Freezing in Copenhagen and Trying to Warm Up

By Aditi Kapoor, Womens Feature Service

The young never lost an opportunity. Especially when it came to making their voices heard. They were sighted everywhere at the Copenhagen global climate conference. “This is probably the largest youth contingent ever at a COP (Conference of Parties),” remarked Md. Jahedul Huq, a young enthusiastic policy advocate from Bangladesh. “The number of youth participants has been increasing at every COP but here, at the 15th COP, 60 per cent of the non-official delegates must be youth!” The actual proportion of youth representatives may have been less than Huq’s claim but there can be no denying that the overwhelming feeling at the Danish capital was that this is obviously a moment to be seized by the young.

While the senior lot, mostly over 50 years of age, were engrossed in negotiating the climate text, nay texts, word by word, line by line, the young found spaces to share their concerns, promote climate-friendly ways of living as ‘climate solutions’ and even analyse the high-level climate negotiations in order to respond with creative campaign tactics. There were youth climate ‘ambassadors’, youth ‘climate champions’ and even youth policy trackers wearing red ‘adopt a negotiator’ T-shirts. Then there were students who came as part of their climate-related courses in universities across the world.

Not surprisingly, the youth have had their say even on the formal negotiating table. On the third day of the talks, Amira Karim, an ‘ECO Ambassador’ from the Singapore-based Environmental Challenge Organisation, a not-for-profit environmental social enterprise, presented a serious appeal to the plenary negotiation session chaired by Connie Hedegaared, Danish Minister for Climate and Energy and President of this Conference. Karim’s appeal was to allow ‘your peers (to) influence their own futures’ by upholding the principles of inclusion and equality that lie at the core of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC). She was not very diplomatic. In fact, she baldly told the negotiating teams from 192 countries, “This imposition without discussion is tantamount to carbon colonialism – a profoundly destructive development that the youth are compelled to condemn.”

Karim was clear that the youth wanted the agreed Kyoto Protocol to be upheld. Her voice, clear and unwavering, rose above the formally attired throng of government delegates. Said Karim, “We face an unprecedented challenge that calls for unity and responsibility. It is not enough to say, ‘yes we can’ but rather ‘yes we can, yes we must, yes we will’.”

The generation that has to live with the decisions being made here, by negotiators who have lived most of their life span, was not particular about showing patience. Young Alina Pokhrel from Nepal, was the first to raise her hand when Indian Minister for Environment and Forests, Jairam Ramesh invited questions from the floor at a meeting with the South Asian media and NGOs. She wanted to present the minister a letter on behalf of South Asian youth questioning the minister’s stance that global warming was not necessarily affecting the Himalayan glaciers. Her letter said that the South Asian gathering had identified the Himalayas as a climate hotspot where changes would affect people from the mountains to the coasts. Consequently, the minister was forced to set aside other discussion points and explain India’s approach to global warming and the Himalayan eco-system.

The young are well aware of the climate-related problems in their homelands and are ambitious to find solutions. Khadidiatou Diop, a youth climate ambassador from Dakar, Senegal, was featured in ‘The COP15 Post’, a newspaper brought out by a local daily. Said she, “Coastal erosion and flooding is a big problem in Senegal. During the summer, there’s drought and tree burning and people are forced to flee their homes. If I could, I would talk with USA. They can help solve the problem.”

Juliana Russar was in Copenhagen as part of the ‘adopt a negotiator’ project of the Global Campaign for Climate Action. She has been to some of the earlier climate conferences and has been following the climate debate in her country and internationally. “I do believe that every single citizen on this planet has the right to know what the world’s political leaders (people that are just like the rest of us) are negotiating in our name and how they are doing it,” she said.

Leila Raina, a young college student from Delhi University, was there to track the Indian negotiators and was thrilled about her proximity to them. For Raina, this was as much about learning about the climate issue as it was about sharing her learnings and perspectives with the outside world. She saw this as leading her towards a future career in policy advocacy, once she was done with her studies.

Representing 13 countries and speaking nine different languages, the youngsters tracking their negotiators found out how decisions that affect people’s lives are really made.

On the fourth day into the negotiations, young people got together to make a real noise at the Conference centre. Youth from every continent stomped their feet and clicked their fingers to imitate a violent storm since storms are predicted to become more frequent and more intense with climate change. The noise disrupted the formal negotiations for a while. Said Subhashni Raj from Fiji islands, “I am here to say that I will not die quietly.” These words were written on a huge orange banner during that stormy rally, the largest youth action there at the Conference.

In the run up to Copenhagen, almost every country and every international NGO had some engagement with the youth and had helped many of them to be present here. Blogs, Facebook, Twitter and other virtual social networking sites were full of youthful voices from the Danish capital. As Khadidiatou Diop put it, “Here in Copenhagen we’ve met a lot of young people from different countries and they speak a different language. But we have a similar viewpoint on climate change.”

Of course, besides the serious stuff, the youngsters had fun on their agenda as well. At the ritual ‘NGO party’ on Saturday night, the packed two halls and two bars definitely had many more youthful faces than older ones. And, needless to say, the action only ended in the wee hours of the morning.

But not forgetting their goal, Ruchi Jain, who has dropped a year after doing her under-graduation from Mumbai, reiterated, “We want to be seen here by the negotiators because we stand for the generation for which the decision will be made.”

The writing on the wall is clear. Whatever the negotiators say, the young people of the world have made up their minds: They want real, measurable action on climate change. And that will be the message they will take with them when they head for the Mexico City summit late next year.

So leaders and negotiators should know that they will continue to be put under the scanner in the future, just as they were at Copenhagen.

Womens Feature Service covers developmental, political, social and economic issues in India and around the globe. To get these articles for your publication, contact WFS at the website.