In June, I spent two weeks in the German city Bonn attending the annual conference of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, as a delegate for the organisation UK Youth Climate Coalition.
The UNFCCC was founded to encourage and facilitate political action against climate change. Negotiators meet a couple of times a year to discuss how to move forward and to prepare for the big round of negotiations taking place each December. 2015 is a decisive year for the climate since the Convention will be signing a new deal in Paris this December to replace the Kyoto Protocol. The new deal was drafted last year, and the purpose of the Bonn conference was to edit it in preparation for Paris.
The plenary UK youth delegates
Our generation will have to live with the consequences of climate change and the Convention acknowledges the importance of involving youth in decision-making processes, thus invites us to participate at the negotiations as observers. This involves spending many hours sitting in the back of the plenary listening to negotiators repeat the same argument in 192 different accents or passionately discuss whether to include a bracket in a sentence. But more importantly, it gives us direct access to the negotiators and politicians who are writing a document that will have a profound impact on our future. We made the most of this unique opportunity by arranging meetings with negotiators to discuss our concerns and raise ideas, and by planning small events inside the conference, such as a die-in, in order to remind negotiators of the many lives threatened by climate change and urge them to take action. Our lobbying efforts especially evolved around the paragraph on intergenerational equity, which had appeared in the text as a result of successful lobbying by youth.
“Climate inaction kills” Youth briefing with Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres
Needless to say, it is incredibly intimidating discussing climate change and political strategy with someone who has worked in the field since before you were born. In addition, UNFCCC jargon involves an abundance of obscure abbreviations and technical terms, making the process very difficult to comprehend. However, I found that being young provides you with a unique and valuable perspective on the world, and that negotiators and climate experts are eager to share their knowledge and experiences. The negotiations demand a lot of attention to the history of structural injustices between the Global North and Global South, unfortunately it also became painfully obvious that said injustices continue to prevail as the Global South struggles to achieve equal representation. This issue is vital to address and overcome, within as well as beyond the UNFCCC. Finally, and most importantly, I learned that we cannot rely on the politicians alone to solve climate change. Real change requires a strong civil society movement to put pressure on the world-leaders and show them that their current lack of ambition is unacceptable. Moreover, youth needs to take initiative and actively engage in issues related to our future.