Saturday 5 December 2009
Wow – they say that you only grow when you go out of your comfort zone.
That couldn't have been more true today. Waking up at 7am in pitch blackness and walking across to the Conference of the Youth venue, I was filled with trepidation, concerned the day would be a useless talkfest for young people from the global north.
I couldn't have been more wrong. The first day of the two day Conference of the Youth (COY) was filled with young people engaging in the climate change negotiation process. The annual COY has been running for the past five years, convening the weekend before the COP. Anyone who considers themselves "youth" may participate. COY is a conference about meeting other young people interested in climate change. There are workshops on different aspects of climate change including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), Land Use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF), Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), the latest updates in climate science, how to maximise a day at COP, climate art, how to set up a youth coalition in your country and the list goes on. The workshops are run by other young people who are experienced in the field, whether through formal study or hands on experience. There are also break-out sessions where you brainstorm with other young people about national campaigns, your contribution to COP15 and other issues of climate change
I walked into the COY not knowing one single person but immediately, Ella Bella, a friendly South African girl who started "Miss Earth South Africa" with her sister, helped me find the exact venue of COY. We got chatting in the line for registration and she explained to me that "Miss Earth" is an NGO for young women to empower other young women in South Africa through outreach programs in schools. Her organisation has existed for the past 6 years and in the last two years has really gotten off the ground, parallel with the global climate change activism movement.
Check out http://www.missearthsa.co.za/
The COY was opened by a number of young people involved in YOUNGO – the international youth climate network. We heard from three young people who have been fasting for the past 30 days, drinking only water, their own personal journey of climate change activism. We did some meet and greet activities which were very necessary and useful considering there were over 300 people at the first day of the conference (although they are expecting 700 people tomorrow!)
We broke off into two workshop sessions and I felt like a little kid in a lolly shop – there were so many interesting workshops to choose from ranging from climate change impacts; the process of the UNFCCC; updates on climate science; youth at COP – YOUNGO; utilising a day at COP effectively; traditional media; new media; art and activism; carbon trading and CDM, REDD and forests.
I chose to attend the workshop on the process of the UNFCCC which was led by a very cute French guy, Seb, who has a background in International Environmental Law. The workshop was a very good overview of the UNFCCC, its instruments, bodies and institutions. It was helpful to see how everything fit together, particularly as we have learnt about all the acronyms and groups in Climate Change Science and Policy, but I sometimes forget how everything works together.
The second workshop I attended was on carbon trading and CDM. I was interested to learn more about CDM, particularly because it is so controversial. Unfortunately, the workshop wasn't very focussed and there were various levels of knowledge within the workshop – ranging from some people who didn't know what CDM stood for to others who wanted to know how NAMAs were going to play into the COP 15 negotiations. Nevertheless, the three facilitators were very knowlegable with one of the guys writing his Masters thesis on the topic, another one who had written a book on the flaws of the CDM and the third facilitator from the Global South, speaking on the CDM projects she had been involved with and the flaws of those projects. In the middle of the session, a girl from the Global South broke out in frustration at the ineffectiveness of CDM and how all she and her fellow country people wanted was for an effective, equitable outcome.
We had a great vegan lunch which was provided for us (very good considering the whole COY was completely free) and I met a whole bunch of different people.
I met George from Zimbabwe who is in South Africa, about to start his PhD in solar energy; a group of Australians and Pacific Islanders working on Project Survival Pacific; Emily from the Girl Guides; a girl from Brazil who works full time for "The Art of Hosting Meaningful Conversations"; youth delegations from around the world from countries as varied as Malawi, Vanautu; Maldives; the Carribean.
This was one of the (many!) mind maps we came up with throughout the course of the weekend. It was wonderful seeing how a diverse group of people could be united under the same umbrella goals.
My "open space" group in action!
After lunch we had "open spaces" where a group of us got together to talk about our goals of Cop15 and how to take advantage of failures and successes at the COP15. I met a couple of people from the Pacific Islands, as well as Brandon, one of the two Australian Indigenous youth. I met a girl, Lan, from Norway who was with Spire (Sprouts?) which is one of the big youth NGOs in Norway.
We had a breakout session which had a number of options including policy working groups, Climate Change Fast, Youth Declarations, Actions, Bottomlining, website, graphics. I went to Bottomlining to find out more about the governance of YOUNGO and to hear from the young people who have given up hundreds of hours of their time for the global youth climate change movement.
Afterwards we had the closing session where we heard from Anna Rose from Australia who spoke about her journey since Montreal and the setting up of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition and how it has grown from 5000 to 51 000. She spoke of Powershift in the US, Australia, Canada, UK, China and India. We also heard from an Australian/Indian and the problems faced engaging the global south and north, particularly to do with funding to COP15.
Afterwards, a couple of us new friends all went out to dinner together. I got to make friends with Siri, Lovisa, Solomon, Linh, Paul, Sadhie. The Swedes told us all about Sweden's great welfare state although how there is a shift to be more like the US, particularly with the new conservative government.
The COY today was more than I could have expected. Everyone was so friendly and eager to meet new people and find out about different activities and projects going on in different countries. It gave me great faith in young people and their role in climate change negotiations. I can't wait for tomorrow!