Injustice in Durban, Inspiration in Brussels
12th December 2011
The 2011 climate negotiations have now finished, leaving us in a very uncertain place, a weak deal that could such much of humanity suffering. My name is Alex Lee and from Sunday the 4th December, to Saturday 10th, I was at an event called Durban in Brussels, an event where 100+ young people concerned about climate change came together to push the EU to take stronger action. Below is my blog of the week’s events.
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The Importance of Youth
It was 1am and I was on a ferry from Dover, making a climate change video out of a empty cup of hot chocolate and a marker pen. I was tired, and I was planning to go to sleep like everyone else in the canteen. Of course, it was Adela’s fault. She had the enthusiasm and creative excitement to persuade me to stop being grumpy and to write messages on my hands to create a video to promote climate change. We didn’t finish it, but we giggled like idiots for about an hour… it was one of the best moments of the week. I learned that many young people have that energy.
In a world that is jaded and apathetic about climate change, we need inspiration in humanity’s biggest challenge.Young people can provide it.
When we arrived in Brussels on the coach at 6am, we found the hostel and crashed for a few hours after only a small amount of sleep. In the afternoon there was a workshop on facilitation and communal decision making, which went through how using hand signals and democracy in meetings empowers everyone within the group. The best part was taking part in a ‘play’ where we had to role play a communal decision about the dinner being delayed. My role was to object to the food being served in any way I wanted to make it difficult for the facilitator… I had to be *really* difficult as the facilitator kept making concessions to a huge list of allergies I complained about having!
I was still feeling a bit jaded about travelling here, but already the group had made a big impression on me. There were some amazing, creative, funny, and incredibly intelligent people there, and some friends that I hope I will keep for life.There is something special about being with people from all different countries, from different struggles, coming together to fight as one.
In the evening we learned more about the Kyoto Protocol, which I knew little about.
It is the only global deal that has ever been legally binding. It was initiated in 1992 took 5 years to write until all countries in the world signed up to it in 1997… apart from the USA so they were never legally bound.
The first commitment period of Kyoto runs out in 2012, and it signed all developed countries up to binding emissions cuts. Kyoto was designed with a second commitment period in mind, as that is when countries are expected to make reductions. With many countries like Canada, Japan, and Russia threatening to pull out, our only legal process for climate change was threatened with failure. Without Kyoto, there would have been no process to go to.
We decided pushing for Kyoto renewal was vital, but we needed to be careful about pushing for countries to sign up to Kyoto at any cost. Agreeing to a second commitment period for Kyoto will do nothing to save millions of lives unless it is just and in line with science. I had concerns that we would end up with a terrifyingly weak deal.
Unfortunately this is exactly what happened. A weak Kyoto, with delayed targets, expanded carbon trading, and a climate fund with no money essentially means we have sacrificed the lives of poor to boost our economy.
At 3am I was thinking: I could have chosen to take my holiday days from work somewhere else, perhaps somewhere warm like Spain, instead of with climate activists in a pokey hostel in Belgium. But when I was up well past midnight making banners and planning actions, and talking live on Skype with young people doing the same right across the world, the feeling was special. We saw people in Durban with banners, signs… ten thousand marching climate justice for Africa… “Keep the Coal in Hole, Keep the Oil in the Soil” they chanted. I felt like part of an amazing change in the world… this felt far better than any other holiday.
The banner looked beautiful, with EU Stand With AOSIS written on. Many of the Alliance Of Small Island States are likely to disappear underwater if radical action is not taken. They submitted their own Kyoto mandate with ambitious targets to keep below 1.5C and would save their countries, which we printed onto A1 sheets to show politicians what kind of ambition we are demanding.
EU Action, Polish Failure
We represented the youth of Europe when around 25 young people from across the continent stood outside the EU Commission with a new EU mandate and a banner demanding more ambition. We chanted for “Climate Justice Now”. This means the rich nations need to take responsibility. The vast majority of emissions in the atmosphere now were put there by rich nations over the previous century. Only now are developing countries like China and India catching up. It also means that policy should be based on science, and that there is justice for the people who are suffering the affects of climate change right now because of developed nations’ inability to act. We also did a second action, outside the EU Presidency. Poland are the presidents this year, and as they are chair of environmental meetings they can alter discussions and agendas to suit their position. Due to this, Poland has miserably failed in its first ever EU presidency, and has failed a moral obligation to humanity.
I held a session on social media earlier in the day, which I had been planning for a few days. It was to explain what is social media exactly, when you’d use it, what campaigns should use it and how. But very few people came to it, and I was a bit disappointed. I decided that this meant I had a even bigger job to do. I had to enthuse people there to get involved in social media! Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and the rest, I had to get them to tell friends and family what we are doing here, and inspire them to get involved too.
So I hope I inspired people to get our messages out to the public, because we were there to push Europe into action on the strongest deal possible. We wanted photos and videos of us outside the EU with messages, for friends and family to be inspired by us, for the media to see us, for the politicians to hear us, for representatives of poor countries to see know we are fighting for them, and for affected people around the world to feel that we are with them.
Inspiration at Last
The Skype calls to our partners in Durban were getting bleaker each day. It looked like rich nations were not moving on any issues. Despite the poor countries making concessions, the developed ones made none at all.
However, there was one piece of inspirational news: the Canadian minister had been giving a speech calling Kyoto “history” and suggesting targets which would allow them to extract billions from taking oil from tar sands. But the Canadian Youth delegation stood up during his speech, turned around and displayed messages on their tshirts saying “Turn Your Back on Canada”. As they were taken away by security, the conference gave them a standing ovation.
EU Leadership Failure
Our second action was to greet the European leaders arriving in Brussels for a meeting to resolve the future of the Euro. We wanted to remind them that the more important issue was happening in South Africa. We painted a banner, and Max choreographed an “energy efficiency” dance to correspond with discussions in Durban that day. We took it down to the EU Council where they were meeting, but the roads were blocked by police. We were not allowed to do the action there, where EU leaders may see us, so we were escorted to an ironically named “free speech space” where we could do the action without being visible. They also didn’t like our giant helium balloons: I think they were worried we would float over the police barrier on them… the action and dance was great anyway, and we had some good pictures to send to Durban.
The evening was spent in a local bar, with cheap, strong and tasty Belgian beer. I spent the evening dancing and getting to know the fascinating people there over a drink. I also spent some time trying to rescue some of the giant balloons from ceiling with a broom… it’s all part of the fun!
Injustice in Africa
There was a glimmer of hope when the EU and Africa seemed to agree on a proposal… but this quickly turned when we realised that Africa had made enormous concessions. In the press release video, African representatives said if they had not conceeded, they would have been “left by the side of the road” to die. We sat around in quiet anger, absorbing the news. We heard there had been an “occupy” action at the talks, chanting “Listen to the people, not the polluters”, and this re-inspired us. The live video showed them visibly having an effect on some of the politicians, but their occupation was short lived.
We had a go around, each person saying what they thought of the week in Brussels. Nearly everyone found the experience amazing, and wanted to keep in touch. I was one of them, and I really hope to meet everyone again. Together we can build a movement to save our planet, and our generation. Next year we will build a bigger movement of youth across Europe and we will help to create our alternative future.
I had to travel home. Before I left, there was time for the youth at Durban to make their voice heard – for five minutes they were allowed to speak. The speech summed up everything. A powerful vision and a determination to force governments to sort this problem out. The solutions are simple, but our governments refuse to confront the problems. For many poor and disadvantaged people, this was the best speech of the conference. You can see in the front rows that the developed countries do not like it when someone speaks the truth with such passion.