Ellie’s UN COP23 Bonn Blog: Chumamich for a safe climate

By Ellie Cohen Point Blue Conservation Science November 22, 2017

It was an inspiring couple of weeks in Germany for the 2017 UN climate meeting representing Point Blue for its first time as an official Observer Organization.  COP23 (the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change), convened by Fiji and hosted by Bonn, focused on developing the “rulebook” for implementing the 2015 Paris climate agreement to keep increases in global temperature well below 2°C or 3.6°F since the pre-industrial era.

COP23 was the first ever with essentially two US delegations.  One was an official State Department group that generally kept a low profile (except for their “clean fossil fuel” session that was met by singing protesters!).

US federal delegation office COP23 Nov 2017 Bonn

The official US Delegation offices at COP23– closed door for the most part.

The other was a group of over 2500 cities, states and businesses committed to meeting the US emissions reductions goal under the Paris accord, led by Governor Jerry Brown, former NY City Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others.  Under the slogan “we are still in,” they launched “America’s Pledge” at the alternative US Climate Action pavilion. I was honored to present (see pdf here) on California’s innovative approaches to nature-based climate solutions as part of a panel organized by The Nature Conservancy on that same stage a couple days earlier.  Click here to see my blog post with links to videos of the US Climate Action pavilion presentations and here for the full listing of COP23 on-demand videos of press conferences and other meetings.

Ellie at UC Climate Action Center Cop23 Nov 2017

At the US Climate Action Center.

COP23 saw more inclusion of city and state voices, as well as more focus on women (women make up less than 6% of all the mayors in the world and less than 15% of all legislators) and the oceans.

Mayors COP23 Summit of Local and Regional Leaders Nov 2017

Mayors from all over the world participate in the Climate Summit of Local and Regional Leaders.

And, for the first-time ever, the countries (parties to the UNFCCC) agreed to work on agriculture and climate change, including how to improve adaptation, co-benefits and resilience; soil carbon, soil health and soil fertility, including water management; livestock management systems, as well as socioeconomic and food security aspects.  See here for my blog post for various views on key outcomes of COP23.

On a personal note, it was fantastic to meet so many committed leaders from all over the world who are working towards our common goal of a safe climate and healthy planet.  In addition to meeting mayors, other elected officials, business people and top UN leaders from Pittsburgh and Peru to Kuwait and Mozambique, I had the honor of meeting colleagues from conservation non-profits across the globe.  Every time I introduced myself as being from California, I was warmly received!  And I found that Point Blue really is on the cutting edge of addressing nature-based solutions to benefit wildlife and human communities, although there is much more we need to do.

Ellie and Mozambique Mayor Nov 2017 COP23

With Mayor and regional leader, Maria Helena J. Correia Langa of Mandlakazi, Mozambique.

Amidst all of the excitement, I felt that a sense of urgency was missing, not from the many scientists and civic leaders who presented, but from the formal negotiations (perhaps in part due to the lack of committed US leadership).


Leaders of island nations call for urgent action on climate change at COP23.  Pictured: Environmental Minister from Dominica addressing closing plenary.

Fiji, as President of COP23, had hoped to light a fire under the delegates to take whatever actions are necessary before 2020 to stay below 1.5°C.  They, along with other “small island developing states” (or large ocean states, as described by one of their leaders!), are literally on the front lines of climate change, already experiencing devastating impacts from sea level rise and extreme storm events.  Despite the ‘drua’ (traditional ocean sailing canoe) situated prominently at the conference venue, the bigger-than-life island photos adorning walls throughout and other reminders that we are all literally in the same boat, my guess is that they may also have been disappointed with the lack of significant progress.

Gov Jerry Brown Summit Local Reg Leaders COP23 Nov 2017

CA Governor Jerry Brown speaking at one of several COP23 appearances.

We know we need dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas pollution and removal of warming gases from the atmosphere– including from nature-based solutions- to secure a safe climate by 2100.

Natural Climate Solutions Nov 2017

New study on nature-based solutions from the Nature Conservancy and other partners.

As Governor Brown concluded at the US Climate Action Pavilion, “economy is rooted in ecosystems”…. and “we are not where we need to be to prevent catastrophic warming.” He stated emphatically that “we have to create a different consciousness about what it is to be a human being in the 21st century.”  He implored us, “Don’t be complacent.  We face unprecedented threats to everything we hold dear.  Be on the edge of your seat.  Push yourself to the furthest degree. Billions of people are depending on us to go even further.”

Powerful… and true.

Hilda Heine, the first woman President of the Marshall Islands, shared the meaning of the Fijian word “chumamich” – tenacity, determination, and resilience on a long sea voyage when tasked with ensuring the safety of the passengers on the journey.

Working together with “chumamich,” each of us must redouble our efforts to secure a healthy future for us all.

Note: Photos by Ellie Cohen/Point Blue.