Bonn (COP 23) 2017
Report #1, Ambition in Bonn: Dare We Still Hope

David Simpson and Jane Lapiner travelled to Bonn, Germany from their home in Petrolia, California to attend and report on the United Nations climate summit.

Report #1
October 31, 2017
By David Simpson and Jane Lapiner

Ambition in Bonn: Dare We Still Hope

Two years after the adoption of the Paris Agreement, the world’s nations are meeting in Bonn, Germany for the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP 23) under the auspices of the UN climate secretariat (UNFCCC). The meeting will take place between the 6th of November and the 17th.  The intention in Bonn is to advance the aims and ambitions of the Paris deal. It is also the first gathering of its kind since the United States’ decision to leave the accord made the delegates’ already demanding job in Bonn an even greater challenge.

We now know that change is occurring at a faster rate than we believed when the Paris Agreement was forged. (2015) That means that we must embrace the Paris Agreement’s more ambitious target of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 at the latest.

—Patricia Espinosa
Executive Director
United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

Our meeting in Bonn comes at a time when it is no longer sufficient to maintain the momentum. It is my intention to make COP23 Fiji-in-Bonn the occasion when we accelerated the pace of positive change and acted more boldly than we thought possible.

—Mr. Frank Bainimarram
Prime Minister, Fiji
(and) President of COP 23

Two series of events have potentially radicalized, or at least intensified the UNFCCC/COP 23 process dealing with climate change. One is the clear intensification of murderous weather events that did not spare the global north nor let up elsewhere. The northern California wildfires this October came close enough to our Humboldt homes to act as a dire warning. An unusually wet winter produced voluminous fuels that were then followed by record-breaking summer heat and extremely low humidity. A series of near-record winds driving very dry air created a situation, which needed only the smallest of sparks to turn into a conflagration. 

Denial of any connection between extreme weather events to a hotter climate is getting harder and harder to sustain in the face of such ferocious events. You know you are in the hands of a denier, when a news commentator makes a disclaimer about our ability to say climate change was in some way involved in this or any series of hellish wildfires or floods. And meanwhile the rising specter of famine haunts hundreds of millions who live along the drying furrows of the world’s plows.

The other series of events that weigh heavily on the coming negotiations between representatives of 197 (oops – 196) countries which will gather in Bann is political. That is, the attack by the American far right on several sectors, starting with immigration but leading rapidly to the environment and vulnerable human communities. Coupled with a renewal in Washington of incentives for production of fossil fuels, these attacks are having a harsh impact both in the US and far beyond. 

The hammer fell on the UN last year when the 20,000 + delegates and observers gathered at COP 22 in Marrakesh learned of the election in America of a determined climate denier to the Presidency of the world’s largest per capita producer of atmospheric carbon. 

The impact of that election is likely to haunt this year’s conference as well and a primary question presents itself even more strongly than last year — can the gathered nations of the world collectively commit themselves to making reductions in CO2 emissions over the next five years sufficient to restrict the increase of earth’s average temperatures to a maximum of 1.5 degrees C above 1870 levels. That is the level at which most climate scientists say that our civilization might — just might — have a fighting chance. 

*Although, at least one reputable climate scientist, the formidable Kevin Anderson of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research, said in Paris that 1.5 degrees C is already in the rear view mirror.

These COPS have essentially followed the same form since at least 2009 — which was the heavily-hyped Copenhagen Climate Summit (COP 15.) Towards the beginning of the conference, the administrators of the event usually talk with enthusiasm of their commitment to push the delegates and ministers toward greater levels of ambition. Then as the conference moves ahead it encounters the intractable and stodgy, but necessary arguments, of opposing positions.  The inveterate skirmish line between the wealthy nations and the poor (the developed and developing) is triggered and diplomatic trench warfare resumes.

By the end of the two weeks, delegates are exhausted and ready to sign damned near anything to escape these sterile, unaesthetic halls and go home. That’s when the only real fun begins: and these patched-together agreements — forged through weeks of dedicated tedium — are given high-sounding titles–the Accords and Agreements, the Protocols, Platforms or maybe even  ‘Plans for Expanded Action’. With a grand title in place the COP President  can exhaustedly gavel the action to a close to thunderous self-congratulatory applause And then they all go home, leaving a bustling local work force to dismantle the provisional halls.

Finally, though, this year, a quieter but clearer sense of urgency seems to be registering among the leadership of the COP process. It was, remember, launched over a couple of decades ago in the full recognition that we, the species, faced a dilemma that was at least urgent. Those troubles have not lessened in the intervening 23 years despite the vast energies given over to them. Much irreplaceable time has passed. Storms and droughts of greater intensity have evolved, prodded by rising greenhouse gas-produced heat.  Can the initiative finally move forward with sufficient ambition to reach our bottom-line goal of net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050—even if each party has to use far more of its own resources to compensate for the potentially larger burden created by the American administration’s flaming COPout. 

Given the remarkable onset of new technologies, we have the sense that if we are able to free ourselves from the grip of the suicidal deniers and neoliberal profit-seekers, we can probably reach this goal. But the big question. “Can we?” quickly morphs into the next, “Will It Be in Time?” There has been only one predictive constant among the scientists — things have been moving faster than even the most pessimistic investigator has warned.

Obviously then, the mandate for COP 23 and the UN climate secretariat all means, “Let’s get moving!” Whether in our homes, our factories, our fields and forests, schools and cities-or, and especially, in our great international climate councils. In Ambition lies our best source of Hope.

More on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Conference of the Parties 23 will be forthcoming from Bonn early next week.

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