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After Bonn, a safe future for youth still in doubt

Today’s guest blogger is Kyle Gracey, Chair for SustainUS and a graduate student in public policy and geophysical sciences at the University of Chicago.

In 2050, I’ll be 77, and given the pace of the climate talks in Bonn these two weeks, I’ll likely spend most of my retirement either under water or on fire.

If finalized in the next climate agreement, the weak targets offered so far by developed countries virtually ensures that greenhouse gas concentrations (and sea levels) will rise to levels well beyond what science says are safe limits to ensure the survival of peoples and nations. Over 100 youth from 6 continents (the Antarctic youth called in sick) participated in the Bonn negotiations, watching our leaders draft an increasingly costly and damaging climate for us to live through.

Daily at the negotiations, youth have shown our governments how vulnerable our generation will be to the warming and climate change they are creating with their short-sighted proposals. We literally brought two camels and tons of sand to the negotiation entrance to highlight the drought and desertification many of our countries increasingly experience. We rapped and rhymed about the threatened survival of nations and developed countries’ weak financing proposals. Youth tracked key negotiators to remind them the next generation is watching, and blogged to their peers in multiple languages.

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We supported indigenous rights and opposed deforestation and forest degradation. Global North and Global South youth played an UNfair (sic) game of football (the Americans insisted on playing soccer) to highlight the unequal negotiating position of developing countries. They also worked to raise money for their developing country members to participate with them in the Copenhagen talks. Fifty Chinese, Indian, and United States youth wrote the 1st collaborative statement (in two languages so far) by youth from these three countries on a shared vision for our nations’ roles and opportunities in cooperating on an agreement.

In the end, it is clear that negotiators have largely ignored the perilous position they have put their children in, and ignored the science as well. Japan’s 8% reduction from 1990 levels in 2020, and Russia’s, Switzerland’s, and New Zealand’s lack of any specific targets raises the chance youth will grow up suffering through climate tipping points and accelerated warming. These “commitments” put an incredible burden on our countries’ future leaders to create post-2020 cuts necessary to reach 2050 reductions.

Despite continued leadership by President Obama, and skilled diplomacy by lead Bonn negotiator Dr. Jonathan Pershing, industry lobbyists have ensured that weak domestic legislation will prevent the U.S. from honestly offering strong international commitments in Copenhagen. At best, the American Clean Energy and Security Act as written would let the U.S. achieve a 3% reduction in 2020 and create only a fraction of the clean energy jobs Americans desperately need. At worst, 1% is likely given offsets and other loopholes.

[JR: The 3% reduction is compared to 1990 levels, as the link makes clear. I assumed, given how this paragraph is written, that Kyle also meant 1% reductions compared to 1990 levels. If not, I’ll let him clarify. I can’t see a plausible scenario where ACES as currently written, coupled with Obama’s other clean energy and GHG-reduction investments and mandates, doesn’t take us to 1990 levels or below by 2020 (see here).]

While Bonn failed to deliver the protections to peoples, species, and generations youth know are needed, they renewed our commitment to redefining what is pragmatic and possible. Delegates should expect to hear from us again soon.