“Welcome! Bula! Willkommen!”- The banner above the entrance to the conference’s Bonn Zone displays proudly. The Bonn zone is located in a park about a kilometer away from the main UN World Conference Center (called the Bula Zone). This is a “tent-city” that hosts country pavilions, exhibition booths, and side events.
The 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) was held in an effort to create a “rulebook” for implementing the Paris Agreement. If you follow COP23 news reports, you will see how US involvement shaped the discussion of commitments and policy, or what the overall Carbon Budget looks like. Coverage was focused on large-scale actions by governments and what they will and will not commit to. These reports on the negotiation process widely covered events in the Bula zone. Negotiations are important for the overall success of the conference, but they represent only a small percent of interactions that occurred at the conference. Many events occurred in the distant Bonn Zone, where countries displayed their culture and what they were doing to address climate change, and where representatives of non-governmental organizations were able to discuss their individual initiatives and hold side events. All are welcome to share and discuss their different perspectives and tactics in this zone.
My experience at COP23 involved asking the people I met in the Bonn Zone “What are you doing to combat climate change?” Often, responses focused on everyday actions such as cycling to work, taking public transit, or recycling. It was wonderful to hear the passion people had toward being greener in their everyday lives. Occasionally, however, I had the privilege of meeting a person whose personal experiences had led them to combat change in a wider initiative. In general, I found these initiatives used one of five general approaches to combat climate change: Empowerment, Education, Culture, Politics, or Religion
The following are examples of these different kinds of approaches:
- Empowerment: One of the first people I met was Clovert Mbenja Anamani, Founder and President of Rising Hope Foundation For Change (RHFC). One of the projects this initiative is doing aims to plant one million trees for the people of Cameroon and Africa in general. RHFC brings fruit-bearing trees to poverty-stricken, disadvantaged communities and educates the people on how to grow, maintain, and harvest these trees. He passionately described the triple impact these trees have on communities. The primary impact is that communities are able to grow and eat nutritional food, which can often be scarce. The secondary impact is that extra fruit can be sold and this acts as a source of income for barren communities lacking a solid job industry. These two components empower the community to make a difference in their welfare and enable them to take action for themselves. The tertiary impact, which is an added bonus, is that these trees offset carbon emissions and transform communities into a healthier, more sustainable environment. Read more about RHFC’s initiatives for empowering communities: https://risinghopef4change.org/one-million-trees-project/
- Education: Mafubo International is a networking and women’s empowerment organization that fights against women’s extreme poverty and insecurity by working to give women access to health care, and to ensure girls from disadvantaged backgrounds get an education. Rolande Aziaka is the president of Mafubo Togo and the Director of the online-TV network ECO CONSCIENCE TV, a Togolese media platform specializing in Sustainable Development, Economic and Social Rights. She believes in the capacity of women to get out of extreme poverty through education and has several efforts for social justice. One initiative she described educates youth on the effects of climate change and the effects of carbon footprints. She said that the children have a chance to make a sort of video blog on what they have learned, and this gives them an exciting opportunity to learn, create, and engage in climate change. She believes this early involvement with climate change sets the children on a path to take action as they grow up and is crucial to their communities. Though this is just a small part of her overall welfare for Togo initiative, she believes it is an important pillar for affecting community change. Read more about Mafubo International http://www.mafubo.org/en/ and see ECO CONSCIENCE TV at https://www.ecoconscience.net/en/
- Culture: Effecting change can be done in unconventional ways and through a wide variety of mediums. The booth I was located at was right next to the Talanoa Space, a space used for people who work on climate action and fair development opportunities for all people, independent of their national governments. Talanoa is a traditional word used in Fiji and the Pacific to reflect a process of inclusive, participatory and transparent dialogue. One part of this space was the cultural music display put on by the Fiji Police Band. The Fiji Police Band is a group that travels around the world to remind listeners of the cultures most vulnerable to climate change, people of island nations. I had the chance to talk with the leader of this group. And yes, they are actual policemen and a music group all in one. He discussed the importance of spreading awareness of Fijian traditions through music. He described how the beauty of music transcends language, and the importance is made clear to people despite the language barrier. Check out one of their performances at: https://twitter.com/COP23/status/928755158565171200/video/1
- Politics: One encounter I had occurred waiting around a lobby, sporting my UM satchel. An Australian man, Mark, excitedly struck up a conversation about how he had family around Ann Arbor. I asked him about his massive stack of papers, which appeared to be technical reports. He described his initiative called “Less Meat Less Heat”. This Australian based initiative involves lobbying national delegations to revise greenhouse gas accounting for countries. This accounting uses a metric called “Global Warming Potential” (GWP) to quantify and compare the global warming effect of different greenhouse gases. GWP is a metric that compares the amount of warming caused by a greenhouse gas over a period of time (compared to CO2). This initiative pushes the UNFCCC to use a dual-term for measurement (GWP20years + GWP100years) instead of the singular ‘gold standard’ GWP100years , which under-reports potency of short-lived climate pollutants, such as methane from widespread agricultural. His hope is to better represent these potent, short-lived gases, which contribute more to short term warming, and to highlight more opportunities for climate action that will help avoid policy and ethical trade-offs between near-term and long-term objectives. Read more about his initiative: https://www.lessmeatlessheat.org/
- Religion: Initiatives were not always based on physical sequestering of carbon, or an overall footprint. Sometimes they were based on change through moral appeal. The Right Reverend Marc Handley Andrus is the eight bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California. He, along with other leaders of faith, came together to represent the religious perspective in the Climate Talks. In his Episcopal Church, environment is one of the three pillars of his mission focus. We talked at length about different aspects of religion supporting an environmentally friendly lifestyle and how he believes people are inclined to do the right thing when they assess their morality. We discussed the perspective that all people, no matter religion, are affected by climate change, and people of higher privilege have a moral obligation to help the less advantaged, even if those people are located across the world. He and his religious partners use their sphere of influence to benefit the earth and all that inhabit it. For more insight on the religious contribution to COP23, see Right Rev. Marc Andrus’s Facebook Page
All of these people have their own unique contribution to the larger effort of creating a better future for our Earth. From raising awareness through music, to planting trees that empower a community, from efforts at a government level, to efforts of a single village, all are welcome in the Bonn Zone.
“We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. “