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.
Read the full COP23 live blog