Why I am not going to the Bonn Climate Change Conference | Constructive Disruption
- The UN process for tackling climate change is not working and we need to draw public attention to its shortcomings;
- International climate conferences have become little more than trade fairs, and need to be slimmed down to focus on the task at hand – effective negotiations to respond to climate change.
- If results are not delivered, public funding for the process and the conferences must be cut
I’ve been a regular at the UNFCCC’s Bonn Climate Change Conferences for many years. These are the so-called “intersessionals” that take place between the larger, annual COP summits, to advance negotiations on climate change. The conferences also host a range of additional events: last year, over 200 workshops, meetings, and capacity building sessions took place as part of the Bonn conference and on its sidelines.
I first attended the Bonn Climate Conference in 2016, to observe workshops on agriculture and help organize side events. Since then, every year, I’ve been attending, organizing events, and networking. This includes last year, where my colleagues and I represented Clim-Eat there for the first time.
However, this year I’ve decided not to attend.
After seven years of engaging in this United Nations (UN) process for tackling climate change, I am just not seeing any tangible actions resulting from it. In 2016, we discussed adaptation measures, and agricultural practices and technologies. Since then, year on year, the conferences have produced an apparently never-ending cycle of workshops and further negotiations. These produce even more meetings, workshops and negotiations! I no longer have faith in this approach as a pathway to meaningful impact on climate change.
So, I’m not going.
What should we do about it?
It’s easy to be critical – getting countries to agree on measures to tackle climate change is phenomenally complex. But it’s also important to propose alternative approaches if change isn’t happening, or isn’t happening quickly enough.
Personally, I don’t think the current UN processes will ever lead to action on climate change. There are simply no incentives for countries to reach agreement and act, nor are there any consequences – beyond ecological meltdown – if they fail. Also, I get the sense that some of those same people who attend these conferences year in, year out, kind of like it. They like the get togethers, the catching up with colleagues and old friends. Some of them are probably networking for new opportunities for themselves. I’m not sure tackling climate change is their top priority.
That’s why I think we need carrots and sticks to make the UN process more effective. Carrots can be funding available to actually conclude meetings and take action. Sticks can be used to hold some feet to the fire by drawing public attention to shortcomings. For example, if we can put a monetary value on the time spent attending conferences and hold those involved to account, we might hope to see more judicious use of public funds as well as negotiations that result in real action. As a start-up founder, I have realised the incredible value of people’s time: an hour has a cost (mine is about EUR 111, i.e., this is the cost that Clim-Eat incurs for an hour I spend doing anything). But the UN process just doesn’t seem to value people’s time properly: Hundreds of negotiators and thousands of observers gather, for hours, days and even weeks to participate, meaning every conference comes at a huge cost – especially to the public purse. But for what? That’s why some sticks might help.
I therefore propose that:
- The conferences are made smaller, with less focus on the ‘trade fair’ around them and more on the negotiations;
- The number of side events and observers is reduced. We need networking opportunities of course, but let’s find other venues and instead push the negotiators to deliver results for the planet;
- If results aren’t delivered, the UN and the negotiators should be held to account for their use of taxpayers’ money. It is simply unacceptable to continue hosting these extravagant conferences when all they result in is the need for more conferences.
This is a personal view, and even in the Clim-Eat team we have differences of opinion, but there is nothing wrong in that. But to those who disagree, I ask the following: How much have emissions been reduced as a result of the UN process? How many farmers have become more resilient? Which behaviours have changed? I am willing to change my mind, but let’s not uphold a failed process as a success simply because it serves our interests to do so.