First questions and impressions

I love cities. I love arriving in a new city and discovering its rhythms, its smells, its landscapes, and how people move about within it. Having just arrived in Durban, South Africa, earlier this week, I don’t quite understand the place yet. This is partly because Durban – population 4.5 million – is on the cusp of being temporarily transformed by an influx of some 30,000 people from all over the world. Thousands of politicians, bureaucrats, activists, and civil society will be converging in Durban for COP-17, from November 28th to December 9th.  They’ll be bringing with them different cultural practices, different experiences, different interests, and varying degrees of power and privilege.

It’s no news that the most powerful and privileged countries have shaped the direction of previous COPs. Neither the principles of common but differentiated responsibility or consensus-based decision making have been respected at the UNFCCC in recent years, with countries like Canada refusing to commit to a fair and legally binding international agreement to combat climate change, and the US bullying other nations into signing on to an inadequate treaty.

Do I have hope for the UNFCCC process this time around? Not really. I’m here as a member of the CYD, to help bring the voice of the Canadian youth climate justice movement to COP-17, and to relay back to Canadians how their country is (or is not) performing at these vitally important negotiations. My hope is that by translating the happenings of COP-17 to Canadians, the CYD will help incite more people to engage in climate organizing in their communities, and pressure the current Canadian government to develop and implement an aggressive climate change plan. Still, I’m feeling a bit unsure… was it necessary for us to fly halfway around the world (accumulating a significant carbon footprint, putting our local organizing on hold, and reversing our internal clocks) to be here?

However, that is not to say that I’m not inspired by some of what I’ve been witnessing in Durban so far. On the contrary, I’ve been feeling increasingly motivated to take part in climate justice struggle since my arrival in Durban. I’ve been meeting tons of amazing local organizers and folks who have come from afar to voice their demands on the sidelines of COP-17. These activists are forming broad-based international coalitions and combining their creative forces to protest unjust climate policies and demonstrate alternatives. They are holding their governments accountable and demanding climate action. I feel so fortunate that the CYD is part of this global horizontal network, and that I have the opportunity to work with and learn from all of these folks.

Yet, again, there are challenges… How do I situate myself – along with my power and privilege – in this network? What does it mean for me, and for the CYD, to be here in Durban? These are questions that I will be contemplating throughout the duration of COP-17, and probably for long after.

Although I’m not particularly optimistic about the potential juridical outcomes of COP-17, the social movements uniting around climate justice are a source of profound encouragement. People are fed up. Change is on its way, be it through the UNFCCC or not.

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