On its fifth day, the COP23 in Bonn got to the core of climate action. On the agenda for Friday and today were the “Action Days” on sustainable agriculture and the health of the oceans. Experts from the FAO are expected in the former German capital, together with ministers, NGOs and 50 religious clerics who will get off their bicycles and ask us all to “walk on the earth with respect and kindness.”
However, not much is expected in terms of folklore and celebrations. Bonn will be the benchmark for the Paris agreement in the first summit without the U.S., but also, most importantly, the stress test for the Franco-German axis, the engine of Europe (also) in terms of energy and the environment, which is showing more and more signs of friction after the dramatic about-face of the Macron government in the matter of giving up nuclear power, which Germany is confirmed to be pursuing.
A difference of perspective, just like with the events happening in parallel with the COP, asking for more action against global warming, while at the same time the disturbing E.U. agreement on emissions reached in nearby Brussels pushes on. It sets out that “the biggest CO2 emitters will be paid to pollute instead of paying for having polluted,” as the WWF appropriately summarizes.
In any case, the program of the COP23 is proceeding as planned. Friday morning, Climate Action for Food Security is on the agenda, with FAO and the partners from Marrakesh engaging in a round table discussion about how to manage water scarcity, food waste and livestock farms with high environmental impact.
The German and French plans will also be topics of reflection at the World Conference Center in Bonn, with the presence of Agriculture Minister Christian Schmidt (CSU) and the ESA astronaut Thomas Pesquet.
But Berlin and Paris remain distant. On one side we find the accelerated phasing out of German nuclear power (and also of coal, which supplies 40 percent of domestic electricity) confirmed in the talks between Merkel and the Greens, asking the private sector to pay for the decommissioning costs. On the other side there is Nicolas Hulot, the “environmentalist” Environment Minister, who in July announced that 17 reactors will be shut down by 2025, and is now only able to confirm the closure of the Fessenheim plant.
Moreover, the Macron government seems to want to limit itself to the provisional agreement on the new emissions trading system (ETS), which must be ratified by the E.U. Council. The text provides for the absorption of the surplus of credits, the granting of nonrefundable bonuses to help against the relocation of companies, and a mechanism of financial compensation for the member states. The goal is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of European industries by 2030, but “only” by 43 percent compared to 2005.
“The result will have little impact on greenhouse gas reduction in the coming years. We must focus on the cancellation of the enormous surplus of permits,” note the experts from the Climate Action Network. A blunt assessment, much like the report from Germanwatch: 524,000 deaths from climate-related events over the past 20 years, with material damage running to $3 trillion.
In parallel, outside the official conference, demonstrations have been announced in Bonn by a group of organizations: the anti-fracking movements from the Maghreb and Peru, activists against Bayer, the animal rights party and the youth from the Ver.di union will all be in Münsterplatz on Saturday at 4 p.m.
At the same time, at the Conference Center, the 195 represented countries will attempt to pre-establish the rules for the Paris Accord before the COP24 in Poland: from the measuring of CO2 emissions to the steps to reduce them after 2020, including the financing of the transition from fossil fuels to the green economy.
One has to wait until Nov. 5-16, 2018, in Katowice, Poland, to see if this has worked out successfully. For now, in Bonn, the only type of sustainability showing determined progress is that which has been field-tested here since Monday: a fleet of bikes and electric buses, the requirement that participants only use bottles of tap water, and the “ecological footprint” of the transfer flights for the 27,000 delegates being offset by the federal government in the form of projects for renewable energy.
Everyone is waiting to see if the final agreement of the COP23, expected to be released on Nov. 17, will take into account the requests by Fijian President Frank Bainimarama, fighting to ensure his islands will not sink into the ocean, or an opening toward “climate refugees” following the example of New Zealand, or, in more prosaic terms, the E.U. Commission report released on Tuesday, according to which emissions have decreased by a mere 0.7 percent in 2016.