Archive for December, 2010

So, the last exam of my senior year Fall semester is tomorrow; that is if the snow holds off.  So, in true university student fashion, I am procrastinating.

Right now there are maybe two inches of snow outside on the ground, and there is maybe a 50° difference between Harrisonburg and Mexico (it was winter in Mexico by the way).  Needless to say I don’t think my body is a fan of this little change.

As I have been sitting in my kitchen studying and listening to Arketek, I’ve also been thinking about the difference between my life at COP 16 and my life here.  While I was at COP 16 my days, nights, and wee hours of the morning were filled with thoughts of how to influence climate change legislation, of how to make sure that the voice of civil society and of youth in particular were heard.  Here I am focused on school, thinking of ways to just get through until the semester ends (and even until graduation).

It’s weird to contrast those two worlds.  These past few days I haven’t been able to shake the feeling that I’m going to have to scan my badge somewhere, or return home to the SustainUS delegates, or see a new friend from a different country.  This feeling has really helped me realize that acting for environmental change is not only something I feel passionate about, but something that I feel called to do.

Taking action to preserve our world, and really our species, is something that cannot be compromised; it is a life-long activity that must be taken on if we want to see a just and sustainable future for ourselves and future generations.  Despite all the wars that are currently being waged, this is the battle of our generation; and one that we must, and can, win.


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Today youth held a banner while counting upwards to 21,00, the number of deaths Oxfam states have occurred in the early months of 2010.   The banner read “Justice Delayed is Justice Denied Bring 1.5° C Back.”  As retaliation the UN kicked out the youth who went over their allotted hour, detained a Reuters photographer, and beat him in the face.  All for trying to remember the 21,000 who have died because climate change has not been stopped.

The process has shut out civil society, and this is what happens.  Not because the process is broken, but because countries are unwilling to put aside politics and economic interests and are unwilling to address this problem with the urgency needed.  Countries do not want to be called out on the fact that because they will not take action people die, which means civil society has to do it–even if we have to push for space.

This action was not about youth participation per se, but about the fact that we have a moral obligation to reach a decision that guarantees climate justice.  In this process I have made friends who live in nations which may not exist if we do nothing and continue business as usual.  There is not time for business as usual.

But there was some good to come out of this conference.  The text had some positive aspects to it.  We are still a long ways off, and we don’t have time to wait much longer, but even if negotiators refuse to make it happen, we will (thanks to my friends from the AYCC for the reminder).

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There has been a lot of discussion in these negotiations about what mitigation targets we should aim for.  Some countries are saying 1°, others are saying 2°, the youth, though, are calling for 1.5°, along with somewhere between 106-112 countries (we are not quite sure as new numbers are coming out from different sources, and no one really has a definitive list).

1.5° C is the most warming we can expect to see and stay safe.  Things won’t be perfect, but right now the road we are one is even worse.  This is not just about the science, it is also about morals.  Oxfam estimates that in the first months of 2010 there have been 21,000 deaths due to climate change.  We cannot allow for more deaths to occur, my brothers and sisters are dying while negotiators debate whether or not we should include 1.5 in the text, or if we should capitulate to countries like Saudi Arabia who demand 2 in the text so that they can continue to make money.

1.5° C is a way to avoid even more deaths, 2° C ensures that the money companies make is essentially blood money, and that needs to be said.

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In these past few days La Via Campesina has been marching here in Cancun. They describe themselves by saying:

We are the international movement of peasants, small- and medium-sized producers, landless, rural women, indigenous people, rural youth and agricultural workers. We defend the values and the basic interests of our members. We are an autonomous, pluralist and multicultural movement, independent of any political, economic, or other type of affiliation. Our 148 members are from 69 countries from Asia, Africa, urope (sic), and the Americas.

A lot of the times these types of protesters are very anti-capitalist and often they have good reason to be so.  Many have been locked out of processes (such as COPs) which directly affect them.  People expect to hear things like F*** the Police or Smash the State.  Today though the police protected to protesters, and a protester was able to get close enough to the gates around the negotiation center to call for a delegate to Come out and join us, we are fighting for climate justice.

While a lot of this process has been frustrating, with rules being changed, and civil society being discouraged from participation, La Via Campesina truly does give me hope that somehow this problem will be solved.

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From an actions point of view this week has already been really frustrating.  The secretariat has been giving us conflicting information and allocating the Mexican police (who are also the army…) a lot of authority that, by all rights, they shouldn’t have.  But that is a post for another day, today I wanted to highlight a really awesome statement that was made in the High Level Plenary by the President of Nauru on behalf of the Small Island Developing States (or SIDS).

The whole of his statement can be found here.

For me, when reading this, there are a couple really powerful points he makes, especially when taken together.  He says:

The gravity of this crisis has escaped us.  It has become lost in a fog of scientific, economic, and technical jargon.  Without bold action, it will be left to our children to come up with the words to convey the tragedy of losing our homelands when it did not have to be this way.

Our priorities are clear.  There is very little room for compromise.  When you ask us to compromise, you are asking us how many islands we will lose.  This is not a choice we are prepared to make.

This is the responsibility that all of us in the room – from the smallest country to the largest – have been entrusted with.  This is on our watch.  We must succeed.

As a person looking into a future that is becoming ever starker with the increasing threat of climate change, the pace at which these conferences are going is disheartening.  While world leaders are debating over brackets and how civil society should participate and what the “safe” upper limit is my brothers and sisters are dying.

We had planned an action which would bring attention to this, a die-in, everyone was excited and there was lots of support for the idea.  The youth had come together in a very strong way – we had engaged in a facilitation process that was accessible to people with many different language backgrounds, we were conscious of power dynamics, a decision had been made and we were feeling really excited.  Then the secretariat called someone.  They were told:

You can do the death action without the dying.  We don’t want to offend delegates by showing them dead people.

Okay, so never mind that the people wouldn’t actually be dead; but we cannot take death out of climate change.  Oxfam estimates that this year there have been over 21,000 climate change related deaths.  In Appalachia little children are getting sick because of our addiction to fossil fuels.  So for me this is not about capacity building and waiting for the right time.  We need climate justice, and we need it now; because if we don’t get it soon, some places won’t have future generations to look back upon these times.

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So, Alex and Carra, your lovely blog authors, are actions people.  Actiony actions people!  So we have sort of neglected updating you all on what is actually going on in the policy world of COP 16.  That is the purpose of this post!  It is sort of long, so please forgive us; but we think it’s really important for you all to know what is going on here beyond the world we are presenting to you.  We aren’t policy people, but here it goes:
While obtaining a binding climate change treaty does not seem to be in the cards for COP-16 in Cancun – based on the need to establish a strong foundation within which to create such a treaty and rebuild trust amongst the negotiating parties after a failure situation at COP-15 in Cancun – there are still a number of important issues being discussed this past week and definitely room for policy progress.

United States Position

The United States continues to have an “all-or-nothing” approach similar to the attitude which they have propagated since they chose not to ratify the Kyoto Protocol at COP-3. Guardian UK explains that the deal the US is pushing for “couples the core issues for the developing world – agreement on climate finance, technology, and deforestation – with U.S. demands for emissions actions from emerging economies and a system of accounting for those cuts.” This position has remained troublesome for advancing negotiations at COP-16, and many feel that besides just calling upon the transparency of climate change mitigation actions by other countries, the United States should be willing to increase the transparency of its own actions and be more open to compromise.

China, who has been positioned by the US as their primary excuse for a lack of action and progress at COPs over the years, has become a leader in clean energy technology, and therefore, “China is in a stronger negotiating position now than they were in Copenhagen because the perception is the U.S. doesn’t have its domestic act together,” said Alden Meyer, head of policy in Washington at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Chinese public believes they are doing a lot more on the ground than the U.S., and they don’t think China should have to make any concessions.” One exciting youth effort to highlight is the collaboration of US and Chinese youth on experience sharing, policy discussion workshops, and combined actions to emphasize the importance of compromise to their respective governments.

Kyoto Protocol

So, to start off, the Kyoto Protocol has proven instrumental in framing discussion around reduction of emissions.  The protocol was signed at COP 3 with the signatures of, currently, 121 countries.  The agreement sets binding targets for 37 industrialized countries and the European Union regarding greenhouse gas emission reductions from 2008-2012.  Because it is legally binding it has been really instrumental in holding countries accountable for their roles in climate change.  However, the Kyoto Protocol has come under serious attack here at COP 16.  Japan stated on the 3rd day of the conference that it would not inscribe targets under the Kyoto Protocol in any case.  The fact that this statement was made creates serious doubt if there can be a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol.  Since Japan made that statement, Kyoto has become a huge rallying cry for civil society here.  The fact that there needs to be a second commitment period, which means a time where countries would reaffirm their commitment to meet specific targets; is very present in the minds of people who are truly concerned for future generations.


Here at COP-16 there is an increasing sentiment that funding for climate change adaptation should balance out with the amount of funding currently allocated for climate change mitigation – adaptation currently receives scarcely 10% of the overall climate finance portfolio. Additionally, allocation of funds to vulnerable countries is a huge issue in that a specific framework for financial distribution has not yet been established.


The program being negotiated at COP-16 to end deforestation is known as REDD (Reduced Emissions from Degradation and Deforestation). A good REDD deal would benefit biodiversity, people, and the climate. A bad deal would allow corporations to use claims of forest protection to hide their refusal to cut their emissions to safe levels. Additionally, there is discussion about focusing on the drivers of deforestation as opposed to the current strategy of just conserving specific areas of forest.

Currently, a rule governing emissions from deforestation is now being negotiated which would allow rich nations to increase logging without accounting for the greenhouse gases that result, in effect hiding emissions increases. This is extremely problematic for preserving the world’s critical forest ecosystems and thus there has been a great deal of activism from youth and environmental groups urging negotiators to remove this loophole in the land use, land use change and forestry (LULUCF) negotiating text.


Discussions around the establishment of a global climate fund are in the works at COP-16, fueled because finance has become a really important issue in all areas of policy discussion.  Many of the proposals cannot work unless funding is actively addressed.  For example, LULUCF (a sector designed to examine land use as it relates to forestry) has many financing loopholes which youth specifically are attempting to highlight in order to bring justice to those affected by LULUCF policies.  It is clear, though, that raising $100 billion or more for funding is entirely possible.  This reality is bringing a lot of hope to financing policy.  The Chair released a text with recommendations in certain key areas.  One area which seems very promising is the section prepared on finance.  The way in which she has prepared this document makes everything very easy to understand and lays a strong foundation to build on.

Article 6

This article addresses climate change education and awareness among youth around the world. This article serves as the main conduit for implementing training and educational programs on climate change. On Friday the article was passed by the Subsidiary Body for Implementation and several sections of the final text were taken directly from YOUNGO submissions. Now all we need is for the full COP to approve it – this is a great victory for youth and the constituency!

Looking forward

After a slow first week in Cancun, government ministers from all over the world began arriving in Mexico this past weekend to inject some urgency into the stagnant climate change talks. The big weekend development came from the host country. Mexico published a draft negotiating text that would require countries to try to prevent global warming of more than 2ºC above pre-industrial levels. While this is a step forward from the weak, non-binding climate change targets set in the Copenhagen Accord at COP-15 (which if enacted would allow for an eventual temperature rise of up to 5-6 degrees Celsius), a temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius will still put many island states under water after the associated amount sea level rise.

Scientists are now stating that 1.5 degrees Celsius is the safety limit that we should be fighting to get in the negotiating text. In fact 110 countries, including many with populations most vulnerable to climate change impacts, have already stated their support for the 1.5 degree Celsius target. This important subject has warranted the YOUNGO international youth constituency to create their official campaign for week 2 around working to get 1.5 degrees Celsius in the negotiating text.


League of Conservation Voters ‘Act Green’ blog: http://www.actgreen.com/, SustainUS blog: http://sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog, TckTckTck blog: http://live.tcktcktck.org/category/all-posts/, Reuters article, “Logging Loophole Under Attack at Cancun Climate Talks:” http://www.reuters.com/article/idUS368348002620101201, Climate Action Network meeting notes, ECO daily publication by the Non-Governmental Environmental Groups.
Note: This is cross-posted on http://carrabeth.wordpress.com, https://andallmannerofthings.wordpress.com, and http://sustainus.org/agents-of-change-blog

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As the first week draws to a close I am taking time to breathe.  So much of this process has required a very fast pace and days full of strategy and meetings.  Even though a lot of times it is easy to be discouraged by the way things seem to be going, I am encouraged every time I look at my wrist and see the words of Julian of Norwhich:

…and all manner of things shall be well…

Even when you’re not sure how.

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