Reflecting on COP 17

Everything has gone eerily quiet in the Durban Exhibition Center. What was once a beehive of networking, blogging and greenwashing is now an expanse of empty cubicles. In the International Conference Centre the negotiations have dragged into overtime, well exceeding the Friday night closing date, and plodding onwards toward Saturday night or even Sunday morning. The conference broke for a long intermission last night but is slowly resuming now. Many of the meetings are behind closed doors, and the stunned looks on many of the people wandering the halls reflects the confusion about what is going on.The twelve members of the CYD still with accreditation stayed on until late Friday night, waiting until the rumours of the negotiations being suspended were confirmed. We sat cramped together in a small office, cracking puns and reminiscing over the outcome of the negotiations and trying to decide where the movement should go next.My emotions have rocketed up and down for the last two weeks, like the value of the Dow Jones during a volatile week on Wall Street. There were times of intense sadness, like when negotiators started talking about postponing a new climate change deal until 2015 or even 2020. There were flashes of anger, like when I got into a confrontation with Canada’s deputy minister of the Environment after I asked Canada’s lead climate negotiator to look me in the eye and tell me he was negotiating in good faith on behalf of my generation. There were also moments of powerful pride, like when I watched the six members of the CYD stand up in plenary, turning their backs to Peter Kent as he addressed the conference.

One of the most moving experiences of the conference happened late last night, when I Daniel and I skyped in to speak to 300 students during a school environmental conference in Vancouver. As soon as we mentioned the actions of the “Durban Six” the students broke into wild applause, sending shivers down my spine. At the call I said that a small number of young Canadians were able to make an extraordinary difference in Durban, but that this wasn’t enough. I said we were taking this movement back to Canada, that only when thousands of young people stood up to our government and demanded they put people before polluters would things start to change. The 300 students broke out into another round of applause. Hearing the support from those young people back in Canada was powerful beyond words.

I’ve felt proud and incredibly privileged to be part of the Canadian Youth Delegation. In two weeks the 18 of us have achieved amazing things. The “turn your back on Canada” action received international headlines. We were so successful in admonishing Canada’s record on climate change that Peter Kent wrote an op-ed in a Durban paper trying to justify his position. We crashed Minster Kent’s first press conference, showing up wearing Canada’s “negotiator uniforms”, suits covered in oil company logos. Over the next few days, Peter Kent cancelled one press conference and held another over the phone instead.

We have accomplished many things, yet the Canadian Government continues to bargain on behalf of big oil. We won’t have achieved our goals until our Government puts people before polluters. We need to make this movement massive. The support that has flooded in over the internet and the ovations from students in Vancouver has motivated all of us, and proven that people back in Canada care. We’re going to take this momentum back to Canada, and make this movement impossible to ignore.


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