Walking past security into the United Nations Climate Conference in Copenhagen on the morning of the 4th day, I see a sea of of bright orange t-shirts. As I am handed one to wear by a youth delegate from Africa, I recognise the slogan on front: “How Old will you Be in 2050?” It’s one of the messages used by the international youth here to highlight the fact that the decisions made in these negotiations will affect our generation long after these negotiators have retired.
Today is young and future generations day at the negotiations. The thousands of youth here are busy organising media, actions, and co-ordinated lobbying on every aspect of the climate treaty. This morning I met with Minister Penny Wong, along with other Australian environment and social justice groups. She too had seen the T-shirts; and agreed to meet with our team of 30 Australian youth and 11 young Pacific islanders.
One the first day of the negotiations, 17 year old Christina Ora from the Solomon Islands stood up in the plenary on the first day here and reminded negotiators, “For my entire life, world leaders have been negotiating a climate agreement. They cannot tell me they need more time. There is no more time. I hope world leaders realise this week that my generation’s future is in the palm of their hands.” It’s warm inside the conference centre, compared to the city outside and our 1000-bed youth hostel, which we’ve been affectionately referring to as “Coldenhagen”, but it’s moments like these that gives me chills.
It’s a surreal experience being here; it’s the biggest global negotiation the world has ever seen, with over 45,000 accredited delegates. Our team is made up of 30 young Australians and 11 Pacific Islanders, who we’ve divided into teams: actions, media, video, online, lobbying, policy, logistics and welfare. We’re working with other youth climate coalitions from around the world – the Indian Youth Climate Network, Chinese youth, Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the African Youth Initiative on Climate, and many more.
A few hours ago, President Obama received the Nobel Peace Prize. American youth have printed stickers saying “Obama: Win it in Oslo. Earn it at COP 15: Real Deal Now”. What happens here will certainly depend a lot on US domestic politics. Obama’s African links have given some civil society groups hope that he will be more sympathetic to the plight of the most vulnerable countries on climate change. Indeed, if he doesn’t show the leadership that these negotiations so desperately need from the US, how will he tell his daughters that their cousins weren’t worth saving?
Already, there have been several controversies – a leaked copy of some negotiating text, a walk-out by one of the small island states yesterday over a process issue – but the hope is that all nations can keep their eyes on the overall vision of getting a deal that is ambitious (strong targets based on science), fair (enough funding to assist developing countries) and legally binding.
There have been some positive signals so far – new targets and plans to reduce emissions have been placed on the table by Russia, Brazil, China and India. Pressure is now on European and other industrialised countries like Australia to commit to stronger targets, and make them public earlier on in the negotiations to build momentum and trust. Australia’s target is 5-15% carbon cuts by 2020, with the option of going to 25% in the context of a strong global agreement. So far the conditions for the 15% cut have been met at these negotiations – but science shows us that we still need to do much more.
We need more than a photo opportunity in Copenhagen. Four previous Nobel Prize Winners – Archibishop Desmond Tutu, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, and Al Gore – have all endorsed a global deal based on 350 parts per million of carbon in the atmosphere. Many people will say that a strong deal like this is politically impossible – but the message today, on youth and future generations day, is clear: we must achieve what some call impossible, to avoid the unimaginable. It’s our future in the balance.