On Wednesday morning, I attended the RINGO meeting with Mike. RINGO regularly receives tickets to negotiation sessions and meetings that aren’t open to non-party delegates, and distributes them to attendees at their meetings who are associated with a RINGO-member organization. They had 16 tickets to the high-level segment of the COP, but there were ~25 attendees who were keen on attending. They had us give them a business card, and then they held a lottery to determine who would receive a ticket. As luck would have it, I got the last ticket.

The COP was split into two main areas: the Bula Zone and the Bonn Zone. Bula means “hello” in Fijian, and as Fiji held the presidency for COP23, the zone where the actual negotiations occurred was named in reference to their leadership; the Bonn Zone was named after the fact that the COP was held in Bonn (really original, I know). Typically, the COP is held in a city located in the country that holds the presidency for that year. However, the travel and lodging constraints associated with Fiji’s remote location and small size prevented COP23 from being held in Fiji.

The vibe in the Bula Zone was markedly different than that of the Bonn Zone. While the Bonn Zone was fairly lively, and had areas set up for people to sit and talk, the Bula Zone was much more subdued. The attire and demeanor of the people I saw in the Bula Zone seemed to be much more representative of the seriousness around the negotiations, and the heightened level of security alluded to the rank of the party delegates in their respective nations.

The high-level segment started in the New York plenary room of the Bonn World Conference Center, located in the Bula Zone. The atrium in front of the plenary room was crammed with people, and I figured most of them were party delegates waiting to be let into the room. As a non-party delegate, I was relegated to the observation gallery, a balcony above where all of the party delegates were seated. The high-level segment commenced with an address by Timoci Naulusala, a young Fijian boy, who gave a well-spoken address that detailed the impacts that Fiji has experienced, and will face, as a result of climate change. His plea for action was made on behalf of his entire generation, and the applause in the room following his remarks was noticeably heartfelt. He was followed by addresses by Frank Bainimarama, the Fijian Prime Minister, and Miroslav Lajčák, the President of the United Nations General Assembly. They both echoed Timoci’s call to action, and implored the party delegates to move the ball forward during the negotiations this year, and next year at the 2018 Facilitative Dialogue.

Following these opening remarks, there was a brief break as we waited for the next speakers to arrive. I returned to the atrium, and was surprised to see that it was actually more crowded than before. This was due to the fact that people were waiting for the arrival of Angela Merkel, the Chancellor of Germany. The crowd had been waiting for her for several hours, and when she did finally walk through, she was met with applause and cheers. Her subsequent address was optimistic, and expounded upon how Germany has reaffirmed their path to decarbonization. She addressed the historical responsibility that developed nations have for their past emissions, and how the transformation to a low-emission economy opens up enormous potential for growth. This echoed many of the sentiments that I had heard expressed at the U.S. Climate Action Center, and interestingly enough she explicitly thanked the subnational presence and involvement of Americans at COP23, and “America’s Pledge on Climate Change“. While she stated that Germany intends to double public climate finance by 2020, several groups are disappointed that she didn’t take a clearer stance against coal, especially in light of the pro-coal stance adopted by the U.S. delegation at the COP.

Angela Merkel addresses party delegates at COP23

Next, Emmanual Macron, the President of France, spoke. His address took a more pragmatic stance than Angela Merkel’s did, and his opening remarks presaged that if we don’t take climate action, we accept that by 2100 many of the cultures and peoples of our planet will not survive. He issued a proposal that the EU and France fill the IPCC funding gap left by the U.S., which would undercut the ability of Washington D.C. to “negotiate a better deal” and re-enter into the Paris Agreement. He reiterated Merkel’s support of subnational U.S. action, and stated that he believes that the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco next year will demonstrate that subnational actor in the U.S. will be enough to fill the gap left by our Federal Government. He closed by addressing the historical habit of rich countries to impose their values on the world. These values are a large part of why we’re in the position we’re in today, and he recognized that this is a tragedy. However, we cannot impose their tragedy like we have imposed our values, and Macron issued a call to action.

The high level segment continued, and I stuck around for several more speakers. It was inspiring to hear high-level leadership recognizing the reality of climate change, and issuing calls to action. Hopefully these calls to action will be realized in the immediate future, as our success in fighting climate change is time sensitive. While the remarks of Obama from several years ago are starkly contrasted with the abdication of leadership by our Federal Government, the optimism by other world leaders for subnational engagement in the U.S. hints that our lack involvement won’t last for long.