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COP23: Bigger, greener ... better?

Helena Weise ibr
November 4, 2017

The UN city of Bonn is hosting the global climate conference. What do participants, activists and residents expect of COP23?

Germany gets ready for COP23
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Bonn: Global climate village

When the world meets once a year to talk about climate protection, a few basic ingredients are needed: time, money and space. But at the 23rd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), or COP23, taking place in Bonn from November 6 to 17, there are even more important requirements — patience, and nerves of steel.

If participants bring these ingredients, it will help the rest fall into place: 197 signing parties will have two weeks to hammer out concrete measures to implement the Paris Agreement.

As technical host, Germany has a total budget of €117 million ($135.5 million). Mobile flood protection for the Rhine River alone costs €2 million.

Regarding the space, Bonn has built a tent city in a park by the river Rhine to welcome the 25,000 participants — the size of eight football fields.

COP23 Partnerlogo
Selection of the island nation Fiji for the COP presidency represents urgency in the fight against climate change

And this year's conference is taking shape.

On the one hand, the shadow of Donald Trump and the United States withdrawing from the Paris Agreement looms over the proceedings.

On the other, climate negotiators are expected to work on details for a "rule book" for implementing the agreement, to be adopted at the 2018 climate summit in Poland.

After decades of trying to get all countries on board, it's time for concrete measures — but this remains a major challenge. It's a particularly urgent challenge for the island states bearing the brunt of climate change. To highlight the plight of those nations, Fiji is presiding over COP23.

"Those who are most vulnerable have to be heard," Fiji's Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama demanded. "But we have to speak together for the whole world. In the end, nobody can flee from climate change."

Local authorities involved

Global warming is a big topic that needs to be addressed in small steps — on an international, national and local level. 

Local authorities will play a special role this year. "Not only are governments from all over the world coming together — they are supported by progressive companies and cities," Nick Nuttall from the UNFCCC told DW.

Keeping local authorities in the loop, is Moritz Schmidt from the North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) regional sustainability group, LAG 21. On November 14, Schmidt will present regional climate partnerships with countries such as Nicaragua or Peru.

In his opinion, local actors have already been crucial to increasing the ambition on climate protection. Now, they will also have access to key resources — a crucial step, Schmidt believes.

Construction work in Bonn for COP23
Bonn is experiencing an urban transformation ahead of COP23Image: picture-alliance/dpa/O. Berg

Biggest, greenest conference

Citizens are already starting to fear riots like the ones during the G20 in Hamburg, and wondering how all of this will affect their daily routine.

Indeed, even though the city's coordinators have been optimistic since the beginning, the question remains: Is Bonn really able to hold such a conference?

After all, 25,000 guests need not only to be supplied with food and living quarters, but also with daily transport facilities. Bonn's 9,000 hotel beds are nowhere near enough — many participants will have to travel from nearby cities Cologne and Koblenz.

All of this has meant enormous planning efforts in a very short time — organizers had only 11 months to get ready.

Christiana Figueres and Nick Nuttall in Bonn
Former UNFCCC Executive Secretary, Christiana Figueres, and press spokesperson, Nick Nuttall Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Hitij

This year's conference will not only be the biggest ever in Germany, but also the "greenest UN climate conference ever," Nuttall said.

Ensuring the sustainability of the conference has cost time and money.

From emission-free shuttle transport between zones, to vegetarian organic food from the region, and the absence of paper printouts, COP23 wants to set a good example.

The organizers have even voluntarily pledged to certify their efforts with the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS), Beate Frey-Stilz, project manager with the German Ministry for the Environment (BMUB), told DW.

Coal phase-out for climate protection

But efforts to keep the conference low-emission don't mean much juxtaposed with the amount of CO2 released daily next door — at the Garzweiler open pit coal mine, Europe's biggest CO2 emitter, activists say.

Dirk Jansen, head of environmental and nature conservation policy with NRW Friends of the Earth (BUND), says a coal phase-out is a basic principle for sustainability.

Frankreich Protest "Klima schützen. Kohle Stoppen" anläßlich der UN-Klimakonferenz in Paris
In 2015, German protesters already highlighted the importance of a coal phase-out Image: picture-alliance/dpa/G. Fischer

Jansen will be among the activists joining a mass demonstration on November 4 to demand a ban on coal.

"Climate protection without a coal phase-out does not work," Jansen said. "We've been discussing it for too long — now it's time for action." 

Protesters and organizers agree on one thing: COP23 is the world's last, best chance to fight climate change.

"We are running out of time," Nuttall said. "We need COP23 to accelerate action on climate."

Which is why Jansen supports Germany's massive investment of time, money and resources in the conference.

"It is not just about climate justice, but about the existence of humanity — and that's a task that certainly justifies such efforts," Jansen said.


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