This is going to be fun. And frustrating. And exciting. And exhausting.

Marie-Marguerite Sabongui

A couple of Université de Sherbrooke grad students, who are researching the role of youth at climate negotiations, interviewed me today about my involvement. I’ve been thinking about this for a while in preparation for my work with the CYD, and so here are some thoughts.

On the bus ride back from the Conference of Youth (COY) last night, a husky Mexican man busted out his guitar and led us in a shouty sing-a-long of Wonderwall, La Bamba and Twist and Shout. I loved this. I was embarrassed to love this in front of the 2 locals with the misfortune of getting on the bus full of bright-eyed international youth. But I loved it anyway. Being at COY feels like a throwback to high school leadership conferences. There is so much focused, enthusiastic energy here it’s hard not to get excited.

The difference with the leadership conferences, though, is that the youth here have a very specific purpose. They want to affect real policy decisions. They are intimidatingly informed, intelligent, and driven. COY is a four-day assembly of international youth-based NGOs (YOUNGOs) that takes place the weekend before the climate change negotiations. All kinds of young policy geeks and activists use this time to develop collaborative strategy to try and sway negotiation outcomes. If leadership conferences were the training ground, this is the war room.

The work of these youth and the sheer number of them is heartening (there are hundreds – from all over). But it’s easy to get disheartened too. We discovered this morning that the UNFCCC secretariat doesn’t have the Canadian Youth Delegation accreditations. This means that we might not get into the meeting we’re here to attend. Alberta is sending its own delegation to counter our efforts and defend the tar sands. There’s a lot of work to do, and it’s work with very uncertain returns.

Yesterday, I worked with a Sri-Lankan, an Indian, an Australian, and some other Canadian Youth Delegates to draft a speech that will be presented at an opening plenary, demanding that countries set aggressive greenhouse gas mitigation targets and develop plans to meet those targets. Today, I sat in on a meeting with Bolivian negotiators and international youth to talk about how to protect forests equitably, and how to present those asks at the conference. The negotiations haven’t started yet and I’m sleep deprived. But how much of this talking, planning, and lobbying contributes to concrete changes?

I’m not sure. So what are we doing here, and why haven´t we given up? Vincent, one of the U de S students, said that being at COY was refreshing. There was more hope here than at the Climate Action Network (the international collective of environmental NGOs) strategy meeting taking place next door. Daniella, the other, asked me what I think the real YOUNGO mandate is. I think we’re here to demonstrate to negotiators and people back home that an overwhelming number of young people have actually engaged with the complex geopolitical issues at stake. We have made clear decisions about the future we want, and have made a lasting commitment to seeing them through.

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