Dear the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC),
The annual United Nations climate change conferences, known as COPs, and the mid year conferences, are an important political, legal and global commitment to tackling climate change. Provision of accreditations to civil society and young people is therefore important and commendable. My own experience of COP23 in Bonn, Germany, highlighted the value of such an opportunity to access industry, policy makers, government officials and like minded campaigners. It is therefore not the concept of COP that I will be writing to you about, but rather the example set by the UN with regards to accessibility, inclusivity, and low-carbon decision making.
COP23 was held at the UN site in Bonn, Germany and split into two zones: the Bonn Zone and the Bula Zone. Challenges associated with this location were three-fold. First, Bonn is a small city with limited accommodation options generally, and more specifically, limited cheap hostel-type options. Many attendees slept on floors, sofas, or had to commute long distances from surrounding towns. This is problematic as it excludes a large proportion of the population: particularly those with less economic flexibility, and young people who are not yet earning. Second, signposting in central Bonn was very limited and online instructions to reach the UN site via public transport were unclear. This made it difficult to reach the location, especially for non-German speakers. Finally, and arguably a fundamental flaw to the COP experience was the distance between the Bula Zone (where official negotiations take place) and the Bonn Zone (where side events and country pavilions were located). The 20 minute bus journey between the two made it very difficult for those who had access to the Bula Zone to also access the Bonn Zone, and vice versa. This was particularly alarming as it facilitated a division between the ‘officials’ and the ‘unofficials’, making it difficult for civil society groups to access official discussions. This inaccessibility limits the ability of the COP process to be fully transparent and inclusive of all interested actors.
From walking around the country pavilions and organisation stands it became apparent that not all groups were represented, and some conscious decisions must have been made about the attendees. Regarding the country pavilions, it was clear that global representation had not been achieved, and the size of the pavillion differed depending on… Well, I don’t know what. Did countries have to bid for their spots? Were countries selected based on geopolitics? The cost per square meter for a pavillion was €380 plus vat. This process of selection should be transparent, and crucially, should provide fair representation to all. Noticeably, the organisation stands also had an interesting range of actors and locations. The female related groups were pushed into a far away corner, while groups promoting nuclear power were given prime real estate. My question to the UNFCCC is: what kind of message does this send? Who lost out on accreditations because nuclear power got a seat at the table? Climate change is a global issue which impacts everyone regardless of economics, culture, or geographical borders. Therefore the UNFCCC need to represent as much of the globe as possible through both national and cultural groups. Responsibility for accreditation decision-making also needs to be taken – if the UNFCCC are willing to host nuclear promotion, you need to be willing to talk about it.
Low-Carbon Decision Making
The UN campus lay outside of central Bonn and therefore food provision was necessary, as there were no nearby options – and it was disappointing to say the least. Not only were there limited vegetarian and vegan options, but they were also arguably underwhelming. Meanwhile, the meat on offer was hardly low-carbon. Beef was featured heavily on the menu despite its carbon-intensive nature. This is not exactly a good example to set at a conference which aims to create a low-carbon society. Related to this issue was the large amount of food packaging. Although coffee cups were recyclable, and free water bottles were given to limit plastic waste, sandwiches came in packaging, and plastic wrappers were abundant. Finally, although plastic and paper recycling was available, there was no opportunity to compost food waste which was obviously disappointing.
Air conditioning in the Bonn Zone was another observation I made. The Bonn Zone was effectively a temporary pavilion that was put up for the purpose of COP23. The space inside was brilliant and provided access to charging points, computers, printers, and water fountains, however it seemed that there was air conditioning being pumped through the building 24/7. Given that the average temperature in Germany during my stay was from -2°C to 4°C, it seemed unnecessary to have air conditioning – surely windows could have been included to allow air from the outside to circulate?
It seems obvious to me that the UNFCCC should be leading by example and doing all they can to limit their impact on the planet. Despite commitments to “focus on low-carbon food”, and “sustainable management of resources such as energy and waste” the UNFCCC failed to demonstrate best practice. If the UNFCCC don’t feel the need to employ good practice, then how can they expect others to?
The UK Youth Climate Coalition attend COP each year, acting as a messenger between UK youth and UNFCCC decision-makers. Without full accessibility how can we be expected to make measurable impacts? Without inclusivity, how can the UN claim to be acting globally? And, without demonstration of good practice, how can anyone be expected to take UN action seriously? The UN conducts undeniable positive contribution towards preventing climate change, but there is more to be done, and more that should be done.
And hopeful for the future,