For climate policy geeks like me, it's the Coachella of climate change. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) organizes a meeting every year, known as the Council of the Parties, or COP, to negotiate international mechanisms to address the causes and impacts of climate change. This year it was directed by Fiji and located at the headquarters of the UNFCCC in Bonn, Germany.
I attended the meeting 21 st COP21
Upon arrival I picked up my credentials and explored the Pavilion area where countries around the world had established exhibition spaces for presentations and debates. It is difficult to describe the strangely artificial but cosmopolitan experience of wandering between these pavilions of the delegation, talking to their representatives, walking from South Korea to Senegal, meandering from Morocco to Malaysia as if a sterilized version of the planet had been reduced to the size of a city park. The sense of awe lasts about an hour or so before the demands of a tight schedule spread through a giant place, dampening the experience.
Due to talking about Arctic resilience in the Nordic Pavilion in 10 minutes, I was talking to my fellow panel member, Eva Svedling, Sweden's Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, when she mentioned that former Vice President Al Gore was finishing a presentation at a meeting room on the opposite side of the Pavilion area. As a clear icon of climate change, Mr. Gore is in great demand at these events, but he wanted to try to shake his hand and thank him for his defense of the weather. I hurried through the United Kingdom pavilion (whiskey tasting on Sunday), the green leafy pavilion of Brazil, the French pavilion with its "Paris Agreement Café", the warm and tropical host pavilion of Fiji and the elaborate lighting of the pavilion of high technology of India. Seeing a crowd ahead, I knew I was in the right place, and I soon discovered that the vice president was surrounded by supporters who took selfies and tried to shake their hands.
So besieged that he could barely make his way through the crowd, the VP was patiently thanking everyone again and again. I tried to move but I had no luck. For a moment, the amoeba-like mass movement pushed me towards him, but just as quickly as I was outside looking inward. I decided to take a long distance selfie and return to the Nordic Pavilion for my talk.
Just as I was turning to leave, a thin young man in a suit grabbed my arm and asked, "Are you Joel Clement?" Perplexed, I said yes and his answer surprised me: "He would love to meet you, could you come with us now?" For half a second, I let the vice president want to see me, and then I was about to say yes, throwing the Swedes under the bus, before returning to itself. We organized a meeting for later in the day and returned to the Nordic pavilion in time for my session. In this dramatic and surprising way I was received in the annual climate-palooza that gathers the leaders of the world's climate thinking so that they worry and get involved in the most important issue of our time; an event where apparently a climate whistleblower has a minor celebrity status.
This was one of the many interactions that reminded me of how meaningful these COP meetings are, and they had nothing to do with the negotiations that were taking place in the "Bula Zone," the meeting space at the other end. of the Rheinaue Park that was reserved for the official delegations of the state. While the negotiators were analyzing the unbearable details of the implementation of the Paris Agreement, representatives of the entire civil society were mixed in the "Bonn Zone", an installation that was financed and built, notably, to facilitate international and intersectoral interactions on the threats and opportunities associated with climate change. To put it another way, once a year there is a huge investment to encourage the international community of practice that is addressing the biggest challenge facing modern civilization. The negotiators receive the press, but the world's changers are walking through the pavilions, sitting in the meeting rooms and sharing big and small ideas that will change lives.
At a time when the world seems focused on the negative effects of an ignorant and ignorant American president who questions the causes of climate change, it was stimulating to see so much energy devoted to climate solutions.
And, contrary to expectations, the Americans did not disappoint. With President Trump pledging to get the United States out of the Paris Agreement at the first opportunity, and with the interests of oil, gas and coal directed by the executive branch of the US government. UU., Expectations for the United States were more than low. Indeed, the official delegation of the USA. UU It remained cloistered in a meeting room behind closed doors and, for the first time, the USA. UU They did not even bother to organize a pavilion. However, by giving up this role, the federal delegation created a great opportunity for the rest of US civil society to intervene. With generous funding from Michael Bloomberg and others, a huge "Climate Action Center" was inflated in the open area between Bula Zona and the pavilion space in the Bonn area. I say inflated because it was actually an inflated structure that looked like a moon bounce with multiple domes. At 2500 square meters, it was the largest pavilion at COP23.
In this pavilion, the leaders of 20 US states. UU., More than 100 cities and more than 1,400 corporations pledged their allegiance to the Paris Agreement with the motto of the hashtag #wearestillin, and described their own commitments to limit greenhouse gas emissions. The parts of America & # 39; s Pledge as they called their collective action, represented a combined economy larger than all the nations of the earth, except China and the United States. While the questions remain about tracking and verifying these promises, the deployment of American ambition more than made up for the embarrassing rhetoric coming from the White House. America's Pledge was very well received by other national delegations and was praised by heads of state such as Frenchman Emmanuel Macron and German Angela Merkel when they arrived in Bonn for the second week of deliberations. On the sidelines, I devoted a bit to the American pride that this collective action would probably be the main headline of the COP23.
While the Bonn Zone and the Climate Action Center highlighted these positive efforts to limit greenhouse gases, build resilience, and cooperate to help less prosperous nations achieve their own goals, the Bula area was a more stressful environment In this COP, the negotiators were entrusted with establishing the scope and details of the "book of norms" that would guarantee a transparent and fair implementation of the national promises associated with the Paris Agreement. With the expectation that this rulebook was adopted at next year's COP in Poland, there was considerable pressure to make significant progress, and everywhere it was a slow, tense and not entirely successful process.
As one might expect when creating compliance rules, old tensions reappeared between developed and developing countries. In particular, developing countries were concerned about being able to measure and report on mitigation progress at the scale and details that developed countries hoped to establish, and developed countries were concerned about the consistency of reporting protocols of all countries. parts. The liability issues of " Loss and Damage " continued to annoy the parties, who postponed important decisions until next year, as well as the financial details of the relocation of the Adaptation Fund, previously linked to the carbon markets under the Kyoto Protocol – serve the framework of the Paris Agreement that has not yet established a shared position on such market mechanisms.
And then there were the personalities. As usual, certain vocal delegations dominated the procedures and the facilitators had to resort to accepting minimal and incremental progress – the lowest common denominator in many cases – to keep things moving. This is part of international negotiations, but it is unfortunate that the growing ambition and leadership that had been growing since COP21 in Paris was not as universal as it seemed in the Bonn Zone.
It is not that the negotiations were a failure, there were several notable achievements . The Adaptation Fund was approved as a financing mechanism to comply with the Paris Agreement and received some much-needed financial commitments; an " Ocean Pathway Partnership ", co-chaired by Sweden and Fiji, was launched to explore the interactions of climate change and the world's oceans; a Gender Action Plan was approved with the intention of increasing the participation of women in the deliberations of the UNFCCC; and a Platform of Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples was finalized as a means to give greater voice to indigenous peoples in the climate negotiations.
Unfortunately, in the Bula Zone the spirit of "yes you can" was missing from the Climate Action Center. . While Americans were less vocal than in previous years, President Trump's intention to renegotiate the Agreement to be more favorable to Americans remained a blurring over procedures, as did uncertainties about US funds for the Green Climate Fund. , an essential component of the UNFCCC that was established to provide developing countries with the necessary capacity to adapt.
But those struggles almost seemed to go beyond the point in this COP. Despite the typical lack of ambition in the Bula Zone, the commitment and ambition exhibited in the Bonn Zone and the Climate Action Center set the tone for COP23. Hundreds of climate solutions projects and initiatives around the world were presented and, instead of providing the international buzz-kill effect that was expected, the Americans amplified the energy with America's Pledge and other initiatives. Leaders like Al Gore, Michael Bloomberg, governors Jerry Brown (CA) and Jay Inslee (Washington DC), the mayors of the USA. UU And the corporate titans they brought showed that there is great ambition on the scale at which change actually occurs. . The Bonn-Fiji Commitment announced towards the end of COP23, extended this headline by focusing on local and regional efforts at the international level.
The negotiators still have to keep the work going in the bureaucratic trenches, but soon they will find themselves leading from behind while the rest of the civil society advances. Maybe that's how it should be; there is no doubt that we must accelerate climate action well beyond the speed limit of international negotiations. All I know is that my goosebumps in Bonn did not come only from an exhilarating conversation with Vice President Gore, but that they witnessed everything that he and his leading colleagues from around the world led to a momentous meeting on the riverbank. Rin in 2017.