From John Lanchbery RSPB Climate Change Principal Policy Officer
For the last two weeks I have been at the UN climate talks in Bonn – known in the jargon as COP 23. It is the first COP with a small island country as president: Fiji. Unfortunately the meeting could not be held in Fiji simply because it is too small to house the tens of thousands of people who come to these meetings nowadays and it is a very long way to go for the rest of the World. The RSPB (Sarah Nelson and I) have been here with BirdLife Partners Siteri from Nature Fiji, David from SEO in Spain, Ed from the BirdLife Secretariat (who is from New Zealand) and a lot of people from NABU, our German Partner, led by Olaf their President.
The venue was centred on the old West German Parliament building down by the Rhine, surrounded by a huge new conference centre with vast conference rooms which was, in turn, surrounded by enormous tented camps in which countries had their national “pavilions” and where lectures and other events are held.
In spite of a great deal of activity on the fringes, progress in the main event (the UN climate talks!) was disappointingly slow. Since the highly successful Paris COP two years ago, nations have meant to be preparing for the first formal meeting of the Paris Agreement at the end of next year – ironically to be held in the small coal-mining town of Catowice in the Silesian coal fields of southern Poland. Yet countries are nowhere near finishing the work mandated by their heads of government in Paris - in spite of twenty five heads of government being here in Bonn, including Chancellor Merkel and President Macron.
In Catowice, nations will review where we are in terms of limiting warming to 1.5C in light of a new report by the UN’s climate science body – the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The IPCC will inevitably find that we are miles off course and that countries will need to strengthen their emission reduction targets dramatically. To do this, countries will need to use the rule book on carbon reporting and accounting, which is what they should have been preparing here but have not. 2018 looks like being a pretty intensive year.
On the more positive side. The mood here has been good – helped a lot by Fiji being a happy and inclusive president. Also, America has engaged constructively – with the same core bunch of people who came for the Obama Administration. They working on the basis that they comply with the latest instructions given to them by the Administration and the most recent instructions were from Obama. Having said that, the “US minister” who is definitely from the Trump Administration was also conciliatory in her speech. Surprising but good.
Another positive thing was that us Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) have been pushing hard on what we call “natural solutions” to climate change. For a few years now we have been banging on about the dangers of the so-called negative emissions technologies used in almost all climate scenario models to go to 1.5C. We have now turned positive by proposing natural solutions instead: conserving and enhancing natural carbon sinks and reservoirs, such as forests and peatlands. We have always said this but we now have far more science-based numbers to back us up, thanks most recently to a paper in the Proceedings of American Academies of Science, led by the Nature Conservancy in the USA. Some of us have worked up a Climate Action Network position on the subject which, if successful, will represent 1,200 NGOs Worldwide, including not just the big environmental groups but the development groups too.
I gave talks at a lot of events mainly, but not exclusively, on natural solutions. These included two talks with the Convention on Biodiversity and IUCN, one with the Convention on Migratory Species (with Ed and Sebastian from NABU on planning for renewables), one with WWF and WCS of forests (Trillion Trees), one with Climate Action Network International and one on the harm done to Caribbean UK Overseas Territories by hurricane Irma (written entirely by Lyndon John our Caribbean UKOTs officer base in St Lucia).
Onwards and upwards.
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