An Obstacle to Youth Participation at COP-16

Dear all,
Let me start off by just highlighting once again how privileged I feel for being able to come to the COP-16 climate change negotiations and how amazing of a learning and movement-building experience it has been for me. I believe that up until this point, my past blog entries have highlighted this genuine sentiment, and thus I feel comfortable sharing an unfortunate reality that has begun to permeate the youth voice here in Cancun over the past several days.

I would like to re-state the international youth status as an official constituency at the UNFCCC Conferences of Parties. This position was enacted to ascertain the youth presence and participation in these negotiations and has thus been a critical accomplishment for the youth climate movement. The primary avenues set up for such participation include youth interventions in plenary negotiating sessions and secretariat-approved direct action demonstrations (what many of you have probably noticed that I have been focusing a lot of me time and effort on). Ever since the youth became an official constituency at these conferences, these two methods of making our voices heard have been prevalent – now I fear that the latter venue is being slowly but surely revoked.

A lesson which has been repeatedly instilled in me during my time at COP-16 is that both formal platform statements and informal direct actions are both critically important in getting the youth voice out there; equally important is the fact that there are different youth whose skill sets and opinions as to how to effectively create change and that both strategies are needed to create an all encompassing youth movement to fight climate change. Speaking as someone who is highly involved in the youth demonstrations here at COP, I would just like to quickly explain what I feel to be the importance of these demonstrations (also known here at COP as “actions”).
The youth are known here at the UN for being able to admit the harsh realities of our climate crisis and speak out about them in a way that many negotiating parties do not feel able to. Additionally, youth provide a moral voice at these negotiations and carry an important weight in that the impacts of what comes out of the COPs will directly affect us the most, as the youngest generation to be dealing with climate change. These are critical factors which must be shown visually and with strength in order to be considered by negotiators; some of the most effective and visual ways of pulling on their moral heartstrings have been through actions.

I explain all of this as a pre-cursor to telling you that through security measures more stringent than at any previous COP, the youth voice has been stifled a great deal here in Cancun. This has been seen in a few different ways including the great distance between the NGO/Side events building, Cancunmesse, and the primary negotiating building, Moon Palace as well as the extremely limiting number and size of spaces within which youth are permitted to perform approved actions. These two factors presented substantial challenges to those of us working on planning and carrying out actions, especially during the first week. However no challenges have been so great than what has gone on during this second week of negotiating at COP-16.

Over the last several days, the YOUNGO actions working group planned a unified youth campaigns and a number of actions, including a die-in highlighting climate related deaths over the past year and a flag line-up commending countries who support no more than a 1.5 degree C global temperature rise and getting it into the negotiating text. Each of these actions were specifically designed to fit the secretariat approval guidelines and submitted to the UN earlier than the necessary deadline. Not only were each of these actions denied approval, but each was changed and then finally disapproved at the very last minute, meaning that the 30 or 40 of us working on preparing these actions were getting new and conflicting information on an hourly basis. Simultaneously their disapproval was supported by ridiculous explanations including that we could not do anything to disrupt the goings on outside of the conference center or draw attention to ourselves and that we couldn’t do anything which might upset negotiators or incorporate negative imagery.

Not only has this caused us actions-focused youth to feel disempowered and frustrated, but for many of us this is a sign that Mexican Security, and thus the UNFCCC (who has the power to challenge and speak out against Mexican Security’s recommendations), is consciously trying to limit youth participation in this manner. It is heart-wrenching to spend so much energy on preparing an action that a group of youth from all over the world believe whole-heartedly in, only to have it completely shut down. With only one and a half full days left in the negotiations, I feel troubled and disappointed that much of the voice that we have been trying to share as youth in this process has been silenced.

With that being said, myself and other youth are trying our hardest to stay positive and continue to work our hardest to get the youth platform out there until the last possible moment. While it is tempting to want to disengage from the UNFCCC process, we are continuing to do our best to work within the system and mobilize what abilities we do have to make an impact and get our voices heard. As a start, we have one approved action coming up this afternoon and potentially two more scheduled for tomorrow. I am excited to go out with a bang and look forward to sharing photos and commentary from the last few days at these negotiations.

Thanks so much for taking the time to share this experience with me and become more aware of some of the less spoken about realities of COP-16. As always I can be reached at with any thoughts or questions.


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