ACS Students Attending COP 18 Give Youth a Voice

The American Chemical Society (ACS), along with other entities, sponsors a project through the ACS Committee on Environmental Improvement, that sends chemistry students to the annual U.N. climate conference. Four college chemistry students officially represented ACS at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change 18th Conference of Parties (COP18) in Doha, Qatar, November 26–December 7, 2012. This ongoing project focuses on increasing climate science literacy of a new generation, one that will bear the primary responsibility in adapting to climate change, and in continuing policies that will reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The ACS student representatives experienced the Climate Science conversation at the epicenter of the talks.

Last year, a Special Report issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated that “climate change has led to changes in climate extremes such as heat waves, record-high temperatures, and, in many regions, heavy precipitation in the past half century.” Unparalleled weather extremes in the U.S. recently—droughts, storms, and more—have served as a portent of expected future events.

More than 190 nations have gathered in Qatar in an effort to forge global consensus on climate change issues such as capping CO2 emissions and establishing funds that will help developing nations adapt to a changing climate. As representatives of the world’s governments and international organizations negotiate policy, a parallel conversation was held among college and university students.

During my (Marla’s) week here in Doha at COP18, I’ve focused on youth. As a youth from the United States, where there is less urgency and continuing skepticism concerning climate change, I wanted to see how other countries were acting and contributing to the fight against it, especially among younger generations. Therefore, I became involved with the youth movements here in Doha. I attended a few YOUNGO (youth non-governmental organization) meetings, followed the youth events, and struck up conversations with many youth members from other countries.

At the daily 8 a.m. YOUNGO meetings, the youth members from different groups, such as Article 6, Earth in Brackets, Adaptation Working Group, Climate Action Network, Asian Youth, Arab Youth, Connected Youth, the Mitigation Working Group, and more from all across the globe gathered to go over the agenda for the day..

Established in the lead up to the COP18 Doha negotiations, the Arab Youth Climate Movement brings together over 20 campaigners from 15 Middle East/North Africa countries. Photograph: Arab Youth Climate Movement

The agenda consisted of proposals, such as the proposal to get the support of all YOUNGO members when approaching negotiators, and also to get signatures for petitions. This proposal was made because, as of now, youth access groups (like many at the meeting), cannot physically get signatures since they are not accredited by the United Nations. One of YOUNGO’s actions took place in the corridors connecting meeting rooms within the official meeting center, the Qatar National Convention Center. Youth members held up signs that implied “thanks” for the points that YOUNGO was pushing for (urgency, an emission cap, cooperation, etc), and following their “thanks” sign for action, out popped a large sign inscribed “NO!”. This sarcastic action was done to try to grab the attention of negotiators, letting people know that the youth of the world are unhappy with the slow progress, and want to see change now! This was also an attempt to create a bit of a buzz at COP 18.

The youth have been fighting to find our voice at these conferences and to be heard.  We feel like we have a lot to contribute, but the negotiators are not listening. Some of the youth members brought this up during our meeting with Christiana Figueres on Monday evening, the first day of the conference. We asked her how the youth can move forward, pave a pathway, have more of a voice, and be heard by negotiators. Ms. Figueres said she gets this question every year and that it’s the hardest to answer because of the rules and regulations in the legislation of the United Nations. This includes a rule that youth under the age of 18 are not even allowed to attend the conference. Instead of being able to give us a direct answer, Ms. Figueres called us, the youth, to action. She urged, pleaded, and encouraged the youth to fight for the voice we deserve.

Lutheran World Federation delegation member Raquel Kleber (from Brazil; right) speaks with Ambassador André Corrêa do Lago, head of the Brazilian country delegation at the COP18 climate summit in Doha. © LWF/Sidney Traynham

From attending only a few YOUNGO meetings, I realized that the youth I have met are brilliant, ambitious, energetic, and have great ideas that need to be heard. Youth from around the globe are trying to get their voice out, and with this voice they are attempting to create a sense of urgency at the COP through their many meetings and actions.

These conferences allow youth from every corner of our world to come together, work together, and fight together against climate change, a world-wide issue affecting everyone, especially youth. Youth groups can see that climate change is not just a political or environmental issue, but one that encompasses almost every discipline. The youth want to create awareness, a sense of ambition, and urgency to change the world. For the sake of our planet, we need to move from being reactive to proactive. The youth of the world are stepping up to the challenges and need to be heard!

Please share your voice by making comments or submitting a guest blog on our Students on Climate Change website.

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