It's Youth and Future Generations Day today!
Thursday 10 December 2009
Today was a turning point for me in a number of ways. Firstly, I have changed the focus of my topic yet again (although I am quite certain I will now stick with what I have chosen). Secondly, I have been inspired completely and totally by the international youth climate change movement (I had been previously but today provided a structure in which I could appreciate it even more). Finally, I now know that my interest in climate change will continue after COP15. This is because today I sat through Youth and Future Generations Day Side Events from 9am-6pm straight. I heard from young people and the young at heart about youth projects and educational programs available for youth. The potential is endless.
Youth and Future Generations Day (YuFuGe) celebrates the role of youth in the UNFCCC process, particularly as this is the first time youth have an official constituency within the UNFCCC.
The panellists of the Role of Education Side Event.
The first event I attended was "The role of education in relation to the climate crisis" which was run by Service Civil International, Energy Crossroads, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition and Sebastien Duyck. Seb spoke on how YuFuGe Day is 14 hours of continuous youth activities. This is the first year the youth constituency have an official day at COP. He spoke of the journey over the past five years for constituency status, the capability young people have to join the negotiations and the empowerment of young people. We also heard from Laurence Pollier who is the UNFCCC Secretariat for Young People, Fathimath Ghina from UNESCO Paris, Stephanie Hodge who is an Education Specialist for UNICEF, Khadidiatou Diop, a climate ambassador for UNICEF from Senegal, Michael Plesner who is the President of Energy Crossroads and Firoent Boarkik who is the former President of Students for Sustainable Development which is a French Network. I have a lot of notes which I am sure I will use for my research report. One thing that really touched me was a Bolivian Girl Guide's question. She stood up and spoke about how she is listening to all the educational programs the UN is developing for young people but what should she do when she goes back to Bolivia and is faced with a lack of resources to education people on climate change? The panel responded there are many ways to share climate change knowledge including sharing personal experiences, using the local environment as a classroom and lobbying the local government. The question seemed more poignant than the answer.
Playing my little bit! I was the designated microphone runner for the first YuFuGe event.
The second event was "Youth, forest protection and survival: why forest protection and education is essential." This was run by SustainUS but had several panellists from the Youth Forest Working Group! Gemma Tillack spoke about forests and REDD. Juan Carlos spoke about Indigenous peoples' rights. Lavinia Warners spoke about the Yasuni Initiative in Ecuador. Rebecca David spoke about Youth Forestry Initiatives such as eco trails and skits, the Chipko Movement and the Kids for Tiger Projects. Once again, I felt so inferior when compared to the young people on the panel who knew so much about their area of interest and were also so engaged in ensuring an outcome they believed in. I am envious that they are so passionate about something and can combine their academic pursuits with activism. There is something about forests which really draws me in. It may be that from when I was little, forests have made me feel like part of something bigger than me. Being out in the forest reminds me that I am very insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
Gemma answered a question about how much of an impact the youth have in international negotiations. She spoke about how we underestimate the ability we have to change the text on the negotiation floor and the youth are crucial in talking to delegates. For example, the youth can help resolve miscommunications between delegations which arise from the language barrier.
The third event was "Intergenerational Inquiry on Climate Solutions calls Yvo de Boer, youth and negotiators to testify." Mr. De Boer, the UNFCCC Executive Secretary, spoke very frankly about his thoughts on the negotiations. He proclaimed youth add a "different flavour, at the very least, make it less boring." He reminded us to "keep it up and keep up the pressure." I was so surprised he spoke so openly. It was refreshing, particularly as I am becoming increasingly sceptical about the official delegations and negotiators.
Ruchie, from India, spoke about her story as a young person from India. She ended her speech by saying "Trust your youth, trust your governments" to which Mr. De Boer said "You worried me a little bit at the end. I think you are being a little careless with trust ... and still this process needs to earn my trust." Wow.
We also heard from the Director General of the Latin American Climate Coalition, Mr. Mohamed Asslam who is the Environment Minister of the Maldives and youth from Australia and South Africa. Emily Davies, an Australian youth and my friend from college presented the Youth Declaration of the youth constituency. Later I was speaking to her about it and she said many people in YOUNGO believe this sort of thing is a waste of time because it is words not actions. It would be hard to put so much work into something like that only for people to say you are wasting your time.
There was an interesting aside where it was noted there is a difference between being a meaningful contributor compared to being a parallel actor on their own. Something very pertinent for the youth constituency to consider.
The fourth event was "Intergenerational equity" which discussed the principle of intergenerational equity in the framework of climate change. Tracey Bach, an academic, spoke from a legal perspective; Margrete Auken, a member of the European Parliament, spoke about her life as a politician with the Greens. The president of AIESEC, an international students organisation spoke about youth organisations and Michaela and Don who are the official Dutch Youth Representatives to the UN spoke on their experiences and observations of youth delegates.
Tracey Brach speaks about intergenerational equity from a legal perspective.
This may have been my favourite event of the day which is a big call considering I learnt more in this one day than I did from all the other side events I attended combined. The reason I pick this as one of my favourite events is because of the legal perspective and also something Margrete said. She told us to "go into politics. If you don't, the other corrupt ones will."
UNFCCC Executive Secretary Yvo de Boer with some over zealous, star struck students. (Perhaps me) You know you are surrounded by young climate activists when they choose to mob someone like Mr. de Boer rather than say, a rock star.
After this exhausting and stimulating day, we headed into town for the YOUNGO celebration party.
Caroline Howe, one of the members of the YOUNGO bottomlining team, marks the first year of YOUNGO constituency status at the YOUNGO party.
We heard from different youth groups who performed, chatted amongst ourselves and heard from Mr. De Boer. I met a couple of people from the New Zealand Youth Delegation and hung out with Mina, Ella Bella and Phoebe.
Phoebe, Mina, Ella Bella, me and friends at the YOUNGO party.