Capacity Building and the ultimate question: What is youth?

Monday 14 December 2009

This EU Pavillion poster is one of my favourite quotes from COP15. .

The line to get into the conference this morning clearly marked the start of the second week! There were lines stretching pass the end of the Metro station because many of the conference participants came just for the second week of negotiations. Later in the day I bumped into one of the girls from Yale who had had her backpack stolen from her which had had pass in it. She said she queued for 7 hours in the snow to re-register. She said there were pregnant women who had to stand for that length as well. I heard that some people queued for 11 hours – there were no toilets, food or drink. This approach does not sound very Danish and is appalling!

I went to the YOUNGO Spokescouncil meeting from 8-9am which was jammed pack full of young people (and not so young people). One of the girl guides stopped the meeting and said to an older man standing at the edge of the room "Sorry, but are you youth?" to which the facilitator responded "No no, youth is self-defined in YOUNGO."

All the youth, young and old, at YOUNGO Spokescouncil this morning.

Anyway, the way Spokescouncil works is that each working group and affinity group sends one representative to the daily Spokescouncil meeting which is the decision making body of YOUNGO. Everyone else can attend but cannot speak nor vote.

Paul Ferris moderates YOUNGO Spokescouncil, making announcements about meetings throughout the day.

There has been some controversy over the governance structure of Spokescouncil – some people I spoke to think it isn't representative enough and there should be consensus based decisions rather than votes. However, I think I'm at the more moderate end of the "youth" spectrum and I believe Spokescouncil is the better model of the two, particularly considering the size of YOUNGO.

Paul, one of the main facilitators, said he felt that Spokescouncil was merely there to ram decisions through, since we only have the room for one hour each morning and there is usually a substantial list of decisions required to be discussed and made.

Caroline Howe speaks about the ways the YOUNGO bottomlining team remain accountable.

Another handy thing about going to Spokescouncil is that the daily youth calendar is distributed. It is an in-depth timetable published at 7.30am each morning which lists all the youth events and actions, as well as relevant side events, etc. One of the best side events I've been to was one which I found out about from the Youth Calendar – Capacity Building for NGOs and Civil Society.

Many of the working groups meet after Spokescouncil – the communications WG met briefly because there was a press conference being held that evening. The Policy WG also met – I guess it's easiest since everyone is in the same place so early in the day.

This was one of the actions of today. Laura and I stood in a long line of youth stretching across the Bella Centre. We stood in silence for half an hour indicating that we stood with the Least Developed Countries on climate change.

Molly, Bella, Michael, Steph, Jo and other young people stand in solidarity with developing countries.

One of the other protests today which we ran across. Something of note is that it is not permitted to cover your face in a protest action so lucky these bears had not been caught out yet! When we did protests with the koala suit, "koala" would usually walk around with his face ajar lest a security guard stumbled across us!

Another action of today. A group of musically inclined protestors gathered in one of the main walk ways to sing about the spirit of Christmas and climate change.

I headed off to the EU Pavilion which had an event about capacity building. One of the panellists from the UNFCCC Secretariat pulled out at the last minute – I think there were some plenaries which were going on. Lucky for me and my project, Laurence Pollier, Secretariat for Youth, was the replacement. She spoke about the youth constituency gaining status for the first time and discussed Article 6 of the UNFCCCC Convention which refers to promoting public participation. Another of the panellists, Jeremy Wates, Secretary to the Aarhus Convention, was speaking about the Aarhus Convention which is a treaty on procedural environmental rights. It is founded on three pillars: access to information, public participation and access to justice. We also heard from Mr. Achim Halpaap, Associate Director of the Environment – UNITAR who spoke on training and capacity development. It was interesting that he noted civil society is probably more important than any other topic when it comes to capacity building.

I left half-way through the side event (much to my despair – I was like a kid in a lolly store again – too much to see and do!) because there was a High Level Youth Briefing with Dr. Rajendra which was alright – he spoke about the power of youth stating "I believe firmly if there is any section of society who can bring about change it is the youth" but I keep hearing high level speakers talk about the "power" of youth so I am a little cynical – it's more refreshing when someone says something slightly more insightful about youth. I guess it's difficult because everyone wants to be supportive of the youth movement – if we, as young, naive idealists give up, there isn't much hope for anyone else!

Dr. Rajendra imparts wisdom onto the youth at a High-level Youth Briefing organised by the UNFCCC.

I agreed when he said that COP15 isn't the be all and end all. The role of youth extends beyond the end of COP15 and youth can influence post COP in a number of ways: nation state level; proliferating knowledge to the rest of the world, particularly the sceptics and ignorant; after COP15, there will still be much to do, particularly if there is no legally binding conclusion.

I raced back to the capacity building side event because I had heard such quality level speakers prior to me leaving however, by the time I got there, they had moved to the second part of the event which was country specific regarding implementation and capacity development.

I left before the end - you have to be very strategic about your comings and goings in order to maximise on the amount of free food. The EU Pavilion is particularly strong in providing sandwiches, cakes, nibbles, drinks, fruit. I heard that there is someone who tweets about all the free food at any one time – he prides himself on covering the whole COP and ensures "reliable tip offs". You get all sorts at COP!

The Canadian Youth Delegation take time out of their lunch to do an action. And sometimes actions do speak louder than words!

I bumped into Paul and Anna who were also all about the free food. We had "lunch" together and spoke about what we had been up to, specifically pertaining to YOUNGO. Anna spoke about the difficulties of being a non-native English speaker involved in YOUNGO, as the conversation moves very quickly and it is sometimes difficult to keep up. Paul questioned whether spending days developing policy is really the best use of YOUNGO's time. Rather, he argued, the strongest element of YOUNGO is our ability to stage mass actions and therefore deliver strong, simple, clear messages. That having been said, some youth come to COP to get involved with policy and should not be prevented from doing this. I also mentioned the joy I have working with the Youth Forest Working Group, lobbying negotiators on specific policy.

Janette had organised a meeting for us with an Australian negotiator, Kristin Tilley. The opportunities for us to speak with the movers and shakers in Australian climate change policy has been outstanding. She had the gift of the gab and managed to speak around all our questions! Laura asked a very pertinent question about why Australia stalled the talks this morning firstly by suggesting a room swap and secondly by suspending the negotiations until the G77 + China figure themselves out. She responded by saying that stalling is very different to procedure and sometimes procedure is very important. How ironic. I read the newspapers and Penny Wong was quoted as saying "This is not the time to play procedural games" in regards to the G77 walk out (see

Michael asked a question about why Australia isn't talking about ppm, let alone 350 ppm. Kristin responded by saying talking about ppm is too technical and emissions reductions and temperature decrease are easier to understand. To that I would respond: firstly, the 350 campaign has been one of the most effective climate change campaigns of all time proving people are smart enough to understand it and secondly, you can still achieve the effects of 350ppm through emissions reductions and temperature decreases. The only problem is, Australia isn't!

Hearing Kristin speak really turned me off ever becoming an Australian negotiator. From what she was saying to us, it seemed as if she had to convince herself that she really believed in what she was saying even though she didn't answer any of our questions. I personally would be so embarrassed if I ended up in a job like that. I should probably be more tolerant and remember that everyone has different definitions of how to go out into the world and do good. And I guess some people don't worry about that at all.

The Australian negotiator, Kristin Tilley, fields our questions.

A baby-sized protest as we waited for everyone to gather for our daily Youth Forest Working Group meeting. Negotiators were walking into closed plenaries as we stood there. Our action wasn't the funniest though. One of the other youth had stuffed a balloon under her top giving her the appearance that she was pregnant. She approached delegates voicing her concerns for her children. It was gold!

We had a great forests youth meeting in the NGO cafe space. I'm so happy I've gotten involved in the Youth Forest Working Group – it's been really rewarding and I've learnt so much about REDD and the way the negotiation process works.

The Youth Forest Working Group has its daily meeting.

I attended the Youth Press Conference at Astrid at 2030. There were a range of speakers but I wasn't very inspired. I am really getting frustrated at everyone being nice and fluffy about the role of youth. Although the Swedish girl, Hanna Mia Brekken said something very insightful. She had been speaking to a journalist in the Media Centre who looked at her and said "They are negotiating about your future, they are negotiating about you, without you. You must be devastated."

The speakers at the YOUNGO Press Conference.

Severn Suzuki, who spoke in 1992, had a video message for us which was very special. I cried a little watching her speech from 1992. She told us it was an "intergenerational crime" and the one thing that is inspiring in representing the youth.

All the way back in 1992, the youth movement was growing and strong. (Courtesy of Speedyboh)

After the Press Conference there was a brief YOUNGO Evaluation. It was very intense. I could feel the tension in the air. The idea was to have a debrief session of the first week about what went right, what went wrong, and how to improve for Week 2. I think it's a really good idea. I'm very impressed at the progressive nature of the youth movement. I guess I shouldn't be surprised considering it is the youth who are sometimes the most progressive group in society.

Seb led the debrief and was very firm that the bottom liners and other YOUNGOs couldn't defend the criticism that came up during the debrief. Rather, it was a time to reflect and get things off your chest without being attacked for doing so.

Seb started out facilitating discussion but it soon became clear that nobody was really willing to just start talking. Instead, we used the space as a "thermometer" so to speak. If you felt strongly positive about something, you went to the far right of the room. If you felt strongly negative about something, you went to the far left of the room. Everyone else stood in between. A couple of people spoke on each of the four issues:

  1. Inclusiveness (Global south/global north): I was surprised that people felt very strongly that YOUNGO was not inclusive and was dominated by the Global North. From my experience in the Youth Forest WG, that was not the case – we had an almost equal spread and activity from the Global North and South. I spoke on this. I also shared my experience of knowing absolutely nobody (except Lauren, Beth and Emily) and rocking up by myself to the Conference of the Youth. I spoke about what a positive experience I had had and how friendly everyone was – I learn more and more with every experience that only if you put yourself out there can you experience some truly special things. (In fact, on my walking tour today in Paris I met this American girl who said her friend had been delayed in Ireland. I said it's great travelling by yourself sometimes. She said she liked having a "security blanket" of friends. I hope she was referring to it being somewhat safer travelling with friends and not it being "easier" travelling with friends!) One youth from the Global South spoke about the lack of global south even in the room, as an indication of the lack of participation.
  2. Linguistics – the second issue was the use of English to conduct all YOUNGO activities. People were (again, surprisingly – although I think this is because I am particularly ignorant on this issue) very outspoken that meetings should be conducted in more languages, emails should be multi-lingual and the google group should be translated. As a native English speaker, I take it foregranted but I do think it is difficult to translate every, single post online – there are 10s each day. Furthermore, what language would you choose to translate it into. Also, Seb did point out that there was google translate on each page. Another issue which arose was nobody was using the "C sign" (explain more) for clarification during Spokescouncil, etc. Caroline spoke about how she sometimes couldn't understand what was going on, even as a native speaker. She said she knew people got lost because they would come up afterwards to ask. We spoke about developing more of a culture where clarification through hand signals was common.
  3. Gender – this wasn't really an issue as girls and boys were mostly equal. A point was even made that sometimes there were more girls.
  4. Strategy – this was a big one. It was about governance structure, policy v. Action. It could have gone on all night but we wrapped it up.

I had a great chat with Job van den Assem, who was a founder of Young Friends of the Earth Europe. This has been one of the best things about researching youth participation in the UNFCCC process. I have met and spoken to some young people who are so engaged and involved in the movement. It has made me want to get more involved. He argued YOUNGO's weakness lies in defining ourselves and our identity purely as youth because what is youth? It is so many different things. He also argued we should work outside the system more than inside the system and focus on capacity building.

I slowly meandered to the cloak room and on my way out, bumped into Luke and Michelle who were waiting for Alexei and others. I hung out with them and we spoke about our days.

Dean from the Youth Forests Working Group came out and hung out with us for ages. It was awesome talking to him – he's a Canadian who is originally from Portugal (or some small islands there) and thus speaks Portuguese. He is 28 – I was surprised and has spent some time working in Brazil. I think he wants to be a diplomat/Prime Minister of Canada. He was talking about one day, when I am Prime Minister of Australia and he is Prime Minister of Canada, there will be a meaningful agreement reached on climate change, and none of this rubbish which is currently produced from our two countries.

He finally left and Luke and I went searching for Michelle who had disappeared about an hour earlier, in search of Alexei. We spied them in the main cafeteria section cutting out REDD-it, REDD-it signs for the action for tomorrow. Fern and Phoebe left, while Alexei stayed on to do a second shift and Michelle, Luke, Shaun and I helped out Gemma.

It was super late and I was getting tired but I felt like I should stay. It was eerily exciting being at the Bella Centre so late, knowing it was the beginning of a big week (big at least in the sense of the number of heads of state getting there!)

We finally got back to the hotel and I promptly fell asleep. I haven't seen my roomies in what feels like days!

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