Highlights from COP20: Young People

Malcolm J | December 7, 2014.

The opening week of the UN climate change negotiations saw young people making their voices heard during Young and Future Generations Day at COP20. Despite the many challenges in influencing negotiators, this dynamic group continues to influence the guiding documents by standing out and maintaining unceasing ambition. With few formal outlets for communication and advocacy, actions—often creative and disruptive stunts—are the most effective tools for young people are as they draw both media and public attention.

This last week has seen a number of actions and social media campaigns, such as the development of social media hashtags for campaigns, has drawn the attention of media and negotiators alike. Ensuring that actions follow UN security guidelines is both essential and challenging, as any dissidence can result in removal from the UN premises.

Some of the highlights include:

1) Visualising intergenerational equity consisted of young people with tape over their mouths holding signs reading “Born in 20XX, don’t discount my future.” By demanding use of a zero per cent discount rate and the removal of all fossil fuels by 2050 YOUNGO—the youth constituency within the process—members and intergenerational equity advocates demonstrated a commitment to justice for future generations. The action drew added attention when young people took off their tape and pointed at passers by, asking them not to discount their future.

2) Passing the #ClimateTest requires an energy project or policy decision to enable a just transition to a liveable future. US Climate Plan, Sierra Student Coalition, and SustainUS preformed a teach-in, asking the audience to decide whether the projects pass or fail the test. The action was closed with a hopeful statement that we have the technology to power the world with clean energy, just not the political will. The action aimed to encourage negotiators that the time is now.

3) The UNFCCC hosted a side event called the intergenerational inquiry that provided a platform for young people to communicate their desires to the likes of Rene Orellana (chair of the G77+China group), Mariano Castro (Peruvian vice-minister of environment), and other negotiators. Performing a song titled ‘hombre de papel,’ or man of paper, took the form of an action by calling for negotiators to reach an agreement we can be proud of, and a future in which we can all live and share, were life is respected and prioritised.

4) Stop funding dirty energy was the demand of Earth in Brackets. Their delegation along with other young people made this message clear by holding signs in half a dozen languages and chanting calls for the end of our reliance on fossil fuels. The current suffering of people due to climate change is a direct result of continued emissions from dirty energy and countries must begin phasing out their reliance on fossil fuels, before it is too late.

5) Highlighting the extraordinary effort, dedication, and achievements of young people engaged in the climate change movement worldwide is the goal of the Climate Selfie Project. Breaking down the stereotypes of millennials as self-centred, this action is taking place during both weeks by showcasing a myriad of young people worldwide. By visiting the website and using the hashtag #ClimateSelfie anyone around the globe can participate, communicating their own messages to the COP.

Hope, passion, vision, and most importantly action were repeated time and time again by young people throughout the conference. It is no surprise that executive secretary of the UNFCCC Christiana Figueres echoed these themes in a discussion with young people that took place crossed legged and on the floor: “Young people are creative and have the ability to make a difference.”

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