HomeEducationUN Climate Change Conference – COP 23 – University of Minnesota Perspectives

UN Climate Change Conference – COP 23 – University of Minnesota Perspectives

Wed Nov 15  – Scenes from Week One and Week Two at COP23 

Jordan Morgan, a University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs student now home after spending last week observing COP 23 in Bonn, shares photos. Since four new University of Minnesota observers are in Bonn now, for week two of the climate negotiations, another Humphrey School student, Chelsea Ray joins the blog. I love “climate fiction” and Ray’s wordplay, but I shortened her impressions of the three days starting Sunday, November 12.  

Jordan Morgan In Bonn

Toronto Airport. Airports are magical places.

It kind of reminds me of what I imagine a post-mortem Judeo-Christian limbo to be like. Millions of people of all cultures shuffle in and some immediately jet to a myriad of places of differing desirability based on the amount of currency paid. And yet, some others sit in a no-man’s land that really feels like no country whatsoever, waiting aimlessly to pass on for a tomorrow or a Godot that seems like it will never come.    

limbo – e.g., climate change – things are just going to keep getting worse. If no mitigation strategies occur, we will probably all die. We have to believe that it’s better to go and attempt to solve it rather than shrug and drink your #PSLs and watch Cops reruns on cable channel 154, TRUestTV.

Eventually I have to believe that we as a global population will get out of this dank airport of misery, minute by minute, and reach a common, united, forward consensus. It’s a long journey, but one worth going on to find out how much sweeter life can be. The first step has ketchup chips and veggie poutine – reasonably priced Milka Chocolate shall be next.


Day 2: REWE To-Go, somewhere near Beethoven Haus with mozzarella cheese, Bonn, Germany-7:28 PM

On Being American.

I am quite old enough to remember the massive response to 9/11. There was a song on the radio, “Proud to be an American,” that was sung by What’s-His-Name Country Singer, and everybody played that stupid thing on repeat. And then we entered into an era where most people weren’t proud to be Americans, and then it’s kind of gone downhill from there. I would argue that America hasn’t been as cohesive as they were during those six or so months after 9/11 since probably the 7th of December, 1941.     

The country as a whole seems to have a fog over its head. Americans are not as interested in collectivism as a culture; the Three Musketeers’ clearly motto stops at “All for One -.” Many people not in academia or people generally inactive that I speak to about what I’m doing tell me anything I’m trying to say goes way over their head and go back on their cell phones. I know I’m a know-it-all, it’s a bad habit of mine, but in this case, you need to know it. You need to know what indecision and injustice is doing to the climate and how it’s actually killing people.

Killing their livelihoods, their children, their crops, their pigs, their families – for orange slices, a manicured lawn, the freedom to throw your garbage wherever you want.

We’re still based on slavery 241 years later. It’s just that we’ve not truly set anyone free for working to build the economy.   We’ve made our freedom such a big darn deal that it comes at the expense of others’.

We’re selfish and individualistic and until we do something about it and give proper equity to all women and all minorities and all indigenous people and recognize our place within globalization we will still have blood on our hands. But I am still proud to be an American – one of the ones who is changing the world.


Day 3: Bula Zone Basement, Bonn Germany – 11:14 AM

I wanted to check out the Bula Zone [civil society area, outside official negotiating venue] a bit today and also do a bit of work since I’m missing two classes today. I missed the free chocolate, but I biked here.    

I’m sitting listening to a planning group. I’m not going to name names because I’m being a creep and eavesdropping, but they are looking to get the Mexican/South Americans to partner with the Chinese and they are worried about the semantics of the word “partner.” They think he’ll just join up with them. Does their person shake their hand? It would be good, but don’t point out that. They’ve spent like ten minutes on the idea of the Mexican guy shaking this one person’s hand because it shows partnership but not really.

If you don’t understand the above paragraph, I don’t either.

They also want to get appointments and other things to fit in with their minister. And then during some event, “you have the young guy speaking and then you have the old guy speaking,” and that will work just fine?

The amount of languages spoken here make me so thankful that I have such a good handle of French. I knew it was the other UN official language when I chose it at the cusp of high school but I didn’t know it would be this useful. I’m able to sit and listen to a lot of talks that would otherwise be lost to me as it’s in their own language. I think I may make it a point to find another language to learn next semester and/or improve my French.

But goodness!! is this exciting. This is really what I want to do in this world – negotiate for a better one and make sure that it happens. Climate change is not business. It’s not about making more money and everything negotiated actually has an impact on the world not the profit margin. I think that’s why Trump decided he could be a good president because he can negotiate. Or at least he thinks he can. While the two worlds are similar, this one isn’t about paper, but life.

I’m planning to go to the European Union negotiations later (get a jump on classwork). Also on the docket today: German Science Hour!

Week One Wraps Up At COP23 In Bonn

Tues Nov 14 – Mitigation, US Action & Minnesota Responsibility

Look for a new post on Week Two at COP 23 in this space tomorrow. After an intensive six day experience as an observer at COP23, Humphrey School Master’s of Science in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (MS-STEP) Jacob Herbers offers key insights the negotiations.

Agenda Item #3: Climate Change Mitigation

I was fortunate enough to get one of the limited tickets to attend negotiating sessions for the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement – Agenda Item #3: Climate Change Mitigation. I spent over 8 hours total sitting in on those sessions, and it has been fascinating to observe firsthand how international policy agreements and working documents actually get done. The process often doesn’t go smoothly, with different countries and organized groups of countries having diverging points of view and priorities, based on their own individual circumstances. There is disagreement between groups on whether or not developed and developing countries should be held to the same guidelines, or different sets of guidelines, for mitigation of their respective climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions. There were also plenty of minor discussions about various words and phrases in the working document that this body is in the process of creating. The goal of the session is to capture every party’s viewpoints in a fair and balanced manner to form a working document to guide discussions over the next year. Parties hope to reach a more concrete consensus on this issue of mitigation guidelines by COP24 next year, which will be held in Katowice, Poland.

US Climate Action Center

I spent a lot of time in the US Climate Action Center, next door to the official COP23 campus. This is an unofficial delegation of leaders from various sectors of the US, led by major politicians, business executives, NGOs etc. This group was formed to show the rest of the world that many in the US still support the Paris Climate Agreement, and many sub-national entities in the US are doing their part to mitigate climate change in their areas of control. It has been inspiring to see the passion displayed by many of those Americans here in Bonn, but we know there is still much work to be done to reach the goal of limiting global warming to just 1.5-2.0 ‘C. I feel that we all need to have empathy for Island Countries, such as our host Fiji, and other developing countries that are the most vulnerable to the devastating effect of climate change.

To understand Fiji’s vulnerability and the urgency of action, Jacob recommends that you watch this short video.

Minnesota Responsibility

Minnesota shares similarities of size and population to some smaller countries, such as Denmark in the EU. It’s clear that if smaller developed countries are able to make significant commitments to climate change mitigation, than Minnesota should be able to do so as well. Given the large amount of fortune-500 companies in MN, and the diverse range of economic sectors, Minnesota could have a broad impact on climate change mitigation. However, based on many conversations that I’ve had with Non-Americans here in Bonn, it’s clear that the world has lost some trust in the US in this aspect. Although due to Minnesota’s progressive energy and environmental policies, such as the bipartisan Minnesota Next Generation Energy Act of 2007, and our renewable energy partnership with entities in Germany, I think Minnesota is a good position within the US to be looked at as a leader in climate change mitigation. We can tell our fellow Minnesotans that small European countries with similar attributes to our state have had great success with climate action policies, while still maintaining economic growth, so there’s no reason why Minnesota can’t be successful with those policies as well.

You can learn more about Jacob’s experience on twitter twitter.com/jacob_herbers

Fri Nov 9

“COP 23 has been a swift and illuminating lesson on the international negotiations on climate change,” says Andrew Hurst, University of Minnesota Carlson School of Management, Master’s of Business Administration (MBA) student and one of the 4 UMN delegates at the UN Climate Change Conference, COP23, in Bonn, Germany this past week.

Week One

A lot of people at COP 23 seem disappointed with the first week of negotiations. During the week, some observers have worried that the scope and complexity of the Paris agreement is bogging down progress. I think diplomats are simply reaching the limits of their negotiating mandates and looking for clarity before the arrival of their high-level dignitaries next week. In other words, I hope the negotiations are proceeding as expected, and further progress can be expected in week two.

Green Bonds

I attended a fascinating panel discussion on green bonds, or government bonds that directly support green initiatives. Usually these bonds are tax free, and have comparable risk to traditional bonds. Fiji, Poland and France have been some of the first countries to issue green bonds. All issuances were oversubscribed, which is not all that unusual. However, early research shows that investors are willing to accept a lower coupon rate in exchange for putting money in a “feel good” investment.

The Role of Business

I have had the opportunity to listen to several business leaders present on climate actions they are taking. While I wholly support these businesses in their efforts, I remain pessimistic that meaningful change can be achieved by voluntary action alone.


Finance, as expected, is one of the stickiest issues at COP 23. Yesterday at an article eight finance meeting, Saudi Arabia specifically objected to the use of carbon markets to fund the adaptation fund. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia would not participate if carbon markets were used. Following their statements, the representatives of Saudi Arabia left the room. To be fair, Saudi Arabia seemed to leave the room because of procedural objections – they felt these issues should have been raised in a separate forum. How finance will be sourced, the scope of adaptation, and what capacity developing countries have to use funding are recurring themes in finance meetings.

Being an American at COP

Finally, as an American, it is hard to express how President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement feels here at COP 23. The US is now the only nation in the world not supporting the agreement, and it leaves the US isolated and limits our influence at COP negotiations. Yesterday a group of governors, mayors, business executives and others opened an unofficial pavilion highlighting the “we are still in movement”. It felt good to have a positive American influence at COP 23!

In addition to the student perspectives, look for thoughts from Ellen Anderson, UMN Energy Transition Lab Director and lead of the University’s COP23 delegation, who blogged every day of the first week on her own website.

Thurs Nov 9: Check out new blog entries by Minnesota delegates. Climate Generation webinars offer photos and reflections, including by Ellen Anderson and Leigh Currie on Nov 9. The University of Minnesota delegation offers the photos along with reflections from Humphrey School Master’s of Science in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy (MS-STEP) student Jacob Herbers:

  • Getting to Bonn: The first few days of my COP23 experience in Bonn have been a whirlwind of activity. On Saturday [Nov 4], fellow MS-STEP student Jordan Morgan and I flew out of MSP, had a 4-hour layover in London in which we got separated and ended up taking completely different modes of transportation to get to the correct terminal, and then spent the night at a hostel in Amsterdam. The next morning we took a train to Bonn while enjoying the Dutch countryside, and then checked into our Airbnb, which overlooks the Rhine River.
  • At the Conference: COP23 is held on a large complex of buildings in Bonn, including 2 campuses which we can travel between by foot, bike, hydrogen-powered car, or my personal favorite, the solar bus. The vast amount of events going on is a bit overwhelming, since there are so many interesting ones to pick from. Personally, I am trying to attend mostly events focusing on renewable energy and decarbonization policy.

  • Renewables: I went to a very interesting panel discussion about the different types of renewable energy, their potential for working together to achieve 100% renewables, and their environmental drawbacks that need to be minimized. It was great to hear from experts in those fields from around the world, and we all seemed to agree that many types of renewable energy will be needed to form a diverse energy mix along with different types of energy storage to really decarbonize our planet’s energy sector.

  • Accounting: A later speaker I saw focused on green house gas (GHG) emissions accounting. He made a great point that we should have as many GHG accountants as we have financial accountant, and discussed the challenges faced when trying to customize international standards for GHG accounting with the unique situations and policies of each country. There is a need for more institutions of higher education to develop GHG accounting curriculum, and also for practitioners in the field to be good communicators.
  • USA Alone: Today, we also learned that Syria has agreed to join the Paris Agreement, leaving the United States as the only country in the world to be against it.

  • Fiji: The whole conference seems to have an optimistic aura around it, in large part due to the positive attitude of the host country, Fiji. Last night all COP23 attendees were invited to a Fiji-themed opening-night reception, including music, dancing, and free refreshments. It has already been incredible to mingle with people from every country in the world who are passionate about our environment.

The Minnesota Delegations and More on COP23 

The University’s delegation to Bonn COP23 is led by Energy Transition Lab Director Ellen Anderson and includes 7 graduate students from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (enrolled in Gabe Chan’s Climate Policy course). These delegation members are attending the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) hosted by the government of Fiji, but held in Bonn, Germany.  Check out in-depth coverage of COP23 on all the issues – adaptation, gender, negotiations news and more –here, and come back to this page for day-to-day reflections, photos, stories, insights and impressions from our own UMN delegates. Look for tweets by UMN and other Minnesotans at COP23, live from Germany, at #MNCOP23.

Climate Generation, a Minnesota-based non-profit with a mission to empower individuals and their communities to engage in solutions to climate change, has sent a nine-member multi-sector delegation of Minnesota leaders to COP23. Climate Generation’s delegation actually includes UMN’s own Ellen Anderson as well as representatives from education, law, philanthropy, youth, elected officials, and indigenous communities. Sign up here for regular updates.

The framework for COP23 was set by the Paris Agreement, reached at a high-profile COP 21 session in December, 2015. The Paris Agreement set key goals for global climate change action and the framework for each nation of the world to pledge action on climate change. The most visible goal achieved was setting an ambitious global temperature goal that, if achieved, would limit a future rise in temperature to less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

For more background on the climate commitments made by Minnesota and the United States, international cooperation and the role of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as organizer of the climate negotiations, read reflections from University of Minnesota’s delegation last year, at COP23, in Marrakech, Morocco.

Here’s the first COP23 coverage by the Energy Transition Lab (ETL)!

ETL at UN Climate Change Conference Nov 6-11

This page will be a live document that will continuously be updated, so stay tuned for more!


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