I come from the energy world. If you’ve ever been to an energy conference — particularly one revolving around fossil fuels — the first thing you’ll notice is that the scene is dominated by old, white males. Depending on the renewable energy conference, the crowd gets much more diverse in age and ethnicity.
The COP climate conference is a whole different scene. Of course, it’s an international UN sponsored event, so it’s inherently diverse. What’s unique is the large number of young people in attendance.
It’s easy to get bogged down by the fact that the international negotiations are slow moving and, despite the last-minute deal brokered in Durban, still haven’t gotten us to close to where we need to be scientifically.
I remember one young woman in a background briefing with American negotiators last week saying “you’ve been negotiating this issue my entire life.”
If you’re still feeling down by the pace of action, one thing should give you hope about the process: the active presence of younger generations at these conferences — tracking negotiations, asking pointed questions, setting up meetings with diplomats, organizing protests, and doing anything they can to get youth voices heard.
I know this isn’t particularly new. Youth delegations have been coming to these meetings in greater numbers each year. But as a newcomer to the climate negotiation scene, it’s been pretty remarkable for me to see.
Two of these young adults particularly struck me: 24-year old American Ellie Johnston and 22-year old Chinese Songquio Yao, who went to Durban to “build bridges” and do what so many negotiators were unable to do for years. Johnston was part of a 14-member delegation representing SustainUS, a national youth coalition devoted to sustainability issues. And Yao was with a 13-member delegation from the China Youth Climate Action Network.
The Chinese and American youth delegations both met with their respective negotiators to express their passion for the issues.