SustainUS is a US Youth Network for Sustainable Development, with a delegation of seventeen young people from across the country represented in Poland. They are part of the larger International Youth Delegation present at the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties (COP) in Poznan, Poland. Together, the international youth delegation consists of over 500 young activists representing 54 different countries from six continents (Antarctic youth have not yet surfaced). SustainUS and their international partners are attending the Conference to voice the opinions of the over 50% of the global population under the age of 30, the largest constituency on Earth.
The negotiations taking place in Poznan are progressing much the way you might suspect — developing countries arguing with developed countries about what is needed to protect our future. The process of international negotiations is a slow one, but vital to ensure that necessary commitments are made to protect our collective future. While most of the happenings here are identical to those in years past, there are also a few big policy surprises and important developments to note.
First, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) have found their voice in a very big way. Both negotiating blocs presented emissions reductions targets on Wednesday that are substantially more ambitious than have been proposed by anybody thus far. AOSIS and LDCs both reinforced the need for the concentration of carbon dioxide equivalence to stabilize at or below 350ppm and AOSIS made a submission mandating total atmospheric warming to less than 1.5 degrees C, with developed (Annex-I) countries reducing GHG emissions 95% below 1990 levels by 2050. Two degrees C is no longer seen as an equitable target; as it would leave devastation in its wake for many small island states and other vulnerable countries.
Secondly, the EU is no longer the leader on climate change that it has been in the past. Some countries within the EU are still strong, but as a whole, the EU has weakened its position, in large part to Polish, Italian, and German backpedaling at the EU climate package negotiations currently happening in Brussels. One specific element that has been weakened are 2020 emissions reductions targets, with the EU backing down from its support for the 25-40% emissions cuts that the IPCC suggests. The UK has offered one shining bit of hope in the midst of the EU’s backwards thinking, committing itself to 42% emission reductions by 2020 below 1990 levels, pending a strong multilateral agreement. That cut would decrease emissions by (a still formidable) 34% by 2020 if there isn’t any multilateral agreement. Of course there are bound to be loopholes and problems with these targets, but, overall, it is a large victory for all of us who want to see meaningful climate action. Hopefully this will encourage the EU to adopt a target of 30% by 2020 in Brussels.
And third, countries are very much aware of and excited for the Obama administration. Not surprisingly, the US State Department delegation has hardly budged from the same obstructionist stance that they’ve been ridiculed for in the past. Dr. Harlon Watson, a political appointee by the Bush Administration and lead negotiator in Poznan, has continued to reject emissions targets with base years attached, and is working with U.S. allies (Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand) to stall negotiations. These actions actively jeopardize our future. Those at the Conference fighting for a safe climate – governments, NGOs, and business alike – all await the first of the interim negotiations, beginning at the end of March in Bonn, to truly begin working with the U.S. on a strong Copenhagen agreement.
Come January 20th, Barack Obama will write a new chapter in America’s leadership on climate change. Barack Obama’s statement presented at the Governor’s Global Climate Summit was a groundbreaking moment in international cooperation for the United States. By acknowledging that climate change is an urgent problem and that America has a responsibility to take global leadership, Barack Obama has done more to promote international confidence in global cooperation and a post-2012 global climate treaty in a four-minute video clip than George Bush has done in eight years in the oval office.
In order to ensure that talks don’t crumble before a renewed effort at collaboration can happen with Obama’s team, American youth are here to pressure countries into action. The youth voice is essential in these meetings, since our generation will be living with the consequences of the decisions that are made now. Youth can approach this issue without the obligations and vested interests that negotiators are subject to. This ability gives us great power to respond to developments at the COP at a moment’s notice. We bring humanity and reality to these meetings and remind the negotiators that their decisions have lasting impacts on our generation, and every generation to come.
In particular, we call for American leadership (a seeming oxymoron at these talks) on a climate agreement. We call for the United States to push for a strong negotiating mandate coming out of Poznan that includes meaningful proposals on mitigation measures, adaptation, financing, and technology transfer. Since our appointed ambassadors refuse to acknowledge the change we need, we are taking matters into our own hands. Starting next week, the SustainUS youth delegation will enter into discussions with other countries’ negotiators. We will be representing the change in climate policy that Americans called for overwhelmingly at the ballot box in November, because we feel we represent the American people better than the State Department at these negotiations. We will proceed by discussing concrete policy solutions with these parties, focusing on limiting global temperature rises to 1.5 degrees C. We are taking back our future, one conversation at a time.