Although granted the presidency of this year’s COP, due to its financial and geographical situation, Fiji is not hosting the 23rd Conference of the Parties (COP23) this year. Instead, public, private and civil sectors working on environmental strategies in their countries are taking part in the COP23 at the United Nations’ Framework on Climate Change Convention’s (UNFCCC) headquarters in the leafy city of Bonn, Germany. In the meantime, Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) has launched a program called Camp Climate, taking over a youth hostel, BaseCamp, only 15 minutes by foot away from the conference venue, where they are hosting 130 young environmental activists and enthusiasts aged 18 to 35 years from around 60 countries, all of whom are attending COP23.
The BaseCamp is a stadium-sized hostel, with 25 recycled sleeping vehicles scattered inside and three outside, ranging from vans, sleeping trains and SUVs. Michael Schlößer, BaseCamp Hotel’s operator, turned an abandoned hall into a hostel in August 2013. “The hall was empty a good two and a half years. The landlord asked me if I can do something [about it],” says Schlößer, who also runs another apartment hotel in Bonn. “I then thought about how I can comfortably accommodate around 100 guests there, because otherwise a hostel would not pay for itself,” he says, adding that he needed a fancy idea, otherwise no teenager or student would come stay at the BaseCamp four kilometers from the city center.
The camp stands out in Bonn – a city on the Rhine that boasts streets lined with buildings that date back to the 16th century side-by-side with sleek, ultra-modern business buildings. Germany’s ageing population means that the government is in dire need of young people in the workforce, and Bonn’s street art is testament to the city’s youth population, making sense of why a hostel like BaseCamp is relevant – especially during an event like COP23.
In fact, the whole city has geared up to host the COP23, with signs around the city center and in train stations directing attendees, and audio announcers on buses, trams and the U-Bahn calling out for passengers who are jumping off at the World Conference Center. During the weekend before COP, while on the Deutsche Bahn (literally: “German Train”) from Frankfurt to Bonn, a woman expressed her concerns about Bonn hosting COP23. “It’s a very small city,” she tells progrss. “COP23 will attract many protestors from around Germany – let alone the [25,000] participants.” Indeed, Greenpeace, among other groups, organized mass protests ahead of and during COP23, to pressure the German government to shut down a coal mine just 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the city.
On November 5, at around 10 PM, during a sandwich break before their meeting, a group of Japanese students sit reflecting on their thoughts and expectations about the COP, which is due to kick off the following day. “We just arrived, but we want to discuss and exchange [insight about climate action] with international youth,” Climate Youth Japan‘s leader, Misaki Takahashi tells progrss. “We won’t have enough time to network in the conference, so we look forward to doing that here.” The 22-year-old studies at the Tottori University of Environmental Studies and is organizing a side event in the Japan Pavilion together with six other representatives; all of them express that they are looking forward to track the negotiations happening until November 17.
Also just arrived, Rawan El-Chaya, 23, is looking for people who are lost in the camp to help them out, because she too got lost and knows the struggle, she tells progrss. “What a unique edge! I feel like I want to shoot a music video here,” laughs El-Shayal, who is at COP with Climate Action Network. “It’s really cool, because you have people from different ethnicities just coming together. And not just because of COP, they’re coming here because they’re social.”
“I have two stances that are both horrible,” says El-Shayal, who holds a Lebanese as well as a U.S. passport. El-Shayal was hoping that the Trump administration would change its stance on the Paris Agreement in the lead-up to COP, but thinks that there is a lot more that she can do in Lebanon with regards to climate regulations.
“I’m here for many reasons, one of which is to learn foreign strategies and gather certain tools to use in Lebanon, especially with the waste crisis,” she says. “It’s a major epidemic at the moment and instead of the government focusing on this crisis they are focusing on completely different areas. Our prime minister [Saad El-Hariry] actually resigned two days ago, so it’s not even on the agenda anymore.”
Standing at the entrance, Peruvian Maria Cristina Saldarriaga, program assistant at YMCA and Belgian Mathilde Thue, volunteer at YMCA, hand out green scarves emblazoned with the words “AMBITIOUS” to the BaseCamp’s tenants. “We’ve been present at COPs since 2013, and we saw that there [were] a lot of youth events and participation, but we had no space to hang out, and especially when it comes to accommodation, there’s always the challenge of living far away from each other,” Thue tells progrss. Together, Saldarriaga and Thue first organized a youth hostel at COP20, in Lima, which coincided with the YMCA summit. “We got lots of feedback, not only from [people] participating in COP, but also from the ones who didn’t have accreditation [to attend]. They learned something new and also how to be a part of advocating for climate justice.”
Saldarriaga and Thue explain that YMCA do a lot of camping all over the world and that’s where the name of Camp Climate came from. “When my boss, Romulo Dantas, the executive director of YMCA, was here looking for a place to stay at the beginning of the year, he saw this place and thought this was the most similar to a camp. That’s why he loved it and after being here, we love it too,” Saldarriaga explains.