The COP-16 United Nations Climate Change Negotiations came to a close yesterday, meaning the signing of the Cancun Agreements, the completion of a grand finale youth action and my own return to chilly Boston, MA. It feels impossible to imagine that two bustling weeks have gone by encompassing a great deal of international negotiating and international capacity building – depending on your position within the negotiations.
As a youth member of civil society at COP-16 a great deal of what I gained from the experience was the opportunity to work so closely with incredibly inspiring youth from around the globe – all of whom were united around trying to save our planet from climate crises. With each youth that I met, I was almost immediately overcome by an inexplicable bond that we shared, purely from a joint passion and sense of dedication without avail. This is a feeling that I can honestly say I have rarely experienced, and never to such a magnitude. An magnificent sense of empowerment has swelled up within me over the past two weeks, and upon my return to the United States, has stayed a constant feeling within my chest, reviving each and every time I think about climate change or youth mobilization (topics which now fill my mind on a regular basis).
This sense of unity and collaboration amongst persons from nations across the world manifested itself amongst the party delegates and negotiators in interesting ways. On the one hand, the COP-16 negotiations have been commended by many as noticeably more transparent and inclusive of all countries, especially when it comes to actually writing and developing the texts to be negotiated. This sense of inclusion, especially of global south countries (which include least developed and some developing countries) has been an issue of contention throughout the years of COPs and especially at COP-15 in Copenhagen. This push for transparency came largely from the Mexican government and UN secretariat Christiana Figueres; as an example of this, a three minute long standing ovation occurred during the final official plenary negotiating session praising the Ms. Figueres’ efforts in this vein during COP-16.
However, the Cancun Agreements which came out of COP-16 and were signed by all nations except Bolivia (who called them too lax), reflect substantially less progression around creating an equitable, zero-emissions future for our planet. Positive settlements agreed upon in this document include a formal recognition of the need to increase emission reductions from deforestation, a promotion of low-carbon technology transfer to global south countries and the establishment of a $100 billion green fund to assist global south countries in mitigating and adapting to climate change. However on the less promising side, the document also incorporated the strengthening of weak emissions reduction targets set by nations at COP-15 (which if not improved are expected to result in a global temperature rise of 3.2 degrees C), steps to formalize the REDD (Reducing Emissions through Deforestation and Degradation) program – strongly opposed by the majority of indigenous and forest communities as well as youth and environmental organizations, and a statement for the world to strive towards capping global temperature rise at 2 degrees C (to give a frame of reference, scientists state that any temperature increase above 1.5 degrees C will result in massively catastrophic climate change impacts around the globe).
Having observed the highly bureaucratic COP-16 negotiating process, the decreasing emphasis on encouraging participation by civil society constituencies, and the somewhat lackluster Cancun agreements which have left behind the necessary urgency for strong climate action, it is clear to me that we have a long way to go before the battle against climate change can be seen as efficient and effective. The key messages which I have taken away from this experience are the need for strong climate legislation in the United States in order to improve our country’s involvement in the COP process, the importance of climate action led by non-governmental organizations outside of the United Nations process, and the promise of the international youth movement in promoting unified progress on climate change.
And at that I will sign off. I want to thank each and every person who has taken the time to read my blog and follow the extremely interesting and important events at COP-16. It is my hope that my thoughts and experiences have helped you to gain some valuable insight into this negotiating process. As always, I cannot stress enough how willing and interested I am in speaking with anyone further about COP-16 and my experience there; Feel free to email me at any point at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until COP-17 in Durban, South Africa – I bid you farewell!
For the forests, climate, and youth movement,