Youth Activists Forge A ‘Bridge’ In Final Hours Of U.N. Climate Talks

CREDIT: AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski

Protesters at the 2013 international climate negotiations in Warsaw. More than 100 CEOs and institutional investors are asking for a strong climate agreement at the 2015 Paris talks.

WARSAW, POLAND — As negotiations at the U.N. climate talks in Warsaw face repeated impasses, one issue has emerged to bring developed and developing countries together. During the two week conference, youth organizers in Warsaw have been working to advance an amendment drawing attention to the impact of climate change, and these climate negotiations, on future generations.

Youth can be “a bridge between generations, between the global north and the global south,” said Ties Mouwen, the Dutch Youth Representative on Sustainable Development to the U.N., and that bridge is essential as polarizing discussions continue into the final hours of the talks. “If we can’t even discuss this,” Mouwen said, “the rest of the equity discussion — which is really painful — won’t happen.”

This principle, known by close observers as intergenerational equity, is centered on the fact that truly equitable development must reflect the needs of both present and future generations, since the failure to curb emissions now will hold disproportionate consequences for future generations.

Following a proposal from Chile to include concern for “current and future generations” in the language of the final 2015 global climate agreement Thursday night, parties at the U.N. climate talks appeared to be reaching consensus on the issue, which youth organizers hope will pave the way for strong substantive agreement between negotiators with widely divergent views.

The statement from Chile (speaking on behalf of a block of 7 Latin American countries) was met with support from Bolivia, Mexico, the United States, Egypt, and a group of 48 “least developed countries,” reflecting the broad coalition of interested parties across various economies.

Though parties have yet to settle on specific language, this concept dates back to the Rio Declaration of 1992. Recently, intergenerational equity has gained renewed momentum, advanced by some of the international youth NGOs (YOUNGO), who gained constituency status at the U.N. negotiations in 2009.

Elevating the rights of future generations in climate change agreements has become a place of common ground, building a coalition across traditionally polarized boundaries. That sense of unity has been a driving force for some youth representatives, who have remained committed through the negotiating process, diligently lobbying negotiators from the over 190 countries present. Mouwen says that the youth organizers’ work has built relationships between youth activists from developed nations, including the U.S. and countries in western and Northern Europe — and delegates from the “least developed” economies.

And that makes sense, Mouwen says. After all, giving youth a voice at the negotiating table is about “our shared future — what unifies us.”

Jesse Vogel is a senior at Oberlin College and former intern with the Center for American Progress. Adriana Renteria is an intern with the Center for American Progress. Ben Bovarnick, Special Assistant at the Center for American Progress, contributed.