar photovoltaic capacity was larger than for any other form of generation, and that since 2010 costs of new solar PV have come down by 70%, wind by 25% and battery costs by 40%. It also found that there was a growing electrification of energy: in 2016, spending by the world’s consumers on electricity approached parity with their spending on oil products.
The road ahead – And already people are looking at the road ahead: UN Secretary-General António Guterres laid out the path forward during his speech to the opening of the high-level segment on Wednesday, where he stressed the urgency for increasing ambition on climate change. He listed five ambition areas: emissions, adaptation, finance, partnerships and leadership. These areas will find a thread through the One World Summit in Paris next month to the California Summit for non-party actors in San Francisco next September. Then there will be a pivotal COP Climate Conference in Katowice, Poland, and a Climate Summit in 2019 convened by the Secretary-General.
NGOs looking ahead – NGOs attending the Bonn Climate Conference are looking forward to making a difference right after the COP. Hoda Baraka of 350.org said “the science is clear, we know what we need to do, and we need governments stepping up and making real commitments.” Dyana Jaye from Virginia, USA said she got involved in climate action because she was so angry about the US announcement to pull out from the Paris Agreement, and is working to make climate change matter in the 2018 elections. “We need to make politicians stand with the people. “ Other NGOs are planning actions a round the world: here in the Rhineland in Germany, where the objective is to close local coal mines; as well as in the Philippines, where the fight is against coal—and action is being contemplated at the IMF meeting next year in Bali.
Day 8: Monday, 13 November:
Today’s the start of the high-level week at COP23, and it’s noticeably more crowded in the Bula and Bonn Zones. Highlights of the day included events about climate finance and sustainable cities. As part of “Finance for Climate Day” at COP23, high-level representatives from across the sector highlighted their efforts to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement of keeping the average global temperature rise well below 2 degrees Celsius and as close as possible to 1.5 Celsius.
Photos of the day:
Day 7: Sunday, 12 November
Two words: The Terminator.
Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived at COP23 today to speak at a World Health Organization event about air pollution. He highlighted the 25,000 people who die every day as a result of its effects and called for a significant reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.
Arnold Schwarzenegger supports Goal 13 Climate Action at COP23. (UN Social Media/Karin Orantes)
Day 6: Saturday, 11 November
Non-state actors—Just outside the perimeter of the COP—the zone under the jurisdiction of the United Nations—a tent called “America’s Pledge” brought together hundreds of COP23 participants determined to show that support for climate action in the United States was still strong at the national, state, and city levels. California Governor Jerry Brown said, “We’re doing real stuff in California. States have real power.” Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the tent was the first of its kind and was inspired by the fact that this was the first COP where the US did not have a pavilion. He said the non-state actors who committed to climate action accounted for half of the US economy and would represent the world’s third largest economy if it were a country of its own. The non-state actors are requesting that they be more fully integrated into the COP process and show that they are taking real climate action. Brown said the group was releasing a report on progress so far “so the world can hold us accountable if we are going to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.
Demonstrators disrupted Brown’s speech, claiming that the governor was doing too little too slowly to eliminate fossil fuel automobiles and the production of fossil fuels. Referring to the demonstrators, Brown said, “This is very California.” He added that the eliminating 32 million vehicles overnight would lead to economic disaster. “We need to move from noise to real action. We need to move to decarbonization.”
Cities stepping up—Representatives of cities, settlements and urban organizations demonstrated their commitment to the Paris Agreement with the launch of new initiatives aimed at building better, more sustainable cities, including decarbonizing the construction sector. “There’s a movement afoot,” said Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, at COP23 promoting Climate Mayors, a growing group of US mayors who have pledged to meet Paris Agreement targets, or in the case of Peduto—exceed them.
Peduto said Pittsburgh, which once was a major steel producer, was a city with a future, and was now working to promote new technologies, including electric cars. “The next time you call an Uber in Pittsburgh, it might be a self-driving car. He added that “time goes in one direction. If you are waiting for mills to reopen, you will be left in the past. I have one message: Join us.”
Elsewhere, UN-Habitat Executive Director Joan Clos urged for better urbanization management at the launch event for the new global initiative Planners for Climate Action, which will brings together global, regional and national associations of urban planners to amplify their voice in building sustainable cities. We want to prevent urbanization from going too far down the wrong direction, he said.
Renewables in Kasese, Uganda—Kasese Mayor Godfrey Baluku Kime says his city is well on its way to meeting the goal of becoming 100 percent renewable by 2020. The city, which lies near snow capped mountains, relies heavily on kerosene to power households. It makes sense in Uganda, which he said receives 12 hours of sunshine a day, compared with Bonn, where he has yet to see the sun. So far, a programme has installed 17,000 solar panels, paid for by residents and the government. “It is important not too squeeze the resident,” he said, adding that the programme had generated income and had improved lives for people living in rural areas.
Halfway there—Whew! As Saturday comes to a close, we’re officially halfway through the COP. If we feel tired or stressed, at least there’s yoga in the India Pavilion.