Fiji and Bonn, an unusual partnership to host COP23 climate talks

Kay Nietfeld, POOL, AFP | Josaia Voreqe Bainimarama known commonly as Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji, speaks at the beginning of the Petersberg Climate Dialogue on May 22, 2017 in Berlin.

As the 23rd edition of the UN climate change conference opens in Germany, the summit’s rotating presidency will for the first time be held by a country facing an existential threat from global warming: the tiny island nation of Fiji.


Although Fiji is presiding over this year’s summit, the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) will be held in Bonn from November 6-17. The South Pacific island simply cannot handle the logistics of hosting such an event, which is expensive to organise for the thousands of international delegates expected to attend. But for Fiji more than most other countries, the climate stakes are higher than ever.

Hosting a COP is expensive

Fiji, an archipelago consisting of more than 330 islands in the south Pacific Ocean, has already seen the consequences of global warming in natural disasters, rising water levels and warmer seas.

But despite its position on the front lines of climate change, Fiji lacks the resources to host the COP23 due to its remote location, size and limited infrastructure.

Hosting a COP is an expensive business. The price tag for the COP15 in Copenhagen in 2009, which more than 27,000 people attended, came to €182 million ($250 million). France spent more than €170 million when it hosted the COP21 for 40,000 delegates in 2015: Banks, restaurants, post offices and security had to be set up on the COP21 site in Paris-Le Bourget near Charles de Gaulle airport. The financial benefits for the Parisian region are estimated to have been around €100 million.

“The UN Climate Change Conferences do cost a lot of money,” COP23 said in a statement. “The actual costs of COP23 are not yet known and can only be quantified after the climate summit. This year, restrictions have been imposed due to the limited space. Organisers expect around 20,000 to 25,000 people.”

What are the aims of COP23?

Two years after the Paris Agreement was signed during the COP21, the main challenge for the signatories is to agree at the COP23 on how to implement their commitments. The text will then have to be finalised and approved during the COP24 in Poland in 2018.

Although the COP23 is understood to be mainly technical in nature, Fiji hopes to draw attention to the threat weighing on the inhabitants of the Pacific islands – particularly the Kiribati, Tuvalu and Marshall islands, which risk being being underwater in the next 50 years.

“We who are most vulnerable must be heard, whether we come from the Pacific or other Small Island Developing States, other low-lying nations, and states or threatened cities in the developed world like Miami, New York, Venice or Rotterdam,” said Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, president of the COP23, in a speech last May when he addressed delegates in Bonn. “But together we must speak out for the whole world – every global citizen – because no-one, no matter who they are or where they live, will ultimately escape the impact of climate change.”

The other main issue is that of the financing required to combat climate change.

“With the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Agreement, we are missing a key financial contributor,” said Schwarz. “Progress needs to be made on this front during the COP23 in order to reach the annual amount of $100 billion promised for 2020 by developed countries towards developing ones,” Bainimarama said during his closing speech at the Pre-COP (an event for discussing ideas for the upcoming COP23) on Denarau Island in Nadi, Fiji, on October 18.

Bonn, home to Germany’s largest coal mine

The UN chooses each year which country will host the next COP. According to a rotation principle, it was the turn of a country from the Asia-Pacific region to organise the conference. As Fiji could not handle the logistics, Bonn was automatically designated due to its position of secretariat of the UNFCCC.

This is not the first time that Bonn has hosted such an event. The COP5 in 1999 and the COP 6-2 in 2001 were also held in Bonn. The very first COP in 1995 was held in Berlin.

“Once again, Bonn has an opportunity to demonstrate its calibre as a UN city and as a conference location,” state secretary Walter Lindner of the German foreign office said in a statement in September.

“Germany’s support for Fiji, for the UN climate change team and for every person who will attend COP 23, shows the country’s commitment to climate and sustainable development goals,” Patricia Espinosa, executive secretary of the UNFCC, said in the September statement.

“For participants ranging from heads of state and ministers to CEOs of major companies, civil society and young people, Germany will be the hub [of] global climate action in November,” Espinosa added.

Bonn is where Germany’s largest coal mine is located, a fact that activists intend to underscore.

“The climate march, which will take place on the margins of the COP23, will focus this year on exiting fossil energy – precisely because the conference is taking place in a coalmining area,” Rixa Schwarz, team leader on international climate policy at the Bonn-based NGO Germanwatch, told FRANCE 24.

The conference will also be a hot topic of debate for German’s political scene and the media.

“The fact that the COP is taking place here will enable questions on the environment to be brought to the discussion table in Germany,” Schwarz said. The issue of climate change was not a hot topic during Germany’s electoral campaign in September.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who failed to obtain a large enough majority to form her own government, must form a coalition with liberals and environmentalists, who are calling for an end to coalmining.

“The presence of the COP23 in Bonn, while the coalition is being formed, will put pressure regarding the subject of climate change on the political parties,” Schwarz said.

Germany has pledged to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 40 percent by 2020, something that Merkel promised to deliver on during her campaign.

The EU, which is the third-largest emitter of greenhouse gases worldwide after China and the US, has also committed to reducing industrial emissions by 40 percent from its 1990 levels by 2030.

It has also committed to reduce emissions from the transport, agriculture, construction and waste-management sectors from 2005 levels by 30 percent.

This article was translated from the original in French.

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