Global environmental challenges
U.N. climate talks leave youth out in the cold
There’s plenty of hot air filling the sprawling conference centre that houses the U.N. climate change talks this week and next in Poznan, Poland. But many of the 500 or so youth participants in the conference – who hail from more than 50 countries – feel left out in the political cold.
On Friday morning, six of them created a human installation in the lobby to draw attention to their demand for fair use of the world’s natural resources.
A banner emblazoned with “Equity now: Our future is in the balance” (see photo below) was flanked by two inflatable globes – one crushing an Indian delegate (photo left), representing today’s imbalance in consumption, and the other representing a more just world supported on either side by two young women from India and Sweden.
The installation artists told Reuters they were disappointed they didn’t have greater influence on the negotiations, and suggested their elder country representatives should take a leaf out of their book.
“There has been a real contrast between the youth coming together and putting their national interests aside and the failure of our nations to break the deadlock,” said Paul Ferris, 23, from Australia.
The Dec. 1-12 talks in Poland are reviewing progress at the half-way stage of a two-year push for a new pact to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, which is meant to be agreed by the end of 2009 in Copenhagen.
“We need to break the deadlock before Copenhagen – there is so much to do,” said Leela Raina, 19, from India. “We should have more ambitious goals,” chimed in My Sellberg, 20, from Sweden.
The young people said it was hard for them to get access to their own countries’ negotiators at the talks, but they were trying to corner them at the many events taking place on the sidelines of the conference.
Only the Netherlands, Switzerland and Belgium have given young people formal places on their teams at the talks in Poland.
Later at an “inter-generational inquiry on climate solutions”, the U.N.’s top climate official, Yvo de Boer, cited a several-nation study that revealed 90 percent of young people wanted their politicians to take decisive action on global warming. But he said the youth voice was not being heard in climate negotiations.
“I think a lot can and should and must be done on the road to Copenhagen to ensure that voice is heard,” he said.
He urged governments to honour a promise to include youth in their teams, and young people to take every opportunity to speak out about their concerns and interests, including through the statement they are allowed to make in the high-level session for ministers.
Not being allocated an office or room of their own (except for one hour each day!) means most youth delegates have been forced to commandeer cafes and other public spaces for their meetings.
But Ruchi Jain, 22, from India took heart from a meeting between her country’s young representatives and de Boer, who had given them lots of encouragement and told them to do something “spectacular” (they’re still working on it).
Asked about their personal experiences of climate change, Jain mentioned floods and this year’s exceptionally cold winter in Mumbai. Australia’s Ferris said his father had been forced to abandon farming for teaching because of the severe droughts that have hit the major wheat-producing country in recent years.
The installation artists said that was why it was so critical to keep up pressure at the U.N. climate talks, to make sure the world was a better place for its future — them.
Anna Keenan of the Australian Youth Climate Coalition stressed that while governments argued, young conference participants were all agreed that rich nations needed to make deep emissions cuts. “All we need now is for our political leaders to…make the plans that we are already ready, willing and prepared to implement,” she said.
But there were signs patience was wearing thin. “If things don’t change over the next week, we’ll be more disheartened and frustrated and we’ll scale up our activities!” warned Ferris.