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Looking back on Bonn: DGNB at COP23

For two weeks from 6 to 17 November, it felt like the whole world was watching as 25,000 visitors from 195 countries descended on Bonn, the former German capital, to work on the implementation of the Paris Agreement. As one of the approximately 500 NGOs in attendance, DGNB played an active part in six of the events during COP23, alongside the World Green Building Council.

‘Bula’ – an eye-catching word featured at the entrance of the Bonn Zone, where events took place on twelve of the conference days overall, each revolving around a climate protection project. Bula is Fijian for welcome. But the greeting at the entrance was not the only evidence of the country that held the presidency for the Conference of the Parties (COP). This year the event was presided over by the Republic of Fiji, the archipelago of 300 small islands in the South Pacific.

Once you penetrated beyond the entrance and the tight security controls, you entered the Bonn Zone on the banks of the River Rhine. It was here that the Fijian influence really became palpable. Increasingly so in the Talanoa Space; “Talanoa” is a well-known concept on Fiji and in the South Pacific. It is a term for inclusive, transparent dialogue, in which people listen to each other, respect each other’s perspectives and seek solutions that benefit everyone.

Strong international interest in DGNB

Dr Christine Lemaitre, CEO at DGNB, said: “This was an intensive two-week period that showed which of the levers keep getting jammed. Many things have made it into people’s heads but these things are still not making it down to their hands. There are a number of flagship projects, like nearly zero-energy buildings, and these do show what’s possible. But when it comes to translating this into wide-scale planning and construction, we’re still trying to get out of the starting blocks.”

This is why it was important for us to take part in a large number of events at the climate change conference:

9th November: Building Action Symposium:
The COP23 week of the DGNB got underway with the Building Action Symposium, which was coordinated by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Global Alliance for Building and Construction with support from WorldGBC. The focal topic of the event was “How to achieve the Paris Agreement? Identifying key ingredients to achieving a low-carbon, energy efficient buildings and construction sector”.

9th November: In parallel to the Building Action Symposium, in the Chinese pavilion there was an event on “Entrepreneurship and innovation in the age of emission reduction”. DGNB was the only non-Chinese co-organiser of the event, featuring Johannes Kreißig, Managing Director of DGNB.

10th November: The motto of the day in Bonn on Friday was ‘Shaping a Sustainable Future’. The Federal Chamber of Architects (BAK) organised a tour of Bonn, providing a bird’s-eye view not only of the city, but also of the Cologne/Bonn Sparkasse (savings bank), which has DGNB gold certification.

11th November: To continue the theme of the Building Action Symposium, on the Saturday there was the Human Settlements Day in the Bonn Zone. Dr Christine Lemaitre, CEO of the DGNB, was involved in the panel discussion and talked on the topic of ‘Encompassing embodied carbon and life cycle emissions for sustainable buildings’. Moreover, Terri Wills, CEO of WorldGBC spoke about how buildings can contribute to achieving some of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

12th November: On the Sunday at COP23, the topic tackled by Johannes Kreißig, Managing Director of DGNB GmbH, was ‘Cementing a low-carbon construction sector’.

13th November:  The event on Monday in the Bonn Zone revolved around the Sustainable Development Goals, with a focus on the key targets that affect the building sector, such as SDG 11: Making cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable. This event was moderated by Dr Christine Lemaitre, CEO) of DGNB.

14th November: Organisations were asked to submit suggestions for their own events in the run-up to COP23. Perhaps the biggest day for DGNB was Tuesday 14 November, when our event took place in the German pavilion on ‘Building for the future: how to plan and construct buildings focusing on climate issues and human needs’.

Staying present in people’s thoughts

Since it became clear that the United States is now the only country to withdraw from the Paris Agreement, all of the other countries sent a clear signal to the US that they will do all they can to meet the Paris Agreement. Just one of the hashtags being used to demonstrate unity and the common goal of limiting global warming to no more than two degrees by 2050 was #makeourplanetgreatagain.

Bonn is considered an important stepping stone because the guidelines drafted at the event will form the basis of the COP24, which will take place in Katowice, Poland, next year. It is during this event that the Paris Agreement should be signed off.

If there’s one thing the event in Bonn has shown us, it’s that the time to act is now. The understanding is there, and the facts lie before us for everyone to see, so now we can put the wheels in motion. This is because it is already evident today that Germany will not achieve its climate protection goals for the year 2020. This was also one of the reasons why we were keen to play an active role at this year’s UNFCCC climate change conference.

Henny Radicke works in PR, editorial and social media for DGNB

Find out more about the role buildings played at COP23.