November 6th marked the start of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) Conference of Parties 23 (COP23) in Bonn, Germany. Home of the UN Climate Change Secretariat since 1994, Bonn is viewed as a global center of climate action and sustainable development. The conference aims to halt global warming by “prevent[ing] dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The parties intend to do this by discussing how to meet the goals set out in the Paris Agreement. According to the conference’s agenda, these developments will be “implemented across a wide range of issues including transparency, adaptation, emission reductions, provision of finance, capacity-building and technology.”
“We need an operating manual for the Paris agreement. This has to be the launchpad for the next level of ambition on climate change action, because we know the pledges [to cut emissions] made so far are not enough to take us to [meeting the Paris goals],” Patricia Espinosa, the UN’s chief official on the climate, said in the conference’s opening talks.
The UNFCC was official created on 21 March 1994 as a part of the “Rio Conventions”. At the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, three total “Rio Conventions” were created to take on different aspects of global affairs: UNFCC, UN Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification. As of today, 197 countries have ratified the Convention, thus making them “parties” of the UNFCC. The Convention has separate expectations for industrialized/developed countries and developing countries. Outlined in the Kyoto Protocol (ratified by 192 parties), adopted in 1997 and enacted in 2005, a heavier burden is placed on industrialized countries and they are expected to support climate change activities in developing countries by providing financial support for action in these countries on climate change policy. The 2016 Paris Agreement, ratified by 160 parties, aims to bring countries together on a global effort to strengthen the global response to the threat of climate change by keeping a global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius. This includes the flow of financial resources from industrialized nations to developing ones to implement technology framework to aid in combating climate change and influence policy.
This year, the president of the COP is former naval officer and Fijian Prime Minster Frank Bainimarama. Although the country holding the conference’s presidency is to host the home nation, Fiji, lacking a large enough convention center and adequate accommodation, was unable to logistically accommodate. Despite not being able to host the conference in Fiji, Bainimarama will use the presidency to bring attention to contextualize the global effects of climate change in the effects it has had on him home nation. The Pacific island nations are vulnerable to rising seas and changing weather. After 2016, Fiji was left with over $1 billion in damages after Cyclone Winston hit the island nation. Although Fiji is more well off than some of the other Pacific nations, neighboring islands of Kiribati and Tuvalu are becoming increasingly more uninhabitable after rising sea-levels force residents from their villages. Bainimarama voiced Fiji’s offer to take in these residents if sea-levels continue to rise. He also stated that Fiji’s goal for the convention is to build a “Grand Coalition of civil servants, private sector officials, and faith-based organizations to help combat climate change.
“All over the world, vast numbers of people are suffering – bewildered by the forces ranged against them. Our job as leaders is to respond to the suffering with all means available to us. This means to meet our commitments in full, not back away from them,” Bainimarama said.
Despite President Trump’s announcement to pull the United States out of the Paris Climate Agreement, an American delegation will be present at the conference and take part in the talks. This delegation will include a senior official of the State Department and members of the Trump Administration, as the withdrawal process will take until at least 2020; until then, the U.S. will be a party of the UNFCC. As of now, the United States and Syria are the two countries outside of the Paris deal. The US Climate Alliance coalition, a delegation comprised of governors from 14 states and 1 territory, mayors, and business owners, will also be present at the conference. In Bonn, this delegation intends to show negotiators from other nations that a significant portion of the American population below the Federal level (purported to be around 36%) supports the Paris Agreement. It is expected that the Trump administration delegation’s talks will promote the use of fossil fuels and nuclear power. However, many environmentalists argue that the administration’s talks go against the results of the recent National Climate Assessment report. The report showed that Carbon dioxide from fossil fuels is a key clause of climate change, saying that “it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”
Germany has had both positive and negative experiences with its preparations for the conference. German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks announced that Germany would contribute an additional 50 million Euros in 2017 to the UN’s Adaptation Fund to help financing developing countries’ climate action guidelines. However, on the eve of the conference, demonstrators gathered to protest the government’s heavy use of coal-fired plants for the country’s energy. Despite being viewed as the world’s leader in the fight against climate change, Germany has a total of 77 coal plants active, more than any other European country; ironically, the conference is being held only 31 miles from the large coal fields at Cologne. Along with Poland, Germany is responsible for approximately half of Carbon Dioxide emissions from coal plants that make up a fifth of the European Union’s CO2 emissions. German officials expect nearly 23,000-25,000 negotiators, journalists, and environmental activists to attend the summit lasting until November 17.