By: OLUWATOSIN Orenaike, UNU-EHS
The 23rd Conference of Parties (COP23) held last year from 6th to 17th of November was a remarkable and inspiring experience for me, because it was my first time participating at the annual UN Climate Change Conference and I had looked forward to it since knowing it would be held in the country and city I currently reside, Bonn, Germany.
As an M.Sc. student of Geography of Environmental Risk and Human Security with the United Nations University of Environmental risk and Human Security (UNU-EHS). I had taken courses and read papers on Climate change, which had kept me up-to-date on the increase in magnitudes and frequencies of natural hazards due to the changing climate globally and regionally and I had hoped being at COP23 would give me that fulfilment of contributing my widow’s mite to the climate change discourse.
This was the first time volunteerism was attempted at a major United Nations conference and the UN Climate Change (UNFCCC), in collaboration with United Nations Volunteers (UNV) leveraged on the volunteering platform to mobilize vibrant professionals, experts and students with different social and geographical backgrounds and a keen interest in the subject of climate change.
My role was to manage meeting rooms for High-Level Meetings alongside the information desk, which made me respond to other enquiries from participants in the Bonn Zone. Despite my previous volunteering experience in Nigeria for the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), as Emergency Management Vanguard on local community sensitization in Jos, Plateau during the Ebola outbreak in 2014, COP23 was an opportunity for me to expand my volunteering philosophy to put into practice and contribute my skills on a global level. Prior to the start of the event, we received a friendly training on issues around climate change as well as reflections on the need to stay motivated for the impending stress in the challenging days to come.
Unlike other COPs, COP23 was held in two zones. The “Bula Zone” (Bula is pronounced boolah meaning hello in Fiji) and “Bonn Zone”. The Bula Zone was mainly for official negotiations while “Bonn Zone” was dedicated to climate actions. My roles were at the Bonn Zone which was flooded with notable displays of events and pavilions. The attractive pavilions set up by countries and organisations showcase innovative and creative initiatives to mitigate climate impact, alongside platforms for discussions and dialogues.
The Indian pavilion, for example, displayed a colourful and inviting structure, which serves as space for relaxation after each day’s talks. According to India’s Minister of Environment, Forest and Climate Change, Dr. Harsh Vardhanwas, it was an avenue for the country to iterate her commitment to climate issues. Another notable pavilion is the German pavilion. As the host nation, provision for coffee, tea and cappuccino for participant and in one of the talks hosted the former Vice President of United State, Algore, a notable climate change activist and founder of the Climate Reality Project, an organisation aimed at initiating a solution to the climate crisis.
Volunteering at the conference did not only present networking opportunities with professional and experts whom I might not have conversed with outside this role. It also came with memorable souvenirs! Some of which I still use to date. All volunteers were given a daily meal voucher, convertible water bottles, a beautiful blue winter jacket for the rainy and bone-chilling weather, as well as two white long sleeves, this helped in familiarity with other volunteers during and after the conference. Additionally, volunteers had access to a free transportation ticket within Bonn to Cologne, though I never had to use it since my student ticket could do same, this was very helpful for people who came from other parts of the world to settle and commute during this period.
Beyond that, the COP23 organiser also walks the talk by providing a sustainable and clean transportation, waste management, catering and energy offsetting setups. About 600 bikes, as well as electric shuttles, was introduced for commuting between the two zones, all of which run on 100% renewable energy.
The closing event witnessed a special awards session and closing ceremony specifically for volunteers and presentation of certificates of participation. My participation in this event has enlightened me on how much organization, effort and finance are required to respond to demanding global issues that affect countries differently. The important role of countries, NGOs, professionals, policymakers and local knowledge to act now and reach out cannot be over flogged in initiating and implementing policies to before, it gets too late and affordable.
I have no doubt the next COP24, which is set to take place in Katowice, Poland would be a great experience for anyone who plans to participate either as a volunteer or observer.
Should you be interested in the video and images of COP23 volunteers, you check it out in the link below