Monday, December 14, 2009
Janet Larsen, our Director of Research, has been at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen this week. During this time, she's posted articles on the National Journal's special COP15 website. Here is her final blog.
Should Young People Trust Political Leaders to Lead? UNFCCC Executive Secretary Says Maybe Not Yet
by Janet Larsen
Today at a packed COP15 side event for intergenerational exchange, a young woman from Mumbai, India, shared her story of living through devastating floods in a country where people have become used to having their homes washed away with increasing regularity. In concluding her speech, Ruchi Jain, India coordinator for the group 350.org, expressed trust in leaders to help combat climate change on behalf of future generations. In response, Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Yvo de Boer cautioned that trust is something that has to be earned, telling her that the negotiations here had yet to earn his trust.
There are some 1,500 youth here at the Copenhagen Conference, and many more attending unofficial events and rallies around the city, and they are trying to make their voices heard. Today many of the young people (and friends, like Middlebury scholar Bill McKibben, whom I just spotted in the hall) are here sporting bright orange shirts with the message "How old will you be in 2050?" At one of the early negotiation sessions, Christina Ora, born in 1992 in the Solomon Islands, implored, "You have been negotiating all our lives; you cannot tell us that you need more time."
Wednesday morning in the main plenary, a youth representative warned the delegates of "carbon colonialism," urging all parties to remain accountable to their past emissions: "It's not enough to say 'Yes we can.' We need to say 'Yes we can, yes we must, and yes we will!'"
That was one of a half-dozen times when enthusiastic applause broke out in yesterday morning's session. An impassioned plea from the Tuvalu delegation for the delegates to "seal the deal" with a legally-binding commitment was the first of the morning to rally the participants here in Copenhagen's Bella Center: "The world is watching us...the time for procrastination is over."
Tuvalu's call for a strong legally-binding agreement was echoed by a number of allies, including many of the other small island states who make up the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). Their message is that limiting the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is necessary for their very survival. The G-8 has convened on targets of 2 degrees Celsius, the number more broadly discussed here, though existing commitments put us above this trajectory.
As noted in a United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) pre-COP release: "According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, an aggregate emission reduction by industrialised countries of between minus 25% and 40% over 1990 levels would be required by 2020 in order to stave off the worst effects of climate change, with global emissions falling by at least 50% by 2050. Even under this scenario, there would be an only a 50% chance of avoiding the most catastrophic consequences." [bolding is mine]
Small island residents, whose societies are at immediate risk from rising seas, and young people, who will be the ones left to face the consequences of warming, have thus far been some of the most passionate voices here. Whether world leaders deserve their trust we have yet to see.
This blog was initially posted on December 10, 2009, on the National Journal UN Climate Change Conference blog.
Also by Janet Larsen from COP15:
What is Necessary to Prevent Dangerous Climate Change?
Economy, Food Drives China’s Renewable Energy Sector
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