This post by Naveeda Khan is part a series from the members of the AAA delegation at the UN Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.
Shirley Fiske provides a visceral sense of navigating the COP meeting as part festival and part spectacle. I too feel the excitement waxing and waning in the large halls constructed out of canvas and particleboard to house the meeting and manage the 25,000 participants. I want the U.S. to remain a part of the Paris Agreement and I join an unprecedented number of participants from the U.S., both young and old, all here trying to support this process in many different ways. I am also skeptical whether this process can deliver what we need to keep global temperature rise within the 1.5 degree Celsius that small island nations have long claimed as necessary to keep them from being inundated.
I have now been in the city of Bonn for a little over a week to attend the COP, which is short for the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change drafted in 1992. Delegates from the various countries have been busy aligning their positions with one another so that they can take forward their claims in blocs (G77 and China, Least Development Countries, Like Minded Countries, Alliance of Small Island States, European Union, to name a few of these). I have been following these negotiations since the COP in Paris in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was drafted. The process has to conclude by 2020 after which the Paris Agreement will be the new world order.
In the two years since the Paris Agreement, some of that excitement has ebbed among the parties, particularly those least developed and those most vulnerable to climate change. Certainly many climate activists always had a negative view of it. Paris, some say darkly, may have been a diplomatic success, but it was a climate failure. Speaking perhaps a little too conspiratorially they say that the developed countries (“Annex 1” countries) never liked the Kyoto Protocol, which was the first agreement to come out of the 1992 convention. Its emission targets were too burdensome on their economies and, presumably, their way of life, and it was punitive to boot. Much better an agreement that requires all parties (including “Annex 2” countries and not just developed ones) share the responsibility of mitigation and adaptation and that they do so in a voluntary basis. Under the Paris Agreement, each country gets to decide what it wishes to contribute to reducing emissions and helping with adaptation.
If one tots up all their voluntary nationally determined contributions (NDCs) submitted since Paris, we are already well past 1.5 degrees and into 3, possible 4 degrees rise in temperature by the end of the century (http://climateactiontracker.org). Some of the country blocs and many of the activists on the street call for respecting pre-2020 commitments, which is short for saying allow the Kyoto Protocol to hold sway over developed countries, make them recommit to controlling their emissions, have them act more urgently now, even as COP23 prepares for the inauguration of the Paris Agreement. There is a touch of the sepulchral to all the festivity and spectacle.
Naveeda Khan is an associate professor of anthropology at Johns Hopkins University. She works on riverine communities in Bangladesh as they navigate living on moving land and has been studying the COP process for the last three years.