It’s been a long (but exciting!) first day of COP23. We arrived at the U.N. campus early this morning to register and grab our badges before setting off to explore the COP’s two main accredited areas: the Bula and Bonn Zones. The Bula Zone is home to the formal negotiations proceedings, while the Bonn Zone includes all side events, exhibits, NGO booths, and country delegation pavilions. Students bounced between the two and quickly acclimated to the enormity of the conference. They watched a lively opening ceremony, featuring music and dance by Fijian performers; attended negotiations aimed at hammering out details of the Paris Agreement; observed panels led by policy experts; and wrapped up the evening with a kickoff reception that filled the halls of the Bonn Zone. Check out their updates and blog posts below — and keep checking back over the next two weeks for daily recaps!

Source: UNFCCC

SamMy first day at the COP involved meeting up with my client, IUCN for an event on ecosystem based adaptation. The presentation focused on how to present ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches in a quantifiable way that will attract investors and community members. Addressing community priorities was also addressed by demonstrating that you can eat EbA through a variety of agriculture based techniques. This community based approach was also evident in my clients second event on protected areas. It is motivating to see organizations recognize the importance of local engagement, and I look forward to see more bottom-up based projects throughout the COP.

SanjeevMy first day at COP23 definitely signaled one thing to me – the importance given to civil society participation in the COP. President of the COP, Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, made it a point to mention in his opening address that he would take time out from the actual negotiations – leaving someone else from the Fijian delegation to moderate the negotiations – to come attend the civil society events at the Bonn Zone, the section of the COP dedicated to civil society engagement. And even though it was just the first day of the COP with people still trickling in, there were a bunch of very interesting civil society events happening in the Bonn Zone. Some of the major countries had set up very intricate looking pavilions. I was particularly intrigued by the Indian pavilion – it displayed India’s recent initiatives and emphasis on renewable energy but also focused on some of India’s more typical soft power tools, a focus on its rich tradition and culture.

I also attended a really interesting side event on the intersection between climate policy and development policy. One of the more contested issues in the side event was about the adverse effects on certain SDG indicators. One of the panelists presented a study about how climate change mitigation policy can have adverse effects, particularly on distributional issues like food security and energy access. It was really interesting to see reactions from the crowd, many of whom pushed back saying that adverse effects on the very same aspects were probably much worse if one took no action at all. The panelists then had to clarify that the reason for the study was not to support claims from developing countries that they should not undertake mitigation strategies. Instead the purpose was to suggest that governments needed to pursue more holistic climate policies which took into consideration possible adverse effects in developmental areas.

Galen: When telling friends, family, and professors about my plans to attend COP23, the most common response was a concern as to what my experience would be as a US citizen now that our administration has announced its intent to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. After the first day, my impression from the side events and conversations is that the international community seems to have an admirable sense of humor regarding our President’s out of touch view on climate change. I had lunch with a man from Fiji’s UNDP office who jokingly remarked, “At least if the US delegates, like Rex Tillerson, decide to come they have a lot of experience at these types of negotiations…” he took a dramatic pause, “lobbying for the fossil fuel industry.” At the Renewables Working Together: Staying Below 1.5oC with Renewable Energy event hosted by the WWF, the man representing the biomass industry started his presentation by saying, “Is Donald Trump in the room? No? Ok, then I’ll skip the part about how climate change is real and go right to how we need to address this urgent issue.”

Rachel: This morning I attended the opening ceremony of COP23 in which the president of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama took over as the new head of the conference. He emphasized the need to limit warming to 1.5 degrees, in order to protect the most vulnerable nations like the small island states. He also emphasized the need for subnational action and the importance of bottom up approaches on climate change. This message was very inspiring to me as someone interested in the actions of cities and states in lieu of federal action in the U.S. Many of these actions will be highlighted in the coming days as part of the U.S. Climate Action Pavilion.

DaniDay one of COP 23 is in the books, and from start to finish the conversations today revolved around the need for enhanced ambition heading into next year’s Facilitative Dialogue. The President of the COP, Fijian Prime Minister Bainimarama, set the tone in the morning with an opening statement that focused on the stricter of the Paris Agreement’s two aspirational temperature targets: the goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The theme continued throughout the day in negotiations and side events, including in the working group on Article 6, where I will be spending most of my time in the coming week. The Article 6 working group is tasked with making progress on the implementation of the Paris Agreement’s provisions on emissions trading. With little concrete progress made thus far, the task is daunting but Parties sounded optimistic in today’s negotiations, and I look forward to seeing the work plan progress as the week continues.

Tasfia: I was unsure of what to expect entering COP 23, with it being a procedural COP with no immediate deadlines. Throughout the day, however, the pace varied greatly. While many of the sessions were procedural, observers were also introduced to some of the underlying goals and tensions that will likely dominate the remainder of the convention.

Based on the rhetoric of the opening ceremony, COP leadership seemed to be pushing four main takeaways:

  1. It is crucial for the UNFCCC to engage the public and non-governmental organizations to ensure a successful framework.
  2. Actions by sub-national actors are growing increasingly important. These actors, such as the Global Covenant of Mayors and the We Are Still In group, are critical to meeting global emissions targets.
  3. COP leaders are aiming to ramp up organization and open dialogue in order to ensure a successful path to the 2018 Talanoa Discussion (previously known as the Facilitative Discussion).
  4. There is a stronger focus on vulnerable and small-island states and the need to limit warming to 1.5°C. With Fiji’s position as the first small-island developing nation to hold the COP presidency, there is a growing focus on the existential threat of climate change to the most vulnerable nations.

Although nations all seemed committed to working together to ensure a productive COP, there were tensions in the plenaries from the start. For example, many nations were dissatisfied with the lack of negotiations on pre-2020 commitments on the agenda. I plan to closely follow developments on this issue. As the Ecuadorian delegation aptly put it, “The impacts of climate change will not wait until 2020.”