Presidents column: Highlights from COP23 in Bonn

Thursday, 30. November 2017

Shortly after ISES closed out its successful Solar World Congress, held jointly with the International Energy Agency Solar Heating and Cooling Programme’s 2017 Conference, several of us trekked from warm and sunny Abu Dhabi, UAE to cool and damp Bonn, Germany to partake in a number of events during the first week of the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23). The COPs, also known as the Climate Conferences, bring together world leaders (the “Parties”) to continue with the ongoing negotiations associated with the Paris Agreement, signed two years ago at COP21. But the COPs also attract a large contingent of NGO’s, businesses, regional political leaders, and Civil Society in general to participate in side events at official COP venues as well as in nearby public locales. This year’s COP was hosted by Fiji, but was held in Bonn, Germany at the request of the Fijian government.

In order to get into the official venues, which this year were the “Bula Zone” (where the negotiations take place) and the “Bonn Zone” (where the official side events take place and where the hundreds of booths and country pavilions are located) one must be accredited as an observer, which is generally possible only when connected with an organization that has an accreditation with the UN. ISES has been accredited with the UN for over a decade, and this year three passes for each of the two weeks in which the COP took place were granted. The passes for the first week (6-10 November) were assigned to Joanna Costello, Paulette Middleton and myself.

On our first day, the REN Alliance held its “Renewables Working Together” in the Bonn Zone. The Alliance has been holding such side events at the COPs ever since COP15 in Copenhagen. This year Eicke Weber joined Paulette, Stefan Gsänger and Peter Rae of WWEA, Marit Brommer of the IGA, Remigijus Lapinskas of the WBA, and Mattis Rogner of the IHA to present compelling arguments and case studies of how 100% renewables can be the solution to climate change mitigation. This theme has become very popular throughout the COP; the official negotiations have embraced renewable energy as a major contribution to the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) presented by each of the 197 signatories of the Paris Agreement.

For the next two days, I participated in the Global Renewable Energy Solutions Showcase, a public event organized by the WWEA to further showcase renewable energy technologies and their role in climate change mitigation. This event, as well as another event on Thursday titled “The Local Dimension of the NDC’s: 100% Renewable Energy”, put on by the GO100% Renewable Energy Platform with support from the German Government, was held outside of the official zones. But I did go back to the Bonn Zone briefly to participate in a Solar Cookers International panel discussion and to meet with H.E. Upendra Tripathy, the Interim Director General of the International Solar Alliance (ISA). The ISA was created in cooperation with the French and Indian governments at COP21 in Paris.

One interesting highlight was our visit to the “We are still in” pavilion, organized by Michael Bloomberg, the UN Special Envoy on Cities and Climate. The Pavilion represents a massive private sector U.S. response by over 2500 non-federal entities representing over half of the U.S. economy to President Trump’s announcement to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. The official U.S. government presence in Bonn was weak and just short of non-existent, but the privately-funded We Are Still In Pavilion attracted hundreds of visitors daily and provided opportunities for dignitaries like Governor Jerry Brown of California and former Vice President Al Gore to present the strong commitment and pledges of thousands of companies and small businesses and hundreds of cities in the U.S. to live up to the Paris Agreement. Now that Syria and Nicaragua have signed the Paris Agreement, the U.S. stands alone in its decision to pull out, a decision opposed by the majority of U.S. citizens, I am sure.

ISES is closing out 2017 with a healthy budget, a successful Congress and a series of highly successful webinars. We see continued growth in the Solar Energy Journal, and broad global recognition for the technical expertise demonstrated in its programs and by its members. I thank all of our members for their continued support, and wish all of you and your families a very happy holiday season.