I apologize for the delay, folks. This is my first piece for many reasons, including being part of the mass of NGO representatives left outside of the Bella Center in the cold for hours unexpectedly, a ‘fun’ adventure hunting down my (still) lost luggage, and mac-wireless headaches. But here it is, an important article for me to write after me and the ESLI youth delegates – Gier Hernandez and Lupita Troncoso (my superstar youth team in Copenhagen) – went through the physical and emotional experience of being completely shut out of COP 15.
UN : a people’s process?
We are losing faith in you quickly. Please advise.
As Copenhagen boils with anxiety about today’s mass climate justice action at the Bella Center, all I can do is lower my head at the United Nations in complete disappointment.
Shutting out thousands of representatives of civil society from entering the UN conference this week, without showing a drop of compassion, has put me teetering on the edge of renunciation. We came to the UN conference to represent ourselves, as young leaders from the US and youth of color who believe that our presence here matters, and that the story we share can benefit the international community. What we faced Monday night and Tuesday morning, standing in the incredible line of 2nd week registrants waiting to get their badges – waiting a total of 7 hours in freezing temperatures, was offensive. And, from what we found out, we were lucky that it was only 7 hours – people we interviewed had stood for 9 hours on Day 1, only to be turned away on Day 2’s attempt after another 3-4 hours. A pregnant women, a high-profile expert consult to the Mozambique delegation, waited both days only to be forced to leave because of fear of her and her baby’s health. And not once did we receive clear updates on our potential to register as we stood in line. Not once did they show any compassion to the thousands of dollars and false hopes these thousands of people had spent to make it merely 20-30 feet from the Bella Center, only to be told that the UN could not accommodate numbers anywhere near to what was expected. Many got on early flights home.
I write this post as an indignant member of the next generation of climate justice leaders, who had nevertheless held onto her faith in an entity who has practically failed to address climate change for the past 15 years of the UNFCCC’s operations. The democracy here in Copenhagen is quickly crumbling before me, before the eyes of the two ESLI youth delegates that came with me and before the rest of the international community. Not to mention, police raids and preemptive arrests targeting young people has turned Copenhagen into a place of fear. Access to UN climate negotiations was already assumed to be limited to civil society – but now we know that we are blatantly not welcome.
For better or for worst, I’ve also seen in the past 48 hours the prolific organizing that’s happening on the outside. Monday night I participated in a meeting of grassroots groups from both the Global North and Global South, organized by Movement Generation, that pulled together powerful movement building voices together to strategize. Yesterday, environmental justice groups from the US drafted a letter to Obama that calls for just, urgent action on climate that will be delivered in a press conference at the US Embassy on Thursday. Klimaforum – the alternative “People’s Summit” – is rich with information, speakers and real people power that outshines UN side events 50 times over – and it’s free, accessible and well-organized. This is where we’ll spend most of our time for the rest of the week.
But where does this leave us, still depending on the UNFCCC to come to an agreement to protect our future? An issue so deeply embedded in economic injustice and the oppression of developing countries and impacted communities – how can we believe in a just, acceptable solution from such an undemocratic, non-transparent decision making body? As a young activist and leader, as well as a mentor of other young leaders, I stand horribly disappointed at the UN and fearful of our loss of faith in it as an institution. What now?
Read ESLI Youth Delegation members Gier Hernandez and Lupita Troncoso tell their stories here.