Reflections on a week at COP23 – the 23rd annual meeting of the UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change


November 17th, 2017

Within a short time of arriving in Bonn early last week, one thing became very clear, it was not just the negotiators or minority groups of environmentalists who thought COP23 was important. A full spectrum of nationalities, government, private sector, civil society, academics, the media and citizens were involved! Whilst the negotiations were taking place in the World Conference Centre and UN Campus (the Bula Zone), ‘Climate Action Events’ were taking place across the city. These events were not confined to the temporary conference centre that had been erected in Rheinaue Park (the Bonn Zone). They were also taking place in the university, colleges, organisations, hotels and a range of other venues.

So what was driving all this activity? What did people want to see happen? For me, it can be summarised as global action that  will enable us to mitigate, adapt and cope with the impacts of climate change. That is, full and successful implementation of the ‘Paris Agreement’. Most of those participating in Bonn last week knew that COP23, like other annual meetings, was an important step in achieving that.

Of course, such a far reaching and important issue as climate change is complex and political. And it is no surprise therefore that the negotiations are equally complex, political and slow! Many people ask what difference can individuals, or a small team from a medium sized NGO, can make in such a big event or process. On reflection I think there are several invaluable contributions.

The first, is contributing to the buzz and hubbub of ‘Climate Action Events’ – to inspire and motivate the negotiators. As the COP organisers know from experience, contrasting multi-stakeholder activity – debate, discussion, evidence, campaigning and advocacy – is an essential part of the process. It highlights what can, and must, be done! It tells negotiators that failure, in these negotiations and process, is not an option!

A second, is to be part of the body of civil society organisations that keenly follow, critique and support the negotiations. This can include meeting with the negotiating Parties, working in networks (such as the Climate Action Network) or responding when there are requests for information.

A third, is to share specific examples of climate actions that work, or do not work. Practical Action has diverse experience in understanding how technology transforms the lives of women and men living in, or vulnerable to, poverty. Much of this is directly linked to coping with climate change.

One such example, and pragmatic way to address the increasing incidence of drought and unreliable rainfall associated with climate change, is the use of solar powered irrigation in Zimbabwe. There are of course many ways to use and enable access to this technology. And many parallel economic and social issues to consider. Agriculture is a private sector. New technology and development initiatives must recognise and appreciate this, for example farmers and communities also need the capacity to engage with and respond to changing markets. Or, working with private sector actors to develop business models which enable them to go beyond the low hanging fruit – the easy to reach and work with. Agriculture is also intrinsically linked to culture and social structures, which means working with households and communities to plan their own development.

I hope this short example shows that even where there is an obvious ‘win-win’ solution – such as solar powered irrigation to resurrect agriculture in drought prone areas – progress is not simple. As with the climate talks, it needs committed, multi-sector action. And, as with the climate talks, failure is not an option!

One response to “Reflections on a week at COP23 – the 23rd annual meeting of the UN Conference of Parties on Climate Change”

  1. gehendra gurung Says:

    A quick scan through the COP23 decision seems 1) the agreed Talanoa Dialogue could have been initiated in 2017, indicating that the negotiation process on climate change was bit slow in 2017 and 2) the coming negotiation until 2020 is going to be much focused on Mitigation. Also the dialogues on GCF is going to be focused on funding for mitigation with adaptation putting in second priority, not as equal to mitigation. There is a need to expedite the negotiation process in the coming 2-3 years for an achievable action plan to be agreed by 2020, so that 2020 COP will not be a failure COP as Copenhagen, and Adaptation needs to bring as equal important as mitigation in the coming dialogues. Talanoa Dialogue should not leave Adaptation as less important than Mitigation.

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