This is the third year in a row that we’ve had the privilege to attend the annual UN Climate Change Conference as official civil society Observers. COP 21 in Paris was the big exciting conference where everyone was left in suspense until the last day as to whether  the world’s leaders could manage to finally agree on how to address climate change. We did. One year later, COP 22 was in Marrakech, Morocco and was held after the US presidential election. The US election results were announced half way through the event, throwing a blanket of uncertainty across the assembly, even as then Secretary of State John Kerry and others told us all not to fear that the global energy markets and the global economy had already embraced the future in ways that no change of Administration in Washington could turn back.

This year, at COP 23 in Bonn, there is an interesting spirit in the air, at once cautious, yet optimistic.

Christiana Figueres, a global climate leader and convener of Mission 2020, said that if global emissions are not on a downward trend by 2020 and if nations don’t step up their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in that year, as they are bound to by the Paris Agreement, the “door will be closed” on keeping potential warming limited to 1.5 degrees C. But on a more positive note, she added that 53 countries have announced that their emissions will definitively be decreasing by 2020, and that 22 countries have already demonstrated a decoupling of GDP growth from emissions.  India, for example, originally projected that renewables would represent 40% of its power generation by 2030, but now is reporting that it may actually represent 60% of it by 2027.

And its not just countries that seem to have found it feasible to go beyond the original NDCs made in Paris. In a panel discussion with US state governors, representatives from  Oregon, Massachusetts, and Maryland (the latter two with Republican leadership) say they have demonstrably decoupled economic growth from greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Even some cities report having achieved this same goal, with Tokyo, the world’s most populous megacity among them.

Indeed, if we had to generalize, we would say that the world seems to be working hard to reduce emissions despite the official position of the United States. US governors and mayors are in nearly every session, a grass roots network of climate leaders that the rest of the world seems pleasantly surprised to be meeting here.

These are impressions after one day of roaming in and out of official sessions, media briefings, and side events in this sprawling event. We look forward to sharing more reactions as they evolve in the next few days.

Franco Montalto and Hugh Johnson