Traditionally dressed Fijian warrior at opening of COP23

World gathers to work on Paris Agreement in defiance of Trump at COP23

Image credit: Reuters/Wolfgang Rattay

Representatives from all over the world are gathering in Bonn, Germany, to discuss how to coordinate climate mitigation without the US, brushing off President Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement.

The 23rd annual conference of the parties (COP23) under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has now opened and will continue over the next 11 days in Bonn.

200 countries are gathered at the conference, which will focus on developing guidance for countries to meet climate mitigation goals and review transparency measures. The details of the Paris Agreement are expected to be decided at the next COP, which will be held in Katowice, Poland.

Although COP23 is being hosted in Bonn, it is being presided over by the South Pacific island nation of Fiji, one of several islands at high risk from rising sea levels. In February 2016, Fiji was shaken by Cyclone Winston, with 40,000 homes damaged or destroyed and total damages mounting to approximately $1.4 billion.

“We who are most vulnerable must be heard,” said Frank Bainimarama, Prime Minister of Fiji and president of the COP23, in a speech last year.

“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.”

Delegates were treated to a traditional Fijian welcoming ceremony. A Fiji Pavilion within the venue has been created to appear like a Fijian village. It is intended as a place for talanoa: constructive, inclusive discussions aimed at reaching consensus.

COP23 takes place around two years after COP21, when the Paris Agreement was agreed by representatives of the nearly 200 nations present, and it is the first in the series of UNFCCC conferences since Donald Trump became US President. The Paris accord lays out the aim of keeping global average temperature rises to below 2°C, and ideally below 1.5°C, which could help avert the most catastrophic effects of climate change.

Trump’s withdrawal of the US from the accord in June 2017 drew widespread condemnation from within the US and around the world. Many state governors, mayors and other representatives from the US – who have continued to take actions to reduce carbon emissions on a local scale – will defy their President by supporting the Paris Agreement with appearances at COP23.

Jerry Brown, the Governor of California – who has been named a special advisor to COP23 – Kate Brown, the Governor of Oregon and Jay Inslee, the governor of Washington, are expected to be among those present. Michael Bloomberg, the billionaire former mayor of New York, has offered to pay the $15 million UNFCCC administration costs if the federal government refuses.

“I’ll help lead a delegation of US mayors, governors and CEOs and we will deliver a unified message: Americans remain committed to meeting our commitment under the Paris agreement, no matter what happens in Washington,” said Bloomberg in a statement.

Last week, the New York Times revealed that Trump planned to use the conference as an opportunity to promote fossil fuels (as well as nuclear power) as a means for tackling climate change. He has organised a delegation of speakers – mostly fossil fuel exporters – to argue that American energy resources can provide to developing countries and help them reduce their carbon emissions.

The withdrawal of the US from the agreement, however, will leave a leadership vacuum empty for other powers – most likely China or the European Union – to claim.

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