Dispatch from Bonn – Day Two

Posted by on November 8, 2017

Let’s start at the end of the day.

After a superb German dinner at Gaststätte Em Höttche (they say Beethoven danced there), the regional train from Bonn took only 25 minutes. I arrived at Köln Hbf on Track 1 — an important detail, because when the train doors open on Track 1, you get the most stunning view of the Cologne Cathedral.

The Cologne Cathedral — you see it and organ music starts playing in your head. There’s nothing like this Gothic giant. Villagers started building it in 1248 and construction continued for another six centuries. It is so grand, it says, “Oh, puny man, behold eternity.”

One of the delights of the UN climate conference is discovering how climate advocacy shares key universal traits.

Earlier, I was joined by board member Victor Griego (read his post here) for a talk given by German regional climate collaboratives, representing Lower Saxony and Northern Westphalia. The conversation sounded so familiar, if you swapped out the German place names for SoCal ones, it could have been a meeting of the Los Angeles Regional Collaborative.

Like us, the German multi-stakeholder is run by a nonprofit. The collaboratives similarly envision a key role for their higher government — in their case, the Bundesrat, in our case, Sacramento — for setting standards and aiding cities. Their alliance of regional collaboratives, like our ARCCA organization, is called the German Association of Towns and Municipalities. And, like us, the German collaboratives face public resistance to swapping cars for bikes or public transit. “Traffic and transportation are sacred cows, even here in Germany,” we were told.

But there were some differences. The Germans were firm on the need for hydrogen — especially for transport. You can’t put all your eggs in the electricity basket, they warned. Second, the Germans are teaming cities with other cities to create learning partnerships. “Twin cities,” they call it. They picked towns in France and Bulgaria. (Perhaps Los Angeles could pick Bishop and Salt Lake City and Guanajuato? Could be fun….)

During the Q&A, the mayor of Parakou, Benin, asked to team up with the German cities. “I’m looking for best practices,” he said.

I thought, Where else could this conversation take place?

I also attended another two sessions on adaptation — and frankly, the focus on adaptation at a global or national scale strikes me as detached, in an unhealthy way. Adaptation conversations at this level also seem to invariably wallow on the question of metrics — how do you measure success when success is a thing to be avoided? The United Nations Environment Programme representative suggested we use the UN’s famous sustainable development goals and their resiliency goals as indicators. Dr. Lea Berrang Ford of Leeds University offered some countervailing advice. “Let’s move away from attribution altogether, and instead tell convincing stories about how climate change made these disasters worse.”

The following panel, on insurance for adaptation, would have solidly disagreed with Dr. Ford. The insurance people feel attribution is key. Their reasoning behind this is simple: you won’t know what to prepare for unless you measure precisely how climate change has enhanced damage and made it worse. Without attribution, how can you create climate change insurance, or sue for climate damages?

The knotty questions on attribution and how one substantiates climate impact are not easily answered, but we can start with the latest adaptation gap report.