Which Path Will the Youth Climate Movement Take?

The world
is halfway through the process to create a global climate treaty to
respond to Global Warming. In the halls around me, government, NGO, and
UN negotiators are painstakingly working through the process to create
a draft text for this treaty. The last decade has been a period where
climate campaigners and negotiators knew where they stood, with the
Bush Administration blocking progress, the European Union leading on
the UN process, and environmental organizations facing off against the
Oil, Gas, and Coal industries. Suddenly everything has changed, with
Obama's election, the EU Climate Package failing, and the Canadians
having a parliamentary crisis - a financial crisis dragging down the
automobile companies - and newly emergent actors like the youth
movement, trade unions, and justice advocates showing up onto the
global scene.

Nevertheless, with a financial crisis diverting attention from the
climate crisis and backsliding among traditional advocates for strong
international climate action - there is a lot of frustration and fear
on the behalf of many Non-Governmental Organizations. One of the bright
spots of the Poznan climate talks has been the arrival of large and
energized youth delegations, including representatives of countries such as India,
that have inspired many people here. Yet, despite the ever-growing
level of international cooperation there remains two paths that this
movement could take - that will have major consequences on the outcome
of the global negotiations.

Youth have strengths that they bring to these negotiations, but
nothing is stronger that the moral voice and clarity they bring to the
often intentionally complicated policy discussions that occur at the
UN. Youth also have the potential to move, organize, and act on a speed
that is matched only by the sophisticated online organizing outfits,
like Avaaz.org, that have arisen
recently. Young people represent more than the NGO sector and have
government delegates, media representatives, youth union reps, and
more. They also are willing to call for bold action, develop innovative
strategies for advocacy, and have a passion that is palpable to anyone
that has spent any time in their presence.

Yvo de Boer, the president of the UNFCCC, in an Inter-generational
Inquiry on the role of youth at these negotiations, was asked as to
what role young people should play in these talks. He said that too
many NGOs have bureaucratized and dropped their banners to put on
suits. He said young people must raise the profile of this issue in
their home countries, until their governments are forced to listen, if
they hope to influence the outcome. For a UN diplomat, it was quite a
statement - acknowledged that governments need to be pressured publicly
and NGOs were failing to act and remained myopically focused on
research, policy expertise, and lobbying meetings.

Yet, it is not entirely clear which path the youth climate movement
will take. Many of the delegations represented here have enormous
policy teams, drawing students from research universities, that write
policy submissions, follow discussions, and lobby delegates. One major
proposal, has been for youth to serve as adjunct staff to delegations
from Small Island and Developing States that are calling for strong
action. Actions often remain rooted in efforts to influence particular
policies being debated or discussed. Young people in suits are in
abundance everywhere. Will these youth climate activists follow down
the path of many NGOs and serve as a next generation of policy
analysts, diplomats, and advocates? Will the main focus be on
side-events, submissions, interventions, tracking the many ad-hoc
working groups, and developing experience with the policy process?

Or will youth climate advocates take another path? Will they develop
campaigns that are fearless in their demands, huge in scale, and
undertake actions even if it costs them access to delegates or
representatives? There are campaigners here, from groups like the Rainforest Action Network (slogan: Environmentalism with Teeth") that are willing to pick targets and hold people accountable. Avaaz.org and
youth delegates last year served as the voice of conscience and fought
a bruising battle with delegates from Japan, Canada, and USA last year.
Will an international youth climate network serve as a secretariat and
liaison group with the UN, or will it coordinate a global campaign that
targets fossil fuel companies, politicians, and their lobbyists? Can
these young people shake the pillars of power and authority with
fearless tactics, digital strategy, mass mobilization, and boots
on-on-the ground organizing?

Now, before someone accuses me of promoting a false dichotomy or
pigeonholing a movement that embraces a diversity of tactics - I
understand that any movement needs a diversity of actors, but the
question remains of how the effort, energy, genius, and resources of
the youth climate movement will be directed.

To read more about the emerging international youth climate movement, goto youthclimate.org or itsgettinghotinhere.org.

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