November 26, 2010
By: Reed Aronow - COP16 Delegate

Copenhagen to Cancun: Reflections from a Midwest Youth Climate Leader

climatenews_cop16_reed_02One year ago today, a team of intelligent and dynamic Midwest youth were preparing for an expedition that would impact their lives forever. These twelve young leaders, hailing from seven different states set aside their studies, their work, and their personal lives for an intense immersion experience in the COP15 UNFCCC international climate negotiations, as part of the Will Steger Foundation’s Expedition Copenhagen delegation. For six months leading up to COP15, the team trained, studied up on climate policy, joined the national campaign for a federal climate bill, and engaging high school classrooms that would follow them online through the WSF website. Then, for eighteen days, they were active participants in the largest international youth presence at an UNFCCC conference in history, living, breathing, and connecting through an experience that would re-shape their perspectives of climate change, climate justice, and the power of youth to change the world. Below is an excerpt from Expedition Copenhagen delegate and current SustainUS delegate to COP16, Reed Aronow.

COP16 LogoIn less than two weeks, I will be on the ground in Cancun as a member of the SustainUS U.S. Youth Delegation to COP16 in Cancun, Mexico. With over 20 media hits, a wealth of background research in all aspects of UNFCCC climate policy, and a strong Rapid Responder network, we are ready to hit the ground running.  To learn more about how you can have a positive influence on the negotiations from back home in the United States be sure to sign up to be a COP16 Rapid Responder.

Last year I was honored to have been a member of the Will Steger Foundation’s Expedition Copenhagen, a United Nations delegation of 12 Midwest Youth led by polar explorer Will Steger. Through my work with the Expedition Team, I helped organize a 700 mile Climate Bike through rural Minnesota, learned how to mentor and speak effectively on the issue of climate change, and took part as a youth observer delegate in the COP15 United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen.

As a team we worked together, directing tough questions to high-level U.S. officials such as U.S. Envoy to the U.N. on Climate Change, Jonathan Pershing and members of President Obama’s Cabinet. We worked with youth from around the world to organize events such as the Youth Climate Flash Dance and a rally against tar sands. The result of the conference negotiations, the Copenhagen Accord, was bittersweet. The Accord was a weak compromise where countries could choose to write in whatever amount they elected to reduce their CO2 emissions by without any kind of legally binding protocols. Although this was a disappointment, the process was still moving forward when it could have fallen apart.  It is important to remember always that change never comes all at once, but is the result of hard and dedicated work, such as that being done by the fantastic team of youth that I am so honored to be traveling to COP16 with.Resist Despair. This is a phrase that I emphasize in the speeches that I give at schools, religious institutions and events, and is one of the most important things that we must do if we are to confront the climate crisis. All too often it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the enormity of what could happen if we do not confront the climate challenge head on, but it is not too late, and there is so much that is still possible. When I returned to the United States after Copenhagen I made the decision to resist the despair that I felt over the results of COP15. I chose to keep going, organizing the Minnesota Clean Energy Forum, and speaking everywhere that I could about the subject of climate change.

In 10 days, I will be returning to the UNFCCC process as a SustainUS youth delegate. This time will be different, and I feel older and wiser from my experiences in Copenhagen. I will be working with youth from around the world and the SustainUS delegation to plan creative actions and campaigns, and will give you a blow-by-blow blog update from on the ground. One of the most important things that you can do to help out with our campaigns from back home is to become a COP15 Rapid Responder. If you sign up, we will call you only 3 or 4 times during the conference and will ask you to talk with U.S. Congress people and Department of State officials about specific aspects of the treaty that we are hoping to influence. Please consider becoming a rapid responder by following this link, and yes, that’s right I am posting it twice because it really is that important that you sign up.

Happy Biking,
Reed Aronow


*You can follow Reed and the SustainUS youth delegation through