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Optimism at climate conference

Gero Rueter Bonn, Germany [ayp]
May 18, 2017

Climate protection is progressing, said delegates at the climate conference in Bonn this week. Are there good prospects despite Trump?

Left to right: UNFCCC Chief Patricia Espinosa, Fiji Ambassador Nazhat Shemeem Khan, German delegate Jochen Flasbarth
Nazhat Shemeem Khan, center, was encouraged to see the concept of 'talanoa' - storytelling and dialogue - take root in BonnImage: DW/G.Rueter

Climate negotiators from nearly 200 nations gathered in Bonn, Germany, this week to discuss implementing the Paris Agreement to limit global warming - and they expressed confidence and optimism, despite the threat of an American exodus from agreements

The next Conference of Parties to the climate framework (COP23), to be held this November, will be organized by Fiji - and hosted by Bonn. The 10-day session in Bonn this week served as preparation.

Throughout the conference, climate negotiators worked to create a "rule book" for implementing the Paris Agreement. "It was a truly successful meeting," said United Nations climate secretary Patricia Espinosa.

So what was actually discussed?

Optimism despite Trump

The mood among delegates was positive despite negative signals from the US government, which is currently considering whether to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on global warming and has said President Trump will make a decision after the G7 summit later in May.

USA Donald Trump
The Trump administration is currently considering whether to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on global warmingImage: Getty Images/AFP/Brendan Smialowski

The climate agreement has been ratified by 146 states - representing a "heavy weight," according to Epinosa, although "of course, we hope the US will continue."

The process of leaving the Paris Agreement takes time - meaning the US would have to participate for at least another four years, Epinosa said. 

The European Union also called the agreement "irreversible and non-negotiable," with Miguel Arias Canete, European commissioner for climate action and energy, saying in a written statement that "we, developed and developing countries together, will defend the Paris Agreement."

Renewable energies front and center

"The world is moving ahead," said Debasu Bayleyegn Eyasu, from the Ethiopian Ministry of the Environment, who acts as chairman of the Climate Vulnerable Forum, a consortium of countries particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change.

Delegates emphasized the benefits of developing renewable energies: the air will become cleaner, new jobs will be created, sustainable use of domestic resources will be improved, and countries would benefit financially, they said.

Playing on Trump's famous campaign slogan, Emmanuel M. De Guzman from the climate commission of the Philippines said: "Without increased climate action, no country will be great again." 

De Guzman called for "an unprecedented new global drive for accelerated climate action," saying this will then "overwhelm any isolated effort to undermine the Paris Agreement."

India, China take the lead

China Kohlekraftwerk in Huaian
A woman rides an electric scooter past a coal-fired power plant in east China - China has cut its dependence on coalImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Developments in China and India were pointed to as positive examples. "In China, coal consumption has been declining since 2013. And India has now declared that its planned coal-fired power plants are no longer needed," said Niklas Höhne of the New Climate Institute.

"In addition, India wants to follow China's path to electro-mobility, and is thinking about building an appropriate industry," he said.

The fast-falling prices of renewable energy are a major driving force. "Wind and solar power ... are now competitive and being built at a much faster rate than coal power plants," said Yvonne Deng of renewable energy consulting firm Ecofys.

Bonn Climate Change Conference May 2017
How to align goals? Delegates discussed in BonnImage: DW/G. Rueter

The developments in China and India alone could even compensate for any potential negative effects created by US policy, according to an analysis by Climate Action Tracker, which was presented at the conference.

'Health and happiness' at COP23

The Fiji Islands, which organized the climate conference, are particularly vulnerable to the effects of global warming, rising sea levels and storms.

"We are working very hard to find a solution for the whole world," said Ambassador Nazhat Shemeem Khan, chief negotiator for the COP23 presidency. Fiji's particular vulnerability gives the negotiations a sense of urgency, she added, in addition to a direct understanding of how climate change affects people.

Plans for the upcoming COP23 in November to be held in Bonn were also a topic of discussion. The city is reviewing logistics for the tens of thousands of people expected in November - the largest conference that the city has hosted yet, said Bonn Mayor Ashok Sridharan.

"Floating housing" is being considered on the Rhine River - from "budget to luxury" - in light of area hotels being already booked out. 

Also planned is a "Bula Zone" including the conference center and nearby green space - the word "bula" is a Fijian greeting and blessing for health and happiness.

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