Youth delegates have no time for skepticism at Copenhagen
I arrived in Copenhagen, usually a pretty, peaceful Danish city on Thursday. As the Copenhagen Climate Conference has approached – starting tomorrow morning – a tension has been building in the air. It feels like the calm before a storm, when the wind begins to whip up and you can just feel something coming in the air. Walking around the city there are accents from across the world, posters displaying climate change events, protests and technologies, and groups of people closely discussing and speculating.
Over the weekend I have been participating in the 3rd Annual Conference of Youth attended by approximately 1000 youth from over 150 countries.
The youth movement has been growing exponentially over the last few years – in Australia the Australian Youth Climate Coalition has grown ten fold from 5000 to 50,000 in one year – and this is beginning to represented at the United Nations with a large youth presence at these negotiations.
Young people will work together to present a united youth voice through visual stunts, speeches to the UN plenary, meetings with prominent delegates and through the global media.
Unlike the formal UN process, youth delegates have quite easily found common ground around moral principles – fairness and responsibility. They argue that older generations of decision makers should leave the planet habitable for younger generations. They argue that a solution to the climate crisis must ensure the survival of all countries and peoples. They start at the end point – the outcome of climate policy – and then debate the means to achieve it.
This is an important distinction to bulk of global discussions which are focused upon the economic and political realities of our immediate situation. It represents a generational difference in priorities - politicians governing for today and tomorrow and young people highlighting climate change a problem that will effect them for their entire lives. Most young people at the conference would expect to live well into the second half of the century and experience a very different world if climate change is not adequately addressed.
It highlights the importance over the coming two weeks of evaluating the results of the UN process by the outcome that it will achieve. Will the outcome safeguard the future prosperity of young Australians? Australia’s treasured places like the Barrier Reef? Our key industries like agriculture and tourism? And the future well being of our Pacific neighbours?
As the weekend draws to a close and the new week dawns on one of the most significant global meetings since World War II, I feel a sense of optimism and hope. It comes partly from spending a weekend with so many passionate young people from across the world and partly from the potential of a gathering like Copenhagen. Over 90 world leaders in the same place, concrete commitments from key countries, and an unprecedented global public interest can create the conditions to push the global negotiations to the next step. Copenhagen is an opportunity for leaders to prove they deserve their title by providing bold, transformative solutions which ensure that young people the world over have a future.
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