Bonn 2012: What is the role of youth in the climate negotiations?

By Tierney Smith
RTCC in Bonn

Young people have a huge stake in global climate negotiations.

They account for 50% of the population, are most likely to feel the effects of climate change, and are also one of the groups who have done the least to impact the climate.

But getting their voices heard over the 194 nations at the talks is no easy task.

YOUNGO aim to use interventions, actions and communication with all the youth back in their home countries to make sure their voices are heard at the negotiations (© Young FoEE/Flickr)

The Bonn talks were only my second time at a climate conference – the first was Durban last year.

And it is easy to understand how shouting to get your voice heard over the bickering countries and parties can seem like a futile task.

UN conferences are full of well-seasoned high-level delegates in sharp suits and brandishing the latest i-pad.

Acronyms like AWP_KP, SBI, JISc and BAP drip off the tongue. The terms and definitions used can be confusing for those with years of experience in the field – all contributing to what appears to be a daunting process.

But there are growing numbers of young people – armed with the knowledge and the enthusiasm to tackle climate change – who are determined to get their voices heard.

They’ve achieved this through speeches in the main plenary, tweeting, blogging – and some remarkable stunts I outline below.

Backing from the top

For UNFCCC Chief Christiana Figueres – the presence of youth is vital

She told RTCC that now is the time for young people to be stepping up.

“Clearly this is not about my generation, this is about the next generation,” she said. “Because the effect of whatever is decided her will impact the next generation more than my generation.”

“Hence by definition who really have the opportunity and the moral responsibility to really step up to the plate so that we can actually hand the baton over to them?”

Holding governments to account

Their presence is vital in not only putting pressure on their own country’s delegations but also in breaking down the complex language and issues being considered by the UN into bite-sized chunks people back at home can understand.

For many it is their first time at the conference such as this – and the learning curve is huge – but they believe they bring a new and exciting dimension to the talks.

“I think we can bring a lot in terms of communicating the issues,” said Louisa Casson, from the UK Youth Climate Coalition. “We don’t come with this knowledge which has been going around for twenty years – that’s been our whole lifetimes – so we come with new perspectives, new ways of looking at things and of taking the world.”

“A really important part of the negotiations is that it brings light to the topic and starts to get people talking about climate change all across the world,” added Camilla Born, also from the coalition. “I think we also bring an accountability. An aware to the negotiations: we are listening, we are here.”

RTCC Video: Louisa Casson and Camilla Born from the UKYCC talk to RTCC about what they hope to achieve at the conference…

It would be difficult for a delegation to ignore the youth presence at these conferences. Between trailing their own countries or group and relaying their position to the world via blogs and social media, the YOUNGOs (Youth NGOs) go out of their way to make themselves visible.

Last week alone the young people presented organised actions including a wedding ceremony between science and politics and a symbolic tug of war amongst the people pushing to a clean future and the “industry lobbyists”.

And taking their experiences from the conference home, it is a movement which is quickly spreading and building momentum across the globe. I spoke to Kyle Gracey from US Youth Group SustainUS about work being done in America.

He believes young people involved in the process bring a optimistic approach to the challenge which could sometimes be missed by the older generations.

“Young people have spent the last decade or more really building up their own movement to stop climate change,” he said. “And they are doing that at the very very local level in their backyards and in their own communities and we are doing it all the way across the international negotiations.

“Young people are active throughout this whole process and they are very very united, that we can stop climate change, that we can have a more sustainable future and that we can make this process better.”

RTCC Video: Kyle Gracey from SustainUS says the power of the youth is being viewed around the world and that the US is a great examples of a strong movement…

Educating and empowering

While a very mobilised and committed youth presence is obvious at these negotiations, for many of the young people sat at home, it is very easy to both feel overwhelmed and powerless by the challenge.

One thing the young people involved with the process aim to do – although they admit it is difficult within the whirlwind of the negotiations process – is to describe their experience to friends back at home.

“I think there are a lot of people worrying about these issues, and thinking about them but not really knowing what to do with their worries and their knowledge,” explained Olivia Andersson from Power Shift Sweden.

“What I would like to do is to bring back and show people that it’s a possibility and an opportunity to go here and to learn a lot in another way than just from the media.”

RTCC Video: Olivia Andersson tells RTCC she hopes to empower more people back home to get involved in the process…

The force of demand

And action does not have to be limited to the climate negotiations. There are many other things young people can do around the world – particularly in the industrialised countries – to push for change in their local areas.

For Christiana Figueres the power of the youth comes from the tools they have to hand, which generations before them did not. She hopes to see even more action moving forward.

“This is the generation that has at its hand a tool that my generation didn’t have,” she said. “A communication tool, with all of the social media that this generation has, to communicate with each other across the world in second. And that is a tool which is still not being used by youth to raise awareness among that generation of what they could do.

“That generation is the one that is buying all of the gadgets. Are they actually looking at the carbon footprint? Are they demanding low carbon products? Are they changing the consumer patterns, in particular in the industrialised countries, are they raising the awareness of all of the technologies that exist that are still not on the market that could be on the market.

“That is a generation that really represents the force of demand. And that demand should be low carbon and high resilience.”

Are you looking to get involved in the climate change youth movement? Why not find your local/national group and get in touch with RTCC and let us know what you are doing.

Keep up-to-date with those tweeting from the UNFCCC Climate Talks this week @LouisaCasson, @Camillaborn, @duycks, @facyelgen, @pritiriyer, @kaisaksen, @herescrod, @callmemarvin, @ukyccdelegation, @adoptnegotiator.

More from RTCC in Bonn:

Marrying science and politics at the Bonn Climate Talks.

The Durban Platform negotiations – a long way to go.

UNFCCC Equity workshop ends in old divides.

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