The COP23 UN Climate Conference in Bonn or: People not wanted? – A travel report

How it came to this
On 24.10.2017, I happened to have a conversation with Dresden’s environment Mayor Eva Jähnigen. Noticing the current flyers of the website she talked to me and promised, in the interest of the trees, to take some of them to the UN Climate conference in Bonn.
And that’s when I asked myself: Why not go there myself?

The UN Climate Conference is carried out once a year. Every year it takes place in another host country- this year the Fiji Islands where in charge. In order to make the participation more easy they decided that the city of Bonn in Germany was the right site for the conference. The aim is that the state delegates are talking about how climate change can be stopped and that they conclude binding agreements. At the same time, the representatives of non-governmental organisations are supposed to meet and exchange ideas, and the public should also be able to participate.

Concerning climate change it is important that many people get aware of the problem and act sensibly.

Some kind of miracle had happened at the Paris Climate Conference two years ago (COP 21): The almost 200 participating nations agreed that the global temperature rise should be limited to 2°C. The fact that there would be a binding agreement had been regarded as unlikely – the many conferences before held since the Kyoto Protocol from the 90s were unsuccessful on this point.

This year, the conference took place from 07.11. to 16.11.2017.

It was time to bring the trees into international consciousness. It is time for governmental actions for worldwide afforestation. It is time that trees are in the focus of all the governments and all the NGO’s who want to preserve the environment.

The preparation
On Saturday, 11.11.,  I wanted to be there:  meet conference participants,  make the website known, talk to interested citizens and distribute flyers.

I tried the UN’s Online Registration Page on the UN website. Because it seemed appropriate to me, I applied as an online medium, because pro-verdura is an info page about tree projects with a project-based part and a blog. If you put it to the point, then pro verdura is the website of a blogger for trees. And the blogger is me. And bloggers are now even recognized as part of the press…

After I had uploaded my documents, the webpage gave the information that the acceptance of participants had been closed on 8.11. – that was the day before.

“So what”, I thought, ” there must be a public area for people who want to know more about climate activities “. That’s where I wanted to go.

The getting there on 10.11. – with anticipation

Full of motivation I distributed several flyers at the bus stop in Dresden. The passengers were mostly young and equipped with smartphones, which they were looking at most of the time. What would be closer than suggest them to have a look at ” pro-verdura. info”? In Berlin, I used the break of over two hours to fill bicycle baskets and luggage racks with flyers. They are a kind of mobile mailbox… on my travel from Berlin to Bonn, I slept in the bus – it’s cost-effective and there was no accommodation in Bonn anyway. Saturday, 11.11., 9:20 PM: arrival at the “Museumsmile”-bus stop in Bonn, not far from the Rheinaue territory – see picture – where the conference took place.

The morning of the 11.11.- walking between the conference buildings: Where are the people?

It was drizzling and rather cool on that Autumn day, wet and the sky cloudy.

Moving away from the bus station you only had to cross the museums place in order to get at the conference area.

People with lanyards around the neck rushed to the venues.

These were all under roof and fenced in.

There should be one area for the national conference participants – called “Bonn” – and one for the non-governmental organisations and the visitors – called “Bula”. Bula ” is Fiji and means ” Welcome.”.

“Bula” was written all over the fences that surrounded the.
“Bonn” and “Bula” buildings and pavilions in friendly green-yellow letters.

Since there were no groups to which I could have joined – except the stand for the threatened Hambach forest – I approached the “Bonn” entrance, because it was close to me.

There, under roof, a tall security man dressed in a uniform received me. He had a sheriff star on the black jumpsuit that reported him as an official UN employee. He asked me about my participiant’s card, and, of course, I didn’t have one. In quick English he explained to me that I would have to sign up somewhere else. Where and how, I didn’t understand. On my way out I intented to distribute some flyers to participants, but they were in a hurry and quite reserved… “What does that person want with her backpack and sneakers and green notes in the hand?” they seemed to think ..

I was looking for booths in the open air ground outside of the venues and for interested visitors. There were almost none. So I put flyers in bicycle baskets and luggage racks and walked on.

There was an area with pavilions and tents, but these were all provided with barriers.

There were barbed wire fences with cameras and there were guards on chairs sitting behind them. In the solid buildings there were entrance areas just like at the airport security checkpoints:

Scanners, grey boxes for the jackets and bags pushed on a roll band passing through the luggage scanner, security staff and behind that the “registration desks” – places where the accredited participants had to show their lanyards and cards.

The pavilions and tents were small and the atmosphere was quiet. There were no conversations and no info booths outside the entrances. Just silence, drizzle and autumn leaves on the trees. Puddles on the asphalt.

At the fence of the US pavilion I found plastic banners which said ” We’re still in ” – that means: “We are still part of the efforts against climate change”, but without participiants card I couldn’t get in. There was room for maybe 40 people in the pavilion.

I spoke to a handful pedestrians – more were not there – and I was pleased by every bike that stood alone. So I could go on distributing flyers without meeting people. I came across the asphalt paths in the Rhine Park and reached the open air demonstration field. Here I found some art installations with messages and warnings against climate change, but no visitors. Only in the pathfinders’ tent I found a family at the bonfire that baked dough on wood plugs.

The lunch of 11.11.- lonesome footsteps and showdown at the “Registration help desk ” of ” Bonn”

No visitors, no talking groups, no covered atriums, where you could have exchanged with citizens and environmental activists maintaining your feet warm – instead I shuffled around lonely with felt 30 pounds on my back in a rainy park.

Where were the 25,000 conference participants? All of them under the roofs behind the barriers? All those venue buildings seemed to be too small for that number of guests….

Coming down a hill, I passed by the on side of the US pavilion (“We’re still in.”) when the tent and the fence were opened. A group with an Indian in traditional headdress and other indigenous and white people emerged. They just got kicked out.

I deduced from their panels that they came from Canada and wanted to protest against the fracking and the destruction of the Canadian forests. Standing in a semi-circle, they held a banner in front of their bodies: ” Still in – for what?” I wanted to give them courage and my flyers, but they sent me away: One of the female activists was about to wheep and couldn’t stand encouragement at that sad and depressing moment. “You are doing the right thing!”, I said, and went on.

Most of the people who I found standing around were the cops. That’s why I distributed my flyers to them now. They also had time for little talks and were very friendly.

I told a female cop that I’d like to get into one of the officicial areas but couldn’t do so because my online registration had been unsuccessful. Noticing that she stepped ahead to talk to the UN sheriff who had sent me away with words I couldn’t comprehend. He wasn’t there. So she led me directly through the airport-like entrance security area to the “registration help desk” and told me to apply for access there. That’s where they’d help me to get to the conference.

First of all, a pretty blonde assistant accepted my identity card and my documents, including a flyer and the authorisation issued by myself, that said that I had the right to represent the website pro-verdura. I didn’t have a press card – but you get it online for a payment of 50 € and a photo, without any further explanation.

I waited 20 minutes. Then the nice assistant explained that her supervisor was now on her way to her to clarify the case. I was looking forward to it: So there was a chance to get in!

When the boss appeared, she asked me in US- English in which category I applied for the accreditation. I said, ” As an online medium.” and that I had already uploaded all the documents.

She said the papers were already there, and if I had a press card.

I said ” No.” and said that the press card only testifies the fact that a person had given a foto of her face and paid 50 euros to an online service. I explained to her that I have a website for trees and about tree projects and environmental issues where I am named as the reliable person. Then she disappeared with one of my flyers behind the isolating wall behind the registration desk area.

And then the UN -sheriff showed up next to me and said: ” So you managed to come in.” I wanted to give him a flyer, but he rejected it with the words: ” I’m fine.” ” I’m doing fine, too.” I said, and put the flyer back into the backpack.

After 15 minutes, the supervisor came back. I was still standing there waiting for an answer. She asked me what the web page “pro-verdura” was about.

I said, ” it’s a website for trees. It’s about the fact that we are all needing the trees and about projects that plant and protect trees, all over the world.”

Her next question was: “So this is a campaigning website?”

I said: ” Yes, for trees.”

She said, ” you can’t get in here. It has to be a press website, with articles about climate change.”

I answered: “But climate change is quite clear – it’s just a fact. What is interesting is the question what we are doing against it. And trees are just the right measure against climate change.”

She said: “There must be three articles per week.” She didn’t want to accept the projects’ descriptions as articles although they are giving information, structure and valuation about tree planting efforts and forest protection efforts all around the world..

I sensed that she was afraid to do something wrong if she gave me access to the conference and so I let her go. On the way out, I was looking for the conference participiants with the most colourful dresses and offered them my flyers.

Afternoon and evening of 11.11.-the “Climate Planet” and the nearly successful participation in an event of the ” ICLEI”: ” Regional and local leaders against climate change”

Between ” Bonn ” and “Bula” there was supposed to be the “Climate Planet”, a 20-metre-high Globe, which was accessible to the public. “There I have to go”, I thought. On the spot, I found that there were hardly any people in the area between the fence and the globe. Passing the entrance I was immediately asked what I intended to do with the flyers. “Spread them out and talk to people about trees.”, I answered innocently. “This is not welcome here. The promoter does not want brochures being distributed here.”

When I stood outside again I read the banner on the fence: The organizer of the “Climate Planet” site was the German Federal Ministry for Environmental Protection.

There were hardly any visitors in the “Climate Planet” globe. To sit in the darkness for 45 minutes and watch a NASA movie about climate change didn’t seem useful to me. I put flyers on bike racks and baskets until about 15 o’clock, met another activist from “Hambacher Forst” in the pathway by chance, and then I finally had wet and cold feet.

From 15:30 am-16:15 pm, I ate and drank something at the café at the Bonn Art museum. I was allowed to let some flyers there and then asked for the bathroom. The waitress sent me to the museum behind the cafe.

There I went down a staircase and found myself in a lecture hall where the audience was sitting in a circle on stairway steps. About 60-70 people were waiting here for a lecture about “Regional and local leaders against climate change ” of an organization called “ICLEI”. I asked one of the ladies who stood above the audience if I could have a card or a brochure with some information about “ICLEI” and what they do. That’s when she sent me out, accompanied by one of her colleagues. She said it was not a public event and, for security reasons, I cannot participate. To be honest, I should have foreseen that …

Until 18 o’ clock I was allowed to sit in a chair in the museum’s entrance hall, then I had to go.

By 21:25, my bus went back over Prague. In the meantime I went around – looking for bycicles and looking for tree-interested people.

I didn’t distribute anymore flyers on the bus.

Of the 1,500 pieces, about 600 were left. The bus went to Prague. From over there I had to take the bus to Dresden on the next morning.

Of course, it is naive to go to a conference without being logged in.

But is it really alright that, as a web blogger, you can’t even be admitted as an observer?

And this, although there are huge registration desks, where 40 employees are working – fully networked and with full overview?

What about the freedom of the press in Germany? Doesn’t it count if it is a UN – event?

“Bula” means “Welcome”, but who was to be welcomed? The normal population was not admitted. Only 500 slots had been given to the Bonn community…. What about the NGO’s for trees? “Plant-for-the-Planet” was there: The very engaged global tree planting project with billions of trees which are already planted distributed chocolate on the conference. I suppose they were the only representative of the trees there ….

In Paris, in 2015, there was a so-called “Green zone”, where all of us could have been able to go, just by showing their own identity card and have their luggage checked.

Where was the “Green Zone” in Bonn?

And is this the true intention of the host nation, the Fiji Islands? Shouldn’t they have the say in this conference?

I suppose that the Fiji people would have given me access. After all, every tree reduces the carbon dioxide content of the air, all over the world. Trees all over the world, that’s what the Fiji Islands need… we too, by the way.

Access control was in US-American hands – so was my feeling and experience on that day.

Is it supposed to be so or:
Do we want to have a say in UN Climate Change Conferences as citizens of this planet earth?

To whom it may concern.

Yours sincerely

Franziska Weder /

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