UN City Bonn: centre of sustainability
The city on the Rhine has developed a profile as a centre of global dialogue. Twenty UN institutions are based here.
Viewed from below, Langer Eugen – or “Tall Eugene” in English – appears even more impressive than it already is. 115 metres of steel, glass and wood present a strong symbol, an architectural exclamation mark on the bank of the Rhine in Bonn’s former Bundestag district. When you pass the security checks and walk the short distance down towards the high-rise tower, you immediately sense the special charm of this place. Once, while it still contained the offices of members of the German Bundestag, signals emanated from this building for the whole country. Now, 20 years after the Federal Government’s move to Berlin, messages are developed here for the whole world. Instead of only one nation, today (almost) all nations work here to make the earth a much better place. Twenty United Nations institutions have settled in Bonn and form the core of a synergetic network: surrounded by federal authorities and ministries, international governmental and non-governmental organisations, research institutes and globally active business enterprises, UN employees are putting all their energies into implementing the 17 objectives formulated in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, the so-called Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
These goals are also being pursued by the Bonn-based headquarters of the UN Secretariat of the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the UN Volunteers (UNV) programme, as well as the offices of several species protection conventions. The Global Festival of Action, which organises the SDG Action Campaign every year at the World Conference Center in Bonn, demonstrates the dynamism and enthusiasm with which people from all over the world are addressing this challenge for the future. The 2017 Climate Change Conference (COP23) at the headquarters of the UN Climate Change Secretariat in Bonn was the largest intergovernmental conference ever held in Germany.
Bonn is the German competence centre for international policy and global sustainability strategies.
Following the Bonn Convention, in 1984, the very first UN institution, the Secretariat of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, moved into headquarters in Bonn. A decade later, the Berlin/Bonn Law defined the role of the Federal City as a centre for development policy and international institutions. Since then, Bonn has developed into a UN City and a global actor on questions of climate protection and sustainability. The Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) headed by the Mexican diplomat Patricia Espinosa – the largest UN institution in Bonn with roughly 500 employees – aims to advance the global implementation of the Paris Agreement.
The UN Campus now provides premises for some 1,000 employees, whose numbers are still increasing. Alongside Langer Eugen, construction work is currently underway on another high-rise building with an additional 330 offices for the UN. “The location has a lot to offer,” says Christian Hainzl, the Austrian who heads the Common Services Unit (UNV), which deals with administrative matters for the UN Campus. “Germany is a very generous host country; even local politicians take very great care of us. Furthermore, I experience the population as friendly and approachable, which results in a high quality of life.”
Search for global answers
Bonn does indeed have a lot to offer. Situated directly on the Rhine roughly 30 kilometres south of Cologne, it is bordered on one side by the Siebengebirge hills and on the other by the foothills of the Eifel mountains. With some 330,000 inhabitants, Beethoven’s birthplace may not be a major metropolis, but at the same time it is large enough to offer a varied cultural life. One UN body, the UNCCD Secretariat, has even become active in this area itself since it began supporting Over the Border, a world music festival, in 2017. “It’s an excellent opportunity for us to draw attention to our mission,” explains UNCCD spokesperson Marcos Montoiro. “Desertification, drought and soil degradation are problems that are not only limited to the desert regions of Africa,” says the Spaniard. “We need a global answer and must champion it at every available opportunity.” The Over the Border festival is just one part of that. “On one hand, it’s an opportunity to thank the City of Bonn for giving us such a cordial reception. On the other, the collaboration also gives us the chance to win great artists over to our cause.”
Today, people from almost 180 nations live in Bonn and feel at home in our city.
This effort is appreciated and reciprocated by the city. It advertises itself with the slogan “Sustainable Bonn”, funds so-called climate ambassadors, is active in the international Fair Trade Town network and acts as one of four Regional Hubs for Sustainability Strategies. Mayor Sridharan is President of the ICLEI network of cities, which is based here. Bonn makes use of the locational advantage offered not only by the United Nations, but also, among others, by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation and the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). The same applies to the University of Bonn, which, with 34,000 students, is one of the city’s most important institutions: for example, the course on the Geography of Environmental Risk and Human Security is the world’s first joint Master’s degree between a university and the United Nations University. Furthermore, they have joined together with the University of Applied Sciences Bonn-Rhein-Sieg and other institutions in Bonn to form the Bonn Alliance for Sustainability Research.
Integrated into the life of the city
A prerequisite for these partnerships is trust-based networks that go beyond specialist issues. And what could bring people in the Rhineland together better than Carnival, the period of madcap revelry when the region is turned upside down and everyone comes together? Even the UN hasn’t cut itself off from this regional tradition – it has played an active part since 2017. Initiator Patrick van Weerelt, Director of the Knowledge Centre for Sustainable Development at the United Nations System Staff College, founded a Carnival association for UN employees. “In other locations I saw how little members of the international community contribute to the traditions of their host city,” says the Dutchman. “When I was invited to Carnival for the first time I found it incredible. The relaxed mood does indeed build bridges.” The foundation of UN-Funken, the UN’s very own Carnival association, was the logical conclusion. “Interactions between us and the people of Bonn have increased as a result,” enthuses van Weerelt. “We also use Carnival to promote sustainability: for example, we collect donations to offset the carbon footprint of the Shrove Monday Procession in Bonn.” For Bonn this is yet another sign that the United Nations has come to stay.
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