Reports from UNFCCC Climate Change Conference in Bonn

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The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) is an international environmental treaty which entered into force in 1994. The UNFCCC objective is to stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous man made interference with the climate system.The framework did not set limits on greenhouse gas emissions and had no enforcement mechanisms. It calls for specific international treaties to be negotiated to set binding limits on greenhouse gases. The parties to the convention meet annually since 1995 in Conferences of the Parties (COP) to assess progress on climate change. In 2015 the Paris Agreement was adopted, governing emission reductions from 2020 on.

Every year members of each government meet at the COP to discuss and develop the targets for limiting greenhouse gas emissions. Civil society and non-governmental organizations attend these conferences to offer opinions and expertise, and represent the people of the world.

NGO coalitions at the UN assist and support one another, share knowledge and experience, and collaborate to amplify our voices. Civil society constituencies provide focal points for easier interaction with the UNFCCC. The Women and Gender Constituency or WGC works to ensure women’s rights and gender justice within the UN climate change process. FAWCO joined WGC as soon as we learned about the constituency, as a way to ease our entry into the complex world of the UNFCCC.

On May 8, 2017, FAWCO UN Liaison Laurie Richardson and Stacey Kimmig joined other NGO Observers attending the UNFCCC Climate Change conference at the World Conference Center Bonn, proud to be part of FAWCO's entry into the UN climate process. Our first stop was the 9:00 AM briefing for members of the WGC. We met other NGO representatives, including many first timers, and learned about the organization of the day's meetings. The constituency coordinates the efforts of the member NGO representatives, and collaborates on attending and covering all of the multiple simultaneous events and sessions, as well as drafting and delivering interventions and statements.

Day One of a two-week UN conference typically consists of opening plenary meetings to discuss and adopt agendas and hear prepared statements from the "Parties" or national government delegates. There were also statements, called "interventions," by representatives of civil society organizations and constituencies.

At the opening session of the committee on implementation of the Paris Agreement, a WGC representative made a statement: "The Paris Agreement acknowledged gender equality, the empowerment of women, intergenerational equity, human rights, the rights of indigenous people... Climate finance must be 100% gender-responsive. Civil society, including women’s groups and gender experts, must be involved in the impact assessment and tracking utilization of climate finance at all levels. Climate finance must serve public interests instead of corporate profits."

We also attended a session on Climate Change and the Rights of the Child. According the the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, children have a basic human right to a safe, clean and healthy environment. Children have done nothing to cause climate change but are the most vulnerable to its effects; they are doubly victims: today and tomorrow. Children breathe more quickly than adults and take in more air, making them more vulnerable to pneumonia and other respiratory infections. Their immune systems are weaker, and their brains and nervous systems not developed, so they suffer disproportionate harm from climate actions and inactions. We need to empower children as agents of change, entitled to participate in decisions having direct and indirect impacts on their well being. As one panelist expressed so eloquently: "Dreaming of a better world is the essence of childhood. We must not allow any more children to lose this possibility."

On Day Two, May 9, we again started the day at the WGC morning caucus discussion, preparing representation and advocacy agendas for the day ahead. The day was full of discussions, events and a workshop on the issue of "non Party stakeholders." Parties to international agreements like the Paris Agreement and to multilateral processes like the UNFCCC are national governments. Therefore non Party stakeholders include NGOs and other members of civil society, associations, trade and labor unions, research institutes, local community governments, and business and industry interests. A lively debate takes place at every UN forum on the role of civil society, access by civil society to participation in meetings, and recognition of the contribution of NGOs. As we remind the UN at every opportunity, without the active participation of civil society, of people like you and me working in organizations like FAWCO, it would not be possible to accomplish the SDGs or achieve the targets of the Paris Agreement.

Non Party stakeholders play key roles in "operationalizing mechanisms;" we are the watchdogs, monitoring implementation and compliance; we provide relevant information and expertise, identify and overcome key barriers to implementation, engage in review processes, and inform and mobilize the public. At this important workshop, UNFCCC facilitators asked for input from civil society on how best to work with and include civil society. There was significant pushback from NGOs who oppose the involvement of corporate, business and industry interests in the climate change process. You cannot invite the polluters and natural resource exploiters who are responsible for the current state of the environment to be part of the negotiations. Their underlying motives may be to disrupt climate action. To maintain its credibility and integrity, the UNFCCC must resist efforts by industry to literally pollute the process.