Chaos at COP15! (Photo courtesy of Farhad Pocha)
Ah, that's better. The 2009 Climate Change Science and Policy Field School Class at COP15. (Courtesy of Farhad)
Friday 29 January 2010
It's been over a month since the end of COP15 and our ANU course. I'm in New York City, staying with my host family from my high school exchange. It's been almost five years since that experience and I'm still reflecting on how that experience has affected me and shaped my subsequent experiences. Similarly, I am sure that my experiences at COP15 will continue to be a part of me and impact me in unforseen ways. I experienced so much during those brief two weeks.
I would not have been in Copenhagen at COP15 without ANU, Janette, Kiri, Shannon and the Climate Change Science and Policy Field School. It was the best ANU course I have ever taken. I feel like I can say that definitively because of all that I learnt in such a brief period of time. I only wish that more university courses were "hands on". Laura said on the day of our presentations, "I've learnt more in this two week course than I have in the past four years of my degree." If you substitute "two years" into the "four years" part, I would agree! I also really enjoyed my classmates' company. I loved the conversations we had about climate change and not climate change.
As an Asian Studies/Law student, most of my courses are very specific and examine aspects of the law and Asia. It was refreshing to take a science and policy course on climate change, an issue we have not covered in any of my other courses in my degree. As I'm in the United States at the moment, I have been catching up with old friends from my school I went to on exchange and meeting other young Americans. Many of them are at university taking general undergraduate degrees. Prior to taking ENVS3001, I thought their degrees very broad and somewhat of a waste of time. What is the point of doing general courses if you know what you want to study? After experiencing ENVS3001, I really understand the value of a general, undergraduate degree where you have the opportunity to take a variety of courses. It is good for the brain to be stretched in different directions through different areas of study. It is good for the student not to be locked into studying one, specific area, generally at the age of 18 or 19. It has been good for me to learn as much as I can about a variety of different issues surrounding climate change. It engages me with the world and allows me to approach my speciality, Asian Studies and Law, from other angles. For example, now I am interested in studying International Environmental Law. When I go on exchange to China, I would be interested in getting involved with the Chinese Youth Climate Coalition.
Taking the pre-requisite course, Climate Change Science and Policy was a solid introduction to some of the issues of climate change. It covered the science of climate change which I believe is an important foundation for people interested in climate change (which should be everyone!). It also gave us an introduction to some aspects of climate change policy. I know I will spend my whole life learning about climate change because it is such an enormous issue. (As an aside, I met a girl at COP15 who is taking a minor in climate change at her American university. I am surprised I have not heard of an undergraduate climate change major at any Australian university.) But taking this follow up course provided me with the opportunity to really get a crash course in climate change science and policy.
What I learnt
In the two weeks, I learnt about technology transfer from a student from ETH Zurich whom I met at the IARU day; I learnt about the Clean Development Mechanism from a girl from India who is involved with the implementation of CDM in her region; I learnt about the UNFCCC process from a French law student who specialises in international environmental law; I learnt about Australia's ETS, its strategy to divide the Liberal Party and its flaws from an Australian guy who is writing his thesis on it; I learnt about the Yasuni Initiative from a Dutch girl who is in Ecuador working on the project; I learnt about REDD and LULUCF from The Wilderness Society, Masters and PhD students, Indigenous people who have directly been affected by the programs. Getting involved in the International Youth Forest Working Group was the best thing I did at COP15. Not only did I learn so much about forests, Indigenous rights, REDD and LULUCF, I was also able to closely track the REDD negotiations at COP15. It provided me with an opportunity to see how NGOs lobby negotiators; I saw how a text can evolve; I saw how NGOs can get their text into the official text; I learnt that lobbying involves not only talking to delegates but also doing actions, dressing up in silly costumes, singing songs, standing in silence, using the media and encouraging as many people as possible to learn about the issue and lobby people they know.
I learnt about different countries' attitudes towards tackling climate change. I learnt about great Dutch recycling programs for all households. I learnt about the terrible Canadian tarsands. I learnt about how my friend from Zimbabwe does not know when the rain will come which affects his family's ability to grow crops. These are just a snapshot of the conversations I had about climate change policy with other young people at COP15.
I also learnt so much from the side events and workshops I attended at COP15. There were so many to choose from every single day. I also learnt from speeches I heard from university lecturers, UNICEF, UNITAR, international lawyers, scientists, activists, young people and some of the global leaders of climate change including Al Gore, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri (Chair of the IPCC), Ban Ki-Moon (UN Secretary General), Yvo De Boer (Executive Secretariat of the UNFCCC), Laurence Pollier (UNFCCC Secretariat for Youth at COP15) and other scientists, academics and policy makers from universities around the world.
I learnt about inspiring initiatives from every corner of the world ranging from: 350ppm campaigns, roadtrips through different countries with the aim of learning and engaging about climate change, the use of technology and the internet to link up broader civil society to COP15 and climate change movements, Global North fundraising for the Global South to come to COP15, the list goes on and on.
I learnt you can learn things from everyone and I learnt that the more people and experiences you engage with, the more you learn. For example, it was only through making friends with other young people at COP15 that I heard about the Penny Wong briefing five minutes prior to it beginning.
Perhaps most importantly I learnt that climate change is something that doesn't end at COP15. Climate change is something me, my friends, my generation and future generations will be dealing with for our lifetimes. The earlier more people start to learn about and engage with it, the better. Because the reality is that we will all have to learn about and engage with it throughout our lifetimes.
Official Negotiations and Outcome
The official negotiations were a joke. I was so embarrassed to be at a conference which wasted so many peoples' time and resources. Don't get me wrong, I got a lot out of COP15 and I'm sure many of the participants did. In fact, I would argue that one of the best things to come out of COP15 was the global climate change movement of civil society and the momentum COP15 gave it.
But in terms of the official negotiations, I was shocked at the way they worked. I was shocked at the stalling techniques that different countries (developed and developing) used. If you read a couple of the blog entries I wrote during the conference, you'll be able to see the particular examples I am talking about. I was shocked at Australia's negotiators and I was embarrassed to be an Australian at the conference. Going to COP15 has made me very interested in climate change and the global movement. Going to COP15 has also made me very disinterested in ever working for the Department of Climate Change.
I went into COP15 hearing that a legally binding deal would not come out of the conference. I spent the whole conference hoping that would not be the case. But indeed, a very, very weak deal came out of COP15. It is "politically binding" which means countries can commit to voluntary targets. They are supposed to announce their commitments by February 1 so I will be interested to see what happens with that. I was unimpressed at China and the US. Both of them knew they would be instrumental in getting a strong deal at COP15 and used it to their advantage to manipulate the situation in favour of themselves. The commentaries say REDD was the "feel good" story of COP15 because there was an improvement in the REDD text. I don't think it is acceptable for negotiators and heads of state to hide behind something like REDD which is really just one, small aspect of tackling climate change. All in all, the official negotiations and outcome were very disappointing.
I was secretly delighted when I saw the assessment for this course. I have kept a diary since we had to keep a "Year 1 holiday journal" in 1995 for school. I would have kept a diary regardless of whether or not I was being assessed on it. I like writing during something intense like COP15 so I can gather my thoughts throughout the conference. I like writing so that after the fact I can go back and read about how I was feeling and what I experience from my perspective. I also like the idea that one day, in twenty or thirty years, I will be able to look back on an experience with a biased clarity! Even re-reading my blog has been revealing. For example, you can see the emotional rollercoaster of COP15 and how tired, jubilant, disheartened, enthusiastic, excited, shocked, overwhelmed I was during COP15, reflected in my blog entries.
Since I have never kept a blog before, I was apprehensive but decided the blog format would be the best format for my digital diary and would provide me with the opportunity to learn a new set of skills. And learn a new set of skills I did! I learnt how to upload videos onto Youtube, use Google's Picasa, use blogger.com and use Google search to teach it all to me! I'm really happy I decided to use a blog rather than just a Word document which is something I can already do. Who knows, maybe I'll keep this blog for future Wongderful adventures!
This reflection sounds really corny but I have never enjoyed writing a paper as much as the paper I am currently writing. It was been really difficult as I am still travelling and have been lugging around a backpack worth of materials from COP15 for my report. It has also been difficult to find time to write the report as I've been staying with different friends and family and there's always something to distract me. But once I sit down to write, I enjoy being able to write about first hand experiences. I enjoy not having to constantly refer to academic literature. I enjoy being able to tie in different aspects of COP15 into my report – side events, workshops, activities, negotiation sessions, etc.
The most enjoyable aspect of the report has been the opportunity for me to interview people for it. I started doing interviews informally at the Conference of the Youth (COY) before COP15 even started. I continued chatting to people about my topic, Youth Participation, throughout COP15. I made some contacts including the UNFCCC Secretariat for Youth at COP15, Seb who was the primary driver of YOUNGO receiving youth constituency for the first time at COP15 and Aiden who was the one paid employee of YOUNGO, YOUNGO's community catalyst. Post COP15, I have been in frequent contact with these three people and I have also emailed and skyped with several other people who are heavily involved in the international youth climate movement (IYCM). I have been so touched at how much time people have given me. Some people have literally given me hours and hours of their time.
I've been learning a lot for my report but I have also been learning about the history and nature of the IYCM. The more I learn, the more I realise how enormous it is. The more I learn, the more I realise how many different ways you can get involved. One aspect of my report is about capacity building, particularly for the Global South. One element of this is collecting documents from different youth networks about the basics of climate change, the history of the IYCM, the structure of YOUNGO, etc. Aiden was telling me how much difficulty he has been having collecting the documents to put into a quasi database. Something I am quite interested in doing after this report is uploading the data I have collected for this report onto the IYCM website or google group or wikiportal.
Overall, I feel overwhelmed by my report. The topic is so much bigger than I initially thought. It is ironic I was concerned that focussing on "youth" would be too limiting! There is a lot of information out there, just so long as you know where to look! It isn't the places we are taught to research in - it isn't in the usual places like online databases, academic journals and libraries. Rather, it is through word of mouth, emailing, following up the emails, skyping and connecting people who have been involved in the movement for much longer than I have! I feel like I could write a thesis on the topic I have chosen. I actually would be interested in doing further research on the topic if the opportunity presented itself.
As I said at the beginning of this post, I experienced so much that I am still processing it all and know I will process it for many months to come. I should probably write another reflection post in six months or so.
What now? I want to get involved at a local level, maybe through the ANU Environmental Collective. I am interested in doing an ANUGreen Internship. Things are constantly changing and developing in climate change and I would like to keep learning about it all. I'm excited!