A first experience of COP

Going to an event like COP for the first time can be a little overwhelming. Having never even been to a large-scale conference before I didn't really know what to expect, but noting could have prepared me for the vastness and vibrancy of COP23.

Due to the sheer size of the conference, it’s really difficult to get anywhere to stay in Bonn, so many delegates, including myself, are staying in nearby Cologne. Having been advised after last year to avoid the first morning rush I took the opportunity to do a little exploring of Cologne in the daylight. A quick wander down the Rhine from the hotel brought me to Hohe Domkirche Sankt Petrus, Cologne Cathedral. Luckily the tower opens at 9am, giving me a chance to climate the 533 steps up to a viewing platform near the top of the tower. It was tiring work, but I was rewarded with some excellent views across the city.

Then it was time for the real reason we're here and a quick(ish – we won't be making the mistake of getting the slow stopper train again) train ride, shuttle bus and stroll through a park and we had arrived at The Bonn Zone, the Climate Action region of COP23, where side events and exhibits as well as counties pavilions are located. Fortunately, our gamble had paid off and the queues had gone down. Getting into the conference is like going through an airport and having been ushered through security and out passes issued we we're ready to go.

There is so much going on at COP, having located our stand and made friends with our neighbours representing the NGO Welt Hunger Hilfe, I dashed off to a talk about “The Global Implications of a rapidly-changing Arctic”, the range of perspectives on the panel was really thought provoking and it was great to have an opportunity to chat to the speakers with tea and coffee after.

We also had time to explore many of the other NGO's stands, the virtual tour of the Arctic at the Greenpeace stand was a highlight. Many countries also had their own pavilions where they can hold their own talks and entertainment. The effort and personality put into the different stands was amazing with each country competing to grab the attention of the passers-by.

The day ended with the official opening. This started with the Fiji Police Band which really got the party atmosphere going followed by a traditional Fijian dance. This was certainly not what I was expecting at a UN event, but with Fiji taking this year’s presidency, representing the many small island states that are already being deeply affected by climate change, they clearly wanted to leave their own mark. Once the delegates were suitably entertained there was a panel with Patricia Espinosa (Executive Secretary UNFCCC), Barbara Hendricks (Federal Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety) and Frank Bainimarama (Prime Minister of Fiji) sharing their hopes for the conference. This was an inspiring moment and really got me ready for the rest of the week.

Sally Woodhouse is a PhD Student researching ‘Arctic mass, freshwater and heat fluxes in high-resolution coupled climate models’ in the Department of Meteorology at the University of Reading. She is one half of the COP CAS ‘on the ground’ team at COP23 in Bonn.