COP23: Talanoa & talk in Bonn

This year is an important one for climate negotiations in the South Pacific. Fiji is presiding over the 23rd United Nations climate change conference, which starts this week. Fiji’s presidency means there is – at least on paper – a particularly strong focus at COP23 on highlighting the impacts of climate change for small islands and developing states (SIDS). But don’t expect to see the conference taking place in Fiji, or on the global frontlines of climate change.

Nope, we’re heading to Europe. For the next two weeks, until November 17, community and civic society groups, NGOs and official delegations from around the world will be in Bonn, Germany to continue COP negotiations related to progressing the implementation of the 2015 Paris Agreement. Hosting the conference in Europe but having Fiji as president is a bit of an irony, we know. More on this later in the month, when Evelyn explores the continental privilege associated with global climate negotiations.

Follow our Climate Talanoa list on Twitter for the latest on-the-ground updates from COP23

For now, we’re following on from our conversation with Dan Hikuroa by giving the spotlight to another person doing important work in the climate space. We’re chuffed to have Karin Louise Hermes as our on-the-ground correspondent. Karin is a Filipino-German climate activist with a background in Pacific Studies, and will be based in the civic section with Filipino indigenous organisation IBON. She’ll be tweeting from the conference and we encourage you to follow her for updates. She’ll also be wrapping up her thoughts and observations with a think-piece later this month.

Here, Hannah chats with Karin about how attention can be directed to highlighting climate realities in the Pacific region, even though talk is taking place in the middle of Europe.


Hey Karin, thanks for being our on-the-ground correspondent for COP23! Can you tell us a little bit about what’s motivating you to attend the conference?
I’m going to COP23 because I have always been most interested in the human side of climate stories. Fiji holds the presidency for COP23 and has emphasized “talanoa”, or sharing stories, and the importance of listening for the negotiations. There also seems to be more space for more civil society actors, which I find to be the more exciting side of these talks. The Pacific focus for this specific COP is particular to my background in the region, but I happen to live in Germany right now, which limits my need to travel to be a part of this – a positive considering the valid criticism of CO2 emissions in travelling such great distances for global COPs.

What do you hope to get out of the experience?
I do look forward to seeing some old friends from Hawai’i and other places, who happen to be climate advisors and activists. I also hope to feel the atmosphere of this Pacific COP on the ground, happening right here in Germany. Since talk-story or “talanoa” were a big part of living and learning in the Pacific, I think this COP gives small islands states the platform needed to speak out even more on the injustices of the impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples and the islands in the Pacific and elsewhere.

Read Karin Louise Hermes: Why I Protest

I teamed up last month with Fossil Free Berlin for an info workshop on the Pacific focus of COP23. We also set up an interactive map website to link the climate change stories and divestment in Germany with this voyage. I need to put the fact I have a degree in Pacific Islands Studies to good use while I’m based in Germany!

You’re going with the Filipino NGO IBON. What are some of the key priorities and action points that Filipino communities are hoping to get out of COP23? And what is the strength of going with a civic group, as opposed to being part of the media delegations, or more closely associated with official delegations?
I had my preference for being involved with a civil society delegation over a government, no matter the politics of the/a country. Generally, national governments don’t have the same interests as civil society does – especially with indigenous rights the stories and implications of climate change vary drastically. At the People’s Climate Summit, right before COP23 started in Bonn, IBON teamed up with the German Left Party-affiliated Rosa Luxemburg Foundation (RLS) for a workshop on militarisation and war. Coincidentally, I’m helping organise a Filipino Film Fest in Berlin at the same time as COP23, which is screening the indigenous film Tu Pug Imatuy (The Right to Kill) on the military displacement of the lumad, the indigenous peoples in the Southern Philippines.

“This COP gives SIDS the platform to speak out on the injustices of the impacts of climate change on indigenous peoples and the islands in the Pacific and elsewhere.”

I would say the emphasis for civil society is on climate justice, and questioning the role of governments and global corporations when it comes to resources and land. Basically, the livelihoods of poor and disenfranchised communities are taken away for someone else’s greed and profit. Aside from that, the Philippines are more than 7000 islands in the Pacific Ocean. So the need for climate adaptation, for instance concerning cyclones and their destruction – as with Super Typhoon Yolanda in 2013 – aligns with an islands and Pacific focus for COP23.

How can we best follow you during the conference?
I made my Twitter account in August specifically to lead-up to this, so definitely my @KarinIsSharing account! I discovered the amazingness of amplifying messages, an important factor in raising the visibility of indigenous activists, so Twitter and the concept of retweeting are a great medium and it’s a good place to connect with strangers with the same interests.


A note from our Media & Climate Editor, Hannah Spyksma:
In line with Karin’s thoughts – which Impolitikal shares – around talanoa and the value of creating spaces to listen to others, we decided the best way to cover COP is to amplify voices like Karin’s, and the many other people already doing important work in the Pacific climate space. We’ve curated a Twitter list, where you can follow some excellent individuals and organisations, who will be able to provide firsthand insight as well as expert knowledge as COP23 progresses. There are also a few other people from the Impolitikal community we recommend following for a Pacific, grassroots lens on the conference:

Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner is a poet and spoken word artist from the Marshall Islands. She talks regularly about the impacts of climate change on her low-lying homeland, and has previously interviewed for Impolitikal about her climate work. Kathy wrote for the Pacific Storytelling Cooperative about preparing for COP23:

“As a poet and an “activist” (I use this term very loosely as I don’t think I really have earned my activist chops) I’m inhabiting this space of suits in negotiations and formal statements in a very different way. If anything, it’s slightly subversive, at times welcome and unwelcome. I go in understanding that my work is different (some would call it “weird”) but that my writing and performances fills a need for those craving a connection that runs deeper than statistics and mouthpieces. It also likely stirs discomfort for others, especially those who take these spaces for granted or are there to deliver a hard line.”

Kathy also talks about loss in her piece, and honours both Marshallese Climate Ambassador Tony deBrum, who passed away in August, and 350 Pacific Coordinator Koreti Mavaega Tiumalu, who sadly also passed in the same month. Losing these leaders is huge for the Pacific climate activism community, but their work lives on through a collective of people continuing their advocacy.

Notably, Selina Leem, who wrote a moving tribute for ‘Papa’ Tony for Impolitikal, will also be at COP with a group of young SIDS climate activists. She works with Kathy for Marshellese NGO Jo-Jikum and has written several pieces for us about about climate change in the Marshall Islands. Selina has been touring Europe and North America aboard the Peace Boat, ahead of arriving in Germany. Follow her on Twitter.

Read Selina Leem’s farewell to legendary climate advocate, Papa Tony deBrum

Impolitikal has also featured writing about 350 Pacific, which Koreti was a driving force behind. The grassroots youth movement continues to do important work centring Pacific voices in global climate debates. Its powerful Have Your Sei campaign has been running in the lead-up to COP, and 350 Pacific has a full delegation in attendance. The Have Your Sei declaration is perhaps a fitting way to round off this post and start the two weeks of negotiations with a Pacific mindset. The declaration, and 350 Pacific’s network, calls for:

“The immediate phase-out of existing fossil fuel projects – the banning of all new fossil fuel infrastructure, shutting down of existing ones and canceling planned expansions. This should also coincide with commitments to rapidly transition towards 100% renewable energy, by no later than 2050. Immediately deliver the finance and support needed for countries already facing irreversible loss and damage. As well as the immediate establishment of adaptation mechanisms to cope with ongoing climate impacts. The prohibition of the fossil fuel industry from participating in the UNFCCC processes so that they can no longer delay, weaken and block action on climate change. The actioning of everything the Paris Agreement called for, including international efforts to ensure global average temperatures do not exceed 1.5 degrees from pre-industrial levels. Climate change is real and impacting now, and it’s imperative that we stand up for the Pacific, and the global community, and act now to avoid further climate catastrophe. This COP should be about the people, not the profits and the polluters.”

Read more here from the Have Your Sei activists and follow them on Twitter.

Finally, on a more personal note – having been fortunate enough to travel to Kiribati, I have a special affinity with this country. As a low-lying atoll, Kiribati is particularly vulnerable to rising tides and salinated water tables. The Humans of Kiribati Facebook and Instagram pages, along with founder Raimon Kataotao’s excellent selection of images for COP23, provide ongoing commentary and insight into all aspects of life in Kiribati, including living with the impacts of climate change. A highly recommended follow.

Hannah Spyksma is a freelance researcher and journalist from Northland, New Zealand. She is currently completing a doctorate in journalism at Queensland University of Technology. Read more by Hannah.

Karin Louise Hermes is a Berlin-based academic with an MA in Pacific Islands Studies from the University of Hawai’i. Read more by Karin.