News | 8-10 May | YES-DC at UNFCCC’s Climate Conference in Bonn!

Although it was difficult to imagine what we could expect, we arrived in Bonn with some excitement. Delegates from all over the world gathered in the World Conference Center to lay the foundations for (the negotiation text of) COP 23later this year. We had some  small talks with delegates of South Sudan, the head of delegation from Zimbabwe, and Mozambique.

Worrying developments

The Bonn climate talks started amidst several worrying developments and uncertainties. A new study released earlier this year showed that the Earth’s temperature has now increased to about 1.1C above the levels seen before the industrial revolution (WMO). More recently, the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii recorded a breach of the 410-ppm level for CO2 (Scripps Institution of Oceanography). These worrying developments were joined by uncertainty about the participation of the U.S. in the Paris Agreement. There were rumors that president Trump would announce the U.S.’ withdrawal from the Paris Agreement during the first week of the conference. Instead of announcing his decision, president Trump managed to surprise everyone by firing his FBI director. He has postponed his verdict until later this month (CNN). Besides the tremendous consequences for the ambitions of the Paris Agreement when the US pulls out, one is afraid other member states will follow.

Discussion, discussion, discussion… and now action?

Already in the opening session a debate occurred around UNFCCC financing. Would the U.S.’ withdrawal mean a significant increase in the contribution of the other countries? Saudi Arabia in particular expressed its worries. It was interesting to see the dynamics, although we soon figured out that many of the discussions at the Bonn conference were on accelerating and streamlining processes and not necessarily on content and direct climate action.

Maybe the most important discussion on accelerating the negotiation process was on the role of non-state stakeholders at climate negotiations, especially the role of businesses. Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Europe Observatory neatly summarized the discussion during an early morning press conference: “To get to the Paris Agreement we need to leave at least 80% of fossil fuels in the ground and we need to transform our energy system completely. That means huge ambition. Ambition that we are not seeing now. To get that ambition, we need to make a clear choice. We need to realize that those who have caused the problem, those most responsible – the fossil fuel companies, the coal, oil and gas industries – are not allowing us to reach that ambition and are not allowing us to move forward. Until we recognize that, through their huge lobbying presence and the way they are holding us back, we are not going to be able to move forward. […] We have to realize the difference in interest from those who profit from the climate crisis and those who are trying to solve the climate crisis, without looking at their bottom line. The most striking intervention yesterday was from the World Health Organization’s Secretariat, because they have gone through this battle. When trying to control tobacco and the tobacco industry for the protection of public health, they came up against huge barriers in the form of the tobacco lobby. And they realized they couldn’t reach the ambition they needed to tackle the problem, whilst the tobacco industry was not just in the room but was all pervasive, was funding scientists and studies and was employing ex-government officials. They realized that the only way to reach their ambition was to divide between the tobacco lobbyists on the one hand and public health officials on the other hand. And they created something called Article 5.3 within the United Nations Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. This put a firewall between lobbyists and public health officials. The similarities are striking, considering we have seen the sponsorship of these talks by fossil fuel companies themselves and the huge presence of fossil fuel companies and their lobbyists in these very halls. The need for this firewall is incredibly important.”

Bonn: what else?

Besides the general assemblies and discussions, there were a lot of side events and expert sessions during the climate conference. We joined several expert sessions on urban environment and land use, addressing questions such as: how to maintain sustainable urban planning in strongly urbanizing areas? And, how can city level collaboration achieve emission reductions? Other sessions that we participated in discussed the failing carbon pricing system of the EU, fears of carbon leakage and problems faced by small island developing states (SIDS) in adapting to climate change. It is too much to go into detail on everything that was discussed but let’s just say we had a very informative conference! In-between all these talks and seminars, we still had plenty opportunity to talk and meet with people from all over the world. Not only young representatives, but also party delegates. A special mention goes out to our dinner with a delegate from South Sudan, the youngest country in the world of which the economy is entirely dependent on oil.

In conclusion

This conversation, among other experiences in Bonn, emphasized the long way there is ahead of us in achieving the climate goals. Looking back, what really stuck with us was the massiveness of the task at hand. The whole process is about aligning a tremendous amount of interests and visions. It seems that only when there is a direction, we can start making speed. This dynamic can be frustrating at times, but is key in keeping all parties on board.

Charlie & Angelita