Thousands of people visited Bonn for the 23rd Conference of Parties UN Climate Change Convention. With so many people in one place attending an event on climate change, it is obvious that the conference itself should be sustainable. But what is sustainability and how can such a large conference achieve the status of being a sustainable conference? Sustainability involves exercising practices that ensure we are not using more resources than we can generate for the next generation. To highlight how COP23 is working towards improved sustainability, walking tours have been offered, illustrating the many sustainability initiatives.
A Climate Neutral Conference
Prior to attending the COP, every individual involved was given the option of paying to compensate their travel, making their trip to the COP carbon neutral. This was offered as a complimentary action to one already being taken. The Ministry of the Environment is working to compensate all emissions associated with the conference. To do so, after the end of the conference, the state will be collaborating with scientists to estimate total emissions. The ministry will then be compensating the travel of all participants (even those who chose to compensate for their travel independently) as well as all other sources of carbo0n emissions associated with the conference. The funds to offset the emissions will have a priority of being designated to the protection of small island developing states (SIDs).
With people from all over the world, it was important to be inclusive in food and drink offerings while still being mindful of ensuring food was sourced as sustainably as possible. This is done through which foods are sourced and where they come from. A breakdown of food at the COP includes food that is:
Waste Management and Minimization
For those from places that do not separate their waste, a color coding system that included labels was used in order to separate the waste into what could be recycled or repurposed, what could compost, and what could not be salvaged. Additionally, there were many efforts made through catering to cut down on waste as much as possible. Food leftover from our plates went to be converted to biofuel. Food that went unserved was repurposed the next day. This included using fruits and vegetables at the smoothie bar the next day and turning extra white rice into fried rice. Additionally, unused food at the end of the conference was donated to area food charities. Furthermore, coffee grounds and tea bags went to organic waste. A final detail in waste management is that the waste bags used can be reused and recycled.
Tapping Into Sustainable Solutions
Each participant of COP23 was given their own reusable water bottle. There were stations throughout both zones allowing many opportunities to refill each day. Last year, the average participant used about 4 disposable cups a day for water. By using the refillable and reusable water bottles, it is estimated that over 300,000 disposable cups were saved.
The ministry and organizers of the conference have provided all attendees with many options for eco-friendly travel. First and foremost, anybody with credentials allowing them into the conference zones also gets a sticker for their badge allowing them to have free local and regional public transportation, making getting to the conference itself much easier and cleaner than using taxis or personal vehicles. Once at the conference, there are many options available to get between zones. There is a fleet of 45 e-vehicles, comprised of cars and shuttle buses powered by electricity and hydrogen. There is also a solar powered bus. Furthermore, there are 650 bikes available for use moving between zones, and a lovely walking trail through the park leading from Bula Zone to Bonn Zone.
Bula Zones 2 and 3 as well as the Bonn Zone were made from temporary tent-like structures. These structures were built above the land (using a stilt-like system) in order to minimize damage to biomass. This results in much less of the land temporarily built on being damaged. Furthermore, all of the furniture and even the plants were rented, allowing them to be reused at future conferences and events. In the hallways of the temporary zones, carpet tiles were used. This allowed only the small sections of the flooring that were truly damaged to be disposed of, while preserving the good carpet for future use.
UNFCCC events aimed to have a significant cut in paper use. Schedules were not distributed, but were displayed on CCTVs throughout the venues and on the UNFCCC Negotiator app. Additionally, there were 9000 Poken devices available to attendees. You are able to tap your Poken device against another person's Poken in order to digitally transfer documents. You are then able to use the USB on the device to load the PDFs onto your computer. Furthermore, many pavilions utilized QR codes to share information. Finally, all paper provided by the Secretariat is Blue Angel certified, meaning that it has been certified as an environmentally friendly paper option.
Certifiably Sustainable - A Job Well Done
The many efforts taken by the hosts and organizers of COP23 were in an attempt to leave a legacy with this COP, aiming to become the first certifiably sustainable COP. On Friday 17 November, it was announced that COP23 successfully met this goal. EMAS certified the conference, the first COP to have this honor. COP23 has set the precedent and left its legacy in Bonn, Germany and hopefully this will continue at COP24 in Katowice, Poland.
Room to Improve
Although there were many measures taken to make COP23 sustainable and the actions of the organizers were recognized and rewarded with the certification by EMAS, there is still room for improvement at future COPs. First and foremost, while there are many actions being taken to reduce paper, there still need to be more. Pavilions were advised to avoid bringing much paper, but there were still many that had enormous quantities of paper and that even brought mini books to give out. While I understand the desire not to become "police" of the paper, I believe that it is important to instill the desire to preserve paper at the pavilions, especially seeing as the pavilions are where you find many of the more outspoken advocates for the climate. Additionally, seeing the great success that came with implementing re-usable water bottles, it may be beneficial to expand the program in future years to add reusable hot beverage travel cups to further decrease waste. It may also be wise to cease the sale of disposable water bottles seeing as everybody has initial access to the reusable option. Finally, measures need to be taken to improve sustainability participation in delegate zones. It was noted that the Bula Zone (the zone where negotiations were held) had poorer performance on using reusable drinking vessels and properly separating waste. With many of those in the Bula (delegate) Zone being the ones who are arguing and negotiating these incredibly important climate-related matters, it is crucial to get them involved in these simple, every day measures to be more sustainable.