Today marks the completion of the first week of COP18 as well as the conclusion of my participation here in Doha. Unfortunately the reality of life as a college student demands that I return to Smith College to finish my semester! I’d sincerely love to stay and contribute to youth involvement at COP18 for a second week. However I know that I am leaving this conference with very capable and passionate people to fill my absence.
Today is Youth and Future Generations Day at COP18! I began my day by heading to the YOUNGO office to help fellow youth make posters for an event later that day. After I contributed my fair share of poster-making creativity (or what little I have!) I headed over to one of the large plenary halls for an “Intergenerational Inquiry” with the UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres, former president of Ireland Mary Robinson, and the current Ambassador from Grenada Dessima Williams. These three panelists, proponents of youth climate activism especially within the context of the UNFCCC, weighed in on the challenge youth will be facing for the next decades and how we can take action now to mobilize support and create a global movement. In particular, Christiana Figueres stressed the importance of utilizing social media, the most powerful communication tool, to create a revolution. “Climate change may be the most complex issue humanity has ever faced”, Christiana remarked, thus it is imperative that we communicate the urgency to act in a manner that is easily comprehensible.
Although my day began with a Finance working group meeting, I spent majority of my time interviewing youth members of AYCM (the Arab Youth Climate Movement). Initially encountering AYCM at the Conference of Youth, I have become increasingly impressed at the organization of this youth network as well as the energy and passion they have dedicated to climate activism. I am still in the process of conducting interviews, and I will eventually compile them into a synthesized profile. Stay tuned for this profile, as I will post it in a couple of days!
After I had finished conducting my interviews I attended “Fossil of the Day”, an action that CAN (the Climate Action Network) performs every evening at each COP. The “Fossil of the Day” award is a “prestigious” honor given to the top three countries that have been the least cooperative in the negotiations of the past day. Canada was awarded the first place and New Zealand the second place. And of course, the US wasn’t forgotten! In fact it won third place – partly due to the fact that President Obama just signed a bill exempting US airlines from the European aviation carbon-trading plan. All in all the action drew in quite a significant crowd and succeeded in highlighting the lack of climate leadership displayed by these three leading countries.
After “Fossil of the Day”, our delegation Skyped with two classes from SES who were eager to learn about our experiences at COP18. I could tell that the ASD and SES students had already gained substantial experience and knowledge of climate change and the UN process just within the first three days of the conference. I look forward to seeing what the rest of the conference brings for our delegation!
Day two of COP18 was quite a busy day for our delegation. Many of us spent countless hours attending side events run by institutions such as the United Nations Environmental Program, several Indigenous peoples organizations, and environmental activists groups such as Greenpeace. These side events provided critical understanding of not only the importance of trying to prevent the further process of climate change, but also adapting to climate change. These are the two key focal points of COP18: mitigation as well as adaptation to this hazardous global process.
Today was the official launch of the UNFCCC’s 18th annual Conference of Parties! By chance the School for Environmental Studies Education Foundation was drawn out of a lottery pool to receive a pass to attend the Opening Plenary. Cassie, one of the SES students, was chosen to attend the opening while I sat in a different plenary hall broadcasting the opening remarks by Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres and the Conference President, Prime Minister Abdullah bin Hamad al-Attiyah. Overall the two leaders of the conference spoke with a sense of optimism and hope that the delegates could reach a consensus in the negotiations in order to avoid a 2° C increase in global temperature (the benchmark that the negotiators have set) and serious irreversible climate change. Cassie was kind enough to let me use her pass after she had her fill of the welcoming addresses - so I was able to attend a part of the plenary as well!
Sunday was spent primarily at the American School of Doha, getting familiar with the members of our joint delegation of SES and ASD students and teachers, as well as myself. After a tour of the school, we strategized and distributed different interest areas (such as Technology, Mitigation, and Adaptation), different civil society constituency groups (such as Youth, Indigenous People, and Women), as well delegation groups (such as the EU or Association of Small Island States, AOSIS) to focus on during the conference. The students of the School for Environmental Studies have their own separate blog with the American School of Doha which can be accessed here.
Siiri with youth participants from the United Kingdom Youth Climate Coalition as well as two members of the Arab Youth Climate Coalition from Algeria
Saturday was the second day of the Conference of Youth at Education City. Although I attended a regional breakout session in which youth from North America met to strategize around lobbying issues and action ideas at COP, the majority of the agenda was dedicated to workshop time. These workshops were conducted by youth from around the world who presented on various topics regarding climate change advocacy and organizing in the context of the UNFCCC. The first workshop I attended, “Contaminated COP”, addressed the intimate relationship that the fossil fuel industry has at COP and how they consequently undermine the progress of the negotiations. Led by a member of the Canadian Youth Climate Coalition, the workshop stressed the importance of mobilizing in numbers against the incredibly influential power of the fossil fuel companies – an industry that is funded by the most profitable businesses in the history of the world.
After one car ride to New York City, three subway trips, and two planes rides totaling seventeen hours, I’ve finally made it to the 18th United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s Conference of Parties held in Doha, Qatar! I’ve already begun to notice the impact that this international climate convergence has played here in Qatar – from the “COP 18 Count Me In” taxi advertisements to the large concentration of climate activists (who are often times quite easy to identify) found swarming to the Doha National Convention Center. Although other, perhaps more “lucrative”, international gatherings such as the Asian Games and the much-anticipated 2022 FIFA World Cup have heightened Doha’s global media status, no other event hosted here will shape the world quite like the outcomes of COP18 will prove to do. From reviewing the progress of the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which aimed at reducing carbon emissions below 1990 levels, to negotiating treaties to implement beyond Kyoto’s conclusion, COP18 will set a global precedence on climate change policy for the year to come.
As of 10:45pm on Saturday Dec. 10, 2011, the only big decision of the COP process was a recommendation by a working group that the next Kyoto commitment would be 8 years. They also suggested that the commitment would allow for a range of 20-40% reductions from 1990 levels by the major industrialized nations. Many of the developing countries were not satisfied by this level of “ambition” and therefore wanted a 5 year commitment so they could ratchet up the standard for the next one. Parties additionally wanted to change language of the proposal, and probably could have fought over the exact wording forever. At the end of the day, the chairman of the working group decided that the 8 year, semi-weak reductions were better than nothing, and forced it through. He made a quick motion, no one objected in a half-second (literally), and down went the gavel signaling the close of this particular session until COP 18.
Friday, December 9th: COP Exhaustion
The conference was supposed to end on Friday, theoretically with an evening plenary session that began at 8 pm. However, the meeting only ran an hour, with little to no concrete accomplishments or timeframe for wrapping up the COP. So the COP continues on Saturday, but with much less energy and lower attendance. I can only hope that the skeleton crew here wants to get down to business so we can move on.
In some ways I’m happy the negotiations are still going on, as little has been accomplished, although I’m also getting frustrated that things keep getting dragged out with little assurance of a final, successful outcome. Apparently some parties were at the conference center until 3am last night/this morning, which meant approximately 16 hours of being at the COP for many delegates.
You can view our full profile at the Charities Review Council.