Report from COP23

FWCC’s Sustainability Communications Officer Susanna Mattingly reports on the first week of the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) held in November in Bonn.

COP23 Bonn Zone
The Bonn Zone at COP23

I spent a week in Bonn, Germany from 6-12 November, at the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) of the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), presided over by Fiji. This was the first COP to be hosted by a small-island, developing nation, although the conference was held in Bonn for logistical reasons.  The climate talks convened diplomats, ministers and civil society for the latest annual round of United Nations negotiations to advance international climate action.

The negotiations were somewhat overshadowed by the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Agreement earlier this year. (The Paris climate agreement is a global action plan for avoiding dangerous climate change by limiting global warming to well below 2°C.)

Despite this, much progress was made. One significant event was the launch of a new alliance led by the UK and Canada in which 19 countries have pledged to phase out coal whilst supporting affected workers and communities to make the transition, including Mexico, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Italy, Ethiopia, Angola and the Marshall Islands.

Rev. James Bhagwan, Methodist Church in Fiji
Rev. James Bhagwan, Methodist Church in Fiji. Credit: Sean Hawkey/WCC

During the course of the week, I heard deeply moving, powerful stories from Pacific Islanders about the devastating impact that climate change is having on their lives, homes, communities and cultures. We heard desperate pleas that we cannot ignore, urging the world to take action.

Urgent changes are needed, not just for future generations, but for the sake of our common family around the world who are living with the impacts of climate change right now, today. Hearing representatives of the Fijian presidency decry that “our current dilemma is a catastrophic failure of imagination” left a lasting impression.

Side event moderated by QUNO
Side event on visionary leadership, moderated by Lindsey Fielder Cook, QUNO Representative on Climate Change

At the conference I attended sessions on a broad range of themes including, among many others:

  • climate induced displacement and non-economic loss and damage
  • using indigenous and local knowledge in climate change decision-making
  • global equity
  • just transition and human rights
  • equipping civil society to participate in the energy transition
  • the role of visionary leadership in the transition to 1.5°c
Quaker representatives at launch of 'Walk on Earth Gently' initiative
Friends at the launch of the interfaith “Walk on Earth Gently” initiative. From left: Susanna Mattingly, FWCC; Sara Wolcott, a US Friend representing Quaker Earthcare Witness; and British Friends Rachel Berger and Laurie Michaelis.

COP23 provided Quakers with the opportunity to make valuable connections with other faith representatives working on sustainability. Both Friends World Committee for Consultation (FWCC) and Britain Yearly Meeting (BYM) have signed the 2017 Interfaith Climate Statement “Walk on Earth Gently” which was presented to UN representatives at COP23 on 10th November. The statement represents a shared assertion by faith groups globally that widespread sustainable behaviour change is required if global temperature rise is to meet the targets set by the Paris Climate Agreement.

It also marks the launch of a new international, multi-faith sustainable lifestyles initiative where religious leaders and people of faith pledge to adopt sustainable behaviours and call on their communities and world leaders to do the same. As faith groups we are sending a clear message to our leaders that failure to deliver on the 1.5 degree goal is simply not an option.

Spiritual leaders deliver the Interfaith Climate Statement to the UNFCCC
Spiritual leaders deliver the Interfaith Climate Statement to the UNFCCC at COP23. Credit: Bente Stachowse/GreenFaith

Given that the vast majority of the world’s population identifies with a religion, coming together as a global multi-faith community to coordinate sustainable living commitments in this way means we have the potential for real, meaningful impact. We know climate change is caused by human behaviour, therefore behaviour change can also help to address climate change.

The challenge is to not let these gatherings become an annual jamboree of frequent fliers with tokenistic approaches. If our negotiators aren’t representing us at these talks, we are called to speak truth to power and challenge them. However, the UN alone cannot deliver on system change and we need to also build on our connections within civil society to achieve meaningful progress.

Our colleagues at QUNO continue to work tirelessly at the COPs as accredited observers of the UNFCCC negotiations, highlighting the human impacts of climate change, offering quiet diplomacy, and supporting climate negotiators’ work with effective arguments for urgent climate action.

At FWCC we are embarking on a new sustainability project working with Friends worldwide to strengthen our environmental commitment and amplify our voice through a global Quaker sustainability movement.

If you would like to find how to get involved in this work, please email me.