News from the Inside: A New Youth Delegate’s First Two Days at the UN Climate Change Negotiations

Maggie Knight

My first two days at COP have flown by, yet not quite in the way I’d expected. Firstly, there have only been four members of the Canadian Youth Delegation inside the COP these past two days, due to logistical glitches with our accreditation (a few of us are lucky enough to have accreditation through a separate organization for the first week). Consequently, we’ve been running around trying to do as much as possible, aware of all our frustrated teammates waiting back at the hostel. Fortunately, we heard this afternoon that we will finally get our accreditation tomorrow morning, which is making our mood inside considerably better!

One of the most exciting things about being a young person at COP is the degree of access you have to some of the key decision-makers and prominent environmentalists—from grabbing Bill McKibben for an interview at the Conference of Youth, to casual conversations at the CYD’s booth about REDD+ with the Indigenous Environmental Network’s Executive Director Tom Goldtooth and about connecting with Ghanaian youth with a member of Ghana’s official delegation, to being able to ask Canada’s lead negotiator questions at his daily briefings. It’s been incredibly frustrating to know that so much of the CYD is shut outside and to feel as though we can’t possibly take advantage of all the opportunities that come our way.

Frustrating logistics made for a bit of a sticky start to the negotiations. Fortunately, Monday’s problems with the bus (a 20 minute ride that took two hours yesterday—due to the Mexican President’s motorcade, if you believe the rumours) seem to have been fixed. However, significant problems with the internet continue to plague both the conference locations I’ve been to (Cancun Messe and Moon Palace), to the great frustration of many. It’s gotten a little better since Monday, but it’s still intermittent (usually cutting out right when you’re trying to send something important…).

Once we arrive in Cancun Messe, we grab a daily agenda and the Eco (a newsletter put out by the NGOs) and head to our booth. The first item on the morning agenda is the daily YOUNGO (Youth Non-Governmental Organizations) meeting, where youth from around the world gather for updates on our various working groups and opportunities for youth at COP, followed by the Climate Action Network Canada’s strategy meeting, where NGO representatives share what they’ve gleaned about negotiations, talk strategy, and consider putting forward a nomination for a Fossil of the Day. Later in the day, a couple of us head to the Climate Action Network International meeting, which brings together NGOs from around the world and is the easiest way for a newbie like me to get all the updates on what’s actually going on with the negotiations (so far, not much beyond procedure, except that Japan has come out with a hard line against taking any targets as part of a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol).

This year there are added complications in trying to get to everything because of having to go back and forth between the Cancun Messe, where the various booths and pavilions are hosted, and the Moon Palace, where the actual negotiations occur. Since negotiators have to come first to the Cancun Messe in order to get the UN shuttle to the Moon Palace, we’re at least able to interact with some of them early in the morning as they walk by our booth. On Monday, we didn’t make it to Moon Palace until the evening of the first day since we got caught up in accepting Fossil of the Day awards (all three of them!). (You can see coverage of the Fossil awards ceremony here.)

Last night we attended the first briefing with the Canadian Delegation (which I’ll be blogging about later today) and started to get a sense of the Canadian government’s stance here (crude summary: Copenhagen Accord good, Kyoto Protocol not so much). The briefings are for all of civil society, which made for an interesting mix of NGO and oil company questions.

In between meetings, we talk to people who come by the Canadian Youth Delegation booth, do media interviews (which is challenging given the lack of good cell reception and quiet spaces to take international calls), check out side events, update our social media, and try to stay on top of all the emails we’re getting about everything going on! Other members of the team, especially the policy team once they (hopefully) get their accreditation sorted out, will be busy tracking the progress of the negotiations themselves, so that’s something I’m hoping to try my hand at sometime in the next couple of days!

I hope this helps to give a sense of what our days look like at the moment—stay tuned for my next blog about what’s actually going on at the negotiations! In the meantime, if you didn’t get any of the climate policy stuff I mentioned above, you can check out the Canadian Youth Delegation’s policy statement, which gives a good overview!

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