Bonn continues to lead as global hub for sustainable development

With the launch of this week’s Daring Cities 2021 virtual conference, thought leaders from around the world are poised to exchange their knowledge and problem solving skills as part of the ongoing fight against climate change.

And not unlike what it has done in supporting numerous other climate-focused events in the past, Bonn is hosting the latest edition of Daring Cities. It’s a well-deserved honor that couldn’t be timelier in that 2021 marks the 25th year Bonn has flown the UN flag.

During that time, the city has been transformed into a global hub for sustainability, serving as home for over 20 UN agencies (including the Climate Secretariat and the Convention to Combat Desertification) as well numerous organizations like ICLEI – Local Governments for Sustainability – which now represents more than 2,500 local governments from around the world.

The city is also home to the Bonn Water Network (BWN), which was created in 2020 to help address the global water crisis, which continues to worsen. According to the World Wildlife Fund, currently over one-billion people lack access to water and 2.7 billion are dealing with water scarcity for at least one month of the year.

In response to this disaster, BWN is hosting the Daring Cities session this Thursday entitled “It’s all about water! Local action for climate change adaptation in urban areas.” And as testimony to just how ‘Bonn-centric’ water expertise has become, five of the six presenters in that session belong to organizations that are based in Bonn. Presenters such as Dr. Simone Sandholz with the Institute for Environment and Human Security, Dr. Annabelle Houdret with the German Development Institute and Diego Jara with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.

Another key session where Bonn will be represented focuses on climate justice as an increasingly critical issue. Hosted by Germanwatch and Südwind Institute, this session focuses on the question of who must bear the burden of the climate crisis and how to break down the enormous global climate injustice.

Apart from serving as a sustainability knowledge centre, Bonn also has a long history of leveraging its collective expertise for real world, on-the-ground solutions… both at home and thousands of kilometers away. A prime example of this is the Bonn-Cape Coast (Ghana) knowledge sharing initiative, which was established in 2008 as part of the Municipal Climate Partnerships program.

Much of the knowledge sharing between the two cities in this relationship has been focussed on the re-naturalization of Cape Coast’s Fosu Lagoon. Historically, the lagoon has been a major source of income for residents… whose livelihood has been closely tied to the fishing industry. However since the turn of the century, the local ecosystem has been seriously degraded as a result of human-induced interference, ranging from plastic and metal waste pollution to significant deforestation.

In response to these challenges, Bonn officials have worked with their Cape Coast counterparts to establish the Biodiversity and Environmental Education Centre on the shores of the lagoon. The multi-purpose facility is used for everything from educating locals (including ongoing student programs) about the vital importance of protecting and restoring local biodiversity, to shoreline cleanup drives, to the ongoing monitoring of environmental conditions.

Bonn’s get things done on the ground mindset carries over to the city’s own back yard as well. This week marks the end of the Bonn SDG Days 2021, a local initiative which ran from September 18 to October 4 that called on residents to embrace the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals. Appropriately, the event took place over the course of 17 days and included exhibits, talks and videos. The Bonn SDG Days encouraged everyday citizens to embrace such inter-related goals as promoting affordable, clean energy, reducing inequalities, taking urgent action on climate change and fighting for more sustainable, more liveable communities.

Another noteworthy initiative has been the city’s Sustainability Strategy, adopted by Bonn’s council in 2019, with the goal of implementing all of the UN’s 17 SDG’s by 2030. The multi-faceted program supports a host of local actions, from vigorously promoting biodiversity to making buildings more energy efficient and increasing renewable energy sources at the local level and expanding public transit while promoting active mobility.

Actions such as SDG Days and the Sustainability Strategy serve as a constant reminder that for decades, Bonn as a city has wholeheartedly embraced the need to fight climate change and promote sustainable development. Yet another is the 25 Years of UN in Bonn program that spotlights the city’s two-and-a-half decade relationship with the UN – a milestone that’s well worth celebrating.

In recognition of this fact, UN Secretary-General António Guterres observed in a recorded message to the city that “the UN in Bonn is helping to build a world we want and need… leading on climate change, combating desertification and harnessing the skills and passions of thousands of United Nations volunteers.”

Reflecting on accomplishments spanning decades and speaking in the capacity of both Mayor of Bonn and as a member of the ICLEI Global Executive Committee, Katja Dörner conveyed in a separate interview that that this milestone “is a special occasion for Bonn… to look back on what has been achieved and what needs to be accomplished in the coming year.” She portrayed initiatives such as the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration as “the biggest recovery process in the history of humankind,” observing that “climate, nature and land cannot be separated… and all three are core topics of UN Bonn.”

These topics will be top of mind at Daring Cities 2021 these next few days as Bonn once again convenes a space for cities leading in the climate emergency to come together, exchange, disseminate and advocate.

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