Expedition Copenhagen Delegate Blogs

December 6, 2009
By: Liana B

This is no Model U.N. : The rise of the youth climate movement

Considering its views on fossil fuels, the youth climate movement probably doesn’t want to be described as a well-oiled machine. But that was how they operated on Saturday in Copenhagen, as part of a two-day youth summit preceding the U.N. climate talks that kick off on Monday.

In various states of jetlag, about 500 youth delegates from all corners of the globe gathered at the Copenhagen YMCA and the University of Copenhagen for the first day of a mix of workshops, free-flowing forums and serious talk about how to influence the upcoming negotiations.

This is no Model U.N. The vibe of the workshops was organized and sophisticated, a reflection of how far the global youth climate moment has come at U.N. conferences. Momentum has been building since last year’s Conference of the Parties 14 in Poznan Poland, where hundreds of young people from all over the world banded together for “Project Survival.” In that campaign, the international youth worked together with a group of small threatened island states, to push for a reference to the “survival of the most vulnerable countries and people” in key environmental legislation. The language made it into the document, thanks to the youth who lobbied environment ministers from more than 100 countries, held rallies in the halls outside the negotiating rooms and commanded media attention like savvy politicos. One Grist blog says the international youth deserves “credit for the fact that ‘survival’ has become something of a buzzword within international climate policymaking circles.”

When Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the UNFCCC, was asked at last year’s negotiations about the role young people should play in global climate talks, he said that young people must raise the profile of environmental issues in their home countries, until their governments listen. De Boer also said that too many NGOs have bureaucratized and dropped their banners to put on suits and young people must fill the vacuum.

But for this group, being a young environmental activist doesn’t mean picketing or getting arrested. This September, the youth movement gained official constituency status at U.N. climate change negotiations. With this new status, the youth are quickly developing into a political stakeholder who has a voice in shaping internation environmental policy.

For the next two weeks, I’ll be following these youth activists, known as YOUNGOS, in Copenhagen, bringing you behind the scenes of an evolving political movement that is changing the future of climate negotiations. –Liana B. Baker

For more on Youngos in Copenhagen